Former President Bill Clinton appeared as a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live the other night and said something very weird: Asked what by Kimmel what exactly incoming presidents are told about aliens and UFOs, Clinton said that “I wouldn’t be surprised” if aliens one day visited us. He even expressed hope that, rather than violent invaders, the hypothetical extraterrestrials would be peaceful, and maybe even teach us humans a thing or two about how to get along:
Whether Clinton is serious about this stuff remains unclear. But it made me realize something: During Clinton’s time as president, aliens were a hugely ubiquitous part of pop culture, in a way they’re really not at all today.
The 1990s were the decade of “Independence Day,” “Men in Black,” The X-Files and Roswell, and numerous alien-abduction-based TV specials of dubious veracity. And don’t forget about 1996’s “Contact,” in which Clinton himself had an unauthorized cameo, when the filmmakers spliced footage of the then-president into a press conference scene.
That isn’t to say that aliens are completely absent from today’s culture, which appears more concerned with other creatures of myth like vampires and zombies. Aliens still pop up in a few sci-fi and horror movies a year. But recent titles like “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Cowboys and Aliens” (both real) haven’t really made much of a cultural impression.
Of the top ten films at the box office in 2013, the only one with extraterrestrials at the center of it was “Man of Steel” and its Kryptonians. None of the best picture nominees last year had any of the little green men either. “Gravity” was set almost entirely in space, but aliens did not make an appearance. James Franco’s character in “Spring Breakers” was named “Alien,” but he was of this Earth. The aliens in “Argo” weren’t even real.
You don’t see that many alien abduction specials anymore either, except for the 2013 Penn & Teller Bullshit episode that debunked them. And you also don’t hear that much anymore about random people claiming to have been abducted- all but confirming the old theory that stories about encounters with aliens tend to heavily resemble whatever alien-related pop culture is popular at the time.
There’s actually a movie set to come out today, of all days, called “Alien Abduction.” But it’s not exactly a high-profile release; today’s the first I’m hearing of it.
It’s kind of a cliche to say that 9/11 was the day the ’90s ended. But since that day, Americans have been more concerned with real-life menaces- terrorism, war, mass surveillance, financial collapses, the breakdown in trust in business and government- than with fictional ones from other worlds.
And besides- nowadays, everyone has cell phones with video cameras. And that’s on top of the rampant surveillance state, both in its government and private sector auxiliaries. First of all, most of the big conspiracy theories these days involve that stuff- and the various “truther” movements- and not aliens. Also, if aliens were living among us, wouldn’t that surveillance or those cell phone cameras have provided some type of proof of it by now?
But there is some hope for lovers of all things alien. Stay tuned on this site next week for a review of a certain forthcoming motion picture that’s destined to be remembered as “The Scarlett Johansson naked alien movie.” That one should be of particular interest to President Clinton.