Do You Want To believe? – Talking about Legend, UFOs and the X Files

SHU academics entertained a large public audience with their analysis of the folklore, legend, and popular culture surrounding the X-Files, as part of the recent Off-The-Shelf Festival.

The talk, entitled ‘The Art of the X-Files,’ had to be postponed due to extreme rain and flooding on the original date (was this perhaps the work of the Men In Black?), nevertheless, the rescheduled talk on 20th November attracted over 90 guests, mostly members of the general public and students along with a few fellow academics.

A 90 Strong audience for ‘Art of the X-Files’ at Off The Shelf, 14th November

Dr Diane Rodgers and Dr James Fenwick (CMS) provided a fascinating and entertaining overview of the cultural and political context of the X-Files, based on their newly published academic study of the show (‘The Legacy of The X-Files’ pub: Bloomsbury, 16 Nov 2023 – see HERE). Their talk explored show’s origins and influences from the popular culture and media of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, along with its use of legend and folklore and its contemporary resonance in the politics and society of the 21st century.

After a short break Dr David Clarke (CMS) and Andrew Robinson (A&D) reviewed the representation of UFOs both in the X Files itself, and in the wider media, charting their history from the earliest C19th imagery to the flying disc craze of 1947, and right up to NASA’s recent announcement of their project to study what are now called UAPs (Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena).

At one point, to the amusement of the audience, Andrew demonstrated how the type of UFO photographs popular in the 1950s and 60s, might have been faked producing images of UFOs flying over the audience.

Andrew and David demonstrating possible methods of constructing UFO photographs

David and Andrew also ran an audience participation exercise, with over 70 people recording their perception of what a UFO might look like. This generated a series of fascinating and humorous sketches, which will form part of their ongoing research into UFO imagery and legend.

Three of the more than seventy UFO drawings produced by the audience

David has written and spoken on folklore and legends surrounding UFOs for many years, however since his discovery of the only existing photograph of the 1990 Calvine incident and its publication in a national newspaper in the summer of 2021, his research and Andrews photographic analysis have attracted a great deal of attention in online communities, the popular press and wider media. This has resulted in the pair presenting papers at the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research (ISCLR) annual conference, hosted by the Centre of Contemporary Legend (CCL), at SHU last June, and at the recent QED conference in Manchester (info HERE), along with a contribution to an upcoming Netflix documentary made by American filmmaker James Fox.

Dr David Clarke and Andrew Robinson presenting their UFO paper at the annual QED Conference in Manchester, Sept 2023.

It would seem that the public just can’t get enough of UFOs and the mysteries surrounding them, something the creators of the X Files were all too well aware of!


Images and text courtesy of Andrew Robinson