Monday 6 August 2012, 18:22

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis

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To celebrate today's successful landing on Mars I thought I would show a film of a man who claimed to have got to Mars a long time ago. He did this back in the late 1950s by communicating telepathically with the beings who inhabited the Red Planet. He also claimed that his mother went there on a UFO. And what's more the BBC took him very seriously.

He was called George King. He was a London taxi driver who back in 1956 had a strange experience. He was washing the dishes when he heard a voice which said

"Prepare yourself. You are about to become the voice of Interplanetary Parliament"

As a result, George King founded the Aetherius Society - which still exists today. His aim was to spread the messages that he received from what he called The Space People.

In 1959 the BBC made a half hour programme about Mr King, his strange cosmic experiences and his ideas. It is one of the most wonderful, odd and touching films I have ever found in the BBC archives.

Here is Mr King

George King is allowed in the programme to describe what happened to him at length - and the interviewer takes him completely seriously. The result is extraordinary - Mr King tells how the space people have given him a name - they call him "Mental Channel No. 1", how he has met people from Mars, Venus and Saturn and has "telepathic rapport" with them.

The interviewer then asks for proof that he really has met these people. George King says that his mother has proved it. She did this, he says, by being picked up by a UFO and then travelling through space to meet one of the people who regularly communicates with him.

So that proves that - he says.

And they then play the tape recording of his mother describing her interplanetary flight.

And then it gets weirder. The interviewer asks George King to contact - and channel - one of these beings. And he agrees. What then happens is just brilliant.

The film begins, appropriately, with Mars speaking to Earth. It ends - as all good programmes did in those days - with a Jungian consultant psychiatrist assessing George King's claims

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    Comment number 1.

    Doing the dishes and feeling like nothing special when, all of a sudden, yourself and the mother are given the job of becoming the communications conduits of cosmic saviors. Nice. These days lot of people are expressing their anxiety/hope in similar ways. The internet is awash with this stuff. However, imagining an otherworldly means of salvation has given way to imagining the secret architects of our destruction. The paranoid narrative of the Illuminati is worthy of analysis. What does it say about people's perception of their place in the Occidental world? Is it that we are alienated, disempowered, frightened, bored or maybe all of the above?

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    Comment number 2.

    Awesome. I've been clucking for another post, seemed like ages, thanks Adam.

    Read something somewhere about another 'interactive theatre' event AC might be working on, involving BBC Television Centre, which could be all kinds of wonder. If I can find it again I'll post a link.

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    Comment number 3.

    Two of my favourite things - historical archive footage and extraterrestrials - combined in one package! Excellent, Adam. I've known George King's story for years, but this documentary sounds fascinating (I haven't had time to watch it yet, but am looking forward to it). Of course, as Adam says, the Aetherius Society is still going strong even today, and other organisations with UFOlogical compulsions, such as the Raelians, 'channel' in a very similar way (I recall a Louis Theroux documentary from years back in which, I think, he met with some Raelians). All these tendencies are much older and more consistent than we can often assume as well - Theodore Flournoy, one of Carl Jung's mentors, undertook a case study with a trance medium in the very late 1890's in which she claimed to be travelling astrally to a highly advanced Mars, and was seen to write using an alphabet she claimed to be Martian.

    Sometimes, these energies can be channeled in less than positive ways: most people have now long forgotten that the mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate cult in the late 90's was rooted in their understanding of the need for UFO generated transcendence, for instance. but George King was certainly one of the more charming exponents of the creed that greater intelligences than our own were aiming to save the benighted of the Earth. That he should intuit this at a time of continued Cold War, nuclear proliferation and superpower rivalry, of course, may have its component in the story.

