Many UFO occupant incidents have a surreal flavor that initially seems to contradict the phenomenon's physicality. If some run-ins with ufonauts are staged events engineered to encourage belief in (and subsequent dismissal of) the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), "they" perhaps couldn't have done a better job than the 1955 Hopkinsville "invasion."

Arthur C. Clarke's maxim notwithstanding, the Hopkinsville "goblins" are an intriguing fusion of the "real" and the "magical." Their abilities seem calculated to tarnish an empirical approach to the ETH by introducing elements of the fantastic; indeed, these same elements would eventually be used as ammunition by would-be skeptics determined to denounce the account.

For example, the diminutive "goblins" reportedly levitated and proved immune to gunfire. While not necessarily out of the realm of possibility for genuine ETs, the entities' goblin-like appearance argues for an origin in keeping with folklore. If they were "real," then their reality might not be as amenable to the ETH as researchers would like. Conversely, the desire to debunk the Sutton family's claim appears little more than a protest against the episode's surreal nature.

UFO researchers like their aliens to abide by 20th century preconceptions of what alien beings should look like; entities like those observed in Hopkinsville comprise a kind of viral assault on conformist ufology by insinuating themselves into reigning conceits and quietly subverting ETH dogma. Ultimately, their existence is marginalized and becomes less ufological than "fortean." We're asked, in effect, to consider the Hopkinsville visitors and their like as somehow separate and distinct from "hardcore" case-files that more readily suggest extraterrestrial visitation. We do so at our peril.

Even UFO cases central to advocates of the ETH sometimes often betray a psychosocial agenda. ("Dogfights" and radar-visual engagements with UFOs, while impressive evidence that the phenomenon is anything but simply visionary, also present the specter of an inexplicably "playful" disposition; this clashes with dogmatic assurances that extrasolar aliens would refrain from such childish behavior.)

Encounters with "Hopkinsville-type" beings demonstrate an undeniable commonality with both folkoric sources and the contemporary UFO phenomenon. Taken together, these inconvenient similarities force us to question the easy certainties that prevailed in the 1950s, when the prospect of curious space aliens seemed all-but-inevitable. "Limbo" cases like Hopkinsville allow us to assess the phenomenon in a brighter, less sullied light.

While one can argue endlessly in favor of a literal extraterrestrial interpretation, a holistic approach leads us to consider that the UFO intelligence not only wants to perpetuate itself via dramatic encounters with ostensible "occupants," but intends to discredit its own machinations: it stages exciting UFO events that infect both the research community and the popular imagination, knowing that the phenomenon's inherent absurdity will eventually undermine attempts to arrive at an indictment.

We're thus conditioned to accept the ETH one moment only to succumb to the "giggle factor" the next, never peering past the curtain to see the agenda behind the special effects. We're kept in a sort of amnesiac stupor, occasionally graced by visits from what can only be structured ET craft . . . and then deflated by the latest bizarre "occupant" report or account of "missing time."

Our infatuation with the unknown is systematically provoked and dismantled by a memetic campaign that's never less than astute in its grasp of human belief.