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Are We Being Taken by Spielberg?

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The Sci-Fi Channel is best known for programs that contain very little Sci and an abundance of Fi. Its most popular show until now, John Edward's "Crossing Over" (which I savaged last year in TIME) remains devoid of science, let alone truth. Edward, you recall, claims to be a medium who can transmit messages from the dearly departed to their bereaved relatives. That's nonsense, of course, and lacks even the kind of scientific credibility and measurability that I have, for example, when my response to questions about my shirt size is "I'm a medium."

But I digress. Spurred on by the success of the Edward show, the Sci-Fi Channel has now outdone itself. It is currently running a ten-part mini-series called "Taken", which deals with alien abductions and is garnering the best viewer ratings in the history of the Channel. The subject alone, dealing with humans who are abducted, taken aboard UFOs by aliens, examined — often sexually — and return to tell their story, is enough to attract the millions of na´ve Americans who believe in UFOs and government cover-ups. But Taken is made even more compelling fare by the widely heralded news that its executive producer is none other than Steven Spielberg, creator of such Hollywood smash hits as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T."

In the mini-series, according to reviewer Chris Mooney, who has seen all ten episodes, Spielberg artfully portrays the abduction experiences of three families. They encounter UFOs and aliens, are abducted, saved, abused, seduced, and even impregnated by well-intentioned creatures who appear in different guises but generally resemble the "grays" of UFO mythology. All the while, representatives of the Federal government hang around, hostile, sometimes menacing and brutal, and always conspiratorial.

The Spielberg touch, as usual, makes the mini-series highly entertaining. But the artistry and a sometimes humorous approach can't obscure the fact that "Taken" takes alien abductions rather seriously. It seems to give credence such nonsense as the purported crash of an alien spacecraft at Roswell, New Mexico, the notion that the idea for Velcro was acquired from the wreckage of a UFO and the fiction that it's those pesky aliens who are responsible for creating crop circles. Apparently buying into these fantasies, the Sci-Fi Channel, with a straight face, has formed an organization called the Coalition for the Freedom of Information. The group plans to sue and file requests under the Freedom of Information Act to make the Federal Government fess up all that it knows about decades of alien mischief and conniving. Paranoia? I doubt it. Promotion? More likely.

The really puzzling part of this latest assault on rationality by the Sci-Fi Channel is Spielberg's role. His obsession with aliens is evident. Can someone as gifted and intelligent as Spielberg really believe? Sure. Take John Mack, for example. The highly respected, intelligent and tenured Harvard psychiatrist, possibly to fill some deep-seated emotional need, has embarrassed his university by very publicly embracing the myth of alien abductions. Could the same need be motivating Spielberg? Or does he simply know what makes for good box office numbers and ratings? I suspect the former.

Perhaps I'm being a little too hard on Spielberg. Truth of the matter is that, as a confirmed skeptic, I'm offended by his treatment in "Taken", of a skeptic and "alien debunker" named Tom Clarke, who maintains his disbelief almost until the end, when he learns that his half-brother is half-alien and renounces his skepticism. No true, self-respecting skeptic would cave in that easily on the basis of such flimsy evidence.