Secondary school students love conspiracy theories, they love a sense of secrecy, mystery and excitement. Stories concerning Area 51 in the United States provide an endless source for speculation, particularly among teenage boys. So it was that, yesterday morning, I sat at a classroom desktop computer, unable to avoid the exchanges between boys sat at terminals, each at least two metres from the next.
“There’re definitely aliens in Area 51. They have a crashed alien spacecraft there.”
There seemed little point in suggesting that beings with the technology to travel from a distant planet would not have crashed in an American desert, nor would human beings, who were primitive in comparison, have the capacity to detain beings of infinitely greater intelligence. It seemed the sort of storyline from the 1990s television series The X Files. Perhaps there is some equivalent series for the 2020s.
Meeting the absurd with the absurd, I made a throwaway comment that the Teletubbies were, of course, aliens that had come from Area 51 and that anyone who did a Google search would find proof of it.
Some of the younger students are ingenuous and one girl took my words at face value and immediately typed “Teletubbies” and “Area 51” into Google. A wealth of images appeared of the brightly coloured children’s television characters as aliens.
There was much laughter. There were pictures printed off and stuck on the board. One picture has the caption, “These creatures came from Area 51. They are a threat to the future of the world.”
When I was the age of the students in the early-1970s, I would not have taken the issue of alien life forms with such light-heartedness. Fifty years ago, aliens were a much more serious topic.
Perhaps there was a convergence of factors. The Space Age, culminating with the moon landings, had allowed people to glimpse the possibility of space travel. Science fiction had become popular in films, on television, and in books and comics. Satellite technology was developing, allowing signals to be sent through space. The psychedelic, hippy era had brought a questioning of every piece of received wisdom. The decline in religious belief had allowed opportunity for the emergence of all sorts of alternative cosmologies. The development of theoretical physics allowed the imagination of strange, indescribable realities.
Whatever the reason for the seriousness with which I regarded the subject, the thought of aliens was not one to be taken lightly. It was certainly not one to be confused with Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po.