Certum est quia impossibile est. - Tertullian

While the veracity of accounts of alien abduction may be up for debate, the proliferation of abduction narratives in 20th century fin-de-siecle America constituted a genuine cultural phenomenon.

In Secret Life: Firsthand Documented Accounts of Alien Abduction, Temple University historian David Jacobs recorded and investigated more than 60 accounts of alien abduction. The accounts are anecdotal, but possess an internal consistency of form.

Three Main Components:

  1. Actants
  2. - the characters in the narrative.
  3. Experiences
  4. - things that happen to the abductee.
  5. Philosophy
  6. - newfound ideology or beliefs developed by the abductees as a result of the abduction experience.

1. Actants

Two types of actants appear in all abduction narratives: abductees, and abductors.

The abductees featured in the book describe their abductors as grey aliens, a type which used to be commercially ubiquitous in a stylized (pointy-chinned, big-eyed, dot-nostrilled) form, albeit typically misrepresented as a uniform neon green, hot pink, or other skaterz r00l color. Grey aliens bear a startling resemblance to Morgan Fairchild.

Two additional types of actants which appear frequently, although not consistently, in published accounts of alien abduction:

  • The "doctor" (an alien taller than the main abductors, and who uses tools on the abductee)

While the actants do not change in appearance from narrative to narrative, the abductee's perception of their nature (good, kind, bad, neutral, etc.) is largely variable.

2. Experiences

The initial stage of the alien abduction is a sense of all-pervading wrongness or surreality in the abductee, similar to deja-vu.

All abductees report two phenomena which last for the duration of their abductions:

  1. all communication between the abductee and the aliens is communicated telepathically, and
  2. all abductees report being "mindwiped" of their experiences after the fact.

Narratives of alien abduction are therefore typically articulated as "recovered memories" which surface in dreams, through hypnosis, or through psychotherapy. Commonly reported experiences include:

  • Interpellation

Abductees report a feeling of being "called" or compelled by an alien presence. If the abductee is alone, s/he may see the alien entering the room. If the abductee is in a group, the persons with the abductee will appear "frozen", and the abductee will spontaneously realize that something has come for him or her. The experience of discontinuity and disengagement with the normal is universal. Abductees recount a sense of wonderment or fear, and describe a complete lack of personal agency in the encounter.

  • Transportation

The abductee is transported on board an alien vessel via floating or involuntary movement. Abductees report floating directly through solid matter during abduction experiences. Those who report involuntary movement just use a ladder.

  • Physical Examination

The physical exam always a) moves from toe-to-head instead of head-to-toe, and b) features a genital/anal exam.

The physical exam is usually described in perfunctory terms, while the examination of the nether bits is narrated in highly descriptive pseudoclinical terms. Abductees frequently report the removal of ova or sperm as the conclusion of the exam.

If the abductee becomes extremely agitated, the alien referred to as "the doctor" enters the room. This alien is taller than the others, and is described as having a more forceful or convincing personality. "The doctor" plays the roles of anesthesiologist and comforter, and appears to abductees as somehow wiser or superior in status to the smaller grey aliens.

The abductee may also report the removal of a tissue sample, typically a thin strip, circular scoop, or wedge-shaped divot taken from the back, or the back of the leg.

  • Psychological Examination:

Emotional Stimulation: The subject is asked to respond to images which are shown to him or her on a screen (as in Clockwork Orange), or the subject is asked to hold something which elicits an emotional response. Similar to the empathy box in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this object seems to have the ability to catalyze an emotional experience in the holder.

Envisioning: The subject is asked to remember something of intense emotional significance in his or her past (such as the death of a parent), which the aliens telepathically monitor.

Hybrid infant presentation: The abductee is presented with a hybrid human-alien child. The abductee (and all abductees reporting this event are female) is told that the child is hers, and that she must hold and nurture it. Most of the women reported reluctance and revulsion at the sight of the child. Exceptions: an abductee psychoanalyst who reported telling the aliens that they needed to read Ashley Montagu's book Touching; and a mother of two who thought the alien baby looked "like a fairy child".

  • The Return

Abductees find that they have been returned to their prior location after the abduction, most often with no immediate recollection of the experiences. They may realize that anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours has elapsed, and that they have no recollection of this time passing.

3. Philosophy

There are three popular camps which address the alien abduction experience ideologically:

  • Trauma: Many professionals in the mental health field advocate for treatment of abductees as survivors of abuse. Adherents to abduction trauma theory believe that accounts of alien abduction are narrative masks - internal metaphors - for the childhood experience of sexual abuse.

Sources: David Jacob's Secret Life, Whitley Strieber's Communion, and the chapter of my comparative literature master's thesis on posthumanism in pop culture titled Alien(ation): A Semiotic Analysis of the Morphology and Syntax of Narratives of Alien Abduction. (That's the chapter between Cyborg Epistemologies and the Alien Trilogy and Vectors of Transmission: Creativity, Language, and Virus). Trust me, you don't want to read the original. Peee-yuw, something smells like poststructuralism!