Many of my closest friends are sick of hearing my “theory of aliens.” This is not a political stance, but rather a strong opinion about extraterrestrials. For much of my life, I’ve had a faint aversion to aliens. I didn’t like movies or X-Files episodes that dealt with them; I avoided science-fiction stories featuring life on other planets; I couldn’t even get into the campy, genre-defying sidekick on Futurama. (And yes, we all understand that from the time of Voltaire, and later Wells, the alien invasion narrative has been an allegory for the threat of military hegemony—from Eastern powers, specifically.)
This was not about whether or not aliens existed. If pressed, I guess I would have said probably not, but that wasn’t even the issue: they could have existed, and shown up, and done a bunch of amateur proctology, and I’d still have been averse. From what I could gather, aliens had no sense of humor, and no interests besides probing and machinery.
Then I was watching Gravity, and I thought, Hmm, even though these are pretend astronauts, I could never be an astronaut. And then I thought, But maybe most of the aliens on other planets couldn’t be astronauts either! And then came the real revelation: Maybe the aliens we meet are just the nerds of outer space!
And now when I think about other planets, they are maybe full of people baking or reading or listening to music, and interested in genealogy and history and puzzles and maybe even gardening. Maybe plenty of them are blowhards, or have really bad senses of direction, and can’t even drive. Perhaps sometimes their children die and their hearts break. And then I feel a great warmth for them. And more than that, I feel a great sympathy for the intergalactic travelers we meet, who are so sadly obsessed with probing, and seem to have such terrible social skills.
No one seemed very interested, or seemed to think this was much of a breakthrough. But, like generations before me, I had found myself obscurely comforted by a solipsistic vision of large, scary forces. In his article “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth,” academic James D. Stone terms the traditional fifties-era sci-fi plot line “a realm in which any attack could be repulsed … a comforting talisman of American strength.” With the recent discussion of “new cold wars,” it was tempting to wonder if current events might give rise to an increase in reported alien sightings or traditionally structured invasion narratives. Failing to find any particular evidence of this, I went to the source: The Weekly World News, who has always given comprehensive coverage to the doings of P’lod, his intervention in geopolitics, and alien life generally. There was, indeed, a relatively recent piece of intel from their ET correspondents. “STUDY PROVES MOST ALIENS ARE DWARFS,” it said. Which, I guess, sort of proves Stone’s point.