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Visits to a Small Planet: Rights Talk in Some Science Fiction Film and Television Series from the 1950s to the 1990s



As early as the seventeenth century, authors, particularly satirists, used the travel essay as a means to examine and critique societies, including their own. If an artist’s government discouraged or banned political or social critique, he was necessarily forced to disguise his criticism as fiction - the more fanciful, the better. This practice has carried over to the genre of science fiction (SF). While authors fictionalize many of the elements in SF to make their stories more exciting and bizarre, some elements have made a transition into popular culture because they resonate with the human popular imagination. As a result, many individuals believe that the elements actually exist. Among them are popular methods of alien transportation, such as the rocket (often pictured as the “rocket to Mars”), the flying saucer, and the alien being interested in making contact with a human, either for benign or (more often) nefarious purposes. The idea that an alien means to visit Earth in order to destroy the planet or to cause us harm is one that quickly becomes a theme in novels, films, and television beginning in the mid-twentieth century, fed by actual political and cultural events. These ideas resonate with human imaginations or they are embraced by spiritual beliefs. Viewers’ familiarity with real life space travel, which increases plausibility as well as the maintenance of traditional SF memes, allow SF writers to use the genre’s conventions to continue to critique society. SF authors continually use human beings as the yardstick by which to measure aliens. So, while such films and shows may seem to invite us, through the use of the alien lens, to critique human society, they actually invite us to re-examine human society from a different, albeit a human, perspective. As the genre critiques human society from two perspectives, SF is actually well suited to examine the issue of civil and human rights. This Article examines the critique of human society’s development and use of such rights within a sampling of SF film and television programs from the 1950s to the 1990s. Part II analyzes the treatment of civil rights within the alien invasion and infiltration narratives of the time period. Part III discusses the transition from the foreign alien-invasion narrative to the domestic alien narrative and its effect on the treatment of civil rights. Part IV explores the civil rights issues represented in the friendly alien-visitor narrative of the 1960s television show My Favorite Martian. Part V examines the civil rights questions the late 1980s and early 1990s television series Alien Nation poses. Part VI analyzes the civil rights issues the 1990s television series 3rd Rock from the Sun raises.
Electronic copy available at:
Christine A. Corcos
Many science-fiction writers . . . have depicted humans and
alien races interacting; but in virtually all cases, the human
race is depicted as somehow special, different and better than
the others. . . . The ultimate myth of science fiction that is
tagged onto our astronomy turns out to be that, even with all
those alien races, human beings are the central characters in
the story of the universe. It is as if the Copernican Revolution
never happened.
As early as the seventeenth century, satirists used the travel
essay as a means to examine and critique societies, including
See generally Visit to a Small Planet (Paramount Pictures 1960) (motion picture)
(telling the story of an alien who travels to Earth to study humans); Gore Vidal, Visit to a
Small Planet (Dramatists Play Serv. Inc. 1987) (originally published 1956) (a play upon
which the 1960 motion picture was based).
∗∗ © 2009, Christine A. Corcos. All rights reserved. Associate Professor of Law, Loui-
siana State University Law Center; Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies,
Louisiana State University A & M, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This Article is part of the
Author’s more extensive study of “rights talk” in science fiction (SF) titled Close Encoun-
ters of the Legal Kind. For previous parts of the “rights talk” series, see generally Christine
Corcos, Isabel Corcos & Brian Stockhoff, Double-Take: A Second Look at Cloning, Science
Fiction and Law, 59 La. L. Rev. 1041 (1999) (studying the issue of human rights through
the treatment of cloning in SF literature); Christine Alice Corcos, “I Am Not a Number! I
Am a Free Man!”: Physical and Psychological Imprisonment in Science Fiction, 25 Leg.
Stud. Forum 471 (2001) (exploring the question of human rights through the treatment of
imprisonment in the SF genre). The Author would like to thank Professor Ray Diamond,
LSU Law Center, for his great interest in and invaluable comments on the manuscript;
Cynthia Virgillio, LSU Law Center, for secretarial assistance; Philip Gragg and Kevin
Baggett, LSU Law Library, for research and interlibrary loan assistance; and Carrie Mills,
LSU Law 2010, and Vey LaPlace, LSU Law, 2011, for research assistance. An expanded
version of this Article discussing additional film, television, literary and other examples is
available from the Author.
1. Guy J. Consolmagno, Astronomy, Science Fiction and Popular Culture: 1277 to
2001 (and Beyond), 29 Leonardo 127, 131 (1996).
Electronic copy available at:
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[Vol. 39
their own.
If an artist’s government discouraged or banned polit-
ical or social critique, he was necessarily forced to disguise his
criticism as fiction—the more fanciful, the better.
This practice
has carried over to the genre of science fiction (SF).
While authors fictionalize many of the elements in SF to
make their stories more exciting and bizarre, some elements have
made a transition into popular culture because they resonate with
the human popular imagination. As a result, many individuals
believe that such elements actually exist. Among them are popu-
lar methods of alien transportation, such as the rocket (often pic-
tured as the “rocket to Mars”), the flying saucer,
and the alien
2. See e.g. Charles-Louis de Secondat & Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, Les
lettres persanes (Folio classique, 1973) (originally published 1721) (using the protagonists’
reflective observations regarding their home society and the new societies encountered
during their travels to analyze and critique cultures); Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
(NY: Penguin, 2007) (originally published 1869) (providing a pointed satire of naive and
inexperienced tourists through a travel narrative); see Sylvie Romanowski, Through
Strangers’ Eyes: Fictional Foreigners in Old Regime France 1, 3 (Purdue U. 2005) (discuss-
ing how authors have used fictional literary characters, such as those in The Persian Let-
ters, to filter and analyze the home culture and explore the influence outsiders “aliens”
may have on a society).
3. See e.g. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (Penguin Books 2003) (originally pub-
lished 1726) (using the story of an enthusiastic adventurer who often finds himself lost or
shipwrecked in unknown lands to camouflage a sharp critique of the English society dur-
ing the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries). Gulliver’s Travels has become a
classic example of both social critique and literature. See Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Tra-
vels and “A Modest Proposal” XIII (Pocket Books 2005) (including Gulliver’s Travels in a
“rare collection of literature that has passed into folklore” and describing the story as
“sophisticated political satire”). For one scholar’s interpretation of Gulliver’s Travels, see
generally Claude Rawson, God, Gulliver, and Genocide: Barbarianism and the European
Imagination, 1492–1945 (Oxford U. Press 2001) (analyzing Gulliver’s Travels and its social
4. Jan Johnson-Smith, American Science Fiction TV: Star Trek, Stargate and Beyond
ch. 1 (Wesleyan U. Press 2005). A reader knows that a piece of literature is SF through
signals the author uses, including the language and plausibility within the world the au-
thor creates, even though both may be significantly different from the world the reader
ordinarily inhabits. Id. at 19, 20; see Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics 189 (Routledge
Classics 2002) (arguing that the literary genre determines the readers’ approach to under-
standing and interpreting a text).
5. The term flying saucer, which seems to be the preferred method by which some
humans believe extraterrestrials arrive on our planet, originated in 1947 newspaper ac-
counts of pilot Kenneth Arnold’s encounter with nine unidentified objects flying in forma-
tion over Mt. Rainier, Washington. Phil Patton, Flying Saucers are Part of a Modern My-
thology, Tampa Trib. Baylife 1 (July 1, 1997). Reports of Arnold’s sighting led to a wave of
flying saucer accounts that summer. Robert Kolarik, News About Saucer Sightings Heated
Up the Summer of ’47, San Antonio Express-News A11 (May 25, 1997). Arnold never re-
ferred to the objects he saw as flying saucers, but he told interviewers that they flew “like
a saucer would if you skipped it across water,” and, the term flying saucer was coined. Id.
For a more complete history of sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs), see Robert
Sheaffer, UFOlogy 2009: A Six-Decade Perspective,
Visits to a Small Planet 3
interested in making contact with a human, either for be-
nign or (more often) nefarious purposes. The idea that an alien
intends to visit Earth in order to destroy the planet or to cause us
harm is one that begins with the H.G. Wells novel The War of the
Worlds and quickly gathers popularity in novels, films, and tele-
vision beginning in the mid-twentieth century, fed by actual polit-
ical and cultural events.
These ideas resonate with the human imagination
and are
sometimes incorporated into spiritual beliefs.
Reader and veie- (accessed Mar. 14,
2010) (reviewing the history of UFO sightings in the United States beginning in 1947,
describing the public’s continued interest, and predicting the popularity of UFO discus-
sions well into the future). The notion of space flight dates back to the seventeenth cen-
tury. See Cyrano de Bergerac, Voyage dans la lune et histoire comique des états et empires
du soleil (Paris: Union générale des editions, 1963) (originally published 1657 and 1662).
Georges Méliès later depicted space travel in a very early silent film short, Le Voyage Dans
la Lune [The Voyage to the Moon] (Star Film 1902) (motion picture).
6. J. Allen Hynek provides us with a taxonomy for classifying alien encounters with
humans, including close encounters of the first kind where a UFO is sighted, of the second
kind where a physical manifestation of the alien presence is noticeable on surrounding
animate and inanimate objects, and of the third kind where the UFO’s “occupants” are
reported. J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry 28–29 (Marlowe & Co.
1998). For a sampling of SF’s depiction of close encounters with nefarious extraterrestrials,
see Predator (20th Cent.-Fox 1987) (motion picture) (depicting an extra-terrestrial being
hunting a team of military servicemen in a Central American jungle); H. G. Wells, The
War of the Worlds (William Heinemann 1898) (narrating the fight against a Martian inva-
sion of Earth in which the Martians seek to kill all inhabitants and destroy the planet).
For an example of SF’s depiction of a close encounter with more benign extraterrestrials,
see Mork & Mindy (ABC 1978–1982) (TV series) (depicting an alien, Mork from the planet
Ork, whose superiors sent him on a mission to investigate Earth and report back).
7. The Roswell, New Mexico incident has caused much comment and controversy. Ben-
son Saler, Charles A. Ziegler & Charles B. Moore, UFO Crash at Roswell: The Genesis of a
Modern Myth x (Smithsonian Instn. Press 1997); Eileen Meehan, Tourism, Development,
and Media, 45 Society 338, 339 (2008). When the Roswell incident first occurred in July
1947, it passed almost unnoticed in the papers. See id. at 339 (reporting that most UFO
specialists considered the 1947 incident at Roswell debunked prior to the 1970s). Rancher
William “Mac” Brazel found an unknown kind of debris in late June or early July and
reported it to the authorities. William Reville, Myth of UFO at Roswell Debunked, Irish
Times 9 (Sept. 11, 2000) (available at
3.htm#9-11-00 IT). The local Air Force Base asserted that it was debris from a weather
balloon, although many have since disputed that contention. Id. The Roswell UFO contro-
versy literature is immense. For the U.S. government’s report on the Roswell crash, com-
pleted as a result of a request by U.S. Representative Steven Schiff, see James McAndrew,
The Roswell Report: Case Closed (H.Q. U.S. A.F. 1997).
About fourteen years later, Betty and Barney Hill reported their abduction by aliens
as they were driving to their home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the night of Sep-
tember 19, 1961. They had stopped to observe a bright light in the night sky. Thomas E.
Bullard, UFO Abduction Reports: The Supernatural Kidnap Narrative Returns in Tech-
nological Guise, 102 J. Am. Folklore 147, 148 (1989). The Hills claimed that the light
turned out to be a large craft with extraterrestrials inside, who abducted the Hills to ex-
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[Vol. 39
Reader and viewer familiarity with real life space travel, which
increases plausibility
as well as the maintenance of traditional
SF memes, allows SF writers to use the genre’s conventions to
continue to critique society.
