Last night I watched an encore presentation of the CW’s new teen alien soap opera Star Crossed, which had premiered Monday night to lackluster ratings. Let me confess here that I am probably not the target audience for Star Crossed. I am at the tail end of the network’s 18-34 target age group, and last I checked I am also not female. Judging by the advertising and the title, the network is emphasizing a Twilight-style romance and seems to be targeting women.
The show was an odd confection, apparently trying for social commentary related to discrimination, segregation, and prejudice, but placing it in a context where the only major observable differences between the aliens and the humans is that the aliens have facial markings like tattoos; otherwise the two groups of attractive young white people are indistinguishable. Don’t take my word for it: The New York Times blasted the show for trivializing 1960s desegregation by casting only white actors, as though assuming the presumed-white audience would only sympathize with the oppressed if they looked like them.
The story was slight--Romeo and Juliet is a clear inspiration—and the pilot did little to escape the clichés of the CW teen soap. The best I can say is that it grew more interesting over the course of the hour rather than less. But this is to damn the show with faint praise. Taken on the merits of its own small genre, it is neither as intricate a teen drama as The Vampire Diaries nor as enjoyable as Teen Wolf.
The story of the brooding young man from another world and the girl who loves him is mostly that of Twilight but with an alien ghetto imported from District 9, where the aliens live a segregated and second class existence in the year 2024, exactly ten years after crashing to earth to escape their dying planet—another sci-fi trope, this one as old as Clark Kent and before him the question of whether the canals of Mars implied a former civilization.
In the pilot, Aimee Teegarden, 25, does her best to look and act like the teenager she previously played much better on Friday Night Lights, when she actually was a teenager. But her underwritten character has few personality traits other than a willingness to subsume her own identity into that of her friends and lovers—sacrificing herself over and again for her best friend and for the alien who comes to her high school as part of a government integration program. Presumably she is purposely a bit blank so the audience can better project themselves into her.
The actor playing the alien teen who loves Teegarden, Matt Lanter, is about to turn 31—he’s almost as old as I am!—and was a bit old to play 17 when he did it on 9021 at the age of 26 or in Vampires Suck at the age of 27. He has also been a teen in a bunch of other guest roles and as a voice over artist for Ultimate Spider-Man and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Who knew you could make a career out of being forever 17? That said, he is by far the best part of the show, imbuing the character of Roman with personality and a hint of an interior life; Lanter playing someone his own age might have made for a more interesting program. That said, it is his usual character, ripped from the Gothic mode: brooding Byronic hero with a heart of gold.
So much for the review. What I found interesting was that the few critics who did review the show tended to focus on the implausibility of the aliens that crash-landed to earth in their giant flying saucer being a race of attractive Caucasian underwear models. (This includes the one female alien we are introduced to.) The New York Times noted this, and Buddy TV wrote that the aliens’ look is “not exactly believable if you think too hard about what aliens from other planets presumably different from Earth would probably look like.”
What I find interesting is the way the depiction of human-like aliens, mostly or all white, neatly reflects the earliest UFO alien encounter narratives, themselves inspired by Theosophy and its Ascended Masters. Helena Blavatsky had claimed that the Venusians were tall, godly, and strikingly beautiful men. For her followers, this clearly implied that they had the image of the most beautiful of God’s creatures: Europeans. In the 1930s, Guy Ballard—a Theosophist—claimed to have met Venusians beneath Mount Shasta and founded a religion based on contact with them. In the early 1950s George Adamski made his claims for encounters with aliens that looked like blonde Scandinavians—the Nordic aliens—also from Venus. He, too, drew on Theosophy in his book (with Desmind Leslie), Flying Saucers Have Landed, which quotes Theosophical tracts about the arrival of the Venusians in ancient times. Howard Menger claimed to have met the same in the late 1950s. The Nordic aliens are essentially like those of Star Crossed: blond, blue-eyed, handsome, well-muscled, prone to form-fitting clothing, and mostly male. They are perhaps reflective of the alien from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), in contradistinction to the sinister, vaguely Asian alien menace of Flash Gordon.
