On to the topic at hand. What comes to mind when someone mentions the word ‘alien’ in reference to SciFi? I can tell you what comes to most people’s minds, and it’s been a staple since the earliest of films and books, and for the most part, it remains the same to this day.
Humanoid-esque. Long, spindly arms. Bulbous heads with large, almond eyes. Think Close Encounters, ET, and scads of B-movies from the 50’s. Throughout the years, albeit with small tweaks here and there – smaller eyes, larger heads, longer arms, shorter or longer torsos – the image has remained the same.
But why is it that when we think of beings from another planet, we have this tendency to make them appear as such? Is it the image that Hollywood has implanted in our minds, making us default to that characterization? Or perhaps the myriad eyewitness reports of extraterrestrial beings that always seem to describe the off-worlders in that respect? But which came first, their experiences – or the former, the artistic norm that makes us automatically think of their appearance as we’ve seen it over the years?
Now, there have been exceptions – Star Trek comes to mind the most, especially when it comes to portraying alien females. And as of late, some filmmakers like JJ Abrams seem to lean toward Cloverfield-esque portrayals of alien beings (as an aside, if I see one of them in the new Star Wars pic, I’m going to be rather disappointed) – outright thoughtless monsters that are Hell-bent on the destruction of all humans.
But those examples, when stacked up against the thousands of films and books over the past 60 years, seem to be few and far between. I personally like it when someone goes away from the established default, especially in print, where my imagination can take root and subtly change the way I view aliens both as a reader and writer; and perhaps giving me the capability of changing someone else’s viewpoint with my work going forward.
So the question remains. What makes us want to picture aliens as these cute (?) little men from another planet? I’m no psychologist, but I’d bet that a lot of it has to do with the human need to feel a kinship with other beings. After all, how would you feel about an alien that took the form of a truck-sized amoeba that had stinging barbs protruding from its pseudo-pod appendages? Exactly – the humanoid representation of alien species is a much easier sell. That’s not to say that you don’t find such depictions out there – but when talking about mainstream and popular culture, those really are hard to find.
As readers and authors alike, I’d like to know how you feel about alien portrayal – or ‘Xeno Couture’, as I’ve coined in the title (copyright 2013 R. James Stevens). Do you find it easier to stick to a certain stereotype? Or do you stray from the beaten path and go with what feels right for your current project?
My opinion? You know me, I’m an against-the-grain type of author, so chances are you won’t see too many little green men in my stories.