SF authors continually use human beings as the yardstick by
which to measure aliens. So, while such films and shows may
seem to invite us, through the use of the alien lens, to critique
human society, they actually invite us to re-examine human so-
ciety from a different, albeit a human, perspective. As the genre
critiques human society from this perspective, SF is actually well
suited to examine the issue of human rights.
amine them. Id.; see generally John G. Fuller, The Interrupted Journey: Two Lost Hours
Aboard a Flying Saucer (Dial Press 1966) (recounting the complete story of the Hills’ ab-
duction in detail). The Hills’ abduction story started the tradition of stories of alien abduc-
tees. Bullard, supra n. 7 at 150 (observing that there were over six hundred reports of
alien abduction from 1961 through 1989). Another example was the 1975 abduction report
of Travis Walton, an Arizona logging crew member. Id. at 149. For days, police combed the
area where, according to witnesses, Walton had disappeared after being struck by a beam
emitted from the craft. According to newspaper reports, he eventually turned up in a
phone booth not far from his brother’s Arizona home, wearing the same clothes in which he
disappeared. Id; see generally Travis Walton, Fire in the Sky: The Walton Experience (Mar-
lowe & Co. 1996) (describing Walton’s abduction experience in detail); Travis Walton, An
Ordinary Day, ordinary.html (accessed Mar. 14, 2010)
(providing a condensed version of Walton’s abduction story).
8. See generally Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples & Mark Clark, Lights in the Sky &
Little Green Men: A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials (Navpress
2002) (providing a Christian perspective on the topics of UFOs and extraterrestrial be-
9. Regarding this need, one author observes,
A remarkably high degree of plausibility is vital to SF. One manner in which SF sto-
ries vary from the mundane is through their methods of highlighting difference at
multiple levels, and the necessity of doing this both rapidly and convincingly for the
reader or viewer is paramount. . . . Readers identify specific components in a text
and in doing so they “naturalize the details of the text by relating them to some kind
of natural order or pattern already existing in our physical or cultural environment.”
In effect, these component elements enable readers to construct the story world in a
fashion plausible to them. However, for a genre like [SF], not only must the world be
plausible, but a strong degree of estrangement from the mundane world is also vital.
Johnson-Smith, supra n. 4 at 20 (quoting Kathleen L. Spencer, The Red Sun is High, the
Blue Low: Towards a Stylistic Description of Science Fiction, 10.1 Sci. Fiction Studies 35–
50 (1983)).
10. Kenneth B. Nunn, Illegal Aliens: Extraterrestrials and White Fear, 48 Fla. L. Rev.
397 (1996) (suggesting the use of alien encounters can also be seen as an analogy for the
racial narrative). For an example of a SF movie that provides a social critique, see E.T.:
The Extra-Terrestrial (Universal Pictures 1982) (motion picture) (depicting society’s reac-
tion to the discovery of an extraterrestrial being in a typical California suburb); see also
Jeredith Merrin, E.T., 39 S. Rev. 74, 74–75 (2003) (a poem analyzing American culture
through the movie E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial).
Visits to a Small Planet 5
This Article examines the critique of U.S. society’s develop-
ment and assertion of such rights within a sampling of SF film
and television programs from the 1950s to the 1990s. Part II ana-
lyzes the treatment of civil rights within the alien invasion and
infiltration narratives of the time period. Part III discusses the
transition from the foreign alien-invasion narrative to the domes-
tic alien narrative and its effect on the treatment of civil rights.
Part IV explores the civil rights issues represented in the friendly
alien-visitor narrative of the 1960s television show My Favorite
Part V examines the civil rights questions the late
1980s and early 1990s television series Alien Nation
poses. Part
VI analyzes the civil rights issues the 1990s television series 3rd
Rock from the Sun
SF authors have used the alien-invasion narrative as a proxy
for whatever social, legal, economic or other threat the culture
may fear the most at the time. The depiction of aliens in alien-
invasion narratives beginning with War of the Worlds
and con-
tinuing through sagas such as V
and films such as Independence
as deceptive, vicious, and single-minded beings intent on
using Earth for their own purposes allows us to project human
traits onto non-existent imaginary beings and examine them from
a comfortable distance. If extraterrestrial life exists,
we have
little reason to believe that it is particularly interested in Earth
or Earth’s inhabitants or that extraterrestrials would have war-
like intentions. Instead, invasion, enslavement, and exploitation
are more likely to be characteristic of humans, other primates or
11. My Favorite Martian (CBS 1963–1966) (TV series).
12. Alien Nation (Fox Broad. Co. 1989–1990) (TV series) [hereinafter Alien Nation
13. 3rd Rock from the Sun (NBC 1996–2001) (TV series).
14. War of the Worlds (Paramount Pictures 1953) (motion picture) [hereinafter War of
the Worlds 1953]; War of the Worlds (Paramount Pictures 2005). A television series based
on the book ran on the USA network from 1988 to 1990.
(NBC, 1983-1984). Currently, ABC is broadcasting a remake of V, with Kenneth John-
son, the original producer of the film and series, at the helm.
(Twentieth Century Fox, 1996).
17. See Phil Plait, Do Astronomers Believe in Extraterrestrial Life? http://dsc.discovery
.com/space/my-take/astronomer-alien-phil-plait.html (Feb. 23, 2009) (discussing whether
astronomers believe in the possibility that life outside of Earth exists).
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[Vol. 39
intelligent mammals
than of extraterrestrials. Thus, much SF in
alien-invasion narratives serves as a proxy for human characte-
ristics and an analogy for threats that are much closer to home.
For example, novels and films about alien invaders produced
in the 1950s emphasize the dominant fear at the time, which was
that of a Communist takeover, either through an overt attack
launched by the Soviet Union or Cuba,
or in concert with the
assistance of “fifth columnists”—Communist sympathizers in the
United States. The 1950s alien-invasion narratives depict the
aliens as undesired, unwelcome, and unsympathetic beings. Of-
ten the invading aliens in such narratives were seen as proxies
for communists.
In day-to-day life, many Americans were con-
cerned about identifying those within their midst who might har-
bor ill intent toward the government. In the real world, both the
citizenry and elected officials demanded loyalty oaths and other
18. Scientists have also observed predatory behavior in dolphins and primates. Nigel
Blundell, Killer Dolphins Baffle Marine Experts,
experts.html (Jan. 28, 2008); Matt Walker, Dolphins Seen Trying To Kill Calf, (May 18, 2009).
19. See e.g. Cynthia Hendershott, Paranoia, the Bomb, and 1950s Science Fiction
Films (Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999). (discussing the reflection of
contemporary fears in science fiction films of the period as represented by monsters and
humanoid doubles). See also David Seed, American Science Fiction and the Cold War:
Literature and Film (Edinburgh University Press, 1999).
20. See e.g. I Married a Monster from Outer Space (Paramount Pictures 1958) (motion
picture) (depicting aliens slowly switching places with real humans, thereby creating pa-
ranoia amidst the humans); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Allied Artists 1956) (motion
picture) (depicting aliens stealing humans’ bodies and creating paranoia amidst the re-
maining humans); Village of the Damned (MGM British Studios 1960) (motion picture)
(depicting human women who have terrifying offspring after being impregnated by aliens).
The book upon which Village of the Damned was based depicted an incident of genetic
breeding and presented notions of eugenics more representative of the cultural fear during
the 1950s that humans had created technology that could destroy them. M. Keith Booker,
Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of
Postmodernism, 1946–1964, at 2, 4 (Greenwood Press 2001) (stating that SF films of the
1950s were often different from their underlying novels because the films tended more
toward reinforcing “prevailing ideologies than toward the often critical stance taken by the
novels”); John Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoos (Pauline Francis, ed., Evans Bro. Ltd.
2005) (originally published 1957). There are many parodies of this category of films. See
e.g. Top of the Food Chain (Upstart Pictures 1999) (motion picture) (depicting an unknown
force that devours the odd townspeople of an isolated Canadian town). For additional dis-
cussion relating to the depiction of the Cold War in SF films, see generally David Seed,
American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film (Edinburgh U. Press
1999) (analyzing the SF genre in film and literature in light of Cold War events).
Visits to a Small Planet 7
demonstrations of patriotism,
leading to cases that challenged
the constitutionality of such oaths, statutes, and demonstra-
Alien invaders stood proxy for whatever societal fear domi-
nated at the time. When the socialist H. G. Wells wrote the origi-
nal novel The War of the Worlds, in which an anonymous journal-
ist tells the story of invading Martians who declare war on the
Earth and want to destroy it completely,
he was concerned with
British imperialism, not with Communism. When Orson Welles
adapted the novel for broadcast on radio in 1938, he highlighted
concerns of war and foreign invasion.
By the time the film ver-
debuted in 1953, moviegoers had Communism on their
minds. In each version of The War of the Worlds the fictional alien
invader represented a different, real threat. In no version of the
work, however, did the audience question the right of the humans
to defend themselves.
The fears of the 1950s were not just of an outright invasion,
but also of communist infiltration of the United States,
was also reflected in contemporary SF works. In I Married a
Monster from Outer Space, Marge Bradley, the female protagon-
ist, discovers that her new husband is one of a group of extrater-
21. See Victor Navasky, Naming Names (Hill and Wang, 2003) (discussing the McCar-
thy era of blacklisting suspected Communists and Communist sympathizers in the United
States during the 1950s and 1960s).
22. See, e.g. Spieser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513 (1958) (striking down a California re-
quirement that private citizens sign a loyalty oath in order to obtain a tax exemption).
23. War of the Worlds 1953, supra n. 14. The socialist philosopher is presumed to have
been commenting on Britain’s imperialism as well as current developments in science. The
alien invasion and infiltration narratives rarely suggest that the invading aliens may have
some legally defensible reason for attacking earth. However, some noted exceptions exist
in which the humans assume the role of the invading forces. See e.g. The Twilight Zone,
“The Invaders” (CBS Jan. 27, 1961) (TV series) (depicting what originally appears to be an
alien invasion of Earth but turns out to be quite the opposite); The Twilight Zone, “I Shot
an Arrow Into the Air” (CBS Jan. 15, 1960) (TV series) (telling the story of three humans
who crash-land on an alien planet).
24. When the Mercury Theater broadcast War of the Worlds on October 30, 1938, so
much public panic ensued over the seemingly true-to-life reporting of a Martian invasion
that the FCC launched an investigation and Congress held a hearing. See generally How-
ard Koch, The Panic Broadcast: Portrait of an Event (Little, Brown & Co. 1970) (recount-
ing in detail the public panic the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds created and the
governmental investigation of the event that followed).
25. War of the Worlds 1953, supra n. 14 (depicting humans defending themselves
without a second thought against the invading Martians).
26. See Navasky, supra note 27. This infiltration might be physical, or it might be
psychological or intellectual—hence the fear of Communist ideology and of the hiring of
Communist-leaning academics and other employees.
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[Vol. 39
restrials who have taken over human bodies in hopes of impreg-
nating Earth woman because all of the females on their home
world have perished.
The aliens’ failure in their mission would
mean the extinction of their race.
Marge is torn between her
love for her extraterrestrial husband and her belief that she must
notify the authorities and her family, friends, and neighbors that
the planet is under attack.
