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Blogs - Clock - MUERTOS BLOG: "Communion" and Sequels, 25 years on: Whitley Strieber's Alien Claims Re-examined. (Part II)

Author: Clock (Show other entries)
Date: Mar 25, 2013 at 21:31

I am not Muertos and I do not know him. I am simply reposting these articles because I had found them on the Internet Wayback Machine. Do not contact me when it comes to this blog, I am not its author and my views are not necessarily his. REPEAT: I AM NOT MUERTOS.


By Muertos (2013 corrections by Clock)
In a previous blog post,
I wrote about the book Communion by Whitley Strieber, which so far as I know remains to date the best-selling book ever written on UFOs or related subjects. Strieber's central claim was that he was abducted and sexually assaulted by nonhuman beings, which he calls "visitors," on December 26, 1985 (a quarter century ago this week) and that after this experience he realized he'd been interacting with the "visitors" for most of his life. In this blog I continue the discussion of Strieber and his claims, focusing on his sequels, Transformation (1988) and Breakthrough (1995), as well as the film of Communion made in 1989.

Transformation: Strieber Jumps the Shark

As I explained in the last blog, I read Communion for the first time when I was 14 and, as a lad very interested in science fiction, aliens and UFOs, I was utterly convinced by it-at first. The more I learned about Whitley Strieber, however, and especially his weird New Age tendencies, the more skeptical I became of his claims that he had been abducted by aliens.
Transformation was the sequel. The book originally came out in the summer of 1988, but I didn't read it until the paperback version came out a year later, shortly before the Communion film was released. I was still, at this time, a genuine believer. I thought Strieber made a convincing case that he'd been interacting with aliens. When I read Transformation, though, I found it pretty hard to swallow.
Before getting into the guts of this book I want to say a few things about the edition that I have. Even though I bought it more than 20 years ago (the cover price is $4.95!), I still have the paperback. It has a wonderfully ominous image of half of an alien's face, staring up at you with a huge silver eye. Underneath the title, Transformation, is a subtitle, The Breakthrough. This becomes interesting later on, because Strieber ended up titling his third abduction book simply Breakthrough. So which book is really the "breakthrough," then-Transformation or Breakthrough? Under the words "The Breakthrough" is a movie-style tag line: "Know This: They Are Watching." In space, no one can hear you scream!
You may remember that in Communion Strieber was carefully circumspect about the nature of the "visitors." He refused to state specifically that he thought they were aliens from another planet, although this conclusion was certainly implicit from the book as a whole. He even refused to go so far as to claim they were physically real, instead posing the somewhat half-hearted notion that they might be figments of the unconscious mind (in other words, that he made them up).
In the opening words of the introduction of Transformation, Strieber abandons even this tepid neutrality. He says, "My experience has come to include too many witnesses for me to consider that it is internal to my mind." Just so we're clear, he's now on record, as of mid-1988, saying that the visitors who abducted him are physically real.
He goes on to state: "Short of actual, physical evidence, I think that I have gone as far as possible to demonstrate the reality of the visitors."

Got that? Short of actual, physical evidence. So, aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
Most of the first half of Transformation is a laundry list of increasingly bizarre visitations, easily ramping up the weirdness factor. Strieber describes the aliens faking him out by abducting his son (who is later returned to his bedroom, naturally, with no memory of being gone), appearing to him dressed like 19th century British rajahs and demanding a historical lecture on the reasons for the collapse of the British Empire, and then, most strangely, warning him that the metabolism of his body has changed and he will die if he eats chocolate. I know that sounds incredibly random, but there it is on page 67. The struggle over sweets becomes one of the main plot threads of the book. At one point Strieber describes his entire net worth vanishing from his bank account. It turns out this was merely a computer error that was duly corrected, but he's adamant that this was caused by the aliens, in retaliation for him eating a candy bar.
Much of the middle section of the book is a retread of Communion, as well as some more illuminating ideas about Strieber's past. Interestingly, he reverses himself on the claim made in Communion that he wasn't present at the Charles Whitman University of Texas bell tower massacre in Austin on August 1, 1966, and now claims he was there, although no one can remember seeing him there. He also relates more instances of the kind I pointed out in the previous blog, where his childhood friends confirmed that Strieber talked about aliens, and even being abducted by them, quite often in his youth. Again he claims not to have remembered saying things like this.
Two incidents detailed in Transformation are noteworthy, in my opinion. The first is a claim, at last, of "proof" of the visitors' existence. The second is where Strieber finally, to use a colloquial term, jumps the shark.

