Pardon my absence; changes are afoot. I just moved to Knoxville, am about to start teaching Comp and, in general, I have been overtaken by terminal laziness and can’t seem to find a care in the world. This was supposed to be a scathing expose that examined data and whatnot. It turned out to be a fart in a bucket.
It was a hot and steamy night in the summer when a boy and I set up our post. We cuddled on a hammock in my friend’s backyard to look at the stars. The sky is always clear in Tuscumbia, Alabama, especially late at night when the streetlights seemed to dim. There was an empty field behind my childhood best friend’s house, so nothing obstructed our view. We were working. Well, he was working, and I was obliging.
Alien watching is the kind of sport that comes into existence when there’s nothing to do in a small town but get pregnant and snort crystal meth, but your conscience tells you better. So you set up a comfortable spot outside when it isn’t too hot, crack a beer, and watch the sky. You jump when a star-like object moves ever so oddly. You shiver if you’ve watched long enough that every object in the sky comes to life.
There’s little research about the phenomenon, but every Southern woman knows the feeling well. Our men—bless their hearts—are obsessed with aliens and UFOs. Every Southern man in my life believes in aliens. Some of them believe in ghosts and Bigfoot as well. But each woman I know from the South has obliged at least one male friend as he describes the night he saw a saucer over Cherokee, Alabama, or listens to him anxiously explain the government conspiracy to cover up our knowledge of extraterrestrial life.
The South can be a superstitious place. For any good Southern Baptist, the world is going to end at any time, so their minds are generally open to conspiracies of an apocalyptic nature. Maybe it’s the hyperbolic grip of religion on Southern culture that allows us to believe myths, legends, and supernatural occurrences, or maybe it’s just boredom. Maybe we’re just dreaming of escape.
North Alabama is situated in a particularly interesting spot for the supernatural. To the east of the state, we have Red Stone Arsenal and the scientists and Space Guys in Huntsville. To the north, in Tennessee, we have Oak Ridge with a weird government site related to energy and the Y-12 National Security Complex. Seeing an odd aircraft less than fifty miles west of these sites might be simply explained away.
In August of 2017, The New Yorker ran a piece on a town in Christian County, Kentucky, where the solar eclipse reached its greatest point as it passed Hopkinsville. On August 21st, 1955—the same day of the eclipse in 2017—the Sutton family of Hopkinsville reported seeing an alien spacecraft and shot at some greenish figures from their home. The town has become a beacon for “UFO people” and outsiders accept it as a regional idiosyncrasy. Of course, hillbillies and rednecks get abducted by aliens. Haven’t you seen Dale on King of the Hill?
Film loves to put the Redneck against the Alien. In 2012, an unsuccessful short film premiered called “Aliens vs. Rednecks.” In 1997, there was a video game called Redneck Rampage which involved, shockingly, toothless mullets fighting little green men. Most TV shows and B-rated movies show aliens landing in a cornfield, or show a man in overalls seeing the green invaders for the first time. And part of me wonders if these representations aren’t to draw attention to “stupid” Southerners but work to do something else—like posit that urban regions are “safe” from aliens or something equally dumb.
Very little research has been done on the phenomenon of Southern men’s fascination with the extraterrestrial, but cultural guesses seem appropriate when considering the general makeup of the “South” (whatever that means). Religious people already have the will to believe. The landscape of Alabama and Tennessee are littered with military bases, energy complexes, and space centers that insight curiosity. Small towns lead to nature walks, hunting, exploring abandon houses, and getting drunk under the stars because there’s little else to do, although things go bump out there and need some explanation.
I had big plans for this post, and surely one day I’ll research the relationship between Southern men, conspiracies, and the supernatural. For now, folks curious about the South can take this nugget of information: our men seem to believe in aliens more than other places, and I’m not wholly sure why.
Header image by @tyrusarthur