Just a few days ago, I spared some time to watch American Horror Story: Death Valley. It was the (intentional, I know) quintessence of every stereotype on aliens that I’ve disliked since Star Gates, which pushed me to finally write this article.
We need more realism in the way we portray, or imagine, aliens. What do I mean by “realism”? A little less ruled by our fears, potential inferiority complex, and other negative things we like to project on the idea of extraterrestrial life.
The general idea on aliens is always more or less the same: twisted anatomy, typically involving opal-like, bulbous black eyes. Long, wiry and bony limbs, giving off an inelegant and unappealing look. Large, deformed-looking skulls hiding a presumably larger brain than humans’ to indicate superior intelligence, pompous and fancy speech, once again to show supremacy (sounds to me like humans have an inferiority complex), overall unknown or dark motives (it’s the uncertainty of those motives that make us presume they’re dark), and driven to either kidnap humans, or invade the earth, or both. Their bodies are ugly and disharmonious, their psychological profile is primitive and destructive, nothing flattering or that you’d like to meet. If they were real? Our biggest fear seem to be about them invading us, and “them” being a unique, singular alien race, because nope, there wouldn’t be multiple of them trying to come into contact with us.
It feels like what motivated attributing these features, physical or otherwise, on extraterrestrial life, is just fear, a primitive understanding of or conceptualization of life beyond humans, and more fear.
It seems to me that when it comes to dreaming up any kind of alien race, all we can come up with is our dark side, our dark twin race, our dark sister race. Our faults, envies and insecurities, and other such things put into some kind of deformed, grotesque rendering of ourselves. Basically, in short, we’re not really creating an actual alien race even as we claim curiosity of space beyond our planet, or at least that curiosity is extremely tainted and disconnected from the reality of the universe; the purpose behind the creation of some fictional alien race is just to represent us and parts of our dark side. And we end up with a hostile, ill-intentioned, ugly-looking species.
Nearly every single race of alien, the way we portray it in films, is always a mismatch between misunderstood sea creatures, with a hint of humanoid traits, just enough to make them familiar yet horrifying at the same time. They look ugly, they’re disgusting, uninspiring, distrustful, heaven forbid, unfuckable, and just plain ugly.
What matters to me the most beyond their physical appearance, which I believe is a reflection of what I’m about to say, is these aliens’ spiritual standing. That’s what ticks me the most and approximates reality the least.
• Why are aliens always so keen on invading Earth? Aliens as we imagine them, always have that primary goal of invading the earth. We theorise that if they’d heard of us, they’d take a dark interest in us and would exterminate us instead of extending the hand of friendship. What makes you think that Earth is such a rare commodity that it’d draw that kind of attention? Granted, when the trope started, earth was a little less destroyed than it is now, so people probably valued it a bit more, the way your average American patriot valued his country. But of all the planets in the universe, what sort of egocentric, narrow vision of the world makes you boastful enough to think your planet is the crown jewel any race of alien is after? Enough to mutilate animals on the way, as proof of their inherent malice and cruelty?
• What makes you say aliens are at all interested in humans? Enough to be purposefully malicious about it, which inevitably, for whatever reason, involves abduction and a bunch of human rights violation? If we go with the theory that different races tied to a “planetary eco-system” are a thing, what makes you think that you, us, humans, of all these potential races, are interesting enough to draw that kind of attention? And if even if we’re just, two or so races in the vastness of the universe, again, what makes you think you’re so special? Aliens might just want to keep to themselves and probably have no interest in conversing with you, let alone invade you. What even led us to believe we’re of any interest to aliens enough to warrant so much hostility?
Ironically, AHS in its finale plays on this trope, of humanity’s inferiority complex.
