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An alien perspective on the human race

In his last TV column for spiked, Patrick West muses on the idea that extraterrestrials watch human TV shows.

Patrick West

Patrick West
Columnist

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There was a fascinating segment on BBC’s The Sky At Night recently which explained that, owing to our civilisation’s complete switch from analogue to digital television in the next few years, we will no longer be broadcasting our telly shows into space. This means that by 2012 any alien life out there won’t be able to enjoy episodes of Top Gear, Hollyoaks or Match of the Day 2. And, horror of horrors, those little green men may never get to find out who really killed Archie or who is The Stig. Or if Rafael Benitez has some magical power which prevents him from getting the sack.

This also poses a more bleak, existential question. If extra-terrestrials stop receiving programmes about Nazis, sharks, antiques, crab-fishermen and endless re-runs of Mock The Week on the Dave or Yesterday channels, they could be forgiven for presuming that we had finally blown ourselves up – and vanished.

This, of course, is the fantasy of many environmentalists, whose professed love for Earth is often matched by an adolescent self-loathing of humanity. Some of them really do hate themselves and want to die.

The idea of aliens watching our TV has been a somewhat narcissistic source of fascination for years, as this galactic fantasy image shows. Little green men, it is imagined, are currently watching images of the Second World War near Aldebaran, episodes of The Munsters near Capella, The Sopranos near Sirius and Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake involved in ‘that’ Superbowl episode near Barnard’s star.

This deluge of TV is often cited as a reason why aliens haven’t visited us. We’ve been announcing to the universe what a dysfunctional species we are. We are constantly warring. We are gangsters. We have a lousy sense of humour. We’ve been shooting each other up in Baltimore, and mumbling while doing it in an accent even human English-speakers don’t understand. And we invented American football, a sport that manages the astonishing feat of being both more boring and incomprehensible than cricket. ‘What if the aliens decide they don’t like us?’ ran the headline to one article in The Times (London) recently (‘Why don’t you like me?’ being a classic teenage cliché). We’ve not been contacted by ET, runs the thinking, because he’s probably more intelligent and peaceable than we are and wants to keep well away from human beings, the notorious nutters of the universe. Or maybe, like Douglas Adams’s Vogons, they just think we’re an irrelevance.

I’m not so sure about this thesis. I think it is a classic case of projection, of seeing your own problems in terms of how you imagine that others perceive you. It ignores a more adult appreciation of existence, one based on conflict and competition. I know this doesn’t sound nice or agreeable, but you only have to read the works of the cosmologist Paul Davies or biologist Richard Dawkins to appreciate this. From the biggest star to the smallest gene, existence is based on competition. All the great political thinkers from Karl Marx to Friedrich Nietzsche to Jeremy Clarkson have realised this.

The reality of competition is an important thing to recognise. This grown-up appreciation of existence is not a primarily left or right matter. It’s not Thatcherite to accept that competition lies at the heart of things, just as it neither particularly Leninist or Trotskyite. It’s just adult. Likewise, childishness and self-pity are things that also transcend the political spectrum. The people to watch out for on a political level are self-hating dreamers – for example, the religious and the pantheist. And John Lennon.

This is why I must say thank you to spiked and to you, the readers, for indulging my general Tory ramblings for just over three years now. This is my final TV column for spiked, as I am moving to pastures new. I would especially like to thank Mick Hume and Brendan O’Neill for proving that the free-thinking libertarian spirit still exists on the left. But a word of warning for all you brilliant, highly intelligent leftie bastards out there: you haven’t heard the last of me.

(Oh, and if you’re still worried about aliens thinking humanity extinguished itself in the early part of the twenty-first century, I’d like them to think we went out in a blaze of the glory. A special mention here goes out to Friends, Mad Men, Band of Brothers, Michael Palin’s documentaries, repeats of Diagnosis Murder, Soccer AM, Jeff Stelling, BBC4, the BBC iPlayer, Film4, Adrian Chiles, QI, and most of all, a rather special programme about cars.)

Patrick West was spiked’s TV and radio reviewer. Read his blog here.

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