Alien Abductions and Mental Hygiene Films: A Possible Link
A well-known alleged paranormal phenomenon is the alien abduction popularized by books such as Communion: A True Story (Strieber 1988) and Intruders (Hopkins 1987). The stereotypical abduction begins with the sleeping human participant being awakened by an entity. Sometimes the human/entity encounter is confined to the bedroom; other times, the entity conveys the human to another location and later returns the human to his bedroom. During the encounter, the entity either imparts arcane knowledge to the human or performs pseudo-medical procedures upon him. When this extraordinary encounter is over, the human paradoxically resumes sleeping. This paradoxical resumption of sleep suggests that the encounter is a hypnopompic or hypnogogic hallucination (those experienced during the transitional state between sleep and wakefulness) devoid of any objective reality (Klass 1989).
It is entertaining to speculate on possible inspirations for the hallucinations. A cultural background shared by millions may provide the source material for this brand of hallucination—the shared experience of watching mental hygiene films: short classroom films, dating between 1945 and 1970, “deliberately made to adjust the social behavior of their viewers” (Smith 1999). Mental hygiene films typically focus on how to attain social acceptance along with exhortations to avoid premarital sex, illegal drugs, and careless driving. Curiously, the motifs of several of these films resemble an alien abduction or a hypnopompic/hypnogogic hallucination:
- Cindy Goes to a Party (1955): “Cindy, a twelve-year-old tomboy, is hurt when she learns she hasn’t been invited to a neighborhood birthday party. She goes to bed, but suddenly her teenaged fairy godmother appears and takes her to the party anyway. . . . [T]he invisible fairy godmother waves her magic wand, [and] party etiquette rules appear on the walls. . . .”
- Dick Wakes Up (1954): Dick is struck by a car after carelessly running into the street. “Dick wakes up in his hospital bed, sandwiched between two miniature versions of himself. ‘Judge’ (good judgement) and ‘Imp’ (bad impulse) immediately begin yelling at each other in high-pitched, studio-reverb voices and don’t stop until the end of the film. Dick accepts this meekly. . . . By the end of the film Dick naturally decides that Judge is his pal and develops a positive new outlook.”
- Glenn Wakes Up (1950): “Glenn is magically visited in his bedroom by ‘Mr. X.’. . . Mr. X tells Glenn that he needs to become a ‘good citizen,’ which involves ‘brushing your teeth every morning,’ ‘accepting the decisions of the majority,’ and ‘being kind to people less fortunate than ourselves.’ . . . ‘If you want people to like you, you have to make them like you,’ says Mr. X, who then vanishes into air as a slide whistle toots.”
- Mr. B Natural (1957): “Mr. B Natural is an elflike character” representing “the spirit of fun in music.” Twelve-year-old Buzz Turner seeks social acceptance by his peers. “Mr. B Natural appears in his bedroom and tells him he can be popular by joining the school band. . . . Buzz swallows Mr. B Natural’s argument. . . .”
- Soapy the Germ Fighter (1951): “Billy Martin is a dirty kid who’s convinced that cleanliness is for ‘sissies.’ He’s drifting off to sleep in his bed one night when Soapy appears—a guy wearing a cardboard box painted to look like a bar of soap. Soapy is a big, scary-looking block with arms and legs but no head. . . . He also appears not to be wearing any pants. . . . Soapy teaches Billy ‘good hand habits’ and offers advice such as, ‘girls should wash their hair at least once every two weeks.’”
The similarity between these mental hygiene films and alien abductions is striking: an entity appears in a sleeper’s bedroom, sometimes taking the sleeper to a different location (i.e., Cindy Goes to a Party and Mr. B Natural). The entity then imparts knowledge and leaves. Paradoxically, the human participant takes the visitation in stride and falls back to sleep. When alleged abductees are interrogated under hypnosis, instead of recalling an alien encounter, could they actually be recalling their classroom cinematic encounters with Soapy the Germ Fighter and Mr. B Natural?
Evidence against this conjecture is that hypnopompic/hypnogogic hallucinations have a far longer history than mental hygiene films—witness the alleged angelic visitations in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke and those that led to Joseph Smith’s invention of Mormonism. Rather than mental hygiene films being the source for contemporary alien abduction accounts, it seems more likely that the creators of these films were drawing upon the cultural background of the hypnopompic/hypnogogic hallucination when they brought Mr. X and Soapy to classroom screens. Still, speculating on possible links among these phenomena provides an entertaining diversion.
- Hopkins, B. 1987. Intruders. New York: Random House.
- Klass, P. 1989. UFO-Abductions: a Dangerous Game. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books.
- Smith, K. 1999. Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films 1945-1970. New York: Blast Books.
- Strieber, W. 1988. Communion: A True Story. New York: Harper Collins.
Many mental hygiene films are available for download or purchase. The following Web sites provide further details: www.avgeeks.com/; http://picpal.com/mentalhygiene/; and www.archive.org/movies/prelinger.php.