Cody Fern as Valiant Thor, fitting the alien ambassador role like an ethereal glove, puts words on that largely unspoken complex: that humans are inferior and mediocre creatures, and that trying to compete with other species to sublimate for that complex, even betraying the rest of humanity in the process, still doesn’t make humans good enough to stand toe to toe with another race that is obviously superior. When you look at a group of beings that you believe mocks you and looks down on you for your evolutionary tardiness, it’s no wonder you tend to view, and portray, those beings as ugly and antagonistic. Because it’s what it is, isn’t it, a complex about how late we are, a sudden awareness of our lower qualities, as we understand that there may be others like us who, as we may potentially come into contact with them, will inevitably throw all these flaws back at us. And so you can stand by as you’re being eradicated, because as Agent Smith put it, we’re a virus to and on our own planet. That idea is obviously negative in nature, and anxiety inducing, because no one wants to be judged so cosmically for being faulty on the spiritual scale, which is why aliens end up in this antagonistic position, where they attack us (“what else would they do since we’re so unevolved? That’s what we would do”), so that we would retaliate in some way (“It’s not retaliation it’s self-defense! They attacked first, we’re just protecting ourselves!” Maybe, just maybe, no one wants to attack you, ever thought of that, you poor traumatised person?)
Thing is, it’s primarily a human thing to do, to invade other “races”. Isn’t it such a human thing to do, to state “you are different from me, thus I’ll stop caring about your inherent humanity (and by that I mean, the fact that you are alive and have that spark of consciousness that all living beings have), and I’ll casually invade you and commit gruesome moral crimes against you while I take the land you’ve been living on for centuries from you.” Honestly… is it just that humanity’s conscience is weighing on us? We’ve been invading each other under the pretense of “us vs them” so much and now our guilty conscience is catching up on us? On that note, I find it interesting that the trope of alien invasions started in America /coughs/.
And all the violence, all that deformity that leads to endless face sucking or eating, flesh melting, whatever it is violence. Just stop it.
Overall, why are aliens so damn hostile? Arrival as a movie made the most sense to me, because the aliens, as ugly as they were (still), waltzed in on Earth with friendship in mind: “we help you, give you our timeless language that will give you a broader, more complete understanding of the universe, and in a few centuries, we’ll need you to help us, and because we were smart about it, we gave you the tools to help us and the incentive to “repay” us.” That seems like the most beneficial definition of good business, of being friendly. This is the kind of alien movies I want to see, where the protagonist walks into a space ship with peaceful intents, with the intent to just be friends. How did we forget about that playground impulse to just ask a stranger if they want to be friends?
I talked about an inferiority complex among humans. Aliens are usually portrayed as superior in intelligence, as in they show signs of higher cerebral evolution (that giant skull has got to be caging something), a wider range of extrasensory or physical abilities, a detachment from certain physical needs (seems like we view our basic physical functions as a hindrance to evolution), etc. Yet somehow, that superiority is always synonym with domination, and I mean the oppressive kind of dominion. If aliens are so evolved and intelligent, why are they so grotesque and deformed looking? A creature that’s in harmony with the universe enough to be beyond your level of evolution physically cannot be unpleasant to look upon, that’d be assuming that evolved life is inherently negative in nature, which it isn’t, otherwise it’d never be able to sustain itself enough to get to the level of evolution people so clumsily want to portray with those skulls. If it’s evolved, it isn’t ugly, to anyone’s perception. Write that down.
And if aliens are so intelligent, why are they portrayed as hell-bent on destroying the human race? Those kind of destructive impulses go against evolution because it pointlessly destroys instead of multiplying. Sounds to me like a human fantasy and fear of destruction that comes from a narrow and restricted understanding of life. Humanity exploring the boundaries of the universe, so to speak, and coming up with mostly dark fantasies first and foremost: why do you feel so massively attacked that you need to externalize that onto a whole other extraterrestrial race? Marginalizing ethnic groups is no longer good enough for some people?
Really bad jokes and dark humor aside, it seems to me that humanity is very quick to attribute any and all bad intentions it’d have towards itself on different species. In other words, it seems to me that humanity is all too quick to project. You’d attack an alien race, invade it, and apparently as all the movies suggest, try to impregnate various members of its species that can bear offspring whether male or female to bear your nasty looking hybrid babies? Then you’d destroy that planet and take it for yourself, but of course you’re too sneaky and nasty to admit to it, so you’ll hijack the local or planetary government, have them be on your side, make them build a massive secret base all the locals will giddily theorize about, and insidiously take over? My god, what a pipe dream, almost as stupid as me wanting to go to Japan when I bloody dislike the social climate there. The kind of delusions people get up to, sometimes.
