Roswell UFO incident: Why we love alien visitors

Google commemorates the 1947 Roswell UFO incident on its homepage Monday, with an interactive homage to pop culture's friendly extraterrestrials. 

Amblin and Universal/ File
A scene from Steven Spielberg's film 'E.T.' Monday's Google Doodle lets you help an extraterrestrial find his way back home.

Nearly three decades ago, two large bulbous eyes peeked out from underneath the fringe of a borrowed dress-up wig, and a petite, though hardly elegant, rubbery creature reached its bejeweled, sallow finger to the skies and said, “Phone home.” In that moment, Steven Spielberg’s extraterrestrial charmed its two playmates– a young Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas – as well as audiences.

Representations of extraterrestrial visitors in popular culture are diverting, sometimes comforting, and even verge on the parabolic: an outsider can win the hearts of foreigners and discover a new land.

Monday’s Google Doodle commemorates the Roswell UFO incident, in which unidentified debris was discovered on a ranch in near a New Mexico town. This discovery was followed by seemingly contradictory official reports, which in turn prompted a slew of conspiracy theories.  

With this point-and-click-adventure game, users can wander the wilds of a Google-generated landscape, collecting objects that will help our alien reassemble the spaceship. For a moment, this very familiar search engine becomes the uncharted land, but Google is a search engine after all, perhaps it’s not so peculiar to dig a little on an entertaining – albeit unusual – quest.

First, the spaceship lands, or explodes, leaving our hero atop a smoky mountain. An arrow directs the extraterrestrial downwards, and your mission begins. Your mouse guides the plodding figure past cows and tufts of grass to retrieve all of the missing objects to remake the flying saucer. For a moment, you are personally invested in the alien’s safe return home, and perhaps sad to see your own E.T. rocket back off into space, only to return to the mundanity of your Internet search.

If all of this seems reminiscent of E.T.’s iconic search for a way home in Speilberg’s film, that’s because, it is.

But perhaps the real question isn’t what Mr. Speilberg would think, but rather, what sustains our fascination – however closeted at times – with aliens?

In short, it’s because the possibility that they exist is continually dangled before us, perpetuated by Roswell theories, and pop culture references about friendly aliens that keep us coming back to find out more.

So, perhaps it is good to stop, and indulge our imagination in today’s unique Google Doodle.

As Ray Bradbury wrote in “The Martian Chronicles,” “It is good to renew one’s wonder…Space travel has again made children of us all.” 

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