Viewed from the perspective of
1950s humans,
the aliens are invaders who have come to Earth
in disguise, taken over human bodies without their consent,
ceived the women they married, and now constitute a threat to
the United States, if not the rest of the world. From the aliens’
point of view, they are an intellectually and technologically supe-
rior species who have a right to try to survive
and might even be
able to argue this right in court.
27. I Married a Monster from Outer Space, supra n. 20.
28. Id.
29. Id. One literary critic observed:
The movie can also be read as a warning against science and the ways it is slowly
robbing us of our humanity. The alien scientists, reacting to a natural disaster, came
up with a plan whereby they could go and take over another species—without ask-
ing, transforming the host and the offspring into soulless, logical, superior beings
who do not know how to live and love. The film makes it clear that the aliens
represent a technologically and intellectually superior race of beings. Though they
may look like monsters to human eyes and though they may smell like “wild things”
to dogs—who growl and attack them as if they were wild animals—they are more
advanced than humans, perhaps the next step in evolution.
Per Schelde, Androids, Humanoids, and Other Science Fiction Monsters: Science and Soul
in Science Fiction Films 104 (N.Y. U. Press 1993).
Note that the modern invasion narrative Independence Day (1996) takes the same posi-
tion—the right of humans to defend themselves against an alien invasion force.
31. This was, perhaps, the invading aliens’ one mistake. However, considering the
hysterical anti-alien (read “anti-communist”) attitude of the period, were they not right to
doubt the possibility of obtaining fair treatment had they presented their case in advance?
Had they argued “self defense”—the right to invade in order to survive, either overtly or by
infiltration as the aliens do in I Married a Monster From Outer Space, they might not
prevail, because “anticipatory self-defense” is not generally recognized as acceptable in
human international law. See Mary Ellen O’Connell, “The Myth of Preemptive Self-
Defense,” American Society of International Law Task Force Paper, (accessed April 7, 2010). Or, had the aliens in I
Married a Monster, sought out a small group of humans to hear their case, how likely is it
that those humans would have assisted them and told no one of their existence?
32. The U.S. Constitution guarantees that no person shall be deprived of life without
due process of law. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; U.S. Const. amend. V. But are literal
“aliens”—that is, extraterrestrials-- “persons” in the eyes of the Supreme Court? While this
discussion is beyond the scope of this Article, I hope to examine it in a future Article.
33. But, would this right be heard in U.S. courts or some other national or interna-
tional court of the 1950s? Would it be heard in any contemporary tribunal? In Alien Na-
tion, the plot suggests that the U.S., at least, would give such aliens refugee status if they
Visits to a Small Planet 9
The alien-infiltrator theme is also present in the 1951 film
The Thing from Another World.
Like the pod people in Invasion
of the Body Snatchers,
the alien in The Thing from Another
World takes over human beings, eliminating what makes them
human to ensure its own survival.
Thus, the surviving humans
cannot easily determine whether any particular one of their com-
panions is still human or has become the alien being.
the surviving humans do not want to destroy fellow humans, but
they do not have any other choice if they hope to survive and save
humanity from the threat of an alien takeover.
Note that the
humans call the alien being the thing”—dehumanizing and ob-
jectifying it—to make it easier for them to destroy it and justify
that destruction while ensuring their own survival.
They must
first overcome their initial revulsion and belief that they might be
killing “one of their own,” convincing themselves that the human
is already dead to feel comfortable attacking the “thing.”.
made application peacefully. Alien Nation Series, supra n. 12.
34. The Thing from Another World (RKO Radio Pictures 1951) (motion picture) [herei-
nafter The Thing 1951]. There was a later remake of this movie. John Carpenter’s The
Thing (Universal Pictures 1982) (motion picture). This Article will discuss the 1951 ver-
sion. The Thing movies were based on a short story by John Campbell. John W. Campbell,
Jr., Who Goes There? in Who Goes There? (Street & Smith Publications. 1948) (originally
published 1938). For a more in-depth discussion of the mythological and folkloric nature of
alien creatures in SF movies, such as the two versions of The Thing, see generally Schelde,
supra n. 29.
35. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, supra n. 20. This movie was remade twice: in 1978
as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (United Artists 1978) (motion picture) and in 2007 as
The Invasion (Warner Bros. 2007) (motion picture).
36. The Thing 1951, supra n. 34.
37. Id. Similarly, the humans face this dilemma in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, supra n. 20.
38. The Thing 1951, supra n. 34.
39. See id. (depicting the justifications the surviving characters made for destroying
the alien “thing”); see also Invasion of the Body Snatchers, supra n. 20 (showing the hu-
mans’ marginalization and dehumanization of the pod people before the humans can feel
comfortable in destroying the pods). This kind of moral dilemma is, in some sense, the kind
of ethical and legal problem that confounds governments that must decide whether to
shoot down an airliner full of innocent passengers that terrorists have hijacked and aimed
at a skyscraper—are the deaths of three hundred people preferable to the deaths of three
thousand? See Robin Geiss, Civil Aircraft as Weapons of Large-Scale Destruction: Coun-
termeasures, Articles 3BIS of the Chicago Convention, and the Newly Adopted German
“Luftsicherheitsbesetz, 27 Mich. J. Intl. L. 227, 237 (2005) (discussing the international
law applicable to the shootdown of civil aircraft turned into weapons by non-state actors).
40. See The Thing 1951, supra n. 34 (depicting the survivors as feeling comfortable
with killing alien-controlled humans only after they convince themselves that the humans
are no longer human); Invasion of the Body Snatchers, supra n. 20 (showing those fighting
the aliens as struggling with destruction of the alien-controlled clones and accepting the
need for their destruction only after determining that the clones were no longer alive).
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The treatment of aliens in the infiltration narratives like In-
vasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing from Another World
shows that it is easier to destroy someone from another group
than to destroy someone who looks like part of one’s own group.
To denounce members of one’s own group, the denouncing majori-
ty must first find ways to marginalize the targeted individuals
legally and ethically in order to assuage their consciences.
defense is a good justification and national security an excellent
The invading aliens of this time period do not always
represent a foreign threat. More domestic problems including
war, economic crises, and political, religious, and social divisive-
ness also threaten society. For example, in The Day the Earth
Stood Still,
the alien, Klaatu, visits Earth accompanied by a
powerful robot, Gort.
They come to warn us that if we do not
Likewise, someone faced with taking a loved one off a respirator must believe that the
loved one is beyond resuscitation prior to coming to a final decision. See Schiavo v. Schia-
vo, 403 F.3d 1223, 1231–1232 (11th Cir. 2005) (discussing the extent to which family
members will fight to preserve the life of a loved one whom they have not yet accepted as
beyond saving).
41. The Salem witch hunt and ensuing 1692 trials in Salem, Massachusetts are an
excellent example of how a society can manufacture a legal and ethical reason to marginal-
ize some of its members. See generally Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem
Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (Random House, Inc. 2002) (providing a detailed historical analy-
sis of the 1690s Salem witch hunt and trials).
42. See Exec. Or. 9066 (Feb. 19, 1942) (available at
executiorder9066.html) (ordering the creation of internment camps for persons of Asian
descent during World War II); Maise & Richard Conrat, Executive Order 9066: The In-
ternment of 110,000 Japanese Americans 17 (UCLA Asian Am. Stud. Ctr. Press 1992)
(discussing how President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 in 1942 resulted in the impri-
sonment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born
Americans, in internment camps, for the duration of World War II). In Korematsu v. U.S.,
323 U.S. 324 (1944), the Supreme Court ruled that President Roosevelt’s executive order
was constitutional. However, Justice Frank Murphy dissented, calling the decision “a
legalization of racism.” Koretmatsu, at 242 (Murphy, J., dissenting).
43. (20th Cent.-Fox 1951) (motion picture) [hereinafter The Day the Earth Stood Still].
This movie is based on a short story. Harry Bates, Farewell to the Master 26 Astounding Sci.
Fiction (Oct. 1940) (available at
-the-master.html;; http://thenostalgialeague
.com/olmag/bates3.html). The original radio broadcast of The Day the Earth Stood Still is
also available online. Irving Cummings, The Day the Earth Stood Still (KWTNL Jan. 4 1954)
(MP3) (available at; select Lux Radio Thea-
ter, select “The Day the Earth Stood Still”). In films such as Colossus: The Forbin Project
(Universal, 1970) technology (represented by the computer) becomes the enemy. In a future
article, I plan to investigate the implications of extending rights to artificial intelligence. I
am indebted to my colleague Professor Diamond for reminding of the existence of The Forbin
Project, an excellent and much underrated film.
44. The Day the Earth Stood Still, supra n. 43.
Visits to a Small Planet 11
stop our warlike ways, we will inevitably bring about our destruc-
Says Klaatu,
I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly.
The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of ag-
gression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated.
There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this
does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to
act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made
laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce
them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this prin-
ciple. We have an organization for the mutual protection of
all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression.
The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police
force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race
of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in space-
ships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of ag-
gression, we have given them absolute power over us. This
power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they
act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for pro-
voking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is, we
live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the know-
ledge that we are free from aggression and war. Free to pur-
sue more . . . profitable enterprises. Now, we do not pretend
to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it
works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of
ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to ex-
tend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a
burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in
peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.
We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with
45. Id. The film has many of the classic elements that have been associated with SF
films, including a space ship, aliens making contact with Washington, D.C., the center of
U.S. political power, weapons more powerful than our own, an alien posing as a human,
and aliens bringing a significant message to the people of Earth. See Adam Roberts,
Science Fiction: The New Critical Idiom 14–15 (Routledge 2003) (listing elements common
to the SF genre including, among other things, spaceships, aliens, alien encounters, and
advanced technology). It makes more sense for aliens to make contact in Washington, D.C.,
the capital of the United States, than in rural areas, as is more typical of reports of UFO
and alien sightings. See e.g. supra n. 7 (describing the Roswell incident and other UFO
sightings and alien encounters all of which predominantly took place in rural settings).
46. The Day the Earth Stood Still, supra n. 43. The full script is available online. The
Day the Earth Stood Still,,-
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One of the suggestions here is that humans, rather than the in-
habitants of other planets, are breaking universal law, and that
Klaatu, as some sort of intergalactic diplomat,
is on a mission to
teach humans the galaxy’s law.
Although the early alien invasion and infiltration narratives
starkly pose the question of humanity’s right to survive, they do
not pose the question of the alien races’ right to survival. Not un-
til later in shows like V
do these narratives ask whether hu-
mans can, and should always philosophically, ethically, and legal-
ly put their own needs and desires ahead of those of other sen-
tient beings inhabiting the Universe.
SF films and television
shows prepare the ground to explore this question in depth in the
friendly alien narratives of My Favorite Martian, Alien Nation,
and 3rd Rock from the Sun when the aliens shift from being
strangely foreign to a more familiar—and more human-like—
form, and by seeming more human, open the door to the inquiry:
The.html (accessed Mar. 14, 2010).
47. The Day the Earth Stood Still, supra n. 43. Klaatu warns of the ultra-violent in-
tergalactic peace keeping robots, like the character Gort, that “[a]t the first sign of vi-
olence, [the alien police robots] act automatically against the aggressor.” Id. The very
famous line that saved the Earth from the alien police robots’ zealous enforcement of the
law is “Klaatu barada nikto.” Id. This phrase has no direct translation. However, the first
word seems to make reference to the character Klaatu, so some fans speculate that the
phrase was some form of command. John Brownlee, K is for Klaatu Barada Nikto, (Jun. 11,
2008). While the movie indicates that Gort is a servant, albeit powerful, in Harry Bates’
short story “Farewell to the Master,” Gort (Gnut) tells the reporter Cliff Sutherland that
he does not understand the relationship between Gort and the now deceased Klaatu. “You
misunderstand. . . I am the master” (emphasis original). Bates, supra n. 43.
