Words: Luca Malik (he/him)
Before you say I’ve watched too much Joe Rogan or fallen down the Reddit rabbit hole, hear me out. The idea of life beyond our planet has existed ever since we discovered Earth to be one of many, but it has never amounted to more than either hopeful or fearful speculation. Theories, unfounded or not, have become intertwined with our history and culture and supposed encounters have always said more about us as a species than they do about the little green men with big heads that we wonder about.
Let’s start with the main question: are we alone in the universe? While other life may exist so far away that we never encounter it, it is ridiculous and rather self-centred to assume that we are the only beings in all of existence, ever. That our pop culture trends and obsessions are not just globally significant, but the single most important thing occurring on an existential level. That idea is terrifying to me, considering some of the silly social media trends we as a species latch on to these days. The notion of other life seems like a huge weight off our collective shoulders in that respect. Yet across history, all stories and theories about where and how we may have crossed paths with aliens seem groundless, or just straight up laughable.
Many have speculated as to why the little green men might one day decide to pay our humble planet a visit. In H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the aliens need oxygen from our blood and seek to invade us, and in Michael Bay’s Transformers, they seek the ‘Allspark’ which crashed on Earth years ago: all plausible options to be considered. Wells’ ideas of Martians needing oxygen despite coming from a planet that never had any to begin with is the perfect example of how we project ourselves onto our idea of what an alien is. However imaginative we may be, all ideas of aliens seem to boil down to some representation of ourselves. And this, of course, makes good science fiction, but, realistically, we just cannot conceive of an alien’s form or purpose. To think that aliens from a distant galaxy are just smaller, green versions of us with larger heads seems daft. But then again, you could also argue they might’ve travelled the stars for that very reason: to find a planet with similar composition to them. Who’s to say why aliens might pick out Earth as a place special enough to travel to? Would they be scientists, diplomats, or maybe their very own eccentric billionaire turned tourist? We’re left at a loss: the answer is limited only by the boundaries of your imagination.
Beyond the way we look up to the stars and project a vision of ourselves, there has been a curious shift in the way that UFOs are presented to us over the last 100 years. The term ‘UFO’, or unidentified flying object, has become synonymous with spaceships and the extraterrestrial, but recently it has more often been explained by radar system errors that were exaggerated due to cultural hysteria. As technology improved, the number of incidents quickly decreased to zero. New findings suggest that this hysteria was stimulated by the British and American government during the Cold War as a method of psychological warfare against the Russians. Despite these findings being ruled out as ‘misidentified aerial phenomena’, it was Winston Churchill who asked ‘What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? And what can it mean?’, coining the phrase and starting a different type of phenomena. Soon, an American pilot made a similar claim to have seen a ‘flying saucer’, and within two hours, so had ninety others.
This brings us to 2021, where the Pentagon announced themselves to be budding ufologists when they released a classified report concerning 144 incidents over the last 20 years of UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena). They offered various potential explanations for these incidents, but ultimately admitted they were completely baffled. It’s not often that an intelligence agency makes a huge public statement about their complete lack of intelligence on a subject. You’d think it would be counterproductive. Yet it seems that maybe history is repeating itself and the value of UFOs is once again being weaponized to distract us from our own terrestrial issues. In a strikingly similar statement to Churchill’s, Donald Trump said, in relation to UFOs: ‘I won’t tell you what I know about it, but it’s very interesting’. Trump is being a complete tease. Presenting the tantalising potential for information on a plate, or saucer, to the numerous conspiracy theorists in his following… But why?
Are we being slowly drip-fed these UFO incidents like some kind of marketing campaign to mentally prepare us for actual confirmation? The more likely scenario, however, is that the cultural zeitgeist that is UFOs is being used for political aims. Could there be a reason that the Pentagon pivoted from sceptic to believer during COVID, where conspiracy was at an all time high? Again in September, we saw alien bodies that could have easily been bought in Poundland displayed in front of the Mexican Congress. Yet the Mexican government was keen to hear out the case as they saw a political value in being the first country to confirm the existence of aliens. Maybe they’re developing laser guns from alien remains, but the concept of UFO incidents and the cultural hysteria surrounding it has proven itself to be a fascinating political asset over the years.
Even in scepticism of UFOs, I believe I have delivered on a promise of conspiracy to any of the more ‘open-minded’ readers. But I would say, while it’s tantalising to look up to stars and wonder what secrets are being kept about extraterrestrial life, keep your feet firmly on the ground because it seems the notion of aliens is being used to distract from more human secrets.