Additionally, the Nordic aliens share with the beings of Star Crossed paternal benevolence, spiritual wisdom, and great healing powers—they are in essence the “white gods” of fringe history claims, and the audience is similarly invited to idolize them. We know this to be the case because the proto-ancient astronaut theorist Peter Kolosimo made the connection explicit when he fabricated a “quotation” from the Mayan books of Chilam Balam in 1968 asserting that the alien gods were spacefaring Caucasian supermen: “Creatures arriving from the sky on flying ships … white gods who fly above the spheres and reach the stars” (ellipses in original). This was Blavatsky’s ascended masters filtered back through the prism of the UFO movement and science fiction and tied to the racial fantasia of fringe history.
I’m not the only one to see this. Stephanie Kelley-Romano, a professor of rhetorical theory and criticism at Bates University whose PhD studies focused on alien abductions, makes a clear case that the Nordic aliens are reflective of the racial anxieties of the Civil Rights and decolonization eras, when the idea of Great White Gods who could save humanity helped to assuage concerns about the rising power of non-white groups. After the 1960s, the Nordic aliens all but vanished and were replaced by the Greys, reflecting new concerns and new social anxieties, often revolving around fears related to sex, reproduction, and gender. It was the age of abduction and anal probing, and the aliens grew proportionally more frightening than the benevolent white gods had been.
Star Crossed is no different than Roswell, Defiance, or any number of other shows that make the aliens into humans or mostly-humans to save on money and to tell human-based stories. You can’t have a romance with a giant blob of tentacles unless you are into weird Japanese tentacle porn. But in placing the white superhuman aliens into a role inspired by segregation to tell a story that takes its analogy from race, Star Crossed accidentally returned to the underlying meanings and motives of the earliest alien contactees, though in reverse form. Here the aliens have been transformed into the role of the magical minority, their ghetto essentially and Indian reservation. Like the pop culture Native American, the Star Crossed aliens are noble, self-sacrificing, wise, wary of white people, and possessed of preternatural wisdom and occult healing powers. Their facial markings resemble stereotypical war paint and tribal tattoos. Also like the pop culture Native American, the noble hero is out to romance a white girl, raising the specter of the classic Abduction Narrative, here transformed from the savage who abducts the white woman to an earthbound analog of an alien abduction—in either case the illicit thrill of forbidden sex serves to draw in the audience with fantasies of the exotic Other.
If only the show were half as interesting as the many meanings that can be teased from it.
An Over-Educated Grunt
2/19/2014 05:49:22 am
Clearly, you protest too much. You did truly want to be a film critic. You're just jealous of the professional film critics for their success.
2/19/2014 05:54:02 am
That truly made me laugh Grunt, humor is always a good thing.
2/19/2014 06:14:01 am
"the illicit thrill of forbidden sex serves to draw in the audience with fantasies of the exotic Other"
2/19/2014 06:56:58 am
And video games.
2/19/2014 06:39:11 am
Of course, these aliens gained all of their advance powers and social structure from studying our ancient Templars.
An Over-Educated Grunt
2/19/2014 06:40:50 am
Don't be ridiculous. They learned everything from Rough Hurech, whom they airlifted to Arizona.
2/19/2014 07:01:45 am
Don't be ridiculous. The Templars learned it from the aliens.
2/19/2014 07:01:56 am
Don't be ridiculous. The Templars learned it from the aliens.
2/19/2014 06:40:23 am
I liked the show better the first time I watched it. When it was called Alien Nation.
2/19/2014 06:50:58 am
Or V, or Mork and Mindy, or My Favorite Martian.
2/19/2014 06:52:36 am
...or Star Trek, or Flinstones
2/19/2014 12:39:46 pm
Star Trek had a veritable Diversity program of Aliens. From oddly colored humanoids to rock creatures, Lizard Men!, and various energy beings.
