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Good News From Outer Space By John Kessel Essay, Research Paper
The key ingredients that make the society in the book Good News from Outer Space by John Kessel seem so full of mordant farce are chaos, technology, belief and faith run amok. The book is set in our present year of 1999, and it seems that all of the conventional thoughts and explanations that help life make sense, are no longer needed. All that remain are the lunatic explanations that have gained adherence within society.
Although the society in the book might seem more like an exaggerated version of our current way of life, what s to say that in a couple of years or months, ours will not mirror the one in the book? After all, we are approaching the millenium. This paper intends to relate the world created by John Kessel to the world we now inhabit; this world where science and religion, for most, are the mental constructs that give us some sense of control over this obscure universe.
The most significant aspect of this fictional society is the belief of a Second Coming. This shows great similarity to present day society simply because of the huge percentage of Christian followers who also believe in a Second Coming. The Reverend Jimmy-Don Gilray, a major character in the book, is convinced that God will send a messenger to arrive on earth on January 1, 2000 in a spaceship. Using television, the smooth preaching Gilray manages to herd the followers in like cattle by the thousands. The words roll off of his tongue like honey and his followers are easily convinced that the perilous times of their last days have come Gilray s prophecies are given light in the following quote: They have been fulfilled. That s how we know we re in the Last days. The Bible predicts that certain events will happen: the Jews will return to Israel-they have been there since 1948. A burning star named Wormwood will fall upon the earth and poison the waters, killing many men-in 2985 a meltdown occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Soviet Union. Chernobyl, in Russian means Wormwood. The Roman Empire will be re-instituted in a ten-headed beast-in 1997 the European Community established a ten-person commission to fight the worldwide depression. The nation of Gog and Magog will come from the north to fight a war in the valley of Armageddon-we see the Soviet Army bogged down in a stalemate in the Middle East today where, among other territory, they currently occupy the valley identified in the Old Testament as Har-Magiddo. The soviet premier, an avowed atheist who has forged an economic union with the U.S., bears the Mark of the Beast on his forehead. (p.62)
Gilray s beliefs distinctly resemble those of past characters in our own world. Characters such as the infamous David Koresh and his Branch Davidians who believed in the coming of God and who also bought land that was suppose to be near the site of God s visitation. In the style of David Koresh, Gilray also moves his believers to a place where, he claims, God shall come. This place is called Zion. George King of the Aetherius Society, yet another so-called religious figure in our own world, claimed to have been visited by a yogic apparition. This apparition told him he had been selected by the Hidden Masters to become the ‘Voice of the Interplanetary Parliament’. He had been chosen to battle with materialism and would be helped by the Hidden Masters themselves, who would visit humanity in flying saucers. This clearly relates to the book because of Gilray s belief that he had been chosen to do God’s work. Another cult leader of our own society strikingly similar to Gilray and his beliefs was Marshall Herff Applewhite. Just like the Reverend in Good News from Outer Space , he also believed in a messenger who would arrive in a spaceship to deliver salvation. However, a slight difference between the two was the fact that Applewhite, leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult, specifically believed that the approach of comet Hale-Bopp was an indication of the arrival of God s spacecraft. In the end, Applewhite lead his followers to their demise just as Gilray lead his followers to their own fate brought on by religious hysteria. Chaos is what resulted and this is well noted in the book with the following quote: Within the City of God there was less and less food. Medical supplies were scarce. The winter was turning into the hardest in the last fifty years: temperatures had not risen above freezing since Thanksgiving and eighteen inches of snow had fallen since the first of December As quickly as heretics could be condemned and punished new prophets arose from the streets to replace them. The nightly rallies and daily pageants fused together until, by the last week of the year, the region had been driven by hope and desperation into a state of continuous hysteria . (p.63) This is the point in the book were we can clearly see that Armageddon is already starting to take precedence because of people s religious lunacy. Kessel said it better in his book, quote there would be no January 1, not because Christ was coming, but because crazy men, expecting a miracle, would destroy the world . (p.314) The consequence of following false prophets and messiahs, in the end, both in Kessel s work and in our society, is pure chaotic eruption and worse still, death.
