Podcast Reaction: Aliens! Edition


This week on the podcast, Watson didn’t do the assigned reading.  If he did that in my class, we’d move on without him and he’d fail another of life’s little tests.

Man, that was really, really mean.

Let’s talk about aliens.

Actually, I talked about aliens once before.  I don’t want to repeat myself, so I won’t say anything I said there.

But aliens are one of the four basic building blocks of science fiction, alongside space travel, time travel, and artificial life/intelligence.

Good science fiction is often used to talk about the present.  Any time someone does The War of the Worlds, you know it’s probably really about something else.  Consider:

  • H.G. Wells’ novel:  fear of Prussian aggression, or a cautionary tale about the British Empire
  • Orson Welles’ (no relation) radio play:  fascism maybe?
  • 1950s movie:  Cold War seems likely since the aliens seem to ignore the communist nations of the world
  • Tom Cruise movie:  terrorism

That last one is pretty on-point.  The alien war machines don’t come from the sky.  They come from under the ground.  They were there the whole time, just like a potential terrorist cell.  Likewise, Dakota Fanning shouts, “Is it the terrorists?!” when things start to go wrong.  The mass confusion, the feeling that nowhere was safe, all could have been a good byproduct of a post-9/11 world.

But aliens don’t have to be depressing.  What is Superman and those guys from Alien Nation if not the immigrant story?

Of course, what is District 9 if not the apartheid story?

That feller up top the column?  Their reproductive process looks an awful lot like sexual assault.

Here’s the thing:  we probably want aliens to be better than us.  Good aliens often feature the character traits of our race that we admire.  On the other hand, aliens are often depicted as having the worst of our character traits.  They’re what we might aspire to be like, but sometimes just turn out to be the things we hate most about ourselves.  We’d like caring, considerate aliens that just want to help.  We fear aggressive conquerors that take our planet and its resources just because they can.

What would real aliens be like?  Probably nothing like us, at least in appearance.

I suppose we’ll find out if any ever show up here.  Hopefully they aren’t naked and allergic to water like those guys from Signs.  That would probably be an intergalactic international incident waiting to happen.

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