Today’s Bizarro, with a play on abduction:

So: abduction by aliens (‘extraterrestial beings’) — but for what purpose? In a significantly conventionalized use of alien abduction, the purpose is probing human beings, but here the purpose of the abduction is a more common one: kidnapping for ransom (where it happens that the kidnappers are alien creatures). There are other possibilities.

OED3 (Dec. 2011) recognizes that abduction ‘the action of taking someone away by force or deception, or without the consent of his or her legal guardian; kidnapping’ now has the specialized sense:

A reported paranormal experience in which a person claims to have been surreptitiously abducted by extraterrestrial beings; this alleged phenomenon. Freq. in alien abduction, UFO abduction. [first cite 1965]

Wikipedia’s version:

The terms alien abduction or abduction phenomenon describe “subjectively real memories of being taken secretly against one’s will by apparently nonhuman entities and subjected to complex physical and psychological procedures” [from The Journal of UFO Studies]. People claiming to have been abducted are usually called “abductees” or “experiencers”.

Now, there are other purposes of abduction beyond kidnapping for ransom and abduction for extraterrestrial probing. Three more, from various sources: in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio; in the Falcon Studios gay porn series The Abduction; and in an action thriller movie Abduction.

Mozart, From Wikipedia:

Die Entführung aus dem Serail (K. 384; The Abduction from the Seraglio; also known as Il Seraglio) is an opera Singspiel in three acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The German libretto is by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner with adaptations by Gottlieb Stephanie. The plot concerns the attempt of the hero Belmonte, assisted by his servant Pedrillo, to rescue his beloved Konstanze from the seraglio of [the Turkish] Pasha Selim. The work premiered on 16 July 1782 at the Vienna Burgtheater, with the composer conducting.

The overture, which leads with a distinctly “Turkish” thematic turn, can be heard and seen here, in a performance by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

In this case, the purpose of the abduction is to sequester (essentially, imprison) someone, for sexual use. [Addendum: see the comments section. There are two abductions of Konstanze here: Pasha Selim’s (purpose: imprisonment) and Belmonte’s (purpose: rescue). Belmonte’s is the abduction of the title.]

Falcon porn. A three-part gay porn series from 1992-93, beginning with The Abduction, described here (in abbreviated form) by the studio:

This is not your uncle’s Falcon. This bust-out flick forgoes the vanilla in favor of some premium kink. [Chance] Caldwell, as a uniformed military type, has men abducted from their homes and brought to his torture dungeon so he can search them for a mysterious roll of film. He and his cronies leave no orifice unexplored in their search.

The purpose of the abduction is imprisonment for search and torture.

The action thriller. I’m familiar with the Mozart opera and the Falcon porn (I have recordings of both), but I haven’t experienced the action-adventure movie (though Taylor Lautner and Sigourney Weaver look like plusses). From Wikipedia:

Abduction is a 2011 American action thriller film directed by John Singleton and stars Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Michael Nyqvist, and Alfred Molina.

The plot is seriously convoluted, but the crucial piece here is that it involves kidnapping one person to coerce action from another.

Semantic notes. Given the variation in the purposes of abduction in different contexts, we might propose that abduction for extraterrestrial probing is just one more purpose — that is, that abduction is semantically unspecified as to purpose, with different purposes discerned in different contexts. On this view, the noun is not ambiguous, but merely neutral as to one aspect of what it conveys; context suggests details about specific purposes.

The editors of the OED, however, have concluded that even in isolation, abduction now can be understood as specifically involving extraterrestrials, while otherwise being neutral with respect to the actors in abduction and their purposes (or specifically involves kidnapping for ransom). In that case, the cartoon turns on a genuine ambiguity in alien abduction.

2 Responses to “abduction”

  1. H. S. Gudnason Says:

    I think you did a curious kind of purpose reversal in your description of the Mozart, where you write, “In this case, the purpose of the abduction is to sequester (essentially, imprison) someone, for sexual use.” That’s why Bassa Selim abducted Konstanze in the first place, but the title refers to Belmonte’s attempt to abduct her from the Seraglio. Now, as a 21st century critic you might argue that Belmonte’s desire to rescue Konstanze and marry her is an institutionalized form of sequestration and imprisonment, but I don’t think that’s quite what Mozart et al. had in mind.

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