Letters 04-13-2000

Ed Mills
Phoenix

This is to applaud your article, especially in its depth of understanding in surveying several features of the New Age and UFO discourses. I am really impressed with how James Hibberd, and Tony Ortega before him, have been thoroughly grounded in the context of the dynamics of these cultures, in the continuum from sincerely held beliefs through to fraudulent exploitations and con games.

I am a researcher in media cultural studies, having done my postgraduate work in this area at ASU. I have been analyzing the marginalized discourses of the techno-New Age, seeking understandings of the energizing elements of technology in directing the courses of modern society. Another in a long series of contactees and channelers -- such as described by Jacques Vallee, in his 1979 work, Messengers of Deception -- Marcia Schafer is another Johnny-come-lately to the UFO/New Age scene. However, Schafer may wind up being more successful than most, using her business acumen.

I find most people seeking answers about alien interventions, as such, are sincere in their beliefs and expectations. I find a continuum of belief, ranging from the mildly plausible possibilities of alien existence to the strongly delusional. These beliefs are usually shaped by media discourses, and usually extract their epistemological basis from media exposure to science fantasy and fiction. I note below that Hibberd, too, has identified this chief feature of the media and society. Hibberd's observation of the apparent confusion in Schafer 's relative conventional stability vis-รก-vis her confidence in her new mission are examples of the typical pattern of these formerly high-tech-now-New Age seekers. Schafer is only partway (three years) along the learning/developing curve so far, toward what often turns out to be a delusional end. Again, this is a very typical pattern, in that one expects later elements of such as martyrdom, cultic following, or impoverished ignominy to be possible outcomes for Schafer. In any case, her relative confidence with her mission, now somewhat tentative, will galvanize over time. And as often happens in such cases, her credibility will very likely decline, while the true believers harden their apologetic resolve for their guru, with ever more specious logic. Yet Schafer 's apparent business sense may forestall the worst possible outcome for her endeavors.

Hibberd's understanding that the infusion of mystical meditation or higher consciousness with emerging high technology is not only right on target, he has correctly identified the media exploitations of these beliefs in various movies and TV programs! I greatly applaud his insight into this connection. My thesis work at ASU not only explored these elements, but also revealed the tightly coupled positive feedback between the marginalized discourses and Hollywood's energizing of them.

Many of those who adhere to people such as Schafer, I find, are often disaffected members of society who have been lost or mistracked on this ever-tightening cycle of technology and the resulting societal fragmentation -- especially as defined in Alvin Toffler's Future Shock.

Thank you for a terrific article. I am really impressed with Hibberd's investigative skills.

Tom Kelley
via Internet

Franco Speaking

Reader Derek Rogers' ( Letters, April 6) thinly veiled rant against Brian Smith (an extremely entertaining writer to those of us literate enough to appreciate him) and Franco Gagliano seems to be that of a failed, disgruntled musician who is now a real estate salesman, or, worse yet, a telemarketer. Don't get me wrong, I love Franco, but we've had our moments. There were a few occasions that I didn't get paid after I'd booked a band. But for the most part, taking into consideration the number of musicians Franco has dealt with over the years, he has done more for the local music scene than anyone I can think of.

Smith's column was touching, particularly for those who know that there are certainly many aspects to Franco's personality and the way in which he deals with people. The writer presented a sentimental picture, to be sure, but he certainly did not gloss over any of Gagliano's "faults." In some instances, it's true, bands should have been paid that were not. But for the most part, a popular, talented band that, over time, was a consistent draw, did just fine at the Mason Jar. And Franco is extremely loyal, so long as one is loyal to him. He has been very kind to me and to my family.

I would like to share my own favorite "Franco" story. Back in 96, I found myself being admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital just before dawn. I called the only friend I knew would still be awake just to let her know. She happened to be on the other line with Franco, unbeknownst to me at the time. Within 40 minutes, as I was waiting in the ER to be taken up to my room, a nurse brought me a telephone and said I had a call. On the other line was Franco, asking me if I needed anything. He offered money, and offered to come down to the hospital if I needed him to. (Now, this paints a surreal picture: Franco striding into a hospital emergency room at 5 a.m.; imagine the reactions of the staff!) But I have come to love this man over the years and he certainly has helped infinitely more people than he possibly could have harmed. If Mr. Rogers' (no pun intended) music career did not work out, I strongly suggest he get beyond the denial of blaming it on Franco and the Mason Jar. Perhaps he should dig out one of his old tapes and send it in to New Times' music critics for a review.

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