America’s Enduring Obsession With UFOs

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

America’s cultural fascination with UFOs is well established. Iconic films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and popular shows such as The X-Files have fed this curiosity. Additionally, television stations — particularly cable networks like the History Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic — have provided “a steady supply of sympathetic documentaries about UFOs and alien contact” for decades, says Penn State historian Greg Eghigian in a 2015 paper. As it happens, research suggests that UFO sightings have periodically spiked after the release of popular sci-fi flicks, such as Independence Day and Steven Spielberg’s remake of War of the Worlds.

But the role news media has played in amplifying UFO fervor both now and in the past cannot be understated. The birth of the UFO phenomenon in the United States can be traced to the Associated Press’s 1947 dispatch on Arnold’s sighting. In his book, Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination, author Keith Thompson recounts what happened next: “Within a matter of hours, Arnold’s story — trumpeted by the evocative phrase ‘flying saucers,’ a creation of anonymous headline writers — became front-page news throughout the nation.”

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