What does Indiana Jones have in common with aliens? Although it might seem that nothing, at first sight, reality is that Indie has a lot to do with aliens. We can take a different view on aliens using the lenses of Geek Anthropology. Aliens are “the other” that comes from far away, and that might pose a threat.
Perhaps, it’ll be easier to grasp the notion of the Alien in science fiction if we take a look at some movies and books. In Alien Nation we see how “newcomers” from outer space arrive in Los Angeles asking for asylum. Both the film and the show depict their rocky assimilation into human society.
However, not all science fiction aliens are as gentle as those from Alien Nation. In the War of the Worlds, the ugly aliens come to take over Earth and kill humanity. It seems like we’re hooked on the idea of “others” coming to “our territory” to “take over” and “kill us all.” In less threatening instances, we fear to lose our identity as a culture if we mix, just like in Alien Nation.
Science fiction allows us to think about a culture from outside. Hence, we can use aliens as the outsiders that come to mess things up. But, we can also use them to explain human nature. We reflect our fears using science fiction in creating the other: aliens.
Alien Nation presents a weak alien race that needs help. In taking them in, we need to learn how to adapt to another different culture. And so, the aliens need to do the same. Exploring immigration in science fiction hasn’t been so obvious like in the case of this show.
However, in the War or the Worlds, we’re confronted with the evil aliens who only want to destroy humans. What do we know about those aliens’ culture? Why do they hate us so much? What do they show about our fears? What do they tell us about our reaction to other humans that have a different culture to ours?
In Prometheus, Ridley Scott proposes that humans were created by aliens. In the late 21st century, humans discover a star map among the artifacts of several ancient cultures. So, a crew embarks on a quest to find the origins of humanity. And it’s no other than Aliens.
I have no idea about if Ridley Scott got his ideas from Ancient Aliens, but the History Channel show theorists also believe that aliens helped humans evolve. They base their theories on Erich von Däniken‘s books. In the books, he explains the Ancient Astronaut theory, according to which, humans got the help from aliens. (I’m sure you might have seen von Däniken’s protegé Giorgio A. Tsoukalos from the popular meme.)
This extreme idea of “the other” presented in the shape of aliens, help us explore our culture and its fears from a detached point of view. But, can we find anything else in science fiction that might help explore ourselves even further? Can we explain the horrors of colonialism and cultural imperialism using science fiction?
In the Time Machine, Wells describes a horrifying future. A piece of the Moon collides with Earth and creates a cataclysm. Half of the humans decide to live underground to survive. The others stay above. The underground dwellers are Morlocks, and the others are Eloi. And both have different cultures. However, we soon find, to our horror, that Morlocks eat Eloi!
Science fiction reflects our history and allows us to explore ourselves from a deeper level. It makes it possible to play Indiana Jones: we can observe from a detached position and have a less personal look.
How we depict aliens helps us reveal our culture. We can quickly reflect on our fears, and explore our curiosity. Next time you enjoy a science fiction piece, try to take a closer look at the alien. What is it telling about you and your culture?