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The DNA of Macramé

I recently watched the film The Fourth Kind. It wasn't a good movie, but it certainly has a whirlwind of Trickster dynamics about it that triggers my interest.

The supposedly "real" footage was dreadfully unreal. For anyone who hasn't seen the film, the movie makes use of supposedly real archived video, and interweaves it throughout the story, juxtaposing it with the fictionally recreated scenes. At times, when a new character is introduced, captions appear on the screen giving the name of the actor portraying the real person. However, there is no real footage—the entire story is fiction.

I can't imagine anyone taking the "real" footage at face value. Forgetting the unlikelihood that this kind of footage would first emerge publicly in a film this way—the real people are obviously acting, and even the setting details--it's like they didn't even try to make it look convincingly real. A real therapist's office in Nome, Alaska, straight out of a Pottery Barn catalogue? I'm sure it would be more like fluorescent lighting hung from dropped ceilings, wood paneling, and 1993-era Office Depot furniture.

I don't have anything against the insertion of the "False Document" device—and I don't think as it is used in The Fourth Kind falls into hoaxville. The False Document is a legitimate narrative frame, and has been used classically and interestingly.

Literary-wise, it is the appointment of fictional documents, usually set apart from main body of the text somehow, as explanatory, stylistic, or apologetic . It is a way that the author (or director, actors, etc.) can insert him or herself into the fiction, and there's often a notion of confrontation—even a breaking of the so called-"fourth wall"—in which fictional characters confront the audience, or confront the idea that they are fictional—ideas of authenticity and real vs. fake are explored.

Thinking of accepted and unquestioned fictional employments off the top of my head, I came up with The Custom House introduction in The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, Dracula, and Don Quixote. Knowing Wikipedia would likely provide a list of works using this device, I looked it up, and just glancing at the titles, I realized Trickster is undeniably present.

Almost every usage of the false document listed is tied to occult, Fortean, paranormal, sci-fi, horror, or otherwise fantastical topics. Of course, it is easily deduced that the very reason the device is used is to because of the implausible nature of the topics. And of course, abduction , aliens, and UFOs are among those topics.

Considering it further, I realized how deeply this technique is woven into the overall UFO narrative. Real vs. fake, —the very notion of "authenticity" itself along with confrontations of identity--can usually be uncovered at the heart of UFO narratives, whether presented as real, fictional, hoax, or a combination. The blurring is part of the point—that questioning.

There is a huge precedent of the False Document device in UFO stories. Some of the most intriguing ideas , having nothing to do with fiction, either literary or filmic, even have to do with actual, tanglible false documents such as *MJ-12, the CARET document, the letters involved in the Guardian case, to name only a few.

Within fiction about UFOs, the False Document device seems to fit like a glove. The Orson Wells War of the Worlds broadcast may be a very early example. In the 1990s, during the full blossoming of the contemporary UFO narrative, there were a multitude of fictions using it, some to extreme extents, crossing mostly over into hoax territory, such as with Alien Autopsy.

Some are more ambiguous, such as the forgettable UPN special Alien Abduction: The Incident in Lake County. Marketed by UPN as a real video showing real events, but ending with closing credits showing actors names as aliens, it was obvious it was no "real" video.

Wait a minute though, it was said, that video is a merely fiction based on a supposedly real video, referred to as The McPherson Tape, and there are youtube clips of ufologists and "experts" arguing the possible authenticity of it. Turns out the real video the fake UPN video are both fictitious. No kidding.

Although the Lake County story is flimsy and easily dismissible, here we have the layer-upon-layer notion, that oft-noted "onion peel" effect often found within UFO discourses. Looking around the web for this same idea around The Fourth Kind, I found some interesting, Trickster-like things.

I was surprised to see that the False Document in Fourth Kind was taken seriously. It seemed so obviously a device. Nevertheless, there are blog postings and various attempts to show or prove the "real" people are actors, and accompanying skeptical comments.

One especially Trickster-like entry on a blog shows a video of a headshot of the actress portraying the "real" Dr. Abigail Tyler in The Fourth Kind morphing in a shapeshifting manner into her more plain-looking real character of the supposedly real, but known fake Dr. Abagail Tyler.

The tables are turned here, and logic is on its head. The photo of the undeniably real person here—Charlotte Milchard—taken from IMDB, is very non-mundane in its obvious market-friendliness of full makeup and photoshopping. That's how we know she's a real person—because it looks like a set up. It then morphs into a less flattering and more realistic photo—far more like someone you'd actually see sitting next to you at the theater. That's how we know she's fake—only someone looking that real in a movie could be fake.

There is a strange account written in the Wikipedia listing for the film. Under the section entitled "Marketing campaign," this confusing story is related:

On November 12, 2009 Universal Pictures agreed to a $20,000 settlement with the Alaska Press Club "to settle complaints about fake news archives used to promote the movie." Universal acknowledged that they created fake online news articles and obituaries to make it appear that the movie had a basis in real events.

On November 13, 2009 WorstPreviews.com reported "Universal Pictures has just reached out to us to let us know that the studio was not sued and the money was just a contribution Universal made to the Alaska Press Club. The contribution was not a result of any lawsuit.

It doesn't seem to me that there was an intention to make the fictionalized videos and stories in the story—the False Document—actually real. The whole thing seems to be wrapped around getting at the ideas of real/unreal and authenticity/identity itself, and muddling and blurring of boundaries and confines begins to happen.

The commentaries on forums and blog postings seem to confirm this—the arguments end up centering not necessarily on aliens and abductions, but how we can know if something is real or fake, and even how those things can be defined.

Tied to UFOs, are these questions about real vs. fake and identity and authenticity avoidable? Are UFOs simply a device we use to be able to ask those questions, or are the questions some kind of prerequisite to go further, whether it be continuing on with UFOs and aliens, or some other kind of answer found inside?

*Or, more correctly, documents that have substantial claims of falsehood.

Sources and further reading:

False Document, Wikipedia,
The Fourth Kind, Wikipedia,
3B Planet overview of Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County

Contact Richelle Hawks

Visit Richelle's blog: Beamships Equal Love