Sunday, July 03, 2005

ALIEN CHIC? Beaming in on Kerri-Anne

ALIEN CHIC? Beaming in on Kerri-Anne

With Steven Spielberg's Wellsian aliens on tripods unleashed in War of the Worlds there is yet again an inevitable bout of ALIEN CHIC - the cultural embrace of all things alien. Across the planet media are busy with inundating us with their take on aliens. Such is the allure of the alien and the influence of the myriad forms, expressions and mechanisms that drive popular culture.

The Australian national TV Channel 9 network offered one such offering on June 29th with an "alien" theme on the popular Mornings with Kerri-Anne. I agreed to participate in the show with little expectation of anything in depth being covered. What eventuated was certainly not in depth, but inevitably it was light entertainment that delivered a range of perspectives on aliens.

The mandatory phone poll provided the interactive option delivering a result of 83 % of respondents reporting they believe there is life in outer space. While such polls are questionable Kerri-Anne highlighted that the result mirrored an 84% result of the Australian Reader's Digest (RD) survey published in their July 2005 edition. Well, maybe close. The 84% figure in Reader's Digest was the figure for "believers" who "think aliens will be friendly". 81% of the RD poll (750 adults polled Australia wide on April 14 & 15, 2005) apparently thought there were "other forms of intelligent life in the Universe". Note that the RD question related to "intelligent" life, whereas the Channel 9 poll asked only about life, without any qualification. Of those who expressed a belief in aliens way out there 83% felt some of it may have visited here, or "67% (of the total) reckon aliens have visited Earth" (see Australian Reader's Digest July 2005 for details). Such figures are open to debate. In my book "The OZ Files - the Australian UFO Story" (1996) I referred to a 1988 Saulwick Poll (Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July 1988) that reported that 42 % of Australian respondents believed in UFOs.

The Mornings with Kerri-Anne programme delivered a "light & easy" Alien Chic montage. Astronomer Fred Watson, author of "Stargazer - The life and Times of the Telescope", gave us the mainstream scientific view - maybe aliens are out there but we have no real evidence of them yet. I beamed in (sort of, via blue screen manipulation - well, someone thought it seemed like a cute idea at the time - "He is talking about "alien evidence" that really is out there.") and I very briefly talked about alien abductions, aliens, and Roswell, but predictably the nature of the questions and the format dictated the "light & easy" format. Well at least my new book "Hair of the Alien" got a brief plug. Wilson da Silva, editor of the new Australian science magazine COSMOS, suggested that the whole concept of aliens or extraterrestrials had recieved some sense of legitimacy in recent times particularly with the discovery of how tenacious life on Earth can be in very extreme environments, and the discovery of extra-solar planets.

This unlikely conjunction of astronomer, science writer and UFO researcher made for some interesting discussions in the guest room before the programme, particularly as I was able to throw a copy of my book into the mix. I pointed out to Wilson da Silva that the whole subject of astrobiology was particularly volatile and fascinating given the contributions of people like Dr. David Darling (author of "The Extraterrestrial Encyclopedia - an alphabetical reference to all life in the Universe" (2000) and "Life Everywhere - The Maverick Science of Astrobiology" (2001)) and Dr. Simon Conway Morris Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge.

From my book "HAIR of the ALIEN" (pg. 247):
... Simon Conway Morris ... in Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (using) our best evidence for life, our own on planet Earth, (argues) against the prevailing scientific evolutionary paradigm, he states that because of the ubiquity of evolutionary convergence, not only does life have an extraordinary propensity for navigating multiple pathways to precise biological solutions, but that it repeatedly reprises the same evolutionary solution, mediated powerfully by "the weirdest molecule in the Universe" - DNA. In short, Morris contends that on suitable planets out there the genetic tape of life will play out into more "inevitable humans." But, contends Morris, the rarity of Earth-like planets means that we are most likely living in a lonely universe. Others argue, however, that life is everywhere, driven by a "life principle" that favors the spread of life through the universe.
It would have been nice if the programme went into such issues, but that would have been unrealistic given the style of the show, and that it was a show focusing on the Alien Chic mix mediated by the new War of the Worlds film. Also tossed into the programme brew was a psychologist extending generic advice to "alien fears", and Jeff Wayne the creator of the War of the Worlds musical.

Those wanting to pursue the issue of aliens in culture can consult references like "Alien Chic - Posthumanism and the other Within" by Neil Badmington (2004), "Aliens in America" by Jodi Dean (1998), and "Aliens - Why they are here" by Bryan Appleyard (2005).
Bill Chalker


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