By now you’ve probably seen list after list of 2013′s biggest and best from every field imaginable. From UFOs and cryptozoology to Tiger Woods ‘moments’ and folk albums. And, just for fun, here is a Top 10 list of 2013′s best Top 10 lists.
With that caveat in mind, here’s my list of the top stories of 2013 in esoterica and what I think they actually mean to the ‘big picture.’ Stories were judged on their actual impact on the world as a whole as well as within their specific field of research. Longevity and mainstream media coverage were also taken into consideration. In keeping with BoA YIR tradition, the commentary accompanying the stories is rife with cynicism, so consider yourself warned. Also, if you’re planning on listening to the LIVE BoA:Audio Year-in Review special on 1/2/14, all of my rambling and riffing below may constitute some form of spoilers regarding where the conversation goes on Thursday afternoon.
With all that said, let’s look back at 2013 …
Hands down the biggest story of the year in esoterica and in the mainstream press, especially since it was still dominating the headlines over the holidays with fresh revelations while just about every other paranormal / parapolitical story had long since been forgotten, waiting for people to dust them off for lists like this. In the big picture, the spying revelations confirmed some of the worst fears and warnings of conspiracy theorists while also giving the genre of parapolitics a massive shot of credibility which gets squandered with every ‘false flag’ and ‘crisis actor’ scenario that gets trumpeted by sad factions of the field (see story #4). Regardless of that, it introduced the NSA into the minds of millions of Americans that didn’t even know the agency existed much less what it does and also elicited actual emotion and some desire for action from the general public, two outcomes that are rare for any story with parapolitical/paranormal connotations in this day and age.
Ultimately, it was a story that provided food for thought on a number of issues for everyday people, such as the enveloping nature of technology, the vulnerability of privacy, and the frightening scope of today’s government, especially ‘secret’ government agencies. In esoteric circles, the way it all unfolded conjures thoughts of the always creepy ‘revelation of method’ and memories of Danny Casalaro. It also may provide a glimpse of or quasi-template for how UFO disclosure could/would happen: a ton of secret and salacious stuff gets revealed in a carefully orchestrated fashion, the mainstream media goes nuts, people get energized about it but go on with their daily lives, everyone says ‘we knew it was happening anyway,’ and the next several months / years are spent trying to figure out what to do about it all.
If Snowden was a win for parapolitics, then the Sykes DNA study was a net loss for cryptozoology based on the coverage that it received. The media was quick to trumpet that the mystery of Yeti had been ‘solved’ although, in reality, the results only made things more confusing because they pointed to some kind of ‘out of place’ bear lurking in the Himalayas, the origins of which Sykes himself was forced to guess at. Since cryptozoology is the study of undiscovered or ‘out of place’ animals, the news should have been a quasi-victory for the field, but it didn’t seem to get presented that way very often by the media (with that said, I would be remiss in failing to mention that Loren Coleman remains the Dave Meltzer of cryptozoology with his unparalleled coverage of the field). Sadly, the story got the classic ‘Doug and Dave’ treatment which will stick to the Yeti mythos for years to come.
Meanwhile, Sykes ‘Zana’ findings were a little more cut and dry. For some in cryptozoology, it may be sad that the insights were not earth-shattering and seemed to kill a longstanding legend of the field. However, for people who genuinely want to get to the bottom of all this, it constitutes progress, since it seems to eliminate the mystery of Zana once and for all. To that end, while DNA has emerged as a useful tool to help resolve specific cases, hopefully the Sykes study and the Ketchum debacle of 2012 finally convince cryptozoology to get over its false hope that a positive DNA result will be a game changer for the field. Yes, it is beneficial, but probably will only be but one ingredient in the final recipe that produces a Bigfoot.
The perfect symbol for the impotent pomp and circumstance of today’s Ufology. Many of the same stories, presented on a different albeit familiar stage, to toothless results and media coverage that was mainly mocking or yawning. It speaks to the malaise of the phenomenon itself (or our study of it) that the biggest UFO ‘event’ of the year wasn’t an amazingly compelling case that reignited the imaginations of those who still follow the phenomenon, but rather a week-long faux Congressional hearing aimed, once again, at ‘making the case’ for UFOs to people who have long since dismissed it out of hand. That said, it was a small triumph for Ufology to put the event together, in the first place, so some kudos are deserved for Steve Bassett and company on accomplishing their goal in that regard and presenting it in a somewhat entertaining fashion.