First, the "proof." Strieber claims that on August 27, 1986, he was sitting in his upstate New York cabin reading a book when the aliens banged on his house ten times. There were nine knocks, in three groups of three, followed by a tenth "double-knock" that sounded to him like a sort of "end of transmission" statement. He claims these knocks scared the bejeezus out of his cats, and this was how he suddenly "knew" the aliens were real. He drones on for pages about the philosophical implications of these nine knocks, and barely glosses over the fact that there were no human witnesses to this event, and aside from the fact that he couldn't duplicate the sound by banging on the outside of the house with a hammer while perched on the roof, offers no evidence that they were caused by alien visitors.
This is what passes for "proof" of alien visitation in Strieber's reality. Some funky sounds in his rural cabin and two scared cats. That's it.

The second incident crops up toward the end of the book, and apropos of nothing: Strieber describes going to bed one fall evening and then having an out-of-body experience. He floats up out of his body, goes outside, looks around a bit, touches some pine needles, and swoops back into being Whitley Strieber. (I admit, rereading this experience recently I thought of Scientology doctrine of "body thetans" and "meat bodies"). As odd as this is, and even starting to be skeptical of the Communion phenomenon by 1989, I was almost ready to accept this.
There does seem to be something happening at least in the minds of people who report out of body experiences (OBE's), and some aberration of brain chemistry is suspected to be at the root of it. (1) Strieber's treatment of the phenomenon, however, just veers too far into the realm of New Age mysticism to be believed. By the end of Transformation he's zooming around the world, outside of his body, trying to help his friends uncover hidden truths about their spiritual selves. Does this sound suspiciously like the crap Carlos Castaneda was pushing starting in the '70s? (2)

At this point I could no longer take Whitley Strieber seriously. Perhaps predictably, by the end of Transformation he's off chanting in the woods with his Wiccan friends, including one of whom he tried to contact through an OBE. Actually he spends a lot of time in the woods in this book, supposedly getting over his fear of the aliens. This is mixed with a lot of New Age platitudes, veiled references to the theories of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, lofty talk about the soul, oh and-what UFO book would be complete without this?-conspiracy theories. I'll get to the conspiracy theories in my explication of Breakthrough and Strieber's later activity, which will be in Part III of this blog.
There you have Transformation. Is it a "breakthrough?" I guess that depends on who you ask.

What's The Point?

Maybe I'm being unfair by focusing on the bizarre details of this book and not devoting enough attention to Strieber's main point, which is, as I suppose it should be, the question of why aliens are abducting him and other people and putting oozy stuff up their butts. Where is all this leading?
Strieber is not subtle about this point. In fact he beats you over the head with it, long before you even get to the OBE stuff: Strieber believes these aliens are here to "transform" human consciousness and to get us to pay attention to the spiritual realm, and the existence of the soul, instead of the material things in life. He is absolutely convinced that this is the main project of the "visitors," that they know exactly what they're doing, and that we as a human species must open ourselves up to this "transformation," or our planet goes boom. (I haven't touched on it, but there's a lot of planet-goes-boom stuff in both Communion and Transformation, much of it centering around the hole in the ozone layer, which was a hot topic back in 1989).

