Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind:
On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break



Spin, 1995

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Reality Mistaken for a Commercial Break


As the nineties powered on, the global village was bargained off to a corporate media society. Worldwide players like Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation and 20th Century Fox, gobbled up thousands of publishing houses and radio stations. Now able to sell global audiences to their advertisers, they spiced up the political spectacle, serving their economic greeds, and entertaining with it the public's perception of history and manipulation of reality alike. War turned into a staged reality TV show when in January 1991 the bombing of Baghdad hit CNN live. Special effects were no longer the monopoly of Hollywood. The real became a bad-taste parody of the video game, as smart missiles zoomed in on their targets. "Join the Navy" advertisements were cancelled as the news itself provided a twenty-four-hour commercial for the armed forces. "Surgical war" seemed almost pre-packaged by the news as a commodity hyped around smartmissile technology. Spectacle replaced critical distance and obscured the reality of the war being waged in the Gulf. Suddenly the news industry had transformed itself into a surreal shopping zone serving a corporate world in the interest of a global war industry: apart from television's claim to reality, what the media was selling was history itself. Soon reality would be mistaken for a commercial break.

By 1993, CNN live was now a zapping option in 200 countries, its most watched catch show Larry King Live beamed around the world, hosting presidents and alien abductees alike. One episode invited alien abductee researcher David Jacobs together with Whitley Strieber, author of Communion, to discuss the phenomenon. "Why don't they come here right now; my God, what a move that would be!" stirred Larry King.48 As George Bush Sr.'s ratings fell after the first Gulf War and faced with his up-coming presidential campaign against Bill Clinton, he too decided to appear on Larry King Live. By now the public's trust in the powers-that-be had drastically waned. Apparently, more people believed in aliens than in the president: an early 1990s Gallup poll performed by the Center for UFO Studies Journal found that UFO believers outnumbered the voters who placed Reagan, Bush Senior and Clinton into office.49 Politics suddenly appeared to have been taken over by aliens, suggested by the cover story that ran in the tabloid Weekly World News of 7 June 1994: "12 US SENATORS ARE SPACE ALIENS!"50 A month later the Hollywood blockbuster Independence Day zapped the White House to smithereens.51