After trick or treating is finished, costumes will get packed away, and store displays will focus on Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the Halloween feeling will not vanish overnight. That's because monsters, creepy creatures, and especially aliens are now a familiar part of American pop culture.
The idea that mysterious beings are roaming the planet and abducting humans with impunity has brought fame to writers such as Steven King and Whitley Streiber. On TV, "The X-Files" attracts millions of viewers. Hit movies ("Independence Day," "Men in Black") have capitalized on the notion that our government is suppressing news that it has retrieved saucer wreckage and alien bodies.
While not intending to demean the sincerity of people who accept these rumors as fact, let me pose a few questions that may serve as red flags in the debate.
First, why do so many alien abductions occur in forests, farmlands, or lonely swamps? I have never read about anyone being plucked from an inner-city housing project. It's curious that aliens apparently don't target humans on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder. Or, are neighborhoods like the South Bronx protected by a special cloaking device?
Also, it seems reasonable to assume that if superior entities were intent on world domination, they would target influential political leaders instead of motorists driving alone on deserted roads. And while numerous victims claim to have been floated out of cabins in the forest, the saucer people have never snatched anyone from the Lincoln bedroom or an office at the Pentagon.
Are the aliens worried about our puny human efforts to explore the solar system? If so, they're remarkably inept about stopping us. It would be simple to pull alongside a NASA satellite out in space, and just shove it off course. Yet we continue to land equipment successfully on the moon and Mars, and to send successful probes to the outer planets. As Mr. Spock would say, "Most illogical."
If I sound wearily dubious, it's because I've flown over this territory before. Stories about sinister alien plots were circulating on the school playground when I was in fifth grade, and one lesson I have learned over the years is that it possible to put a conspiratorial spin on every aspect of the phenomena. For example, there were many reported sightings of a cigar-shaped object around the US in 1897. The next year, war with Spain erupted. Perhaps this was President McKinley's way of distracting the media from the alien presence. And later, McKinley was assassinated. Just a series of coincidences, or grist for the next big Oliver Stone film?
If extraterrestrials are genuinely fixated on visiting us, the big question is why? What is it about our planet that keeps the saucers coming back? In the spirit of Halloween, I offer one plausible answer: Maybe Earth has the best candy.
* Jeffrey Shaffer is a Monitor humor columnist. He lives in Portland, Ore.