I also can’t understand what is this nightmare birth thing. What are we sublimating for, this time? The horrors of pregnancy? A perverse, twisted version of the continuation of the human race, centuries of bad pregnancies and fears of going extinct? Humanity being polluted and hijacked as a species? What is it? How afraid that our supremacy as a species will be intercepted? If someone understands what it is an analogy for, please let me know in the comments.
On a more neutral note, I also don’t understand why seemingly no one can come up with non-humanoid aliens. If the aliens are monstrous, we’re going for octopuses (leave those poor cephalopods alone, they haven’t done you anything), but if the aliens are beautiful (or just not too ugly), like in Avatar, or, credit to them for trying, BioWare’s Mass Effect franchise, they’re still humanoid in nature, sharing core anatomic features with humans. The most unique feature they get is a tail, or again a different skull shape, just a bit less bulbous (and sometimes still with tentacles), or something a bit more unique, depending.
It just doesn’t make sense to me, that, cognitively, we seem genuinely incapable of visualizing a non-horrific species that is blatantly different from our own at its core.
Let’s look at some features real quick:
- the more fleshy type: skin is a bit rubbery in nature, usually deathly-pale. Skull is larger, elongated, or bears some kind of specific feature different from our own, sign of cerebral evolution -> thought to be a sign of superiority as our understanding of what “evolved” means is limited.
- the reptilian type: skin or surface of the body is mostly scales or something associated with dry, arid places. These creatures usually live in such climates. They’re essentially the embodiment of a two-legged reptile that’s learned to adapt and think more conscious thoughts. Temperament seems a bit more, well, reptilian like, or what reptiles inspire in us, which is a more sneaky, conniving and adaptive nature – adaptive because of its ability to be conniving, it implies a certain sharpness that’s present for personal gain, and thus an ability to adapt to whatever that presence of mind tells you to adapt to, another sign of evolution, just a sneakier one.
- the horror type: a nightmarish version of an octopus, may or may not have a human head attached to its wildly wiggling tentacles. Barely seems to think conscious thoughts, you don’t know because it doesn’t have eyes for you to look into its soul so you assume it has none, possessed by the irrational behavior of wanting to suck your face off.
And for some reason, none of these types have any kind of body pilosity. Guess their skin doesn’t need to be defended against bacteria (I’ll once again attribute this to their apparent superiority to humans).
The truth is, if any alien race does exists in the universe, and they’re evolved enough to know, factually, of our existence, they have no interest whatsoever in invading us. Because to have knowledge of different races beyond your own system, or galaxy, means to be evolved enough to have acquired that knowledge, and to have developed the means to acquire that knowledge, whether by tools or through awareness in the mind. That alone requires a certain level of spiritual maturity that strikes off the lowly, petty idea of “let’s invade the fuckers”.
Instead of “aliens” and other such pejorative ideas we have of extraterrestrial life, we absolutely should stop sublimating for our dark side, and begin to dream up something more realistic: a race of beings that is harmonious and symbiotic in nature, just like we are. One with their environment (even if we don’t understand that we are too), with a natural impulse to continue that symbiosis, to build on it, and with that, the emotional and spiritual maturity to match. That way, we will actually be far closer to pin-pointing what sort of living beings exist beyond our planet, if they do exist at all.
But I guess in a way, it feels too much like “us“, and why create something that already exists, where’s the appeal in that, and so all we can come up with is our dark counterpart, our “shadow” side. I still maintain that all these ugly and destructive aliens are a representation of humanity’s dark side.
Finally, what I mean by let’s create better aliens is, let’s expand our understanding of forms of extraterrestrial life. Let’s resolve the issues we keep projecting into fictional alien races enough that we can make guesses on reality that are a more in touch, with reality. So, won’t someone, apart from James Cameron, please create a race of aliens that is not humanoid in design and harmonious in its own right? Thank you.
I have to hand it to humans and the male section of our species, we’ll sexualise almost anything. It’s sad that it has to be fuckable to stop looking like a squid (although…).
PS: The featured image is of an Asari because I couldn’t stand staring at a large image of the deformed rendition we call aliens for very long.
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