48. See supra n. 47 and accompanying text for the set of rules Klaatu conveyed. The
laws sound like something written by a feisty intergalactic United Nations. See The United
Nations, UN at a Glance: Overview, (accessed
Mar. 14, 2010) (describing the United Nations as an international organization that exists
to promote peace, security, friendly international relations, social progress, improved liv-
ing standards, and human rights); see also J. Hoberman, The Cold War Sci-Fi Parable that
Fell to Earth,
(Oct. 31, 2008) (describing the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still in light of its
predecessor SF movies). The 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still is more con-
cerned with climate change than with Communism and world war. Hoberman, supra n. 48.
49. (NBC 1983–1983) (TV series). Since the airing of the original 1983 mini-series,
there were several other versions produced, the most recent of which was Scott Rosen-
baum’s reimaging and reproduction. V (ABC 2009–present) (TV series). For a complete
listing of the V spinoffs, see, The Internet Movie Database,;
select “Titles,” searchV” (accessed Mar. 14, 2010).
Note that some episodes of Star Trek and its spinoffs do pose the question in some epi-
sodes, most notably the Star Trek episode The Devil in the Dark (aired March 9, 1967) in
which a mysterious creature attacking humans on a mining colony is discovered to be
protecting its young. The Star Trek crew brokers an accommodation between the creature,
a Horta, and the.miners.
Visits to a Small Planet 13
should those who seem other than human also receive human
Beginning with My Favorite Martian, television series depict-
ing aliens visiting Earth begin to reject the alien-invasion and
alien-infiltration narratives’ notion of the 1950s that aliens neces-
sarily pose a threat to humanity. Later series such as Mork &
Mindy, Alien Nation, and 3rd Rock from the Sun, in which aliens
arrive on Earth with peaceful or neutral intentions and remain
here covertly for an extended period of time, tend to emphasize
the non-confrontational nature of the alien beings’ visits and their
genuine interest in humans as—if not species of equal intelligence
and power—at least species of some interest worthy of at least
some protection or non-interference. These “friendly alien” narra-
tives use the technique of science fiction in order to critique socie-
ty and examine, in particular, issues of civil rights in United
States society in the second half of the twentieth century. But
they do so by pointing out, paradoxically, that real aliens” may
not pose the threats that some have always believed. By exten-
sion, the groups they represent in popular culture may also not
pose the threats some have believed. In order to accomplish this
representation, however, the friendly alien narrative must facili-
tate an exchange of ideas within the SF convention itself. Using
SF allows the audience to discuss issues of race, sex, and religion
without making viewers too uncomfortable about confronting hu-
man differences. By exaggerating the differences of the “other” in
the SF universe, the viewing audience can then consider whether
the differences in American (and world society) present such ob-
stacles. This is what television series such as My Favorite Mar-
tian, Alien Nation, and 3d Rock from the Sun allow us to do.
The friendly alien narrative uses several characteristics to
represent subcultures within a dominant culture. First, the
friendly alien-visitor narrative includes an alien race or alien visi-
tor that looks friendly—that is, the alien must, insofar as is possi-
ble, look and seem human or humanoid while still having some
alien characteristics.
The Martian of My Favorite Martian had
51. See e.g. Alien Nation Series, supra n. 12 (depicting non-hostile aliens that look
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formidable powers that could easily have been off-putting.
ing him a human appearance made him less frightening and more
accessible to the viewing audience.
The actor Ray Walston, who
played The Martian, relied on acting and limited special effects
to differentiate him from his co-stars, who played the humans on
the show.
Alien Nation took a similar approach in its portrayal of the
friendly Newcomers.
Although special effects had advanced
quite far by the time Alien Nation went into production,
the di-
rector did not want the aliens “to look menacing” because they
were “benevolent creatures,” so he insisted on giving them a hu-
manoid appearance.
The director’s insistence on greater and
greater subtlety with regard to the presentation of the Newco-
mers’ physical appearance was rooted in his belief that audiences
might find the characters difficult to identify with.
So, in the
friendly alien visitor narratives, being a friendly alien translated
into looking at least acceptably humanoid.
Second, these friendly alien narratives show aliens as caring
and, therefore, non-threatening.
For example, Martin of My Fa-
sufficiently extraterrestrial to live almost undetected on Earth); E.T.: The Extra-
Terrestrial, supra n. 10 (showing an non-hostile alien race that had smooth skin, two arms,
two legs, two eyes, and human-like senses).
52. Martin could read minds and levitate objects. E.g. My Favorite Martian, “The Man
on the Couch” (CBS Nov. 3, 1963) (TV series) [hereinafter “Man on the Couch”] (showing
Martin using his telepathic powers on a psychiatrist to quickly get out of a hospital); My
Favorite Martian, “Going, Going, Gone” (CBS Feb. 2, 1964) (TV series) [hereinafter “Going,
Going, Gone”] (showing Martin losing control of his levitation finger).
53. Edward Gross, Alien Nation: The Unofficial Companion 36 (Renaissance Books
1998) (noting that the aliens on My Favorite Martian were “almost too human” but this
similarity to the human physique made them more believable to the audience).
54. See Richard Rickett, Special Effects: The History and Technique 27–29 (Watson-
Guptill 2000) (discussing the special effects of the 1960s).
55. The term Newcomers refers to the Tenctonese who are an alien race that settles on
Earth in Alien Nation. Kathy Li, Plot Summary for “Alien Nation,” (accessed Mar. 14, 2010).
56. See id. at 35–37 (discussing special effects of the 1990s).
57. Gross, supra n. 53, at 35 (describing the aliens’ distinguishing physical characte-
ristics as including “very smooth skin and almost featureless faces” with flat eyebrows,
broad noses, no ears, and unusually large heads). The director “wanted people to imme-
diately take a liking to the aliens.” Id.
58. See id. (commenting that the human-like alien physique gave the impression that
the aliens in Alien Nation might be an actual species).
59. However, many alien visitors presented in SF still represent a potential threat to
humans because they are generally more intellectually and physically powerful and, there-
fore, may still pose some sort of threat to the human race. See Albert A. Harrison, After
Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life 253 (Plenum Press 1997) (hypothe-
sizing that many factors, including misinterpreted cues, could lead to aggression in an
Visits to a Small Planet 15
vorite Martian may be short-tempered, but he is never mean.
addition, he is alone on Earth
and does not represent any kind
of alien invasion.
In addition, Martin never gives any indication
that Martians are in any way warlike.
Third, the friendly alien narratives often depict the visiting
aliens in a sympathetic situation. Martin the Martian is ma-
rooned on Earth. The Newcomers of Alien Nation seek asylum in
Los Angeles from those who enslaved them.
The humans go so
far as to protect the Newcomers when their former masters (the
“Overseers”) attempt to re-enslave them because the humans
sympathize with the Newcomers.
Fourth, the friendly alien narratives present the aliens as in-
quisitive and appreciative of (or at least interested in) human cul-
ture, intending to assimilate for the period that they remain on
Earth and learn as much as they can about humans in the
process. For example, Mork, from the planet Ork, on the televi-
sion series Mork & Mindy, is a superior alien being who is inter-
ested in discovering information about humans.
Mork chooses to
set aside his superior alien powers to blend into human society
instead of using his superiority to dominate human beings.
alien encounter situation).
60. My Favorite Martian, supra n. 11.
61. Marc, supra n. 60 at 108. Not until the third season does Martin’s nephew, An-
dromeda, join him for one episode. My Favorite Martian, “When You Get Back to Mars,
Are You Going to Get It” (CBS Feb. 27, 1966) (TV series) [hereinafter “When You Get Back
to Mars”].
62. Compare Martin and his compatriots’ very obvious lack of interest in invading
Earth with the plot of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, supra n. 20. Indeed, Tim never
seems at all concerned about the possibility that Martin might be an advance scout, or a
member of the Martian military gathering information for an invasion, in spite of the fact
that My Favorite Martian airs during the height of the Cold War, nor does he think he
should be patriotic and report Martin’s presence to the authorities (apart from an initial
scene in the pilot).
63. Compare The War of the Worlds 1953, supra n. 14 (depicting Martians seeking to
destroy Earth) with My Favorite Martian, supra n. 11 (depicting a close relationship devel-
oping between a stranded Martian and his human caretaker).
64. Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy (20th Cent.-Fox July 29, 1997) (TV movie) [herei-
nafter The Udara Legacy].
65. Alien Nation: The Dark Horizon (20th Cent.-Fox Oct. 25, 1994) (TV movie). Some
of the former masters end up settling on Earth with the Newcomers. Id. The clear message
is that the former masters prefer freedom and human rights even if they must accept the
equality of the former slaves, ultimately rejecting the caste system available to them on
their home planet.
66. Mork & Mindy, “Pilot” (ABC Sept. 14, 1978) (TV series) (telling the story of Mork’s
alien supervisor, Orson, assigning Mork to study the planet Earth).
67. Mork & Mindy, “Mork’s Greatest Hits” (ABC Nov. 23, 1978) (TV series) (depicting
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Finally, the friendly alien narratives present the aliens as
able to and eventually willing to protect humans from galactic
threats. Such fictional alien benevolence tracks real human fears
that space visitors might actually be “out there” and might mean
us harm. For example, the Solomons, in 3rd Rock from the Sun,
regularly ignore any prime directive
they might have that might
prevent them from interfering with human destiny, particularly
when Earth is at risk.
For example, the Solomons save the
Earth from destruction by an evil alien race
and later by an
alien from another planet bent on destroying Earth because it
blocks his home planet’s view.
The fact that the Solomons are
willing to ignore their non-interference “prime directive” for the
benefit of humans (when as they tell one another they have never
done so before) suggests that humans are special and worthy be-
ings. Even in a universe in which the earth is a small planet cir-
cling an insignificant sun, alien visitors think its inhabitants are
worth assisting.
Prime directives as we see them created in popular culture,
however, are human constructs, however, not alien ones. They
arise out of the human imagination, and aliens resemble humans
for additional, very practical reasons. First, human actors play
many of the aliens on screen, and even if they do not (that is, even
if the “aliens” are computer-created), at some point, even with the
special effects available, many aliens will probably resemble hu-
manoids. Second, if the filmmakers and television executives
want the viewers to identify with and like the aliens, the aliens
Mork’s choice to deal with a threatening situation peacefully); “Mork in Love” (ABC Oct. 5,
1978) (TV series) (showing Mork falling in love with a mannequin after Mindy tells him he
needs to experience love to understand the human experience fully). My Favorite Mar-
tian’s Martin has the same kind of experience in the episode “A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of
Wine, & Peaches,” (CBS Nov. 10, 1963) (TV series).
68. The term prime directive comes from the Star Trek series in which the United
Federation of Planets’ guiding principle requires its members never to interfere with the
normal development of the lesser developed civilizations they encounter. See Star Trek, “A
Private Little War” (NBC Feb. 2, 1968) (showing Captain Kirk’s conflict with the prime
directive when he finds out that a hostile alien race is providing advanced technology to
the enemies of one of his friends in a lesser developed civilization).
69. See 3rd Rock from the Sun, “Brains and Eggs” (NBC Jan. 9, 1996) (TV series)
[hereinafter “Brains and Eggs”] (showing the aliens’ initial arrival on Earth and discussion
of their mission objectives).
