The most common ‘alien’ images in pop culture and where they came from
We have no concrete way of knowing what an alien would look like, so humanity has only had our imaginations and our understanding of our world to rely on the idea of extraterrestrial life. Without having a visual association to connect with the idea of space invaders, the human mind has filled in the blanks.
All of the images we associate with extraterrestrials are conceptual, although they may be inspired by the actual logic of our world. The reason there is an image that most often matches what people imagine when imagining aliens is its use in movies, television, and books.
Because the popularity of aliens in pop culture correlated with human knowledge of space, which really accelerated with human space exploration, creative visualizations of aliens mirrored humans in many ways. People usually imagine them with big eyes, large heads with sharp features, and long lanky limbs, as these are familiar exaggerations of very human features.
Especially when the formats in which people explore alien ideas are meant to tell a story, they look like humans. This allows the minds of viewers to associate the messages contained in these works with the problems of humanity. In other words, media and literature tend to use characters that look like people in order to make what they endure in the story relevant to a human audience. Children’s cartoons usually take this approach by humanizing animal characters so that they are cute and attractive, but also relevant to a child audience.
Perhaps what really made the image of green-skinned or gray-skinned aliens so popular was the common extraterrestrial sightings of the 1940s-1960s. During this time, many people called claiming to have seen human-like beings with green or gray colored flesh. These calls also often claimed that these beings were small, around 4 feet tall. It was a tabloid at the time covering one of these sighting reports that first coined the phrase “little green men”, in reference to extraterrestrials, although today the phrase has developed a rather mocking sense when talking about extraterrestrials.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when exactly these descriptions of aliens first started appearing, but the popularity of this image certainly seems to be tied to this time period when reports of alien sightings increased. That said, there are tales as old as 12th century tales that tell of “little green children” going missing. These ancient tales of supernatural green beings can be traced back through time in many cultures, but how they are depicted in history generally reflects the morals and ideas of the societies that claim the tales. In whatever light they are shown in each story, the one thing they all have in common is that each time the green characters are meant to be seen as different, as “another” class of beings.
Due to the emphasis on the differences between humans and extraterrestrials, despite their general similarity, many scholars and writers have begun to focus on how this portrayal of extraterrestrials may stem from racist views. Because the biggest differentiator was their skin color and because they are so often seen as invaders, many people used them to highlight racial inequality and hatred towards immigrants. Several writers and artists have begun to use extraterrestrial characters in stories to examine biased opinions about individuals from different backgrounds or different locations, to reflect to audiences how they treat those they perceive as “invaders”. .
As for how science views this image of extraterrestrials, scientists cannot easily say what the correct image would be. They can only assume that if aliens look like humans, they must also function similarly to us and therefore probably have the technology and knowledge of space. This explains why the search for knowledge about extraterrestrials is more focused on their technology and not on their physical constitution.
There may not be any hard evidence to rely on to figure out what or who may be out there in the universe, but we can wonder about it. It’s human nature to want to understand everything around us. Whether or not something affects human life, its existence, or its possibility, is enough to encourage human interest. This has been proven over the centuries by the human fascination with mythical and cryptic creatures. Which gives aliens a special appeal to humanity above other creatures that humans have only conceptualized how similar they can be to us and how they represent the future. Representing the future and being a distant mystery to mankind makes it a popular topic in a forward-looking society, even though the uncertainty makes it a frightening concept for many.
Regardless of what aliens actually look like, because we now have so little factual evidence or knowledge about how they look or live, they are a science fiction concept. As long as they’re sci-fi, ideas about their looks and lives are limitless, though that’s not to say there aren’t clear favorites. If and when humanity learns what these beings really look like, human curiosity and creativity will continue to think of them in the only way we know how.
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Source: Wikipedia – Little Green Men
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