By far the most important obituary this year, at least from the point of view of the Fortean community, was that of Art Bell. A true giant of the industry, with as many fans as detractors, his Coast to Coast radio show was instrumental in bringing the weird to the masses. Ghosts, monsters, men in black, the remit of the show covered all of these as well as a few more conspiratorial subjects too. Thankfully the Christian bias that runs like a disease through most programming in the United States was kept to a polite minimum whilst he was in charge, though it did not take long after his retirement for this to creep back in and take root.
Digital copies of Art Bell’s run on the program from the mid 1990’s to the early 2000’s are easy enough to find online, even if Premiere Networks like to swing the banhammer against those who share the old archives for free on sites such as YouTube. Considering that these episodes were originally broadcast around the time I first became interested in the weird it is safe to say that the information held within would have been invaluable. But these were the days before the internet as we now know it, and without a local radio affiliate here in the UK to pick up the segment for rebroadcast all those tantalising titbits remained an ocean away while I was left to fend for myself.
Having a long list of Coast To Coast episodes in one place, a feat that would have been impossible back when they were first aired, allows the listener to create a cross section of sorts. This serves as a temporal lens, granting a view of an extremely worrying truth for those who are willing to face it. In most cases the shows dealt with the very same anomalistic phenomena that we are still picking over today and worse, we actually know very little more now than we did back then. This point is further driven home when listening to guests who seem happy to recycle the same information as their peers over and over again, year after year.
I am in no way overstating this. A quick survey of the subjects on offer from way back when reads like a modern list of internet hot topics. Cattle mutilations from 1994. Remote viewing from 1995. Bigfoot from 1996. Chupacabra from 1997. Alien implants from 1998. Chemtrails from 1999. After the turn of the Millennium the trend continues with the Star Child Skull appearing in 2000. Shadow People in 2001. Mothman in 2002. Parallel universes in 2003. Add to this recurring discussions on the Illuminati, close encounters and general occultism throughout Art Bell’s run and you start to see a pattern of outright stagnation in the Fortean field emerge.
It would be fair to say that, based upon what I have now seen, most researchers tackle the subject as historians and not journalists, folklorists instead of detectives. They seem all too eager to repackage and republish the past research of others under our own name while actually offering nothing new of substance whatsoever. Another intriguing side issue arises when one looks at the whole sorry mess from the point of view of the anomalistic psychologists, a rogue group of skeptics that are more intrigued by the intricacies of what people believe than the outright poo-pooing of the beliefs themselves.
Through their eyes we are forced to wonder wonder why certain paranormal subjects, such as the Illuminati and the black eyed children have maintained their market share over the last few years, while others have fallen by the wayside. When a now neglected event had a time limit attached, as with the Y2K Bug or the Mayan calendar apocalypse, the explanation is obvious. Once the dates as outlined came and went without even a whimper the general public moved their attention elsewhere. Yet when was the last time you heard about the Owlman or the Thunderbird? Hair Snipping Demons or Monkey Men? How about man eating Trees?
All the aforementioned speculation leaves us facing the fact that many of the topics which we consider to be at the very heart of Fortiana have gone stale. The old methods of research are losing their relevance to a society that is evolving far quicker than they are, where websites such as Reddit are blurring the line between fantasy and fact. At this point the entire paranormal field is pretty much just pissing in the dark over and over again and wondering why their feet keep getting wet, showcasing a lack of desire to find the light switch that may well be anomalistic in and of itself.