70. 3rd Rock from the Sun, “36! 24! 36! Dick! (Part 1)” (NBC Jan. 25, 1998) (TV series)
(depicting the Venusians, a nefarious alien race, apparently exclusively female, infiltrating
Earth under the guise of supermodels) [hereinafter Venusian Episode Part 1].
71. 3rd Rock from the Sun, “Dick and the Other Guy” (NBC Apr. 29, 1998) (TV series).
Visits to a Small Planet 17
must have something “human” about them in order for the view-
ers to accept them.
Third, the human imagination is limited by
what it can concoct in terms of “alien-ness.” What an alien looks
like, what it thinks, how it perceives the world, what motivates
it—all of these things must come out of the brain of a human be-
ing. At some point, if an alien has no experience, narrative or cha-
racteristic that is “human” about it, with which the human viewer
or reader can empathize, that viewer or reader will have difficulty
understanding and identifying with that alien.
As American culture and attitudes changed from the 1960s
through the 1990s, we note a shift from the concerns of the Ken-
nedy and Johnson years. Those concerns included not just civil
rights but also the Vietnam War.
The 1980s and 1990s brought
an emphasis on national security and on balancing domestic con-
cerns such as welfare and education payments with lowering tax-
In the end, the friendly alien-visitor narratives allow us to
engage in dialogue about how we treat others on this planet, and
as we begin exploring the universe, to engage in meaningful di-
alogue, to discuss legal and philosophical notions of human re-
sponsibility toward other sentient beings
that we might encoun-
ter as we begin exploring the universe.
Even non-human alien life will inevitably resemble something viewers or readers can
recognize or imagine, because it arises out of a human being’s imagination. Indeed, one
blogger complains that the popular film Avatar (2009) resembles at least ten other SF
films. See 10 Films Avatar Unfortunately Resembles at
movies-avatar-unfortunately-resembles/ (accessed April 7, 2010).
73. See Irving Bernstein, Guns or Butter: The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson (Oxford
University Press, 1996) (discussing the progressive social programs and contrasing social
unrest of the Johnson years).
See Sean Wilentz, The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 (NY: Harper, 2008) (discuss-
ing the Reagan presidency, his legacy, and the effect of the Clinton years).
75. SF series raise the question of what, exactly, is a sentient being. They also raise
the question of whether a self-aware being should have a right of self-determination. The
answers to these questions are beyond the scope of this Article, but consider the question
presented in the Dred Scott case (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857)). One could
argue, as some of the Overseers do in Alien Nation, that the refugee Newcomers are simply
property and the U.S. government should return them. The 20
century U.S. government
does not agree, apparently because it has determined (persuaded by those ACLU lawyers)
that sentient humanoid life meets the criteria for citizenship under the 14
76. See Judith Barad & Ed Robertson, The Ethics of Star Trek 23 (HarperCollins 2000)
(stating that Star Trek: The Next Generation taught “universal ethical standards” in mul-
tiple episodes, denouncing genocide, exploitation, racism, tyranny, cultural tolerance of
sexism, indifference to homelessness, and mishandling of toxic waste).
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From 1963 to 1966, the series My Favorite Martian
United States audiences to social commentary in the form of com-
In this show, Ray Walston, the respected stage and film
actor, plays a Martian
anthropology professor who specializes in
the study of humans.
During one of his routine trips to Earth,
the Martian crash-lands because of an encounter with the United
States’ X-15 experimental aircraft.
A journalist,
on his way to
77. My Favorite Martian was the first of a number of sixties shows in the fantasy
genre. See e.g. The Addams Family (ABC 1964–1966) (TV series) (showing the lives of a
strange family in suburbia, based on Charles Addams’ cartoon family of the same name);
Bewitched (ABC 1964–1972) (TV series) (featuring a witch who marries a mortal); I Dream
of Jeannie (NBC 1965–1970) (TV series) (telling the story of an astronaut who finds a
genie in a bottle and brings her home with him to Cocoa Beach, Florida); The Munsters
(CBS 1964–1966) (TV series) (depicting the lives of an odd suburban family with a father
similar to Dr. Frankenstein’s monster and a grandfather reminiscent of Dracula); My
Living Doll (CBS 1964–1965) (TV series) (depicting an air force psychiatrist who lives with
a young woman, who is really a robot).
78. While My Favorite Martian is a comedy, many of the conclusions Tim and Martin
come to about human emotions and human relations are serious. These conclusions in-
clude fundamental truths about the necessity for trust between friends, love and compa-
nionship, a sense of belonging, a sense of value, and justice. See e.g. My Favorite Martian,
“The Magnetic Personality and Who Needs It” (CBS Mar. 21, 1965) (TV series) (exhibiting
the importance of trust between friends when Martin’s neighbor and her club sponsor an
ex-convict who falls victim to Martin’s suddenly magnetized body); My Favorite Martian,
“Super Dooper Snooper” (CBS Mar. 22, 1964) (TV series) (showing the need for love and
companionship when Martin’s neighbor takes up private detective work as a hobby be-
cause she is lonely); My Favorite Martian, “Uncle Martin’s Broadcast” (CBS Mar. 8, 1964)
(TV series) [hereinafter Uncle Martin’s Broadcast”] (exhibiting the need for justice when
police authorities suspect Tim of murdering Martin for a newly acquired life insurance
policy); My Favorite Martian, “We Love You, Miss Pringle” (CBS Mar. 28, 1965) (TV series)
(showing the importance of feeling valued when Tim’s former English teacher is forced into
79. The choice of Mars as Martin’s home planet may have been because it is visible
from Earth without a telescope. Eric S. Rabkin, Mars: A Tour of the Human Imagination
65 (Praeger 2005) (stating “Mars became a regular concern for people” because it was
“easily visible even to amateurs”). However, the choice of Mars was also a careful nod to
the early alien-invasion narratives such as H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Wells, supra n.
6; see supra pt. I (discussing War of the Worlds and other alien-invasion narratives).
80. My Favorite Martian, “The Pilot” (CBS, Sept. 29, 1963) (TV series) [hereinafter
“MFM Pilot”].
81. Id. The fiction of the Martian’s visit is that he is a professor of anthropology who
has visited Earth multiple times, but this time his spaceship crashes and he is unable to
repair it and return home. Id. This accident results in his extended stay on Earth.
82. Tim works for the Los Angeles Sun, “the West’s most respected newspaper.” How-
ever, his assignments are often less than distinguished, such as when he writes about a
Visits to a Small Planet 19
cover the flight of the X-15, Tim O’Hara,
rescues the Martian
and names him Uncle Martin.
The military later seizes Tim, demanding to know how he ob-
tained the information he included in a published description of
the X-15’s encounter with a “flying saucer.”
Tim refuses to di-
vulge the origin of the information, citing confidentiality owed to
his sources.
When an officer takes him into custody, Tim pres-
ciently demands a lawyer
and maintains that he has the right to
publish the information about the “close encounter.”
store’s display of extraterrestrials. My Favorite Martian, “There Is No Cure for the Com-
mon Martian” (CBS Oct. 13, 1963) (TV series). But he cannot write the scoop of the cen-
tury because no one would believe him if he wrote about a Martian landing on Earth. By
the 1960s, journalists began to represent the interests of the public in investigating civil
rights violations, government secrecy, and government corruption. See e.g. U.S. v. Hels-
toski, 422 U.S. 476, 479 (1979) (discussing Henry Helstoski, a New Jersey Representative
in Congress from 1965 to 1977, and his conviction for bribery); Mark Grossman, Political
Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power, and Greed 135–137 (ABC-
CLIO, Inc. 2003) (describing Abraham Fortas, an associate justice of the United States
Supreme Court from 1965 to 1969 who was forced to resign his position after becoming
implicated in a financial scandal); Montgomery Bus Incident Recalled, Post-Tribune (Jef-
ferson Cty., M.O.) 7 (Aug. 25, 1964) (describing the incident that resulted from an African
American woman, Rosa Parks’, refusal to move to the rear of a bus); supra n. 7 (discussing
the Roswell incident and ensuing alleged government cover-up). By 1974, Bob Woodward
and Carl Bernstein became heroes for many Americans because of their pursuit of the
Watergate story. See Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men (1974)
and The Washington Post Company, The Watergate Story,
srv/politics/special/watergate/index.html (accessed Mar. 14, 2010).
83. Tim’s profession as a journalist represents the urge to discover truth and to pub-
lish it, the right of everyone to seek information and disseminate it, and the necessity of
guarding the right to privacy. Many of the episodes’ complications arise from others’ inves-
tigations of Martin and Tim’s private lives. See e.g. My Favorite Martian, “RX for a Mar-
tian” (CBS Jan. 19, 1964) (TV series) (showing Martin causing problems at a hospital
when his vital signs and tests show that he is not human). Tim’s career as a journalist
drives many plots. See e.g. My Favorite Martian, An Old Friend of the Family” (CBS Mar.
15, 1964) (TV series) [hereinafter “An Old Friend of the Family”] (showing Martin using
his legendary reputation and inside knowledge of Kobima to help Tim get an exclusive
interview with Kobima’s leader).
84. “MFM Pilot,” supra n. 80. Tim actually obtains the information from Martin, but
as becomes distressingly familiar in nearly every episode, he cannot reveal his source.
85. Id. Tim’s stand takes place long before the United States Supreme Court ruled
that this privilege may be by no means absolute in criminal prosecutions. Branzburg v.
Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972) (holding that a journalist has no First Amendment privilege to
refuse to testify before a grand jury). After this decision, states moved steadily to create
state shield laws, but as of this writing no federal shield law exists.
86. Id. This show aired just months before the Supreme Court ruled that suspects
have a right to counsel. Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964). Three years after the
show, the Supreme Court ruled that suspects must be informed that they have the right to
an attorney if police question them while they are in custody. Miranda v. Arizona, 384
U.S. 436 (1966).
87. “MFM Pilot,” supra n. 80; see Hynek, supra n. 6, at 28–29 (explaining the classifi-
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[Vol. 39
an experimental military aircraft’s brush with a UFO may be a
national security issue—certainly, the officers who pursue Tim
see it that way.
Tim’s problem is that he can never reveal the
truth or his source because most people are unlikely to believe
Ultimately, Martin manages to spring Tim from jail and set
the pursuers on the wrong track by persuading them that elec-
trical interference, not an unidentified flying object, caused the
blip on their radar screen.
The military needs a story consistent
with leaked eyewitness evidence, and Martin provides it.
the series begins.
The introduction of extraterrestrials like Martin in America’s
living rooms
raises a subtle and often unspoken, issue. During
the 1950s and 1960s, parties were arguing in the nation’s cour-
trooms and legislatures over whether the same rights should be
extended to humans who did not share the same physical charac-
teristics such as skin color
or sex.
The United States Supreme
Court did not even rule until 1967 on whether citizens whom a
state classified as being from different “racial” groups could marry
If Americans could not agree that all citizens should en-
joy the same rights, would they be likely to agree that extraterre-
strials, assuming they suddenly appeared in contemporary socie-
ty, should share in all or some of those rights as well?
cation system for human interactions with UFOs and aliens).
88. “MFM Pilot,” supra n. 80.
89. Id. One wonders what he originally told his editor about the origins of his informa-
tion of the story he did publish.
90. Id.
91. Id. The intervention of the military to create this “cover story” suggests the gov-
ernment activities that would have been familiar to the public as a result of the increasing
reports of flying saucers—for example “Project Bluebook.” Later, films such as Men in
Black (Columbia Pictures 1997) (motion picture), in which a secret government agency
handles alien immigration and relations, elaborate on this theme, and on the idea that the
federal government knows more than it divulges about “LGMs”—little green men.