2/19/2014 09:16:38 am
Plus the alien women were hot, but earth guys had to take a class in order to have sex with them without being injured.
2/19/2014 11:22:12 am
Alien Nation was probably my all-time TV show about aliens (apart from The X-Files, which was not really ABOUT the aliens, anyway). The writers took the time to figure out alien culture, language, and biology, whereas these days it's mostly "take a human and add a little oddness". I never noticed this series before, but thanks to your review I think I'll check it out.
2/19/2014 07:51:01 am
Now I understand why C.S. Lewis made his only humanoid aliens green-skinned in his space books.
2/19/2014 11:29:57 am
If I remember right, the Nordic Space Brothers are from the Pleiades, the Greys are from Zeta Reticuli, and the shape-shifting reptoids are from "the constellation Draco". The reptoids use the Greys as slaves, and the Space Brothers finally gave up and went home, which is why you don't see them around these days. Or so I've heard! They do use their communication devices to talk through the odd channeler every so often from their home in the Pleiades, so there's that.
2/19/2014 01:59:31 pm
2/19/2014 02:01:59 pm
Typo. I meant "active in Ufology for over 40-50years".
2/19/2014 03:04:11 pm
I don't recognize the name offhand, although if I checked him out, it might come back to me. I used to read a whole lot more about this sort of thing than I do now, and I find myself forgetting what I used to know about it.
2/19/2014 05:49:49 pm
Yakko, are you familiar with the Urantia Papers? I've never read them, but as quasi-theosophical cult literature allegedly channelled from interstellar spirits goes, they seem intriguing to me. I'm a little surprised I haven't seen them mentioned around here before. Perhaps their up your ally.
2/19/2014 06:46:22 pm
I'm somewhat familiar with the Urantia Papers, though I must say I haven't read them all the way through. I'm not terribly fond of channeled works generally, but this one is more interesting than most. I don't usually think of them as "theosophy", in the sense of following the teachings of Blavatsky and her followers - there is no mention of Atlantis or Lemuria, or of Ascended Masters and the like. They read, in my view, like what you would get if a Seventh-Day Adventist wrote The Silmarillion. :-) What I mean is, it's definitely an eccentric kind of Christianity, but at the same time is a surprisingly consistent bit of fantasy world-building. That's pretty much all I can say about them.
2/20/2014 03:56:04 am
Yeah, I only call it pseudo-theosophical because of the ET spirits--I have no proof that it was actually inspired by Blavatsky. After all, even Theosophy built on earlier (often geocentric) conceptions of angels inhabiting planetary spheres, so maybe they just have a common source.
Snarkwig von Snarkthoeven
2/19/2014 12:54:50 pm
"the illicit thrill of forbidden sex serves to draw in the audience with fantasies of the exotic Other."
2/19/2014 05:17:15 pm
I feel confident that the effect of the show and writing style, while not necessarily intended will lead to queer theory and secularism if you follow some of the natural ideas that progress from sci fi and questions of racial identity, you wind up confronting the pros and cons of essentialism. Any question of 'the other' can also be read in many ways, psychologically, nationally etc. There is also the question of biological life force that comes up when you get into organicism that would lend itself to a queer theory aesthetic I think.
2/19/2014 06:02:32 pm
"What I find interesting is the way the depiction of human-like aliens, mostly or all white, neatly reflects the earliest UFO alien encounter narratives, themselves inspired by Theosophy and its Ascended Masters."
