:: Article

Trickster Figures & Unhinged Paranoia


Mirage Men: An Adventure into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs, Mark Pilkington, Constable & Robinson 2010

Mirage Men mixes a popular history of UFOlogy with author Mark Pilkington‘s highly entertaining on-the-spot reports from the screamingly insane world of flying saucer spotters and their conferences. Understanding the development of the barking mad pseudo-science UFOlogy provides a necessary framework in which to begin unravelling the paranoid fantasies that sustain the unbelievably ridiculous flying saucer cult. Along the way Pilkington provides plenty of lunatic entertainment courtesy of those who believe in bug-eyed monsters and little green men.

At the heart of Mirage Men is an account of the 2006 Laughlin International UFO Convention in Nevada, and a series of meetings with crazies who claim to be ‘representatives’ or ‘former representatives’ of the US government with ‘expert’ opinions on the UFO question. Pilkington starts out as a reasonably objective observer but in a skilfully constructed narrative he shows that when surrounded by hundreds of crackpots who claim to have inside knowledge of alien visitations, even a sceptic might lose their marbles.

In the past Pilkington has written cogently about the influence of popular
culture, and in particular film, on the development the UFO delusion (see
‘Screen Memories’). Here his focus is the role US military intelligence agencies allegedly played in spreading disinformation about UFOs. This is a world of smoke and mirrors, and Pilkington is objective enough to know he’ll never unveil ‘the truth’ about it. Instead he takes us on a switchback right through an over-amplified world of disinformation, intelligence agents as trickster figures and fantastically unhinged paranoia.

UFO hype begins – but certainly doesn’t end – with the term Unidentified
Flying Object. A lot of people who claim to have seen UFOs merely observed
lights in the sky, but they are already biased towards thinking they spotted alien spacecraft or other things equally fantastic (experimental military aircraft do appear to be responsible for a tiny minority of UFO sightings) because of their failure to deploy a more objective descriptive term like ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’. After more than sixty years of research into ‘UFOs’, not a single ‘alien flying saucer’ sighting has been verified. While it remains possible that extraterrestrial spacemen are visiting the earth, there isn’t a single shred of evidence to back up this assertion, so on balance it is extremely unlikely. This doesn’t mean it is not worth studying UFOlogy as folklore or those who believe in flying saucers as victims of alienation and mass hysteria. Popular delusions of this type can be highly entertaining if you haven’t fallen for the hoax yourself.


One of the key figures in Mirage Men is Richard C. Doty (‘Rick’), a
former special agent of the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI). Doty, it is alleged, played a key role in spreading disinformation among UFO groups about the US government covering up ET visitations. Pilkington tells us he liked Doty, despite being lied to and given the run around by this legend in over-the-top bullshitting. Pilkington is restrained and unbelievably even-handed in his portrayal of Doty, but an image of this ‘intelligence agent’ as a pathetic fantasist still seeps out from the text. After recounting how Doty claimed he’d personally met an extraterrestrial called EBE 2, who’d allegedly stayed on earth as a guest of the US government, Pilkington writes:

“As Rick and I looked at the picture of EBE2, John appeared. I pointed out EBE 2 and repeated what Rick had told me.

“That’s a bust,” said John flatly, “a model. A ufologist I know has it on his mantelpiece.”

A hint of frustration crept into Rick’s voice: “If that’s a bust then it’s
taken from a photograph, because I know that’s real.”

“It’s a bust,” insisted John, before wandering off again.

Doty may or may not have been an ‘intelligence’ agent, but judged on
Pilkington’s account he’s also a complete basket-case – albeit a highly
entertaining one. Pilkington’s book is stuffed with amusing nutters. They’re great fun to read about but are so obviously deluded that there’s no point in giving any credence to what they have to say. It is easy enough to liken the nonsense these crackpots spout to a cargo cult, although Pilkington doesn’t do so, he leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions. This restraint is what makes Mirage Men such a tour-de-force, Pilkington treats beyond parody subjects like special agent Richard C. Doty with dignity and respect, allowing them to dig holes for themselves that are so deep that they couldn’t haul themselves out with a dozen firemen’s ladders roped end to end. Mirage Men is that rare thing, a well researched and carefully written non-fiction book that will make you laugh out loud. Unless, of course, you’re a paranoid conspiracy nut – in which case you really shouldn’t read this because it will feed your delusions.

Stewart Home is Britain’s greatest living underground legend.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010.