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Sex sells, which I suppose is why @ejhill egged me on to write for Ricochet about one David Huggins, an elderly New Jersey man who claims to have long ago lost his virginity to aliens who have been visiting him ever since. (Huggins is the same fellow @majestyk briefly mentioned in his recent piece on UFOs.)
More remarkable than Huggins’s claim that his first girlfriend was an alien named Crescent, or that he served as a stud to sire countless alien progeny, is the fact that Huggins won’t stop painting pictures of it. Yes, Huggins paints alien porn. Alien porn isn’t all he paints – of his hundreds of paintings of encounters with aliens, many, perhaps most, aren’t pornographic. But enough are for one reviewer to dub his oeuvre “the X-rated Files.” Oh, did I mention these paintings are featured in both a coffee-table book and now a documentary movie? The movie, Love and Saucers, is out on DVD just in time to make a last-minute Christmas gift for that hard-to-shop-for relative.
I look at Huggins’s paintings and my first thought is, why? Specifically, what drives a man to make so many oil paintings without, well, becoming a better artist? Many reviewers call the paintings impressionistic or primitivist, but the truth is they’re amateurish, achieving neither realism nor any eye-catching style which would make deviations from realism charming. Oils are a messy medium to master. Painting on canvas is also expensive and bulky – especially when compared to your typical sketchbook. Why oils? The rest of you, though, might wonder less why oils?, and more why aliens?
Those reviewing Love and Saucers note that Huggins doesn’t seem like a con-man, an attention-whore, or mentally unstable. He just seems like an ordinary guy who believes what he believes, and can’t be talked out of it. This reviewer observes,
The quiet, introverted 72-year old New Jersey resident had, for years, lived what many would dub an ordinary life. He was married and had a son. He had a job and artistic talents that he had once hoped to explore professionally. He was a typical family man, until the memories returned. Huggins began to recall a six-year-long sexual relationship he had with a being of another world, which began when he was 17. Until he was in his early twenties, Huggins was routinely visited by unearthly creatures and carried out a lascivious affair with the same female caller. Aside from her above average height, pale face, and large black eyes, she appeared largely humanoid, though her companions were often far less so. As memories of this affair returned to him (and contributed to his subsequent divorce), Huggins felt compelled to capture them in oil, painting dozens if not hundreds of scenes from that six-year period.
Do you notice what I notice? His unearthly memories “returned” as he painted them.
Looking at Huggins’s art, I’m reminded of other – frankly better – artists, many of whom developed an elaborate personal mythology. One of whom was a friend of mine who drew creatures not unlike some that appear in Huggins’s paintings, only better-rendered, and part of a Tolkienesque mythological landscape – that is, fictional, no matter how real his inner mythscape may have felt. In fact, Tolkien himself qualifies as one of these better artists, as anyone who’s seen Tolkien’s illustrations (for example, his delightful Christmas illustrations) can attest: Tolkien never saw a need to commit his illustrations to canvas, but their artistry is obviously superior to Huggins’s work.
When we “see” something, we apprehend it directly, rather than through the pesky filter of words. The mechanically-minded do this all the time. For example, this past weekend, my husband asked me for help on some math, on interpolating a surface between four points. I quickly “saw” a way to do it, finding it fastest to sketch the interpolation I “saw,” leaving words and formulas for later. The mythologically-minded may likewise apprehend myths by “seeing” them. Those of us (at least in the modern world) who apprehend our myths this way are usually well aware we’re doing it with our mind’s eye, not our body’s eye. These are things we “see” because seeing is how we understand them, not because they’re “really happening.”
Tolkien rather famously persuaded CS Lewis that Christianity is true myth. That is, Christianity is a myth – a story humans use to make sense of the world – whose essentials really happened. Christians differ on how much of the story is “essential” – that is, how much of it you have to believe really happened in order to be a proper Christian. I’m a Nicene Christian, so I consider the Nicene Creed a pretty good benchmark: I believe the events described in the Nicene Creed really happened, and I count anyone who believes likewise as an orthodox Christian. Others believe Christians should treat all stories in both the Old and New Testaments as factual in order to be orthodox. The way I see it, though, it matters less, for example, whether the man called Job described in the Book of Job really existed than it does that the Book of Job tells an insightful story about the nature of suffering. While I’d be surprised if several major Bible stories had no historical basis, my faith in Christ’s story does not depend on all portions of the Bible being fact.