2/19/2014 06:58:54 pm
What I find particularly interesting is the fact that in mid 60`s early 70`s,the UFO phenomena takes a sinister turn with the first reports of abductions,experiments-physical/sexual abuses,men in black,cattle mutilations.Interestingly enough this particular period coincides with intelligence & military agencies involvements & penetrations within the UFO phenomena
2/20/2014 04:55:16 am
I remember reading an article several years ago (probably by Phillip Klass in Skeptical Inquirer) that showed how the abduction stories took on the personality of the "hypnotist". I believe Budd Hopkins was a mild-mannered man and his patients had fairly amiable abduction memories. Once the other crazies jumped on board, we starting getting reports of more aggressive butt-probing.
2/19/2014 07:08:10 pm
"You can’t have a romance with a giant blob of tentacles unless you are into weird Japanese tentacle porn"
2/19/2014 11:07:05 pm
Jason, you replied in your previous blog post - "His claims (Billy Meier) are rather modern, so they don't fall into my usual area. His photos, though, I am convinced are not of alien spaceships."
2/20/2014 12:15:48 am
His models are easy to replicate. As someone who has been doing visual effects fro 20 + years now I can honestly say all can be replicated real easy in photoshop or with standard practical effects. In fact things have gotten so good that I can reproduce original negatives that show no signs of altering. Why is this important a digital to analogue to digital conversion hides imperfections of the digital process and removes all metadata from the photo making it appear more authentic. Simple rule is photos lie, videos lie, the technology today is too easy to use and so powerful that no video or photo evidence should be trusted on its own merits.
2/20/2014 03:47:44 am
Matt, Meier's photos were taken way before the digital age and whatever you try in photoshop would never pass the scrutiny that his work was subject to, so let us know how your efforts go, unless of course they are hot air because, after all, these are comments on the internet where people pretend to be what they are not and like to talk like big shots and know-it-alls.
2/20/2014 03:58:08 am
Bruce I am aware those photos are taken of a cheap model. Using bad B movie perspectives. Hence why I said models and mentioned practical effects.
2/20/2014 06:26:18 am
Matt, this analysis is just garbage!? http://www.tjresearch.info/Zahi_WCUFO%20Investigation.pdf
2/20/2014 07:56:49 am
Bruce yes it is garbage, It is a analysis that is full of nothing. Since the UFO in question was a physical model it makes not difference how the surrounding objects are reflected. The first photographs are shot up close to distort model size and the ones in the trees have no markers in the background that can truly be used to determine size. And mentioning reflections you can tell the photos were taken with a very slow shutter speed by how the reflections are cast and the lack of any distortion further shows that it was in fact most likely a prop sitting on a stand which is conveniently out of frame as dictated by the angle and framing of the photograph.
2/20/2014 10:16:33 am
In addition, I feel that I need to reiterate the point that photographs are never "proof" of anything. They are one step up from eyewitness reports; and, just like with eyewitness reports, need to be backed up with other evidence. As many of us like to say, extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. Meier's claims are nothing if not extraordinary, but his evidence is basically his photos and his stories, some audio recordings and a piece of metal, and pretty much nothing else.
2/20/2014 02:07:18 am
Hey look, this guy had the same UFO visit him.
2/20/2014 02:36:01 am
Billy Meier,the man who also pretended he traveled back in prehistoric times?,the same Billy Meier who took pictures of Mars,Venus,Jupiter (from outer space,inside an alien spacecraft) pterodactyl,dinosaur,plant with an insect head?. Don`t insult my intelligence....
2/23/2014 01:30:07 pm
Ive heard that Billy Meir has moved on from his ufo schtick and now promotes his ability as a prophet.
2/24/2014 10:49:30 am
If by "prophet" he means "making predictions about the future", I'd say he'd better stick with the flying wedding cakes. It's one thing to make photos that can be argued about, but quite another to say that something is going to happen, but doesn't. On the other hand, if he means he's speaking to the public on behalf of a deity or other higher power, well...no argument from me. We'd have to die to prove him wrong.
4/22/2014 09:27:54 am
and idk what talking about only casting whites there are def bnlack people in it like trgs and emerys friend
4/22/2014 09:32:54 am
Their roles were enlarged after the pilot.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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