Is The Frontier Ever Final? The Evolution of UFO Entertainment
By Rebecca Leib
Mankind has been fascinated by unidentified flying objects ever since a cave dweller looked up into the sky and furrowed his pronounced brow at the unusual size of that shooting star.
The astronomers of ancient civilizations longed to understand the cosmos and often hypothesized about extra-terrestrial beings’ visits to Earth. Modern society has simultaneously shown heightened skepticism and curiosity for life outside of our solar system, especially at the idea of extra-terrestrial life paying a visit to our little blue planet.
As the world continues to evolve, so does the collective perception of UFOs. A plethora of stories and anecdotes are available to the masses through books, film, video games, television and the Internet. Artistic interpretation has constantly refined what a UFO is from the early days of comics to today’s cutting edge Internet series. Milgram and the Fastwalkers is an enthralling new KoldCast TV show that pays homage to the alien enthusiast community by exploring UFO fascination within the framework of a soap opera, taking sci-fi to a never before explored territory.
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From Milgram and the Fastwalkers
Of course, Milgram and the Fastwalkers is the end product of century’s worth of entertainment with the UFO narrative. Here’s a look at the most significant stories that have shaped our collective perceptions of life beyond Earth.
The War of the Worlds (1898)
H.G. Wells’ popular science fiction novel set the tone for how the UFO was to be interpreted among the masses. The novel’s treatment of aliens as invasive and diabolical yet still anonymous played into America’s populist fear of those who were different from them: foreigners, Native Americans, and non-Christians to name a few. This xenophobic sentiment allowed the idea of UFOs swiftly conquering the world to entice and chill domestic readers. Though it was touted as sci-fi and horror, The War Of The Worlds touched on social Darwinism with its theme of one dominant race overpowering another.
Flash Gordon Comics (1934-1948)
Alex Raymond’s comic strip-turned-comic books and their spinoffs would take the UFO to new heights of popularity. It followed the adventures of Flash Gordon, a handsome athlete and Yalie who is kidnapped and taken to the planet Mongo. Though the comic was fairly humorous and lighthearted, it let people laugh at aliens and science fiction culture, instead of being afraid of it. Flash Gordon thus escalated the intrigue of UFOs into pop-culture, allowing their stories to make the leap to radio and the big screen.
The War of the Worlds (1938)
This radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ original novel by Orson Welles also played into the wartime fears of a new generation of Americans, preoccupied with the threat of fascism, war and communism. The special Halloween episode of Welles’ The Mercury Theatre On Air was believed to be real, truly terrifying many of its listeners into a panic, as they prepared for a real life alien invasion, in the process solidifying Orson Welles’ reputation as a master showman. Subsequent censorship of UFO radio stories made the medium quite scarce until after World War II.
Bruce Gentry (1949)
Based off of a less popular sci-fi comic strip, Bruce Gentry is the first film to ever feature a UFO. The flying saucer in the movie is the secret weapon of the story’s villain, who seeks to gain power by stealing supplies from the U.S. government… to make more flying saucers. The saucers also facilitated the broader theme of technology enhancing humanity. Like Bruce Gentry’s UFO, the new medium of film helped make space exploration and other technologies seem more feasible to the general public.
Space Invaders (1978)
While UFOs and aliens in film were growing in popularity, a new medium was emerging: video gaming. Arcade video games got their start in Japan, a region of the world that was paving the way with innovative technology. Though Americans were skeptical of progressive Japanese thinking, the popularity of Space Invaders proved that the economy would soon depend on international commerce rooted in technology. Space Invaders had a simple concept: defeat waves of aliens and UFOs with a laser cannon to get points. Its impact, however, on relations between eastern and western high-tech gaming companies would be felt far beyond the game’s exploding UFOs and showers of firepower.
The X-Files (1993-2002)
This Fox sci-fi drama used UFOs as a vehicle for serialized plot lines and smart science commentary. The X-Files was about FBI agents Mulder and Scully, the former a believer and the latter a skeptic, assigned to investigate strange encounters with the unexplained. One of the main plot lines featured Mulder’s sister being abducted by a UFO. The series paid homage to traditional sci-fi and alien-heavy shows that had compelling, personal plotlines along with fantastical episodic mysteries such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Night Gallery. The influences of The X-Files are so vast that the show itself is considered a prime example of what kept UFO culture alive at the turn of the century: mystery, personal investment and a well-crafted questioning of the unknown.
Independence Day (1996)
This alien invasion-disaster film is proof that in 1996, the UFO finally went blockbuster. The ensemble movie focuses on a multinational effort to counter-attack an alien mother ship that has already invaded Earth successfully. Independence Day was proof that alien movies were back in vogue, resetting the trend that paved the way for the Transformers franchise, the Tom Cruise starrer War of the Worlds, the Men In Black franchise, Cloverfield, and Battle: Los Angeles.
Halo, a multi-billion dollar videogame series, focuses on an interstellar war between humanity and an evil alien alliance. With the help of a powerful high concept, Halo took videogames to the next level by incorporating stunning graphics with interactive play into the gameplay lexicon. The aggression and frustration that came with “the war on terror” fueled the popularity of the game and games to come, and still serves as a current example for an ongoing debate about violence in the media, even if it is violence against six-armed lizards from distant planets.
Milgram and the Fastwalkers (2012)
This new Internet TV series is a great example of how UFOs are quickly moving into the world of new media. Milgram and the Fastwalkers is the story of prominent doctor David Milgram. Dr. Milgram inadvertently becomes a detective when corporate lawyer Sally Lemm comes to him for help with a case… a case that plunges them deep into the world of UFO investigation. The series isn’t a straight sci-fi drama like The X-Files, but a postmodern mash up of soap opera and the supernatural. It weaves an unforgettable, complex story that propels UFOs straight into the future.
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Rebecca Leib is a comedy powerhouse living in Los Angeles, California. She performs regularly at iOWest, UCBLA and The Comedy Store. In addition to The Sixth Wall, her writing can be seen in Beautiful/Decay, Tvgasm, and Perezhilton. You can read her weekly column on http://saysomethingfunnybitch.tumblr.com/rebeccaleib, go to her website at RebeccaLeib.com, or enjoy her web presence on twitter at @RebeccaLeib.