George Eberhart, who also plays a significant role in the book, is a reporter for the biggest tabloid in the world. He works for an agency whose motto seems to be something like “It doesn’t matter if it’s untrue, as long as it sells”. The society in the book is full of trashy-cheesy news and so is what s on TV. The tabloid television shows in the book, contain what one may call hardcore trash-articles such as: Pittsburgh Millworker Eats Himself. Foxhole Fad Sweeps Midwest. Unarius Temple Firebombed. High School Valedictorian on Sex Rampage. Jehovah s Witnesses Torn by Schism. High-Tech Pioneer Founds American Atheist Party. Saucer Men Land at Fatima. (p.49) These articles are keenly similar to the ones produced in our society by the tabloid newspaper, Weekly World News. They have been known to produce such unrealistic articles as the following: Satan s Face Appears in Hawaiian Volcano s Lava , Tallest Women in the World Marries Smallest Man in the World and The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse Seen Riding In Mojave Desert . What does the acceptance of such news stories in the mainstream, of both our world and the book, mean? It could mean that the general population s IQ is at its all time lowest, and that people will believe anything as long as it s new and unheard of. Perhaps people have gotten bored with ethics and intellectual rationale. But what does ethics have to do with such scummy news stories? One must consider that the presence of ethics helps us formulate rational thinking and intellect. These stories show that neither is obviously required and this reflects upon the society. The general mentality of the society in the book is best summarized in the following quote: What s wrong with ethics? Ethics is for people with full bellies. If people really cared nobody would go hungry. That s what ethics is. (p.137) One can t help but give credit to what is stated in the quote because it seems so true. However one can t neglect the fact that ethics and morals have always helped to keep a sense of order in a truly functioning society.
Eberhart is convinced that an alien is out to instigate the self-destruction of humanity and destabilize civilization. How will it do this? He comes to the conclusion that the alien manages to get into people s minds and expose them for whom they really are. This way, the alien can cause humanity to self-immolate. Eberhart and his strong belief vaguely resemble some aspects in our world. Shows in our world, such as Sightings and X-files might remind one of Eberhart and his belief in the alien. The focus of these shows is aliens and the focus of Eberhart s quest in the book is an alien. Sightings, in particular, contain supposed real life testimonies of abductions and other alien encounters. Such reported testimonies have been of aliens warning us and telling us to change our destructive ways or be eliminated. This directly relates to what Eberhart claims the alien s goal is, to eliminate humanity.
As the calendar counts down the months to the year 2000, will we see millennial fever taking hold of the United States just like in the book? Maybe it has already begun to happen unbeknownst to us. Maybe the war in Kosovo, the seemingly inevitable Y2K bug, and the awkward weather we are experiencing are all signs pointing to the end. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we start to see our world develop into the society Kessel has created. It is a possibility that soon we will witness our world deeply resemble what is seen taking place in the book when the plot begins to grow thick with deep chaotic and hysterical undertones. Maybe Jesus is really an alien and already walks among us like the alien in the book. There are so many possibilities and not many certainties.
The beliefs of Gilray and Eberhart although seemingly far fetched may hit closer to home than one would imagine. While Gilray believed in the coming of an extraterrestrial Christ, his counter character Applewhite believed likewise. Christ didn t come to either of them, but if anything one might say that the Heaven s Gate Cult came to Christ (through suicide). While Eberhart believed in the alien, countless alien fanatics in our society have made the shows like Sightings possible. One might tend to believe that Kessel had such comparisons in mind while created this fictional world within the bounded covers of his novel. In general the rather sarcastic title of the book may serve as a messenger of what the future may hold for generations to come or perhaps just the very near future, period.
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