While I celebrate the accomplishment, as you can see, I really question the strategy by which the exopolitical movement is attempting to make UFO disclosure happen. Teaching people about UFOs has, for the most part, been accomplished and the case has been made. The UFO community has had 60+ years to get the job done and apparently they’ve done a fairly poor job of it, which is why most people have already made their minds up about the subject and it is not an issue of any circumstance for the vast majority of Americans. Yes, a week-long intensive presentation of the UFO ‘facts’ could turn around the perception of doubters, but the logistics of that happening are simply not realistic, because they have to want to see the presentation in the first place.
The true challenge remains the one that has vexed ufology for decades: making the general public care about UFOs. Better public relations, ingenious advertising, and credible celebrity endorsements: these things may move the needle. A bonafide breakthrough case will also do so. Some actual, legitimate scientific research, especially in the realm of statistics, would be helpful. Allowing these people anywhere near a serious UFO conference and taking the Kardashians to Area 51 is the antithesis of all of that. Speaking of which …
If the Snowden story added high octane fuel to parapolitics, then the Boston Bombing (coupled with the Sandy Hook fallout which encompassed the 1st quarter of 2013) was sugar in the proverbial gas tank. The callous disregard for life disguised as being a ‘truther’ for the ‘greater good’ by some ‘activists’ did unspeakable damage to the public perception of the field. While there may be some merit to some aspects of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Boston Bombing and Sandy Hook, the breathless hijacking of newscasts and press conferences as well as all the hollow talk of false flags and crisis actors served to only draw laughter or condemnation from the media and the public for proponents of parapolitical possibilities.
In the years after 9/11, the concept of a ‘false flag’ terror attack was at least treated somewhat seriously, as 2013 comes to a close the idea is a comedic internet meme used to assign blame when bad things happen to celebrities. That should tell you everything you need to know about how badly the ‘Truth Movement’ has been botched. Also, the lopsided coverage of the JFK 50th was disappointing, unsurprising, and emblematic of the glass ceiling of conspiracy research.
Probably the most bland of all stories in the list, but the one which will likely have the most impact on 2014. Emblematic of all that is wrong with America today: the transformation of politics as a sporting event/reality show, short sighted thinking over long term solutions, an economy that still seems lethargic and may be teetering on the brink of disaster, and a general disregard for the average citizen in favor of just keeping the whole house of cards intact.
2014 promises a mid-term election which will surely be hyped ad nauseam, probably another stalemate in Congress over something financial, more back and forth over Obamacare, and the Sochi Olympics which will be likely be only slightly less grandiose than WrestleMania XXX.
6. Honorable Mentions …
Pope Francis & Prince George
Great news for apocalypticists who were saddened when 12/21/12 wasn’t the kick off to Armageddon. They were rewarded for their patience by quickly being led towards a new omen of doom in the form of the alleged ‘final pontiff.’ And, for fans of classic palace intrigue and ancient bloodline theories, the arrival of the royal baby was fresh grist for the mill. If the End Times are a reality show, 2013 saw the debut of two new castmembers who may become pivotal players as it all unfolds. And that, I think, we can all celebrate. Welcome to the dance, Prince George and Pope Francis.
Manti Te’o dead girlfriend hoax
A captivating and fantastic showcase on how the media mostly feeds us poorly researched garbage used to craft narratives rather than present actual facts. Again, something ‘we all already knew,’ but it was refreshing to see it exposed so brazenly. If you think it made a dent in the public’s understanding of how they get their news or changed the way the media does its job, see: the Duck Dynasty & Paula Dean ‘scandals,’ the George Zimmerman trial, and the fact that almost everyone in America now knows what twerking is. As an aside as perhaps something to watch in the future, the Te’o also taught people about catfishing and how truly weird (read: unregulated) the Internet really is.
A Sad Year for Skeptics
And, finally, I wanted to mention the insane year for the skepticism community, but that will have to wait for another day. Until then, behold the stories and try to contain your schadenfreude: sexual harassment scandal involving a major skeptic, a guilty plea to wire fraud in federal court by another big name skeptic, and a brouhaha over some kind of weird gun incident at a a major skeptic conference. Thankfully, much like their counterparts in the paranormal community, the skeptics closed out their year having mostly forgiven or forgotten the foibles of their field for 2013.
Binnall’s Hot or Not going into 2014 … Hot – Geopolitical Conspiracy / Not – Terror Conspiracy … Hot – UFO Disclosure Activism / Not – UFO science … Hot – Bigfoot in pop culture … Warming – Space Science
You were warned at the beginning that this list was rife with cynicism and hopefully it didn’t disappoint. However, don’t confuse cynicism with being jaded. 2013 was a truly wonderful year full of its own special quirks, jerks, and twerks. And we survived, which is nice. So here’s to 2014 and whatever weirdness the world can throw at us.