92. For other popular alien-centered television series that aired around the same time
as My Favorite Martian and later achieved cult status see The Outer Limits (ABC 1963–
1965) (TV series); The Twilight Zone (CBS 1959–1964) (TV series).
93. See e.g. Brown v. Board of Educ., 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (holding that segregating
public schools based on skin color of the students was unconstitutional as a matter of law).
94. See e.g. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (2009) (making
disparate treatment in government and public facilities’ employment practices based on a
person’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” illegal).
95. Loving v. Va., 388 U.S. 1 (1967) (holding that it was unconstitutional to restrict
the right to marry solely on the basis of race).
Star Trek, the SF series which aired immediately after MFM, assumed that aliens had
“human rights,” as is obvious from its constant use of the phrase the “prime directive” and
Visits to a Small Planet 21
Although Martin has powers that would seem magical to the
uninitiated human, he rarely reveals them
and never allows the
fact that he has them and that humans do not to influence his
rational thinking. Indeed, Martin revels in critical thinking and
repeatedly demands it of Tim.
He rejects magical thinking,
superstition, and willful ignorance. Martin’s calm, rational ap-
proach to stressful situations is a critique of the political and so-
cial unrest in the Cold War years due to the Bay of Pigs inva-
the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis,
the rapidly expanding
civil rights movement,
and the strengthening liberal movement
in the poor and working classes, though not a criticism of the lib-
eral thinking that led to the latter two movements.
Martin fre-
numerous episodes in which the plot centers on rights. The series reflected the views of its
creator, Gene Roddenberry. See Susan Sackett, Inside Trek: My Secret Life With Star Trek
Creator Gene Roddenberry (Hawk, 2002).
97. Interestingly, Martin is quite willing to communicate with animals, and has very
little reluctance in revealing his powers to them. He may be willing to do so because he
realizes that they cannot communicate his real identity to humans. E.g. My Favorite Mar-
tian, “Doggone Martian(CBS Mar. 6, 1966) (TV series) (showing Tim trying to use Mar-
tin’s powers to find out where a stray dog lives).
98. See e.g. My Favorite Martian, “Tim, the Mastermind” (CBS Oct. 17, 1965) (TV
series) (depicting Martin convincing Tim to take his memory pills, which turns Tim into
one of the smartest men in the universe).
99. Similarly, the alien visitors in 3rd Rock from the Sun reject Vicki Dubcek’s as-
sumption that they have “magical” powers. When she asks if they can perform any super-
natural feats and asks them to “move that from there to there,” pointing to an object on the
coffee table, Sally picks up the object and moves it. “Wow,” says Vicki irrationally. 3rd
Rock from the Sun, “Dick’s Big Giant Headache, Part 2” (NBC May 25, 1999) (TV series).
100. See Thomas G. Paterson, Kennedy’s Quest for Victory: American Foreign Policy,
1961–1963 (Oxford U. Press 1989) (recounting in detail the Bay of Pigs incident and its
aftermath, which President Kennedy generally admitted was a massive miscalculation).
101. Robert F. Kennedy, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis 124–128
(1st ed., W.W. Norton & Co. 1969). This is the classic story of the Cuban Missile Crisis by
an insider. As Attorney General, Kennedy was one of his brother John’s principal advisors
during the administration and urged the President toward the strategy that eventually
defused what very likely would have been the start of a nuclear war. Id.
102. Thomas G. Paterson, Kennedy’s Quest for Victory: American Foreign Policy, 1961–
1963, 3–23 (Oxford U. Press 1989) (describing the expanding civil rights movement).
103. Id. at 4–5; see generally John Woolley & Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency
Project, Political Party Platforms, Parties Receiving Electoral Votes: 18402008, Democrat-
ic Party Platform of 1960, (ac-
cessed Mar. 14, 2010) (describing the Democratic Party platform in 1960, which included
promises for full employment, assistance to depressed areas, a fight against employment
discrimination, and housing assistance); John Woolley & Gerhard Peters, The American
Presidency Project, Political Party Platforms, Parties Receiving Electoral Votes: 1840–2008,
Democratic Party Platform of 1964, (accessed Mar. 14, 2010) (de-
scribing the Democratic Party platform in 1964, which included highlighting the creation
of over four million jobs since the previous December, the promise of full employment, aid
to depressed areas, the end to employment discrimination, and improvement to education).
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[Vol. 39
quently admonishes Tim that many human fears are the result of
superstition, including the fear of others who seem “different.”
Thus, one of the messages that emerges subtly but clearly from
My Favorite Martian is that, even though humans may have dif-
ferent skin color, different socio-economic backgrounds, and dif-
ferent beliefs, all are entitled to the same legal status and social
respect, and all are required to render it to others.
Indeed, Martin’s alien powers regularly cause problems,
showing reluctance and distrust within society for someone—or
something—different from the norm. In “Going, Going, Gone,”
sunspots cause problems with Martin’s metabolism, and he dis-
Simultaneously, Tim purchases an insurance policy on
Martin’s life in order to please their landlady Mrs. Brown,
the police then suspect Tim of murdering Martin.
Likewise, in
“Uncle Martin’s Broadcast,” Tim uses Martin’s antennae to pick
up police broadcasts so he can get a jump on breaking news, but,
when Tim cannot explain how he has so much inside information,
law enforcement suspects Tim of being involved in the crimes.
Because Martin is different, he fears persecution.
He thus
values his privacy to the point that it has more of an impact on
104. My Favorite Martian, supra n. 11. In his prior visits to Earth, Martin might not
have been so careful to disguise his alien powers and might have been more likely to use
them to “awe the natives,” just as some Western explorers used their scientific knowledge
to overcome resistance on the part of those they encountered during their travels to the
New World. See Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jef-
ferson, and the Opening of the American West (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996). In one
episode, Martin’s discussion of his visit to “Kobima,” a fictional area somewhere in Africa
or Asia, suggests he used his levitation ability to create a persona that could awe and
frighten the people he was visiting. “An Old Friend of the Family,” supra n. 83. Similarly,
in another episode, Martin had to retrieve an Aztec statue made in his image that would
reveal his prior visit to Earth. My Favorite Martian, “El Señor from Mars” (CBS June 13,
1965) (TV series). Such allusions suggest that while his previous visits would have fed into
local folklore (and might have violated a prime directive, if such a thing existed), they
would not have been particularly problematic for him in terms of a violation of his privacy
since he could easily have escaped in his spaceship. But in twentieth century society, he
cannot so easily escape. Apart from the fact that his spaceship is damaged, many more
people know of his presence, and thus would notice his absence. In the America of the
1960s, people, even people with no formal documents, leave traces.
105. “Going, Going, Gone,” supra n. 52.
106. “Uncle Martin’s Broadcast,” supra n. 78.
107. Id.
108. Id.
109. See My Favorite Martian, “If You Can’t Lick ’Em” (CBS Apr. 26, 1964) (TV series)
(showing Martin accidentally creating a new fashion accessory that becomes wildly popu-
lar, but highlighting Martin’s choice to sign over all of the rights to the idea to avoid un-
wanted attention).
Visits to a Small Planet 23
his life than it might otherwise.
Martin’s desire to avoid atten-
tion from the authorities parallels the then nascent technology
and privacy rights concerns of the early 1960s. In a discussion of
the history of privacy rights, Judith Wagner DeCew notes that,
[b]y 1960, William Prosser argued that privacy in tort law
was recognized by an overwhelming number of American
courts. He described the law of privacy as comprising four
distinct kinds of tort invasion: (1) intrusion upon the plain-
tiff’s seclusion or solitude, or into his private affairs
(2) public disclosure of embarrassing private facts about the
plaintiff (3) publicity that places the plaintiff in a false light
in the public eye (4) appropriation, for the defendant’s ad-
vantage, of the plaintiff’s name or likeness[.] Prosser’s four-
part interest analysis was then incorporated into the Second
Restatement of Torts, and both became influential for the
But, she continues,
In 1964, Dean Edward J. Bloustein contented in a New York
University Law Review article that Prosser’s description was
inadequate and conceptually thin. Bloustein argued . . . that
protection of informational privacy in tort law formed a uni-
tary concept, which he described as protection for individual
liberty to do as we will and protection from the affront to
human dignity occurring when individuals and government
invade our privacy. In Bloustein’s view, the emotional dis-
tress felt is a consequence of a loss of privacy and can be
used as a measure for damages, but the fundamental basis
of the legal injury in tort, Fourth Amendment, and related
cases is the affront to human dignity.
Regardless of which privacy rights model they adopted, Ameri-
cans steadily litigated more privacy claims beginning in 1960.
110. Id.
111. Judith Wagner Decew, In Pursuit of Privacy: Law, Ethics, and the Rise of Technol-
ogy 17 (Cornell U. Press 1997).
112. Id. at 17–18.
113. A December 8, 2009, terms and connectors search conducted in the LexisNexis
“Federal & State Cases, Combined” database using the search “invasion w/2 privacy”
yielded 17 cases from January 1, 1960 to December 31, 1960. A December 8, 2009, terms
and connectors search conducted in the LexisNexis “Federal & State Cases, Combined”
database using the search “invasion w/2 privacy” yielded 49 cases from January 1, 1965 to
Stetson 03/25/10 Law Review
[Vol. 39
As an observer, Martin represents the liberal conscience of the
Kennedy and Johnson Administration.
As the quintessential
undocumented alien, he also functions as the target of social, le-
gal and political oppression. The right he clings to most persis-
tently is the right to be left alone.
If anyone discovers that he
has no social security number, no birth certificate, no finger-
prints, no job history, and no papers,
he will become an exhibit
in a government zoo
—at least temporarily.
For example, in
“A Nose for News,” Martin interviews an ambassador in order to
December 31, 1965. A December 8, 2009, terms and connectors search conducted in the
LexisNexis “Federal & State Cases, Combined” database using the search “invasion w/2
privacy” yielded 89 cases from January 1, 1970 to December 31, 1970. A December 8, 2009,
terms and connectors search conducted in the LexisNexis Federal & State Cases, Com-
bined” database using the search “invasion w/2 privacy” yielded 200 cases from January 1,
1975 to December 31, 1975.
114. See Irving Bernstein, Guns or Butter: The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson (Oxford
University Press, 1996) (discussing the progressive social programs and contrasing social
unrest of the Johnson years). This liberal conscience was also seen in the original Star
Trek series. See e.g. Star Trek, “The Cloud Minders” (NBC Feb. 28, 1969) (TV series) (de-
picting the members of the Enterprise denouncing an elitist society in which intellectuals
and artists live in a utopian metropolis while the remaining inhabitants work in mines to
support them).
115. See supra nn. 109–110 and accompanying text (discussing Martin’s desire for pri-
vacy because he recognizes that society would not accept his differences). See generally
Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy,4 Harv. L. Rev. 193 (1890),
which set out the foundations of what U.S. legal scholars consider as privacy law, Griswold
v. Connecticut, 391 U.S. 479 (1965) (recognizing a married couple’s right to use birth con-
trol); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) (generally recognizing a woman’s right to seek an
abortion); and Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347 (1967) (prohibiting law enforcement from record-
ing a telephone booth conversation without a warrant). See also Jeffrey Rosen, The Un-
wanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America (2000) and Daniel J. Solove, The Fu-
ture of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet (2007).