As a very good writer-I'll give him that much-Strieber does argue eloquently for a greater awareness of spiritual matters. Ultimately, however, his argument is unconvincing, because he never explains why these aliens have to do what he says they're doing in order to get us, the human race, to pay attention to this. He argues over and over again that our society has totally rejected the existence of the soul or the value of any sort of spiritual consciousness, but all he cites in support of this argument are generalizations about the hostility of the mainstream media and government to UFOs and aliens (and his own claims in particular). Never once does he attempt to explain why what he claims to have experienced on December 26, 1985-which he has unequivocally referred to as rape (3) -is necessary to undergo this "transformation." Trust the visitors, he says. They're such an awesomely advanced intelligence, they have to know what they're doing, so the anal probe stuff is all for a good cause.

This attitude illustrates the unresolvable dichotomy in Strieber's approach to his own claims. At first he wants you to think he's a victim. Alien abduction stories, at their root, are fundamentally victim narratives-in some sense the ultimate victim narrative, because who on Earth could have any effective defense against an alien intelligence powerful enough to get here in starships? But later, you're supposed to forget all the victim stuff, go sit chanting in the woods and let the pure good and unimpeachable spiritual motives of these alien rapists fill you with joy and understanding.
His argument about society's rejection of anything spiritual also seems not to add up. Strieber describes, especially in Communion, the very vivid and spiritual experience of growing up in a deeply devout Catholic family. It seems strange, therefore, that with that background Strieber can claim that spirituality is rejected. Catholicism has a very long and rich tradition of embracing the spiritual in the human experience; Orthodoxy, especially Greek Orthodoxy (which some argue is the most "pure" form of Christianity), does so even more, and also integrates the mysticism that's not unlike whatever Strieber seems to be seeking when he's running around in the woods with the Wiccans. What about Buddhism? The deep spiritual tenets of Islam? The mysticism of Judaism, which has emphasized a personal connection with God going back to the dawn of civilization? Most people on this planet are spiritual, and the vast majority of them do strongly believe in the existence of the soul. I do, and while I am religious now I believed in the soul even when I was a staunch atheist.
In short, to put it crudely, why do we need a bunch of rapey aliens to come down to Earth and tell us to be spiritual? Don't our priests, rabbis, imams, our Deepak Chopras, and yes, even our Gurdjieffs and Ouspenskys tell us this all the time? What does alien abduction and sexual assault possibly have to do with the inner truths of the soul? Strieber never addresses this. He merely posits an argument, that despite their awful and immoral behavior, we should somehow excuse what they did to him (and what they're doing to the rest of us), because, they're like spiritual and stuff.
Um, yeah. A "breakthrough" this isn't.

Communion, The Movie: The Aliens Kidnap Christopher Walken!

This series of blogs is mainly about the Communion books, but I have to give a few words to the movie, which is actually quite good, if obscure. I actually like the film very much, and own a copy of it on DVD. It's a great movie to watch around Halloween time because it's very scary and disturbing in an off-kilter and unusual way, so in that sense it's an excellent film. That's very different than believing its claims, though.
The success of Communion led probably inevitably to a movie. Strieber's work has gone on the silver screen before; his horror novels The Wolfen and The Howling were both turned into movies. He is credited as producer and screenwriter for the film, which was directed by his longtime friend, French-Australian director Philippe Mora.(4) It was filmed in 1988 and released the fall of the next year. It got terrible reviews (5) and was a box-office bomb, earning a paltry $1.9 million on a budget that must have been several times that.

