The Cultural Significance of Extraterrestrials.

Essay by hkvetgirlUniversity, Bachelor'sA, January 2004

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"The Cultural Significance of Extraterrestrials"

Have you ever wondered why so many people seem caught up in the idea of extraterrestrials? However it began, something uncanny is going on inside of Americans' imaginations. At least that is the message one gets when contemplating the continued fascination with movies like Men in Black, Mars Attacks!, Independence Day, and Star Wars. Entertainments featuring extraterrestrials are not just entertainments; they are signs.

Think about the history of science fiction for a moment. H.G. Wells's classic The War of the Worlds establishes a certain paradigm for the extraterrestrial imagination. The War of the Worlds is the story of an alien invasion from the planet Mars. It was nearly successful due to Martian technical superiority but ultimately fails due to an earthly illness against which the aliens have no immunity. The pattern this story establishes has governed much of the science fiction of the twentieth century.

When it comes to picturing the contacts between Earth and other planets, we see a hostile invasion of Earth by technologically superior aliens.

Next we have science fiction plots like E.T. He is not invading nor threatening. In fact, he is quite sweet and cuddly. At the same time, in this story it is the earthly authorities-the police and military-who are dangerous. Rather than protecting the people, the authorities are out to hide the truth from us by capturing him!

By comparing science fiction stories, we can determine that contacts between humans and extraterrestrials historically have been viewed as either demonic invasions or as angelic visitations. So why demons in one story and angels in the next story? When The War of the Worlds was published in 1898, England was very worried about Germany. World War 1 was just around the corner. "At the time of concern about...