    As to the spread of Illuminati conspiracy theories, I could write a book. Suffice to say, they originate demonstrably in early 19th century Restoration era France, founded on reference to certain real developments in the mid to late 18th century, and were revived in American circles from the 1920's onwards by primarily right wing ideologues, who associated Illuminism with liberal thought, atheism, sexual permissiveness, Socialism and other such related ills. Sometime in the 1960's, the New Left began to adopt their own brand of attack on the Illuminati (no one being entirely certain to this day how seriously they were invoking it), seemingly inspired by the divisive splits opening up within American society in the 60's - weirdly, they, too, could find reasons for hating big business, clerical hypocrisy, Communist authoritarianism and so on that stemmed from entirely different political roots to the mistrust of the right wing, but often aimed at the same targets. From that point in time on, the Illuminati conspiracy theory was available to all left leaning New Ag

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    Comment number 4.

    New Agers to flag up as a perceived Conservative conspiracy to extirpate free thought and individual rights, even though it had begun life as a right wing perceived conspiracy to extirpate the family, the Church and moral autonomy by the left!

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    Comment number 5.

    For what it's worth, here's my take, in an all too brief nutshell that doesn't do the original research justice, but merely serves as a pointer:

    The 16th century pictures in C.J. Jung's book "Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in The Sky" show black dots and (squiggly) lines, the kind of shapes that closely resemble what are known as entoptic phenomena: visual effects whose source is within the eye itself, such as phosphenes.

    James Lewis-Williams, a professor in cognitive archaeology, and Thomas Dowson, in their attempt to classify abstract patterns on ancient rock art, came to the conclusion that abstract, geometric shapes in such art is the artistic recording of entoptic phenomena, as seen in altered states of consciousness such as trance, with or without the aid of psychedelic substances. They called these shapes (such as wavy lines, spheres, spirals and lattices) "form constants", in that they are independent of culture.

    Lewis-Williams and Dowson developed a model they called the Three Stages of Trance. The 1st stage consisted of seeing the aforementioned simple geometric forms of entoptics. In the 2nd stage "subjects try to make sense of entoptics by elaborating them into iconic form", the result being more complex visions involving living entities such as (mythic) animals, sprites, elves, etc. Such animals are also seen in ancient rock art, often in combination with the simple shapes of the first stage. The 2nd stage visuals are always culturally determined.

    In the 3rd stage the phenomena become three dimensional and so vivid and that the person experiencing them stops using similes to describe their experiences and asserts that the images are indeed what they appear to be and interacts with them.

    As far as I can tell, the work of Lewis-Williams and Dowson does not deal with encounters with UFOs and extra terrestrials, but it is easy to see the correspondence with the so called Close Encounter classification started by UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek, later popularised by the Spielberg film.

    Close encounter of the 1st kind: visual sightings of an unidentified flying object. The object, being a geometric shape, corresponds with visuals from Lewis-Williams and Dowson's 1st stage of trance. An encounter of the 2nd kind is visually similar to the 1st, so we'll skip that one.

    C. E. of the 3rd kind: sightings of "extra terrestrial occupants" in and around the UFO. This corresponds with visuals from Lewis-Williams and Dowson's 2nd stage of trance, living entities that are culturally specific (as in: space age).

    C. E. of the 4th kind: a human is abducted (or taken on board voluntarily) by a UFO or its occupants. According to Jacques Vallee, 4th kind encounters should be described as "cases when witnesses experienced a transformation of their sense of reality," so as to also include non-abduction cases where absurd, hallucinatory or dreamlike events are associated with UFO encounters.
    C. E. of the 5th kind: joint, bilateral contact events produced through the conscious, voluntary and proactive human-initiated or cooperative communication with extraterrestrial intelligence.
    These last two kinds correspond with Lewis-Williams and Dowson's 3rd stage of trance: the phenomena become so vivid that the observer interacts with them.

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    Comment number 6.

    Oops... some mistakes in my previous post.

    "C.J. Jung" should of course be C.G. Jung, and James Lewis-Williams is better known by his second name David Lewis-Williams.

    The "Form Constant" and its relationship with entoptics was devised by Heinrich Klüver, who studied the effects of mescaline in the 1920s, and whose work Lewis-Williams and Dowson expanded on to form their trance model.