The film version deviates significantly from the book, and also incorporates some material from Transformation as well as the first book. The first thing that's surprising about the movie is the casting. Christopher Walken, Academy Award-winner for The Deer Hunter and well known for his other roles (Annie Hall, Catch Me If You Can) plays Strieber! You can't fault Strieber for wanting an A-list actor to play him, but this is a prime example of bizarre casting. I'll get to Walken's portrayal in a moment. Lindsay Crouse, always an excellent actress, brings considerable charm, grace and stability to the role of Anne, Whitley Strieber's wife. I can say nothing of how accurate her performance is. For all the considerable mention of Anne Strieber in the books, she isn't very well fleshed out as a personality in Strieber's writing, probably to protect her privacy.
Anyway, the movie doesn't begin, as the book does, with the December 26, 1985 visitation, but instead the weird events of the previous October. It devotes a strange amount of attention to Halloween 1985, where Strieber is supposedly frightened by a child in a Halloween mask shaped like the head of a praying mantis, which he says he thinks he's seen "alive." This incident is not mentioned anywhere in the books, nor as far as I can remember does Strieber ever describe insect-like aliens.
The abduction and rape scene, told mostly in flashback, is predictably bizarre and disturbing.
If you've read the books, the differences are very subtle, but, I think, extremely telling. As I mentioned in the last blog, after the December 1985 event, Strieber didn't seek professional help until after he already began to think he'd been abducted by aliens-the movie changes this. Here, he sees an ordinary doctor, thena psychologist (played by Frances Sternhagen) who "specializes in rape cases." This is totally different than what happened in real life, where Strieber first saw an alien abduction expert, Budd Hopkins, who brought the story out under hypnosis. Important difference, yes?
The movie also only barely touches on the "it's-been-happening-my-whole-life" theme. There's one scene depicting Strieber as a child, looking up at a UFO with a bunch of other children around him, and one of them asks him, "What is it, Whit?" (This is a very creepy scene too, very well done). But there's nothing about the "chase" through Europe, the was-I-there-or-wasn't-I confusion about the Whitman massacre, or anything else of that nature. The focus of the movie is how Strieber, his wife and child deal with these bizarre experiences.
Walken's portrayal is also very interesting. From reading the books you get the impression that Strieber is a somewhat flighty intellectual. Walken, of course, plays Strieber the way he plays every other character in his movie career: an extremely intense, possibly tormented individual, very assertive, headstrong and blunt. You don't see Christopher Walken playing with a deck of tarot cards, for instance, or chanting in the woods, or dancing around Wiccan bonfires. Could you really see Christopher Walken doing any of that? Yet we know Whitley Strieber does those things. What we do see on the screen is someone who's a little...well, creepy. He walks around his apartment in a dress shirt with no pants, talks to himself in a German accent, and watches himself on videotape while he writes-while wearing a wolf mask. I've been a writer for many years. I've never watched myself on videotape while writing. I can't imagine why anyone would.
So the movie shows us, basically, the sanitized version of Communion: a Whitley Strieber who's a little weird, a little out there, but no depiction of the New Age stuff, no out-of-body experiences, nothing more than a passing mention of the your-planet-is-going-to-blow-up stuff, certainly no recognition that he was into aliens and UFOs for all of his life, and a real soft-pedal of the spiritual-transformation message. And notably we see Strieber reacting to his experience the way we expect someone would react-going to a psychiatrist and getting checked out-rather than the way he really did react, which was to get involved with a UFO abduction expert. The movie shows us one "rational" explanation after another going unavailing, until a troubled and reluctant Strieber is forced to admit the painful truth, that he was abducted by aliens and given an anal probe. Then he and his wife yell at each other a little bit and eventually decide the aliens are "the faces of God," and that we must embrace them.
This is not how it happened! This could be, however, how Whitley Strieber wants us to think it might have happened.

Coming Up...

In Part III of this blog I'll get to Strieber's 1995 book Breakthrough (wait...I thought Transformation was the "breakthrough?") where he doubles down and goes for broke. In this book, easily the weirdest of the three, he buys a one-way ticket to the land of woo by vigorously embracing most of the classic UFO conspiracy theories, charges that the evil gubbermint is harassing him, and...I can't believe I'm going to write not only that he did a ride-along with his alien buddies while they abducted, assaulted and terrorized somebody else, but that an alien came to live with him at his house for three months. Does that mean he finally got pictures, material evidence, actual proof? Well, not exactly...