A man asked me, essentially, what the difference is between Paratopia and other shows. Never one to miss an opportunity at self-promotion–and also because I’ve been thinking lately how vastly different Paratopia really was from anything out there, if only to toot my own horn because I’m a lonely, lonely man–I thought, What a perfect excuse to write this self-congratulatory post.
What made it different? Different even than Culture of Contact, my first podcast? Well, there’s the unlikely friendship between my broadcast partner Jeff Ritzmann and me for starters. On paper, he was considered the serious one and I was the clown. But in those facades we hid our alter egos. Turns out I’ve also got a serious side and he’s a bit of a comedian. But what brought us together and is our bond is that we’re both “experiencers of high strangeness” that don’t accept the answers and the labels of answer-makers. So, Paratopia was our journey together to try to figure out what was happening to us and to the world at large where this paranormal stuff was concerned. Maybe we’d never figure out what an “alien abduction” was, for example, but we could at least expose what it wasn’t. That, too, is clarity. And clarity is priceless in any realm of unknowns.
Having no dog in the fight for definitions allowed us to speak to guests across various fields of interest. Names you may not have heard before or thought would be relevant in the exploration. It also allowed us to ask the names you’re overly familiar with questions nobody had put to them before. Many were the guests who thanked us either on the show or after because the depth of our questioning was like a breath of fresh air for them.
We actively sought guests we found credible because we thought the whole “We’ll interview everyone and let the audience decide who’s real and who’s a phony” was just lazy and didn’t advance the quest for truth, if you want to call it that.
The format, too, was different. We wrapped these serious discussions in what we thought would be an easy-to-swallow comedy capsule–a weekly narrative that was a riff on the TV show LOST. But this was lost on as many listeners as not. Comedy, it turns out, is divisive in the self-serious world of the paranormal and especially its ugly ghetto where we come from, ufology.
If you’re not wearing a suit and tie while lying through your teeth, you’re doing it wrong. We did it wrong. And that suited us just fine because in reality, we didn’t want that audience. We wanted to weed out the loons and the gullible–the typical–to talk to the intelligent, the balanced, and the creative audience who get that “unidentified” means just that–and that so-called “experts,” who make grand proclamations about things sane people know they cannot know, are noise hiding the signal. If Coast To Coast is kindergarten, Paratopia is grad school.
Yeah, we’re snobs like that. But trust me, everyone was thankful on the old message board not to have to suffer fools as they piled up insights like Zen laundry.
And that’s the foundation of the show: intelligent people searching, asking questions, having a laugh. Engaging the mystery where others claim there is none. True believers and debunkers have that claim in common.
But the journey is the thing, as they say, and oh, what a ride we took. Everything from helping fund Kogi elders flying to New York for the first time so they could do energy work in Upstate and get an audience with the Dalai Lama while he was in town… to exposing the criminal-like behavior of David Jacobs and wrongheaded research of Budd Hopkins (thanks to Carol Rainey’s now legendary Paratopia Magazine article.) We effectively killed hypnosis in alien abduction research as a viable tool for serious researchers. This is not to say that the Barbara Lambs of the world will stop breaking peoples’ minds with it simply because we gave a spotlight to the Emma Woods/David Jacobs fiasco–but it is the entire reason Jacobs is now shying away from saying he’s using hypnosis. He now says he’s using relaxation techniques. What he’s doing is harming people. He is allowed to carry on because ufology is a social network and a cottage industry and not much more. But for those in the “not much more” category who actually care about right and wrong–they followed the story and we all got a dose of reality. No longer was the argument against hypnosis hypothetical. It was staring us in the face and I don’t think we’ll ever recover.
At least I hope not.
What else made the show special? I think that we attracted quality people to the field or got them back in it. Many are the emails I’ve received from listeners thanking us and saying the same thing: these issues were all but dead to them until we came along. It’s like we made it real for people. Or rather, we reignited the real thing about all of this–the question.
When on the one hand NASA engineer Wes Owsley and Alzheimers researcher and professor Tyler Kokjohn start listening to you; while on the other hand, Lakota activist Tiokasin Ghosthorse teams up with you–you know you’re doing something transcendent of the muck. It’s as though great aspects of the brain-side and heart-side of mind recognized the validity (or at least genuine nature) of our work. And with that said, I can’t leave out the most controversial circumstance that probably divided the audience more than anything. Or… okay, probably it’s a tie between this and demolishing abduction research: for a time, Jeff’s experiences went from a confusing hodgepodge of paranormal/ufological mysteries to sit-down chats with a shrouded being who claimed to come not from outer space but from a particle in our world.
Scientists… First Peoples… Inter-dimensional Conversationalists. You want to know what made Paratopia so special? It’s that you trusted us, when logically you shouldn’t have, because we were telling the truth. Really, that’s it. Somehow we got away with making these outrageous claims of our own while tearing down New Age woo-woo nonsense, nuts-and-bolts alien nonsense, and debunker nonsense at the same time. I think ultimately we demonstrated the difference between speaking one’s truth and making shit up. On the surface they may share the same language… but dig a little deeper and see if one doesn’t collapse under the weight of it’s bullshit.
So there. All of that. All of that, plus we tried to do what no other show has done: we tried to give it to the audience, offering to produce listener-hosted episodes. And we had experiencer-listeners as guests, because they are with whom the mystery lies. Not “experts.” I mean, right? Those were some of our best episodes.
Oh, I could go on and on. We did road trip shows and on-site investigations of haunted locations. We had EVPs manifest while recording some episodes–and who can forget the high strangeness that was the Colin Andrews episode that literally changed my life? Or the Jacques Vallee interview/love letter that was padded with various names in ufology reading from his book with Chris Aubeck, Wonders In the Sky? An episode so good Vallee himself had his publisher put it on his book page as promotion?
Or that we went from a free podcast to a premium subscription and got away with it? You wanna know why we got away with it, what the secret was? It was that we had so many listeners telling us we should charge money because the show is that good. I know for the tribe of you who believe everything online should be free this will come as a shock, but we actually had people getting the show for free and asking us to charge them.
I mean… what???
Finally, what made Paratopia unique, I think, is that we knew when it was time to quit. Better to go on a high note than draw it out to a fizzling fart of irrelevance. So we did what no one in this field would do: we turned our backs on money because saying goodbye was the right thing to do. We were really big on doing right for our audience, for ourselves, and also for Mystery. Keep it authentic. Keep interesting. Just don’t keep going for the sake of going.
And now, thanks to the miracle of technology and, frankly, Paypal, you can keep it for yourself. And… well… we get to make money off it again.
I mean, come on. We’re not idiots.