116. My Favorite Martian, “Raffles No. 2” (CBS Dec. 8, 1963) (TV series). Of course, for
a clever alien like Martin, these problems are really not problems at all because, as a being
that could inspire Leonardo da Vinci to paint La Gioconda, he could easily create false
documents; however, if Martin could deal with such problems so easily there would be no
television show. My Favorite Martian, “Martin Meets His Match” (CBS Mar. 27, 1966) (TV
117. See 3rd Rock from the Sun, supra n. 13 (showing fellow aliens reminding each
other through references to the television series Alien Autopsy: (Fact or Fiction?) that it
was better not to reveal their true identities to humans for fear that the United States
government would rather dissect them than interview them); Alien Autopsy: (Fact or Fic-
tion?) (Fox Broad. Co. 1995) (TV movie) (showing black and white documentary footage of
a 1947 autopsy on an extraterrestrial being).
118. This imprisonment is very likely to be temporary because Martin has many pow-
ers such as telepathy and the ability to disappear. “Man on the Couch,” supra n. 52 (depict-
ing Martin’s telepathic powers); My Favorite Martian, “My Favorite Martian; How’re You
Gonna Keep Them Down on the Pharmacy?” (CBS May 10, 1964) (TV series) (showing
Martin disappearing).
Formatted: Font: 8 pt, Italic, No underline
Visits to a Small Planet 25
get “the big story” and save Tim’s job.
Tim’s editor is impressed
and offers Martin a job on the newspaper. Tim is excited, but
Martin points out that he could not possibly accept the position.
“How could I answer all those questions? What was your mother’s
maiden name? When did you have the chicken pox?”
Tim realiz-
es in dismay, “You don’t exist here.”
Another message My Favorite Martian conveys is that simply
because a race of beings might be physically or intellectually more
developed does not mean that it should necessarily interfere with
a group of beings that might be less developed. My Favorite Mar-
tian holds that beings (read groups or individuals) should develop
at their own pace. Martin constantly admonishes Tim that nei-
ther one of them should use Martin’s Martian powers to influence
human affairs
because human beings need the time to develop
and make decisions on their own.
Whenever Martin’s many un-
usual inventions
and Martian imports
tempt Tim to use them
to his own or humanity’s advantage, the attempts always end in
The moral, as Martin points out, is that Martian “su-
periority” is not a goal to which Earthlings should aspire.
119. My Favorite Martian, “A Nose for News” (CBS June 21, 1964) (TV series).
120. Id.
121. Id.
122. Id.
123. Despite his statements that he does not wish to interfere with human affairs, he
does not seem to have a prime directive. See supra n. 68 (discussing the history of the term
prime directive). However, throughout the series, Martin refers to times when he has posi-
tively influenced human development by talking with Aesop, Cleopatra, Isaac Newton,
Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Edison, making the meddling seem both good-hearted
and, if we can believe him, ultimately helpful. My Favorite Martian, supra n. 11.
124. See My Favorite Martian, Time Out for Martin” (CBS June 20, 1965) (TV series)
(showing the main characters traveling back to England in 1215 where the human inter-
feres with history and the Martian must remedy the error).
125. See e.g. id. (showing Martin inventing a time machine).
126. See e.g. My Favorite Martian, “Won’t You Come Home, Martin, Won’t You Come
Home?” (CBS Dec. 27, 1964) (showing Martin with a light bulb, the “benevolence bulb,”
that makes people like him). One can only wonder how Martin got all the Martian para-
phernalia into his spaceship to begin with.
127. See e.g. My Favorite Martian, “Go West Young Martian: Part 1” (CBS Sept. 12
1965) (TV series) (showing Martin using his time machine and, due to Tim’s error, ending
up in the wrong place and in the wrong point in time); My Favorite Martian, “Go West
Young Martian: Part 2” (CBS Sept. 19, 1965) (TV series) (showing Martin and Tim extract-
ing themselves from a difficult situation created by the use of the time machine); My Fa-
vorite Martian, “Pay the Man the $24” (CBS May 1, 1966) (showing Tim influencing histo-
ry when he uses the time machine and convinces Native Americans not to sell the island of
128. My Favorite Martian, supra n. 11.
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[Vol. 39
man beings should work through their own problems because
shortcuts to wisdom simply do not exist. Thus, humans should
evolve, as Martians have, at their own pace.
An essential part of humanity’s evolution is intellectual de-
velopment. Humanity may achieve this through using reason
as well as through education and acculturation. Martin unders-
cores the importance of education when he enrolls his nephew in
school even though Martians are an intellectually superior group
of beings.
This lesson is repeated in later friendly alien narra-
The underlying message is that, without education, intel-
lectual development, and exposure to one another, humans are
doomed to be an ignorant, repressed race on an insignificant pla-
net, circling a minor star in a backwater part of only one of many,
many galaxies.
We find much of the same “rights talk” in My Favorite Mar-
tian in the later series Alien Nation. Alien Nation takes place in
Los Angeles, in the 1990s.
A group of aliens, called Newcomers,
having crash landed in the Mojave Desert, are now refugees
among the humans. For the native humans, the Newcomers are
the alien nation and conversely, for the newly arrived aliens, the
humans are also quite alien.
Thus, the show presents us with
two kinds of alien nations.
The writers also seem to suggest, as other SF writers suggest, that there may be a right to develop at
one’s own pace without interference. This right seems to mesh with the “prime directive” notion (supra
n. 159 and accompanying text). See also United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples, 61/295, Adopted September 13, 2007 (affirming the right of indigenous peoples’ “to develop-
ment in accordance with their own needs and interests”. In some cases, human beings might be the
“indigenous peoples” but not always.
130. See supra nn. 97–104 and accompanying text (discussing Martin’s emphasis on the
importance of reason during a decade of emotional instability).
131. “When You Get Back to Mars”, supra n. 61.
132. Alien Nation, “Alien Nation” (Fox Broad. Co. Sept. 18, 1989) (TV series) [hereinaf-
ter “Alien Nation Pilot”] (depicting the alien children attending school); “Brains and Eggs,”
supra n. 69 (showing the alien High Commander enrolling the alien teen in a local junior
high school). In no case do the aliens suggest that their children should not attend school.
The intellectual superiority of the alien children in Alien Nation breeds jealousy, masked
as contempt, among some of the human children, serving as an analogy to the Asian-
American children in the California public school system. “Alien Nation Pilot,” supra
n. 132; see infra n. 230 (discussing the contempt bred among other ethnicities at the supe-
rior academic performance of Asian Americans in California public schools).
133. Alien Nation Series, supra n. 12.
134. Even the human names sound strange to the aliens as the human protagonist
Matthew Sikes discovers. His name sounds like the phrase “cranial excrement” in the alien
Visits to a Small Planet 27
The themes of intercultural conflict and the need for cultural
negotiations drive Alien Nation. Says Kenneth Johnson, the pro-
ducer of the television series and the made-for-television movies,
I was very intrigued with the idea of exploring what it’s like
to be the latest people off the boat . . . the newest addition to
our society in America, and it’s sort of an opportunity to ex-
plore what it was like to be the world’s newest minority. At
the same time we could explore what kind of cultural, eth-
nic, religious, mythological, biological differences these
people represent . . . . It’s really a show about cultural clash
and cultural conflict. One new species trying to assimilate
itself into another, which makes for a lot of conflict, a lot of
anger, a lot of humor—“Welcome to Earth, here are your tax
Alien Nation explores relationships between different huma-
noid groups and the problems such relationships can create. The
relationships include the tensions and developing friendship be-
tween two police officers—the human Matthew Sikes,
and the
Newcomer George Francisco—the relationship among members of
an alien family, and the relationships between an alien family
and their human friends and neighbors in a new—and alien (to
The show also explores the difficulties experienced
in a romantic relationship between members of different humano-
id species.
language, Tencton. Id.
135. This is a play on words—alien nation or alienation.
136. Gross, supra n. 53, at 58. Living in the United States society has tremendous ad-
vantages and it also has responsibilities, among them filling out one’s dreaded I.R.S.
forms. See Drake Software, Your Complete Tax Information Source: Tax Headlines, (accessed Mar. 14, 2010) (providing information and guidance
about completing the United States federal government individual tax return form, Form
1040). The United States government has inaugurated a “kinder, gentler” image. IRS, IRS
Begins Tax Season 2009 with Steps to Help Financially Distressed Taxpayers; Promotes
Credits, e-File Options,,,id=202244,00.html (Jan. 6,
137. The last name Sikes is spelled as “Sikes” in the television series and as “Sykes” in
the original motion picture.
138. “Alien Nation Pilot,” supra n. 132.
139. Id. Because the white male on the show is involved with an alien female rather
than a human non-white female, the producers and writers could direct the progression of
the relationships from friendship to intimacy without worrying quite so much about a
racial backlash, although interracial relationships are no longer a rarity on contemporary
television. See Ann Oldenburg, Love is No Longer Color Coded On TV, (ac-
Stetson 03/25/10 Law Review
[Vol. 39
Almost immediately, the humans label the Tenctonese aliens
“Newcomers,” a word that signifies their separation from the
larger, human society at the same time that it suggests their ori-
After the Newcomers’ arrival, the humans do not imme-
diately accept them into society. Support for the Newcomers’ citi-
zenship is apparently mixed. Initially the Newcomers do not have
the right to vote.
Apparently, the phrase “all men are created
equal” does not include extraterrestrials.
Although the term
“men” had been expanded over the past hundreds of years to in-
clude women
and persons regardless of their skin color it ap-
parently does not include the idea of sentients of other species.
Even after the Newcomers receive their citizenship papers, they
do not have voting rights, a state of affairs inconsistent with the
Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which provides that
the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be de-
nied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account
of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Why the United States Constitution does not grant the New-
comers voting rights despite their status as citizens is a mystery.
It is perhaps because of the legal history of the African-American
battle for voting rights.
The explanation might be that the
cessed Mar. 14, 2010) (describing a variety of interracial relationships on popular televi-
sion shows in 2005).
140. Since the word “newcomer” is also close to the word “welcome,” it could have some
overtones of friendliness, although societies do not automatically welcome all newcomers.
141. “Alien Nation Pilot,” supra n. 132.
142. SF literature has also raised the question of whether the United States Constitu-
tion imparts rights to extraterrestrial androids. The question of robot rights is beyond the
scope of this Article but I consider it in another article in progress. For a television episode
in which an android explores the question of self-determination, see Star Trek: The Next
Generation, “The Measure of a Man” (CBS Feb. 11, 1989) (TV series). For a film in which
an android fights for the right to marry, see Bicentennial Man (Columbia Pictures &
Touchtone Pictures 1999) (motion picture). For the results of a British governmental study
predicting the possibility of robot rights, see BBC News, Robots Could Demand Legal
Rights, (Dec. 21, 2006).
143. U.S. Const. amend. XIX.
144. The United States Constitution states, “All persons born or naturalized in the
United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and
of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall ab-
ridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State
deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any
person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV,
§ 1.
145. U.S. Const. amend. XV.
146. For a more comprehensive history of the fight for African Americans’ right to vote
J. Morgan Kousser, Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the
Visits to a Small Planet 29
Newcomers are not “human,” but the amendment does not read
“human persons.” Apparently the United States government is
struggling with accepting a new group of marginalized “per-
As the Newcomers assimilate into human culture, the show
examines how far that assimilation must go. For example, the
Newcomer children have to attend school.
Yet one issue left
unexplored is whether their education should be bilingual in
Tencton and English.
Second Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 1999); Richard Valelly, The
Two Reconstructions: The Struggle For Black Enfranchisement (University of Chicago
Press, 2004).
