Sunday, January 14, 2007


Armando posted an article link in the comments last week that I enjoyed very much and thought was worth a blog post of its own:

According to CNN, the Viking space probes which landed on Mars in 1976-77 may have accidentally ‘baked’ (!) the ‘life’ they were looking for. Their experiments involved pouring water on soil that…

“…would have essentially drowned hydrogen peroxide-based life… And a different experiment heated the soil to see if something would happen, which would have baked Martian microbes”.

Scientists were using Earth’s environment and Earth life-forms as their point of reference for establishing whether life existed on Mars. It would seem then that in an act of ‘universal humanism’ of galactic proportion, Man imposed itself and its habitat as the only (or at least, the superior) position upon which everything else in the known universe must be measured and compared in order to recognise or establish its own status position of ‘life’ and habitat in relation to Earth. No wonder they didn’t find anything! And how typical that they may well have killed what they were looking for, in the act of looking for it!

The human superiority complex about the supremacy of the human shape and form can be seen constantly in popular culture. It never seems to surprise anyone that when aliens are portrayed on film and television they often seem to appear remarkably, well, human! Think Star Trek.

TV and film might even be to blame for the perpetuation of the human looking alien since it was perhaps the need to be able to have human actors portray the aliens that kept these aliens in human forms. But even with the move to CGI and digital filming the furthest directors seem to go from human forms is to base aliens instead on more-or-less recognisable animal forms. Think Men in Black.

Is this done because, in order to relate as an audience, we must be presented with recognisable forms – does human emotion and empathy depend entirely upon responding to a recognisable physical form? Or is it that we simply believe the human form and the environment we inhabit is so supreme that there can't possibly be any other way to exist as a life-form? I would have initially thought that, rationally, our attitudes would have more to do with the former. But the so-called ‘scientific’ approaches of the humans in our world in the 70s, supposedly at the very top of their field, were apparently demonstrating the latter!

This is my favourite part of the article:

“Schulze-Makuch's research coincides with work being completed by a National Research Council panel nicknamed the "weird life" committee. The group worries that scientists may be too Earth-centric when looking for extraterrestrial life”.

I think calling the research council the ‘weird life’ committee is great, although I’m a little torn between whether I think the word ‘weird’ in this context only exacerbates our human ambivalence towards the possibility of alternative life-forms, or whether it in fact reappropriates the word for a funky, contemporary take on the word ‘other’… And the second sentence nails what’s going on, and continues to go on, at least in popular culture, in our approaches and responses to the media and scientific treatment of alien life: we are defiantly ‘Earth-centric’!

All I can say is thank goodness this is now being recognised and addressed. It’s about time! Maybe now we can proceed towards more post-human approaches to other issues… such as gender!

Yes, lets put a gender twist on aliens, seeing as we’re on the topic! Why not?? It occurred to me, whilst looking for illustrative images (‘cos that’s the funnest part of blogging, at least for me!!), that alien images are largely based on the male physical form. And, yes, there’s the whole why-would-aliens-have-a-sex-they-might-be-androgynous argument, and after my whole why are we so human/earth-centric spiel, believe me I’m right there with them in that argument. However, why does an androgynous body only become so on the removal of ‘female’ attributes such as hips and breasts? If we are going to insist that aliens must, obviously, assume human-type forms, why do these human-type forms, especially in pop culture portrayals, always appear more masculine than feminine?

Off the top of my head, the only specifically, deliberately, female portrayed alien life-forms in pop culture I could think of were the tiny, fragile, impish, high-pitched-voice blue sprite of an alien, Umi, from the cartoon series Ulysses 31 (my god, I’m getting old…!!)

(there was a similar female character in Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, but she was barely alien at all… allowing her to be more alien might have made her less vulnerable… and therefore less recognisable…)

...and Umi’s opposite; the grotesque, terrifying, oozing, grunting, man-impregnating, murdering, spawning, Mother-of-all-Aliens, The Alien! What a surprise!: the meek, mild, vulnerable, innocent, exploitable, girl-child, versus the evil, destructive, chaotic, manipulative, leaking, Mother, dichotomy strikes again!! This really is a case for Mulder and Skully!

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