Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Alien Imaginaries
This dissertation offers a cultural analysis of UFOs and extraterrestrials in the United States. In it I look at what I call real aliens — extraterrestrials believed to be real and interacting with humans on Earth. Beliefs in real aliens are often denigrated and dismissed in official discourse, yet they continue to not only persist, but thrive, in American society. Hence, this dissertation asks: Why do so many people believe that extraterrestrials are visiting our planet? Part One begins by tracing the invasion of real aliens in the United States using Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast “The War of the Worlds” as a starting point. Here, I look at how and why the broadcast registered with listeners’ anxieties and created a fantastic and uncanny effect that made it possible for some to conceive of aliens invading the United States. In Part Two, I trace the rise of ufology, which involves the study of extraterrestrials currently interacting with humans on Earth, and I consider how the social and political climate of the Cold War, as well as the cultural environment of postmodernity, provided the necessary conditions for stories about aliens to be made believable. Part Three explores the case study of the Roswell Incident, a conspiracy theory about the origins of an alleged flying saucer crash and government cover-up. I look at the reasons for why many individuals have come to believe in this conspiracy theory and I reflect on the tensions between “official” and “unofficial” discourses surrounding this case. I also consider how and why Roswell has become such an important site for ufology, and I examine the performances given by ufologists at the annual Roswell International UFO Festival to appreciate how ufologists offers seductive explanations of why things are the way they are; for many, their stories offer a better version of events than the purely rational and positivist explanations offered by official sources, especially since they tap into the disillusionment and mistrust that many Americans feel about contemporary politics. Author Keywords: aliens/extraterrestrials, America, conspiracy, official and unofficial, storytelling, ufology

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