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Many of the more intense - and seriously whacked out - currents in the tangled web of modern conspiracy theory can be traced back to a relatively obscure British television show from 1977. Alternative 3 was the last episode of a serious documentary series called Science Reports, produced by Anglia Television. It was a War of the Worlds-style hoax which gained a cult following; or, alternatively, to true believers, a serious revalation that the powers that be forced its makers to disavow.

The premise was that it was an explanation for the brain drain that Britain experienced throughout the '70s - the flight of qualified scientists to other countries where pay was higher and funding better. According to Alternative 3 they were leaving not just England but the Earth. For a secret world government-run colony on Mars.

The idea was the American and Soviet government had known for years that the Earth was overpolluted and overpopulated, ripe for global warming and massive Malthusian diebacks. The superpowers decided to cooperate to ensure the survival of their own ruling elites, and came up with three possible solutions. Alternative one was to immediately stop all pollution, and kill off of as much of the world's population as possible through the holes in the Ozone Layer. Alternative two was to create hidden underground bunker cities where the ruling class could ride out everything going to shit, and reemerge when the time was right to resume their natural function. Alternative three (and I don't think I'm giving away much when I tell you this is the one they decided on) was to create a colony on Mars, aided by aliens, and maintained by scientists and ordinary people co-opted with secret alien mind control techniques.

The documentary purports to document the discovery of this conspiracy by valiant Science Reports investigators, who, putting together a report on brain drain, stumble onto something much bigger. All of the people involved insist it was a hoax; originally intendend for broadcast on April Fools' Day, but delayed until June by a programming mistake. The program created an instant stir, with thousands of people writing or calling the producers to insist that their missing friends and relatives had been taken away to help man Alternative 3. The disavowals of everybody invovled only encouraged them, as one might expect in such things.

As if things weren't confused and fucked-up enough, next year a book came out, apparently by the writers of the tv show. They claimed that, yes, the original show had been a hoax, but as it turned out, they had stumbled, without even realizing it, onto a real conspiracy - as evinced by the overwhelming audience response, and what they claimed were government efforts to silence them. The book was a "fictional account based on true events". Or maybe they just wanted to cash in.

You can judge for yourself. As of now, it's all online.

  • The book is available at http://www.anomalous-images.com/text/files.html - the link is about three-quarters of the way down the page.
  • And the entire documentary is online (in poor-quality but understandable RealVideo) at http://www.thule.org/alt3.html

Alternative 3 is also a song. A track of off our own patron saint Brian Eno's excellent 1978 album Music for Films. The song, presumably inspired by the whole fracas, is a supremely creepy and trippy piece of Eno proto-ambient, much more aggressive than most his music from that period; it reminds me a lot of early, Selected Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin. It is indeed the perfect soundtrack piece for contemplating mysterious theories and government cover-ups, ideally at 4 AM, alone, in a dark room.

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