The Flying Saucer
A Manufactured Concept
Ohio Wesleyan University
(From Sociology and Social Research, May- June, 1948.)
Later, we will see, the concept was strengthened by repetition, repetition by variations, “scientific" evidence and speculation, photography, analogy, wit, denial, apology. Newspapers, through juxtaposition, headlining, and suggestion, soon related it to other concepts, to well-established stereotypes and slogans — “the greatest air force in the world" and universal military training to protect "the American way of life" from "the menace of red- Fascism." Other events were soon reported which fitted the general pattern of the first story of early June 1947. A pilot "saw" one of the "what'sits" at 10,000 feet, going at 1,200 mph. When next “seen" the saucers had already acquired common, if vague, attributes of shape, size, speed, and altitude, and in a day or two had added "a blue, fiery tail," or "two tails like a comet." They came out of the West.
In the week of the saucer story St. Louis was concerned with the threat of flood and Chicago was involved in bitter discussion of rent control, but these were matters of local interest. In most of the nation it was a “ low” week, from an editor's viewpoint.4
Date Total Inches Page One Inches
July 4 6
July 5 28
July 6 92 36
July 7 136 32
July 8 95 18
July 9 57 13
July 10 8
|Samples of flying saucer headlines|
It follows, then, that the use of variation in report is an obvious strengthening factor. The skeptic is deceived by this lack of dogma, saying to himself, “ of course the stories are fantastic, but they have something in common; some common experience produced them." He thus maintains his sense of objectivity and can discuss the matter "rationally." In a sample mass-observation interview 6 it was found that few denied the simple concept, the majority merely attacking details which seemed to weaken the validity of the whole : e.g., “ as big as a five-room house,” "it disintegrated before my eyes."
Another function of variation is that the individual is not inhibited but can exalt himself by observing some new features of the saucer. The conservative individual, too, is not unduly offended. He may accept the older, “proved” parts of the concept and reject the new, perhaps more specific in detail.7
Such repetition, in all its variations, and the endorsement by the authority of the press are the two basic “causes” of public opinion about the flying saucer. Other forces, however, were at work.
Such denial merely serves to instill the picture more firmly in the public mind For it is obvious that a denial is as much a repetition of the concept as is an affirmation.8 Especially strong is the denial by the air force, so firmly stated that it must conceal “top drawer" secrets.
1 See Sofia/ Distance, a Syllabus, University of Southern California.
About the Author
|Herbert Lewis Hackett, |
as a boy in 1929
Here's a brief biography by his grandson, Ethan Daniel Davidson:
My grandfather was Herbert Lewis Hackett, born 16 January, 1917, Rangoon, Burma. He ended up back in the States, by the outbreak of WWII. After having earned his PhD in Linguistics from University of Michigan, he was drafted into the Army, commissioned as a Captain, given the assignment of teaching English to German POWs at a camp in Shamrock, Texas. He seems to have gotten into a fight with his CO after hearing of his father's death, and was ultimately discharged; it's my understanding he was a very reluctant conscript anyway. It was while working at the camp that he met the daughter of an itinerant preacher: Sarah Wilborn. Herbert and Sarah moved frequently, as Herbert was a college Professor: Arkansas, Salt Lake, Lansing, Buffalo. Herbert died of a heart attack in Buffalo, 1964.
|Herbert L. Hackett, 1957|
He didn't seem to have much else to say about UFOs, but used them as an example in his 1957 book on writing clearly, Understanding, and Being Understood:
"Is the report on the facts consistent within itself? This question implies that facts should not contradict themselves. An early report of the flying saucer, for example, stated that it moved at two thousand miles an hour, and that it had a "blister" in which two or three men were observed; yet that speed would make it impossible for an observer to note such details.”