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Close Encounters of the Blasé Kind

(Screencap from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' courtesy of Columbia Pictures.)

There have been countless science-fiction visions over the last hundred years or more about what humanity’s reaction would be when at long last we learned that we were not alone in the universe.

It might have all started in 1897 with H.G. Wells having us to fight for our very existence against invading Martians in his War of the Worlds.

Sometimes, as in the 1951 movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still, mostly benevolent aliens come here to save us from our worst self-destructive tendencies — or else.

One of the most intriguing visions was Carl Sagan’s. In his 1985 hard sci-fi novel, Contact, aliens didn’t visit us but instead gave us a galactic Ikea manual for how a small handful of us could visit them. “Baby steps” was the watchword for introducing a young species into an old, intergalactic community. So much so, that humans are at first given no way to prove their wormhole voyage even happened. (The movie is quite good, too, although with a stripped-down storyline.)

One alien encounter was as inscrutable as it was fascinating: Rendezvous with Rama. Arthur C. Clarke took us on an all-too-brief tour of an unmanned alien habitat (like an O’Neil Cylinder) with no interest in our solar system aside from using the Sun as a slingshot to accelerate away to some more important destination.

And let’s not even get into Stanley Kubrick’s film of Clarke’s story, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but mostly because I’m too old to indulge in hallucinogens.

As a child, my favorite take was Steven Spielberg’s. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. CETK was unique at the time because aliens wanted nothing more than to take small numbers of humans in their gorgeous ships to get a look at a bigger universe than little old Earth. Presumably, so that the human tourists might spread messages of peace upon their return to Earth. The aliens even communicated in happy, childlike melodies.

Whatever any writer or filmmaker’s particular vision of our First Contact was, it was a sure thing that I breathlessly read the book or watched the movie. Usually, more than once.

But suppose the aliens came and nobody cared?

There’s another scenario for humanity’s first contact with aliens, only it might not be science fiction: Suppose alien ships were buzzing our aircraft and Navy ships over the oceans, giving us nothing more than tantalizing glimpses of their impossible (to us) flying machines?

Suppose, even more fantastically, that humanity’s response was a collective yawn?

Both are fantastic suppositions, and I couldn’t begin to tell you which was the more fantastic: That aliens might really be here, or that we don’t much care.

It was easy to dismiss concerns about strange lights over Area 51 or the Air Force even hiding aliens there. It’s my fervent hope that the Air Force is testing strange flying craft, and to date, there’s been no physical evidence of any alien corpses lying about.

Secrecy — and Area 51 is shrouded in it — breeds paranoia. That’s just human nature, and besides, even as an adult, I love harmless speculation about UFOs and alien life here on Earth.

But we’re moving, by most accounts, quickly past the point of supposition and speculation, fantastic or otherwise.

As I’m sure you already know, just this week the Pentagon confirmed the authenticity of this clip from 2019:

This comes months after the Pentagon confirmed the authenticity of other videos like this one.

While former President Barack Obama is hardly my cup of tea politically or personally, apparently he bothered to attend at least one NatSec meeting in which similar encounters were discussed.

Aliens? Super-advanced sea-dwellers? Russians? Chinese?

We have no way of knowing, and whoever is piloting these things — whether directly, remotely, or via artificial intelligence — isn’t saying.

Or perhaps it’s all just a hoax.

Maybe it’s an elaborate prank ala the 1980 comedy, Simon. In the movie, mad scientists made it appear as though one of their own (Alan Arkin) was actually a space alien — and then set him loose on the world, just to see how people would react.

Maybe it’s a more sinister hoax. It could very well be that the Powers That Be are running out of things to scare us with, and so UFOs are really nothing more than their next gambit.

If so, it sure isn’t working.

Even Yours Truly, a devoted hoper (but not a believer) in alien life watches another one of these leaked (?) videos without shock, without excitement, without… without much of anything, really.

For nearly 50 years, I expected First Contact to be meaningful, no matter whether the aliens came to kill us, enslave us, or teach us.

Who could have predicted a big, fat, meh?

Is humanity just burned out by escalated global tensions, social media virtual warfare, pandemic, and “mostly peaceful” riots?

Has the prospect of alien visitors become just one more bit of background noise in a mediascape already littered with too much sound pollution?

Like the men and women in the Combat Information Center of the USS Omaha, I have a million questions and zero answers.