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    Comment number 7.

    I like how he seems to lose the accent a minute or two into the 'transmission'. Nice shades, too.

    Don't know too much about Jung, but I was surprised the analyst chap didn't try to draw a connection between King's mother's being the only one to have physically traveled on a saucer and the Assumption of Mary.

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    Comment number 8.

    "Two saucers put together with a domes on top... made of organic metal, as a living thing"

    Not madness, clairvoyance! He sees Katie Price's mammaries 50 years hence.

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    Comment number 9.

    Congratulations! I was not expecting to read, hear and see anything as acute and, I gather, ironic, as this post about the news regarding the landing on Mars, successful it may have been or seemed.

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    Comment number 10.

    Very amusing and entertaining BBC video, Adam - and I note the frozen po-faced expressions of the presenter, psychiatrist and the astronomer as they observe King during his trance!

    In an earlier age King might have been revered as a shaman and in another age he might have been feted as a spiritualist medium, paid handsome amounts of money by credulous middle-class folks to contact the souls of the dead. Then again he might have been persecuted as possessed by demons. Whatever King manifested would have been interpreted according to the cultural values and social mores of the time.

    I did really fear for his mum: she might have been subjected to strange medical experiments by the aliens and packed off back to earth, to give birth years later perhaps to a wise and wizened offspring!

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    Comment number 11.

    A nice short but sweet post, thanks as ever.

    I wonder if George King was an inspiration for Kevin Spacey's in K-Pax - (a remarkably poor film that I had the misfortune of watching..), the demeanour is very similar and he even has the matching sunglasses!

    In response to this "And what's more the BBC took him very seriously." - From the reactions and questions of the interviewer and the other guests, it didn't appear to me that they took him & his claims seriously but more like they took his delusions seriously as a psychological study. Even more so as his mum got involved too - wonder if that was out of sympathy from her or because it was the only way for her to not have to come to terms with the fact that her son was bonkers.

    "I like how he seems to lose the accent a minute or two into the 'transmission'." I couldn't help laughing through most of the telepathic episode at the way he was seemingly channeling a rather strange South African chap.

    As for the Illuminati comments - I think that would make a great post / study in itself from Adam, seems like the Internet helped the conspiracies to go into exponential overdrive. As Fugger said "Is it that we are alienated, disempowered, frightened, bored or maybe all of the above?" I think the (perhaps denied) answer from the majority of Illuminati obsessives would be an empathic "Yes".

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    Comment number 12.

    And one more thing, I like how the only thing his imagination could come up with for the appearance of Saturnites was "like a man but with big hands and little feet", come on George you can do better than that!!

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    Comment number 13.

    George King led a long and interesting life, he only passed away in 1997. In 1973 he claimed to have invented a sort of prayer battery that stored the power of prayer. Available from all good hardware stores. As he describes in this clip posted on youtube;

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    Comment number 14.

    It struck me that this was Jerry Springer TV, but not as we now know it....:-))

    I think there might be a few complaints about the waste of BBC licence-fee payers money nowadays, although in truth it wasn't a big budget production was it. I daresay there's a few American tax-payers wondering what the point of Curiosity is as well and why they should have to pay for it.

    Oh, and anyone else notice the slip where the Consultant Psychiatrist who must be nameless inadvertently referred to the Jungian Psychiatrist who must be nameless, as, TONY. I trust the BBC were duly remonstrated with - by the appropriate authorities..... :-D

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    Comment number 15.

    The physical science might be correct in that there are some samples of metals with memories kicking about our planet, by layering time one could make short hops in space in very quick time. The contact took place after the so call pact time. There were all sorts of contacts and mostly of the harmless sort. Later there would get to be a much darker picture from beyond. Aliens tend to fit the times they appear in. Spider Robinson said that best in Time Travelers Pay Strictly Cash or in the work of Colin Wilson.

