The Search for Extraterrestial Life in Popular Culture and Film

Meghan Rizzo's image for:
"The Search for Extraterrestial Life in Popular Culture and Film"
Image by: 

For millennia the human race has expressed a fascination with otherworldly entities. Cave paintings and sculptures dated thousands of years old depict peculiar creatures and disc-shaped flying machines. Works of art of the Common Era, particularly religious paintings from the Renaissance, exhibit similar images. Some even argue that aliens are referenced repeatedly in the Bible. These beings, surrounded by light and flying through the heavens, are simply known by another name: angels.

Today, the tradition carries on. Aliens appear in artwork, music, on T.V., and especially in films and books. Their presence in popular culture betrays the fact that concerning extraterrestrial life, we do not know much more than we did ten thousand years ago. Art provides us with a safe venue to confront our fear of the unknown, to explore the endless possibilities posed by our infinite universe, and to create theories that answer the question, "What if?"

No one can really say what would actually happen if aliens were to make contact, but in film and popular culture, the response usually takes one of two forms: fear or hope. Films such as War of the Worlds and Independence Day paint a frightening picture of alien beings as a force so dangerous and powerful that they have the potential to destroy mankind in its entirety. In such cases, we have not searched for them; they have found us, hunted us, in a sense, with the intention of taking over our world. They are portrayed as a fierce army against which we must wage war.

In these films, the best side of human nature is revealed. People band together regardless of nationality, race, or creed, fighting the one common enemy that threatens to destroy our very planet. Though there is violence and mayhem, such films use the concept of alien intelligence to illuminate the better side of humanity.

Films of a more scientific bent, such as Contact, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind focus on man's curiosity. In these films, we are actively searching for extraterrestrial life and when contact is made, the aliens are painted in a far better light. Not only are they technologically advanced, but they are wise. They know of our plight and wish to offer their help and knowledge. Though the characters in such films do, at times, express feelings of terror and mistrust, their fears prove to be unfounded.

Here, extraterrestrials represent man's potential should he continue on the path of bettering himself intellectually and technologically.

Film is not the only artistic venue in which aliens are regarded in high esteem. Many musicians, particularly within the progressive rock genre, create songs and even concept albums devoted to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. One particularly well-known outer space enthusiast is David Bowie, though some might argue that his repeated references to space travel and alien beings are metaphors for drug use.

Lesser known bands that show an interest in extraterrestrials include The Pixies, Muse, and the aptly named Flying Saucer Attack.

Of course books must not be left out of the equation. Many films about extraterrestrials began as books, including the aforementioned movie Contact. Abductees often feel compelled to tell their stories in writing, the most well known of these probably being Whitley Strieber. Though he makes it clear that it was the extraterrestrials who found him, many of his books including Communion, Transformation, Breathrough, and The Secret School discuss the possible benefits of communicating with alien beings. In addition to describing his experiences as an alien abductee, Strieber discusses at length the wisdom these beings are willing to share and how it would be in our best interest to seek out this wisdom, or at the very least, be open to receiving it.

Aliens are among us - at least in the art, film, and music industries. With humanity's collective thirst for adventure and knowledge, it is no surprise that extraterrestrial intelligence is such a popular subject. Whether based on science or deeply rooted in fantasy, works of art concerning the subject certainly have what can only be described as a universal appeal!

More about this author: Meghan Rizzo

From Around the Web