It never fails to amuse me how this:
Image Source: Pixar Wiki
… could be considered the same as this:
Image Source: DigitalSpy
And if you haven’t already guessed, the obvious common denominator is: aliens. Our expectations of the extraterrestrial form range across a broad spectrum, likely corresponding to personal taste, the media we’ve been exposed to, or—though much more improbably—scientific evidence. As Independent writes: “The problem with imagining life on other worlds is that unfortunately we’ve only got one example to go by – our own. So we tend to imagine something that either looks like us or looks like something else on Earth, but there’s no guarantee that would be accurate.”
S0 while inconclusive evidence thus far may seem disappointing for scholastic enthusiasts, it is this margin of uncertainty that yields for imagination to take over in creating some of the most memorable characters that we’ve see on the big screen to date.
Back in the day, popular culture deemed aliens as child-abducting, flesh-eating monsters. Their depiction in films, then, would in turn reflect that. A perfect example of this is Ridley Scott’s Alien, which takes us back almost 40 years to 1979, where the Western world first encountered what would become an iconic, xenomorph alien figure. I watched this movie for the first time recently, and needless to say, I was taken aback by the terrorizing nature of the aliens’ attacks upon the humans, considering my novice viewership of the horror genre. Given the choice, I personally preferred the friendly monster type, or extraordinary supernatural rather than those monstrous and cruel. Star Wars, for example, introduces us to likeable (but nonetheless alien) figures like Yoda. Spielberg’s E.T. as well, with the widely known image of an alien connecting fingers with a human child. What’s most important about E.T. is that it has distinctively human-like features — not only in its appearance, but also with the capability to feel, to comprehend, and to be characterized with a rational objective rather than simply an innate need to kill for survival.
Perhaps the transition from the xenomorph to the humanoid is also a result of the shift from believing in the predatory nature of aliens to seeing their potential as mankind’s friend, or even as enhanced versions of ourselves. They may even be capable of supercharged senses and galactic powers — exhibit A: Guardians of the Galaxy! If we look at the definition of “alien” itself, there are connotations of unfamiliarity, or the unknown, since the adjective form of being alien is to be foreign. Moreover, we as humans tend to associate the unknown with a sense of fear and discomfort. But “extraterrestrial” on the other hand, simply refers to all that exists outside of planet Earth, and casts less of a negative light on the matter.
It’s interesting to see how the way we envision aliens have changed as a result of media influence as well as our associations with them as fellow living species, but how do our expectations live up to the reality—or at least, what the scientific community has been able to confirm for us thus far?
As I touched on earlier, our representations of aliens could reflect a deeper collective psyche toward space, and other lifeforms. Astrophobia, for example, is “the fear of celestial objects or others surrounding it”. It is linked with fear of the dark, of aliens, or of space exploration itself. Some major causes include fearing the possibility of events commonly portrayed in the media to actually occur in real life and potentially destroy Earth, such as alien invasion, or meteor crashes. While most phobias tend to pertain to individuals, it’s possible that astrophobia could be a wider social condition resulting from the gaps in our knowledge about what’s truly out there in space. However, the more astronomists are able to interact with and learn from our galaxy, whether it be rover explorations or constructing spaceship hubs, the more our fear is turning into curiosity. This in turn may be causing the negativity surrounding aliens to shift toward a more prospective outlook on the potential of outer space.
What I can say with certainty, though, is that aliens do represent a fascinating, interdisciplinary cross-section across the arts, media, language, astrology, and even psychology. This topic is definitely worth tuning into, regardless of whether one is more interested in its scholarship or simply for entertainment. And the fact that there are no solid answers yet makes it that much more interesting to anticipate, for if—or when—we ever meet them.