Watch out. The skies are alive with activity. Outer space is buzzing. I’ve seen the lights in the sky. I’ve seen the circular patterns in the fields. I’ve seen Independence Day, Mars Attacks, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’ve read all the right books, and I’m not going to be a victim of the space people; whether they be the little green kind with eyes on sticks, or lanky grey creatures with big heads and massive black eyes. Or even the masked robotic men in their silver suits. Doctor Who, V, X-Files, The Simpsons, South Park.
I’ve seen them all. I know what will happen, and I am determined not to be captured, abducted, probed, or vaporised in a ball of purple flame. I’m going to lock myself in the cellar and stay there reading my Dan Dare and Flash Gordon comic books. Or maybe I’ll turn to Scientology instead. Because I know what’s coming.
I’ve seen Signs, and I know that alien invasion is on the cards.
But really, joking apart… Who was joking? Perhaps it isn’t something to be scoffed at. What if, just what if, it is a possibility that is scarily possible after all? We all know, we all accept, that there is life beyond our orbit. Don’t we? And the idea that someday, in the not-too-distant future, we will make ‘contact’ with our intergalactic brethren is no longer something that we just wonder at the likelihood of. Is it? Surely it has become a when, rather than an if. Whatever our real beliefs concerning the existence of Martians and other species of little green men; if we assume for a moment that we are not entirely alone in the universe, then we are presented with another question; when they do drop by for a chat, will it be peace and friendship they are looking for, or will they be planning to wreak pain, destruction, slavery and perhaps total annihilation on us?
It’s a difficult question to answer. In fact, it is an impossible question to answer. There are some people who claim to have a fuller insight into these things than the rest of us; people that have studied all the sightings, and the abduction testaments, and the crop circles; people who might be a little better informed as to what the chances of invasion are. However, I couldn’t get any of those people to talk to me. So I said, fine, I’ll work out for myself what the odds are of having some great pink snotty blob landing in my back garden, and how long it will take for me to end up as its lunch. And after much studying of internet chatter around the idea of imminent alien invasion, and finding very little; and after searching tirelessly for the secret cell of rebels already preparing to resist attack from the Outer Limits of our solar system, and again finding nothing; I thought to myself, well, perhaps the chances of an assault any time soon is actually pretty low. I felt much better about things then and that night it seemed I would sleep soundly. Only, I woke up quite suddenly in the early hours of the morning, realising that because we have never knowingly been attacked by an alien race, invasion would be quite a surprise, making it an unquantifiable threat. The insomnia, and the involuntary shaking of my left hand, returned.
Later on I thought, let’s look to popular culture, as that has always had a fascination with space attackers and earth occupation.
In books, films, radio and television, the idea of the alien invasion has been prevalent for years. Many years. One of the first accounts of such a catastrophe is H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds; amazingly written all the way back in 1897, long before comic books and B-movies got hold of these apocalyptic plots. In his ground-breaking novel, Wells imagines a peaceful Victorian England ravaged by unstoppable creatures from Mars in their unbelievably superior and technologically incomparable walking and flying machines. They are not stopped in their three-legged tracks by humans though, but instead by the invaders’ own inability to exist on the planet they have conquered. The book has many things to say about human nature and society, but is perhaps most vocal in its warning against the cruel senselessness and ultimately futile pursuit of empire. The War of the Worlds has become a spring board for most other tales of invasion from beyond the stars; spawning several films and copies under different names, using the story in relevance to the socio-political atmosphere of the time. In 1938, with the world’s eyes on Nazi Germany and its intentions, Orson Wells created and broadcast a terrifyingly real radio adaptation of an updated version of The War of the Worlds; causing many normal, real American citizens to believe that planet Earth really was under attack from Martians in flying saucers.
The fake-news broadcast style of the radio play proved how
much power the media could command.