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    Comment number 16.

    All people who act in secret to increase their power are technically conspirators.

    To dismiss the possibility of "conspiracies" as foolish is irrational as most corporations and political parties operate in a conspiratorial manner by default.

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    Comment number 17.

    A fair last comment, but I, for one, would never deny that 'conspiracism' had its role to play in the conduct of the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War, the French and Russian Revolutions, multiple 'regime changes' orchestrated by the US in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the GLADIO initiative in post World War II Europe, Comintern activities in Europe installing pro Stalinist party apparatus post War World II, Thatcher's behaviour during the Miners' Strike, the orchestration of UK police operations in Ireland in the 70's and 80's, not to mention vast amounts of the material that Adam covers on this very site. As an ex historian, I am well aware that there is nothing new under the sun, and King Louis XV ran spy networks in the mid 18th century that surveilled their own membership and spread disinformation; that the historical Vatican employed its own assassination squad; the German banking houses forced Emperor Charles V to obey foreign policies that served their financial interests and so forth. I wouldn't wish to question the validity of many historical conspiracies, defined as caballing of one sort or another, for economic, military or political leverage.

    However, the idea of an 'Illuminati' conspiracy is very specific: it most definitely does derive from the (real) activities of Adam Weishaupt's short lived group of Bavarian Masonic cells, who were intended to infiltrate less radical lodges and re-orient their policies towards support for more extensively revolutionary activities. Driven underground (in part by the mainstream Masonic establishment), they became an especial bogeyman to the post Revolutionary French right wing, who saw in the Revolution an enacting of policies felt to be analagous to the one time aims of the Illuminati. This claim was bolstered in part by the fact that many leading Revolutionaries were affiliated to Masonic groups (but, it must be said, this was extremely common for the vast majority of middle class Frenchmen with social aspirations in the c.18th - and that the Revolution actively reacted against Masonry), and that there is demonstrable evidence that the Duc de Orleans (a known Mason) was initially influential in stoking the revolutionary fires through assiduous payments to leading orators and judicious orchestrating of street riots to increase his own chances of ascending the throne. However, Orleans was hardly the 'eminence gris' most made him out to be - his conspiracy singularly failing when he was guillotined as a class traitor in 1793.

    An Illuminati slur than became part of a late 18th century dispute between Fed

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    Comment number 18.

    An Illuminati slur than became part of a late 18th century dispute between Federalists and Democrats in the US, before resurfacing in its strange modern form, which stands up very badly in the light of historical attention. Serious historical conspiracies deserve searching and probing analysis and unearthing; the likes of the Illuminati conspiracy, or the Priory of Sion 'mystery', are interesting only inasmuch as they offer clues to how human beings like to layer stories.

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    Comment number 19.

    As Gore Vidal died recently, any chance of some archive footage of him? Apparently he was convinced that JFK was assassinated by the Mafia. Maybe that's an angle you could pursue. I enjoyed the film but yearn for more 'enlightenment' on the history of the British empire. Anything on the experience of the British during the 2012 London Olympics perhaps and how they all fell in love with a dream that was created with the same process that made their nightmares?

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    Comment number 20.

    @ Leeravitz: Do you know how and why the Eye of Providence came to be on the United States one-dollar note? Conspiracy theories associate the Eye of Providence with Freemasonry but as far as I know only one of the signatories of the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, Benjamin Franklin, was a Mason.

    Franklin may have been a part-time member of Francis Dashwood's Hellfire Club which included John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, as a full-time member. This is the same Earl who sponsored James Cook's voyages in the Pacific and Southern Oceans in the 1760s and in whose honour Hawaii and a food item were named. Lurid stories about Dashwood's Hellfire Club activities can be found on the Internet and news that the remains of 10 human bodies were found in the basement of what used to be Benjamin Franklin's London residence in 1998 adds fuel to the fire. (Read the comments forum as well, it is the funniest I have seen!)


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