INTERVIEW: MJ Banias searches for 'UFO people'

MJ Banias has eloquently spoke about the topics of UFOs from his beginnings as a MUFOn field investigator to his current new distinction of author.

The UFO People: A Curious Culture ” is Banias’ first book, but definitely not his first UFO literary/media venture. The veteran researcher is the curator of Terra Obscura ,has his own YouTube channel, and has been featured on larger outlets like VICE and the CW Network.

Banias recently took part in this Q and A about his new book, and research in general.

Q:In your definition, just who are "the UFO people?”


BANIAS: “This is perhaps the biggest issue we face when defining any subculture. The idea of what a UFO is exactly, and who fits into the subculture and who does not is incredibly fuzzy. Subcultures require a set identity to set them apart from mainstream culture, however, the UFO subculture does not fit this framework perfectly, yet at the same time, individuals within the community have set terms, language and ideological patterns that allow for culturally based communication to occur. In simple terms, ‘UFO people’ are a cultural group,and they are not. Much like UFOs, which are objective and subjective ‘ghosts’ in our skies, media, literature, news cycles, and collective social understanding, they exist in a dualism; real and not real. The UFO people fall into a similar framework, there is clearly an active culture that reads UFO news blogs, attends conferences and tweets about the phenomenon, yet at the same time, these individuals exist in their daily lives where the UFO dips in and out of their reality. The UFO community then is a ghost that haunts mainstream culture and challenges the very nature what we think is real. It holds up a proverbial mirror to the rest of the world and demands that we begin to recognize that our social realities are arbitrary, and that we ought not to take for granted what we ‘know.’ We are all ghost stories in a sense, and the UFO people counter established social and cultural norms and, at times, flip them on their head.”

Q:What got you into research/ what led you to field investigations with MUFON?

BANIAS: “I felt that I needed to get my hands dirty. While there is a benefit to academic ‘armchair’ research, I did not want to dedicate myself totally to that field of study within UFO discourse. I wanted to engage in investigative work and meet UFO witnesses and experiencers. I was a MUFON field investigator for about 2 and a half years. It was enjoyable and tedious at the same time, but it provided me a basic understanding of what UFO investigation is, and what it truly looks like. I walked away convinced that the people who encounter strange and anomalous phenomena are much more interesting than UFOs themselves. There is something about us, something very human, which drives these experiences. We are a part of the UFO phenomenon as much as it seems to be a part of us; the real work is sorting out how you and I create a framework for UFOs to be made real.”

Q: You compare the UFO community to "ghosts" (since many of us live in the UFO subculture). Do you see this changing with the topic slowly becoming more accepted to mainstream society?

BANIAS: “Our ‘spectrality’ goes beyond simple cultural acceptance. I think that is an important battle, but the war is much more complicated. We are a community of people that lives in a very curious dualism. On the one hand, we accept that UFOs may be some ‘intelligent non-human other’ and that our reality is much stranger and more negotiable. We accept that something much grander than us exists and it interacts with us regularly. At the same time, we continue to exist within our ’normal’ daily reality. We go to work to pay our bills, drive our kids to karate class, and still function in arbitrary social, economic and political frameworks. We are ghosts because we can’t seem to choose a side. We live in this gap between two very different worlds, a sort of liminal ghostly realm, where our identity exists and does not exist simultaneously.”

Q:There is this idea of a 'book encounter," which argues we are drawn to certain books for certain reasons. What do you think of this theory, and from a philosophical perspective what does this say about us as researchers?

BANIAS: “It shows our diversity, as a community, but also as humans. We are all drawn to different aspects of research and, more broadly, reality. It depends on who you read, but “book encounters” could occur for a whole host of reasons. Some could probably be explained via social and cultural upbringing (nurture), by some innate predisposition (nature), and, to get spooky, perhaps by some yet unknown force, like divine intervention, which draws us to specific ideas and texts. Whatever the case, it complicates the UFO research matter. We all approach UFOs, and more broadly, the ‘paranormal’ from different angles. There is a creative and chaotic beauty to this, as it creates an incredibly democratic and even anarchic system. No one knows what the phenomenon is, and no one can really answer the big question. This has obvious problems; it remains a mystery and no one has made any progress in getting a better understanding as to how this mystery plays out. We are chasing ghosts.”