The 1950s saw a whole glut of comic book and film invasions produced, and at a time when an insanely paranoid America was losing its head, and in retrospect all sense of rationality, over fears of invasion, slavery and destruction by the Soviet Union. The red threat and McCarthy’s witch-hunt for political deviants and their un-Americanism, had Hollywood churning out science fiction parables and parallels, filled to the brim with loosely veiled similes and metaphors, by the bucket load. A new character was emerging though; that of the home-grown, wholesome, boy-next-door, apple-pie-loving, all-American hero who would save us all and our planet from the evil marauders; those nasty, smelly, slimy creatures from the stinkiest depths of space. Earth had found its saviour in the US of A; Land of the free, and home of the brave.
Along a similar theme, Body Snatchers, a novel by Jack Finney
and published in 1955, was concerned with an alien species
taking over the bodies of the everyday man in the street, like a
kind of intergalactic demonic possession – seizing earth quietly
and unseen, giving no chance for a defence to be mounted.
This was also a polemic on the frightened obsession surging through America like a bout of the flu, that the Russians would not stomp their way, heavy-footed and reeking of vodka, onto American soil, but would use clandestine tactics to infiltrate positions of power in disguise as steadfast, God-fearing citizens; only to spread the evil infection of communism from the inside once they had gained enough control. The numerous film versions, most famously the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its 1978 remake crossed over from simple adventure science-fiction into a more frightening apocalyptic-horror type of film; with no triumphant hero or happy ending, but instead an increasingly deranged protagonist seemingly being the only one to know the truth and left reeling in a wilderness of lies and hopelessness.
Television too has had a long love affair with the idea of aliens making war on us, and British stalwart of science fiction, Doctor Who, has over its remarkable forty-seven years had the various incarnations of the Doctor fighting off all kinds of invasion, from Daleks and Cybermen, to Sea Devils, gigantic maggots and murderous shop dummies. Recently the Doctor was forced to fight a massive invasion by the cold, emotionless Cybermen, who take control of Earth and systematically, industrially, remould their human captives into yet more Cybermen. If the plot sounds familiar, then it should; it is an analogy for Nazi Germany’s march on Europe and the factory slaughter of millions of Jews. It is thought that these episodes were also commenting, and frowning down on, the US and UK-led invasion of Iraq, and the damage, physical and psychological, that all occupations bestow, no matter who the occupied, or who the stronger, more aggressive, occupier turns
out to be.
Just begun on the Syfy Channel is the new version of V. Originally an 80s mini-series, this is the tale of human-like alien visitors that have come to us in peace, but who soon turn out to be lizard creatures that have partially infiltrated earth society decades before they parked their massive ships above our major cities. I remember watching the original 80s version as a child, knowing I shouldn’t be watching it, and being absolutely terrified by it; suffering horrific nightmares as my punishment. V encompasses the main themes of most invasion stories; both the visible armada of rampaging assailants and the subversive, sleeping molester.
Not all spacemen, or more suitably termed in our PC universe; space persons, within popular culture have had violence, exploitation and death on their bulging, oversized minds. Films such as E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and most notably, Howard the Duck, have all featured extraterrestrials whose only wish is to observe humankind while searching for a sense of understanding within a confused cosmos. These fluffy versions of alien-human interaction do well to explore humanity’s need to comprehend itself and to experience a connection with the world outside its own little bubbles of life. As uplifting as it is to believe we could form friendships with other planetary races, the truth of what may happen if we were to come across aliens that are weaker than ourselves, or naturally non-violent, may be more ignoble. The very clever and somewhat shaming District 9, set in post-apartheid South Africa, has us ‘help’ a wretched pack of alien refugees by interning them in slum conditions and degrading them as animals, whilst the violent and colonialist character of the human race is brought home to us in James Cameron’s Avatar; an allegory on the nature of invasion and military occupation, where this time it us, human beings, that are the alien invaders of another species’
It’s still all a bit scary though. Xenophobia or cosmophobia,
fear is fear, and our reactions to it are not always straight forward, so without evidence one way or the other, I am not about to wave my flag and smile at the UFOs whizzing about my head. But I have got a plan (I’m calling it Plan 9); I will hold onto the heels of popular culture, and I will do my best to learn how to survive an alien attack; my life could depend on it. Should the worst happen;
when it happens, I will be ready. Watch the skies. Keep the force.
Live long and prosper. Na-noo, Na-noo.