Model of the Roswell alien
Materials: moulded plastic, paint
Dimensions: 10 centimeters high
Place acquired: Amazon.co.uk
Place of manufacture: not known
This figure is not a child’s toy. It is an ‘accurate’ representation of the alien creature who’s space craft supposedly crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. There are photographs that purport to be of the body of one of the aliens undergoing an autopsy by the american military. The Roswell incident became a founding event of ‘ufology’, the study of unidentified flying objects, or flying saucers, supposed sightings of which were seriously investigated during the cold war paranoia of the 1950s and 60s.
I am going to assume here that the Roswell incident was an elaborate hoax, and that this figure represents what some person (or persons) in 1940s America, imagined an alien to look like. It establishes a typical look for a certain sort of fantasy extraterrestrial – the highly advanced being that means us no harm but who visits earth in order to study us. The first thing that strikes you about the Roswell alien is its human-like appearance. The body is puny and small but the head is proportionately much bigger with a bulbous cranium. The hands are elongated with just three fingers and an opposing thumb (badly shown on this model). The other striking deviation from the human form are the dark, almond-shaped eyes which serve to establish the striking ‘otherness’ of the creature.
Essentially the Roswell alien is someone’s idea of what happens if a human-like creature continues to evolve to a higher degree of intelligence than ourselves. Because we tend to see ‘brain’ and ‘brawn’ as cultural opposites, the designer has decided that increased intelligence (a bigger brain) will mean a corresponding atrophy of physical strength (a smaller body). So the Roswell alien simply stretches the idea of an evolutionary trend to its limit, as though evolution is a runaway process where a trend once started will continue unchecked. It’s what we do artificially to dogs through selective breeding, and maybe this is where our confusions about evolution come from.
At a deeper level the Roswell creature seems to reflect our belief in the importance of biological intelligence as an end in itself, as the top of the evolutionary tree. More specifically, we imagine this intelligence has to be the inquisitive, tool-making type, like our own. The appeal for us is that aliens are evidence of an exclusive ‘intelligence club’ in the wider universe, and although we are as yet very junior members who don’t even know where the clubhouse is, we clearly feel that we should belong, and that one day we’ll get invited.