It’s even possible – though not orthodox – to consider Christ’s story a vital one despite considering it a fiction. After all, as fans of all sorts of fiction know, good fiction helps us understand the world, despite not being factual. Someone who believed Christ’s story was good fiction – the best fiction – the fiction to live by – wouldn’t be an orthodox Christian but would be Christian in a sense. How, exactly, we’d treat a story as important enough to live by without also treating it as if it were true is an interesting question. In fact, my own conversion consisted of my realizing I found Christ’s story compelling enough to treat as if it really happened.
The larger point, though, is that even orthodox Christians treat Christianity as myth. We think about the Christian story mythically. Its mythology shapes our inner mythscape. The visual thinkers among us “see” Christian mythology in our mind’s eye, come to understand it by picturing it, by personalizing Christian iconography – see, for example, my (admittedly not very original) doodle of peace as the all-consuming fire of the Holy Spirit. We may even experience religious visions, and we don’t have to believe these visions “aren’t imaginary” in order to find them insightful and meaningful. Imagination, after all, is as much a means of God-given understanding as all our other faculties are.
Which brings me back to Mr. Huggins. Huggins is a long-time science-fiction fan, who has collected over 2000 sci-fi films on VHS. It would be natural for Huggins to have a science-fiction-based internal mythology, a mythology which he develops by painting paintings, just as so many others have used illustration to develop their own internal mythscape. What’s odd about Huggins is that he believes the mythology he discovered through his paintings isn’t just mythology, but memories. The same reviewer I quoted above continues,
Huggins doesn’t carry the cross of a man whose life has taken an unwanted and uncontrollable detour; he is simply a man who lost his virginity to an alien and has spent decades painting his affair.
Did he sire half-human progeny in another world? Does it really matter? His beliefs are sincere, and as a result, so too is his art, and everything else is secondary at best.
When you’ve spent so much of your life “remembering” your starring role in alien pornos that it busts up your marriage, your life may not have taken “an unwanted and uncontrollable detour”, but it has taken a turn for the worse. It’s difficult to imagine how Huggins treating these stories as real wouldn’t matter to his family. If we have some choice in which myths we treat as real, then consideration for those around us ought to influence our choice. If you can avoid busting up your marriage by keeping your pornographic myths to yourself, well, maybe that’s something you should consider doing. Of course, this reasoning doesn’t just apply to the pornographic, but to any myth which might seriously disturb the equanimity of those who matter to you. Including political myths.
It’s hard to develop a political perspective without developing a political mythology to go along with it, complete with political villains and heroes. I’m not saying our political mythology is only a fabrication, just that, fabricated or not, political myths matter to us for more than their factual value. In particular, the effect of the political myths we choose to believe on those around us – and especially on those dearest to us – is worth considering. And it’s maybe not the worst thing when we decide to cherish a political myth a little less simply because its effect on those around us is ugly.
Contrary to the quoted reviewer, it’s not enough that Huggins’s “beliefs are sincere, and as a result, so too is his art,” and it’s not true that “everything else is secondary at best.” It does matter that Huggins’s art is ugly and creepy. It matters that the beliefs motivating his art are nuts, even if he seems sane otherwise. And it matters that those beliefs have put a strain on his family.
It’s also true that Huggins’s bizarre beliefs have brought attention to his artwork that it wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Fruitcake beliefs are one way to get attention in the attention economy, and it’s hard to think of a belief more fruitcake than his treating this twisted personal mythology of his as fact.
The Christmas myth is, by comparison, old hat. Even shopworn by now. But whether you consider Christmas true myth or fictional myth, the myth of Christmas is altogether more charming, more wholesome, and of more lasting value than the myth Huggins’s paintings narrate. Huggins seems to have found meaning and comfort in the myths he paints, but beyond a few UFO true believers, his is not the sort of meaning and comfort that can be shared. Indeed, his mythology alienates (pun intended) ordinary decency. All of us, I’m sure, could name some political myths that are similar – myths unable to inspire meaning and comfort outside a small circle of true believers, myths many decent folk find alienating. Whatever political myths we find plausible or implausible, comforting or discomfiting, welcoming or alienating, Christmas is a good time to remember we have other, more lasting, myths in common, too.Published in