Wednesday, October 20

How Pop Culture Has Shaped Our Understanding Of Aliens | Culture

Unsurprisingly, the anticipation of the unclassified report by the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force has caused America’s long-standing fascination with UFOs to accelerate.

The confirmation of an inexplicable some things for even former president Barack Obama it has felt haunting, like a misread headline. The United States government … is taking unidentified flying objects … seriously? Having them explicitly publicly concerned about UFOs seems dubious, as does the footage from the movies, which has long been the appropriate and accessible path for interest in spooky objects in the sky.

The Pentagon report, which does not speculate on alien spacecraft but also does not close any doors for more than 120 sightings of Navy pilots It has baffled scientists and military experts, demands serious scientific investigation, and also invites imagination. How to explain the still inexplicable and unknown? Over decades of government disinterest or silence on the subject, audiences have turned to pop culture, particularly film and television, which refracts the fascination with the unknown in alien stories that have shaped our collective shorthand for aliens. : flying saucers, little green men, hyper-powerful beyond ours.

From The X-Files to Men in Black, Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Star Wars and every other Marvel movie, Hollywood has for decades provided a fascinating feedback loop for interest in the extraterrestrial – a reflection of our fears and capabilities, whose ubiquitous popularity. in turn, it has fueled increased interest in UFOs as perennially compelling entertainment tropes that should not be taken seriously. If the vast unknown was daunting, awe-inspiring, overwhelming, exploring its contours through stories offered a modicum of control, on the part of the authors and the expectations of a popular audience. After all, UFO and alien stories have always said more about us – our fears, our anxieties, our hope, our adaptability – than any potential outside visitor.

The alien stories predate the coining of the term “UFO,” which is believed to have entered popular culture on June 24, 1947, when Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot from Idaho, reported seeing nine circular objects flying at speed. Supersonic near Mount Rainier in Washington. Half a century earlier, Pearsons magazine began serializing British science fiction author HG Wells’s War of the Worlds, which transmuted concerns about British imperial occupations into one of the earliest alien invasion stories (Martians, South from England; Orson Welles, in his famous radio rendition of the story in 1938, changed the location to New York). The fascination with the alien invasion has been enduring and lucrative throughout the decades: Wells’s story was once again updated in a 2005 box office hit directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise and again in a television series. of 2019.

However, the widespread fascination with shadow encounters did not seriously increase until breathless news coverage of Arnold’s account, which labeled his alleged sighting as “flying saucers,” an idea so completely emblematic of the heightened period of the cold war that UFOs are, as an aesthetic, considered retro. Reports of UFOs increased; The government’s Project Blue Book analyzed more than 12,000 sightings between 1952 and 1969 (701 remained unexplained). Meanwhile, popular culture used insanity as a mirror for cold war fears of faceless nuclear annihilation and communist infiltration in films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951 and Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956.

A still from The Day the Earth Stood Still
A still from The Day the Earth Stood Still Photograph: THE RONALD GRANT ARCHIVE

Alien movies have generally reflected changing cultural anxieties, from the existential terror of nuclear war to foreign slavery and loss of bodily control. As Diana Walsh Pasulka, professor of philosophy and religion at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and author of American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology, told NBC NewsUFO-themed entertainment generally falls into two categories: hostile aliens, in which “the UFO event is revealed to be harmful to humans” such as Independence Day or Cloverfield; and benevolent world-expanding encounters seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET: Steven Spielberg’s Alien. There’s a reason there are college courses on extraterrestrials in pop culture: the fascination with the fantastic unknown has settled over decades across numerous subgenres and has explored various topics, including alien invasion (Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow), transference body and mind control (Men in Black, The Thing), parables of human xenophobia (Avatar, District 9), non-human space sagas (Star Wars, Star Trek) and cooperation between humans and aliens (many of the Marvel films) .

Alien movies have continued to probe the boundaries of our emotional worlds and internalized cultural events. X Files creator Chris Carter has saying The cult hit show, which ran from 1993 to 2002 and showcases a cover-up of extraterrestrial meddling by the government, spoke of the persistent distrust of the government after Watergate. Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield, in which something dark and dangerous attacks downtown New York, channels 9/11-style terror through an unknown alien. The arrival of Denis Villeneuve, starring Amy Adams as a grieving linguist, addressed the tantalizing question of how we would find common communication with an extraterrestrial presence. Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things is as much about generational nostalgia for popular ’80s alien sci-fi as it is about the extra-dimensional monsters that lurk in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, a closed-loop pop culture fixation with the extraterrestrial.

It’s tempting to wish for a concrete answer to the existence of aliens, a confirmation that would be, frankly, too cinematic to believe, and one that we almost certainly won’t get from the government until, say, an Independence Day-like situation. But it’s unlikely to satisfy or end pop culture’s fascination with the extraterrestrial. UFO stories can be scary, silly, bombastic, insidious. They’re also fun, a readable way to explore powers and ideas beyond human perception through the family structure and rhythms of human-made stories. There’s a reason so many alien movies hang on to reveal their creatures until the final act: there’s hope in the open ending, space in the indefinite, momentum in the search for answers. What remains, once we have them? And if speculation about the extraterrestrial, in movies or in real life, allows us to channel jasmic emotions by imagining the unknown … do we want them?

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