147. See Alien Nation, “Spirit of ’95” (Fox Broad. Co. Jan. 15, 1990) (TV series) [herei-
nafter “Spirit of ’95”] (opening with a discussion of the women’s suffrage movement and
centering on the Newcomers’ fight for full citizenship rights). If we were to clone Neander-
thals we might face analogous issues. Ronald Bailey discusses the question in an article for
Reason Magazine. Ronald Bailey, Neanderthal Rights: The Morality of Resurrecting Our
Closest Evolutionary Cousins, (Feb. 17,
2009). Assuming that it were technically possible to do so, and at least one scientist thinks
it is, would Neanderthals have the same rights as we do? What if they are of limited intel-
lectual capacity? Ronald Bailey asks,
So what if we bring back Neanderthals and it turns out that their intellectual ca-
pacities are so dissimilar from ours that they cannot cope successfully with modern
life? Should we control their fertility so that they go extinct again? This comes un-
comfortably close to the eugenic arguments used to justify sterilizing people who
were deemed mentally defective in the 20th century. Or perhaps Neanderthals
could be placed in reservations where they would be allowed to develop without fur-
ther interference from modern humans. Would this be akin to confining them to a
Id. Consider also the claims of such Neanderthals (and the popular culture image of
Neanderthals) against the backdrop of the Dred Scott decision. Might the Neanderthals
face a 21
century Dred Scott decision, or would a United Nations resolution such as the
one referenced infra n. 347 protect them?
My colleague Ray Diamond points out Mr. Justice Harlan’s comments concerning inclusion
and exclusion in his dissent in Plessy.
There is a race so different from our own that we do not
permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are,
with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But, by
the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the
United States, while citizens of the black race in Louisiana, many of whom, perhaps, risked their
lives for the preservation of the Union, who are entitled, by law, to participate in the political
control of the state and nation, who are not excluded, by law or by reason of their race, from pub-
lic stations of any kind, and who have all the legal rights that belong to white citizens, are yet
declared to be criminals, liable to imprisonment, if they ride in a public coach occupied by citizens
of the white race.” Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 561 (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting).
148. See e.g. Alien Nation, “Little Lost Lamb” (Fox Broad. Co. Oct. 2, 1989) (TV series)
(showing the Newcomer Emily Francisco rehearsing for a role as “Pocahontas” in a school
149. Of course, Tenctonese are such good English speakers that it may not matter. Like
other outsiders forced to assimilate, they are examples of the outsiders who do so perhaps
Stetson 03/25/10 Law Review
[Vol. 39
In the pilot episode, human police officers Matthew Sikes and
Newcomer George Francisco head to George’s daughter’s school as
she attempts to integrate it.
In a scene reminiscent of the
showdown between Governor Orville Farbus and the United
States Marshals in 1957, Sikes faces down a white woman who
harangues a crowd, some carrying signs reading “America for
Humans,” with racist talk about the “slags” who do not belong at
the school or in that part of community.
He even asks a black
man in the crowd “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? Aren’t you?
He then informs the crowd that anyone still around in three mi-
nutes will be under arrest for “violation of the Civil Rights Act of
Alien Nation makes use of analogies to world history through
storylines that recall the Third Reich,
the history of slavery in
too well. Yet, to preserve their culture, they may still want their language and culture
taught in school, and humans might want the opportunity to learn Tencton. Tencton, like
Klingon in the Star Trek series, is an invented language. See Star Trek (NBC 1966–1969)
(TV Series) [hereinafter Star Trek Series] (introducing the Klingons, an alien race, and
their unique language). There is also a Klingon dictionary; see Marc Okrand, The Klingon
Dictionary (1992), and Lawrence Schoen has translated Hamlet into Klingon (The Klingon
Hamlet (2000)). Alien Nation often provides Tencton subtitles for English speaking view-
ers to emphasize the unique Tencton culture. See generally Alien Nation Series, supra
n. 12 (showing Tencton subtitles during English dialogues). A “Tencton” dictionary now
exists. Michele Scarabelli: Don’t Call Me Melon-Head! (accessed Mar. 14, 2010).
Note that the lyrics heard in the opening credits of the series, which are sung in the alien
language, are actually director Kenneth Johnson’s s wife and daughter’s names sung
backward. Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection (20th Cent.-Fox 2008) (DVD) (Disc 2:
Body and Soul, “Commentary”).
150. “Alien Nation Pilot,” supra n. 132.
151. Id.
152. Id.; see The Civil Rights Act of 1964, (prohibiting discrimination in government
and employment, securing voting rights, and and prohibiting discrimination in public
accommodations and education, P.L. 88-352, codified at 42. U.S. C. 1971. He must be as-
suming that Tenctonese fit within the definition of “race” or “national origin” in the Act.
But there are no criminal provisions in the Act. One can make another analogy to the caste
and class systems such as the one most prominently seen in India. See Susan Bayly, Caste,
Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age (The New
Cambridge History of India) ch. IV, 3 (Cambridge U. Press 2001); and Murray Milner,
Status and Sacredness: A General Theory of Status Relations and an Analysis of Indian
Culture ch. 1 (Oxford U. Press 1994). Undocumented children do, however, have a right to
attend school. See Pyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 230 (1982) (holding “[i]f the State is to deny a
discrete group of innocent children the free public education that it offers to other children
residing within its borders, that denial must be justified by a showing that it furthers
some substantial state interest”). Certainly, aliens lawfully within the territory of the
United States have a right to send their children to taxpayer-supported schools.
153. The Udara Legacy, supra n. 64.
Visits to a Small Planet 31
the United States,
and racism and sexism. It engages viewers
in thought about whether, and how far, we are willing to extend
affirmative action and the right to work,
the right to marry,
and the right to be left alone.
Alien Nation focuses on several of the same issues as Star
but places the characters in modern American society.
In particular, the show examines the rights of association, of free
speech, of travel, and the right to be free from discrimination in
an attempt to remind us that the civil rights lessons of the 1960s
and 1970s are still not fully understood.
While Star Trek
presents a hopeful, almost cheerful view of the interaction among
alien races, Alien Nation confronts the issues in question and is
sometimes less than sanguine about our ability to solve the prob-
lems at hand. In particular, Alien Nation absorbs and updates the
racist speech of the pre-civil rights and early civil rights era and
transfers it to remarks about the “Newcomers.” For example, cer-
154. Alien Nation: The Enemy Within (20th Cent.-Fox 1996) (TV movie).
155. “Alien Nation Pilot,” supra n. 132 (depicting aliens working civil service jobs).
156. Alien Nation Series, supra n. 12 (depicting a human male and an alien female
falling in love).
157. Alien Nation, “Eyewitness News” (Fox Broad. Co. Feb. 5, 1990) (TV series) [herei-
nafter “Eyewitness News”].
158. For legal issues in Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation see Richard J.
Peltz, On a Wagon Train to Afghanistan: Limitations on Star Trek’s Prime Directive, 25 U.
Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. 635 (2003) (discussing the application of Star Trek’s prime direc-
tive in contemporary culture); Michael P. Scharf & Lawrence D. Robert, The Interstellar
Relations of the Federation: International Law and “Star Trek: The Next Generation, 25 U.
Toledo L. Rev. 577 (1994) (exploring the legal issues that Star Trek: The Next Generation
presents); and Thomas C. Wingfield, Lillich On Interstellar Law: U.S. Naval Regulations,
Star Trek, and the Use of Force in Space, 46 S.D. L. Rev. 72 (2001) (analyzing interstellar
law in light of the Star Trek television series).
159. The original Star Trek series does have some episodes that take place in contem-
porary American society because time travel is a popular script device in the Star Trek
universe (and in SF generally). See e.g. Star Trek, “Assignment: Earth” (Paramount Mar.
29, 1968) (TV series) (showing the Enterprise crew helping a time-travelling human go
back in time to avert a disaster that would change history); Star Trek, The City on the
Edge of Forever” (Paramount Apr. 6, 1967) (TV series) (telling the story of Captain Kirk
and Mr. Spock returning to Depression-era America to prevent Dr. McCoy from changing
history and making certain the U.S. enters the Second World War on the side of the
Allies); Star Trek, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (Paramount Jan. 26, 1967) (TV series) (show-
ing the Enterprise crew back in Earth’s orbit in the 1960s when the Air Force identifies it
ironically as a UFO).
160. See generally, Carol J. Greenhouse, Life Stories, Law’s Stories: Subjectivity and
Responsibility in the Politicization of the Discourse of “Identity, 13 Pol. & Leg. Anthropol-
ogy Rev. 79 (2008) (discussing the political battle within the United States Congress over
the Civil Rights Act of 1990 and the continuing argument over civil rights in the United
Stetson 03/25/10 Law Review
[Vol. 39
tain anti-Newcomer groups, called “Purists,” refer to the Newco-
mers as Slags” and “Spongeheads,” derogatory terms that de-
grade and debase the Newcomers. Although the Newcomers rare-
ly react, their human friends often object.
Even individuals who
are not members of Purist groups will use such terms in jokes or
in passing conversation, apparently without realizing that such
language is offensive.
The point is obviously to make clear to
the audience that such speech labels, marginalizes, and hurts.
Those majority groups that adopt such language do so though-
tlessly, without realizing that some minority groups who might
find it objectionable might also be unable to respond, either legal-
ly or socially.
Note however, that the Tenctonese are physically and intel-
lectually superior to the humans who surround and outnumber
them. What protects those humans who choose to malign them is
first, the Tenctonese respect for the rule of law (socialization),
second, the Tenctonese slowness to anger (possibly genetics, pos-
sibly education), and third, the Tenctonese fear of extermination
(knowledge of history), which may disappear as the Newcomers
grow in number, become citizens, become acculturated, and be-
come accustomed to their rights.
The ease with which we as viewers accept the possibility of
such speech is frightening; we recognize instinctively that, al-
though the group may change, human beings have always identi-
fied some group as other,” “lesser,” or even as “non-human.” In
the case of Asians,
and Native Americans,
161. Alien Nation Series, supra n. 12
162. Id.
163. See Henry Yu, Thinking Orientals: Migration, Contact, and Exoticism in Modern
America (Oxford U. Press 2001) (describing social and historical categories like race, iden-
tity, and culture particularly in the case of Asian Americans’ assimilation into the United
States culture).
164. Negative images of African-Americans are ubiquitous, and attention is now turn-
ing to discussion of positive images of black role models, including in the mystery and
detective fiction genre. Among the most provocative and complete studies of the treatment
of African Americans in literature is Stephen F. Soitos, The Blues Detective: A Study of
African American Detective Fiction (U. of Mass. 1996). For additional critical analysis of
African American literature, see generally Helen Lock, A Case of Mis-Taken Identity: De-
tective Undercurrents in Recent African American Fiction (Peter Lang 1994) (providing a
comprehensive analysis of detective themes in African American literature); Madelyn
Jablon & Rehoboth Beach, Making the Faces Black: The African-American Detective Novel,
in Changing Representations of Minorities, East and West 26 (Larry E. Smith & John
Rieder eds., U. of Haw. 1996) (studying the detective genre within African American lite-
rature); Bonnie C. Plummer, Subverting the Voice: Barbara Neely’s African American De-
Visits to a Small Planet 33
marginalization began arguably with the arrival of colonial set-
tlers. . Indeed, such an analogy seems to have been paramount in
writer/creator Rockne O’Bannon’s mind. O’Bannon states,
Because the aliens in Alien Nation were anthropomorphic in
body, and possessed language, they certainly appeared more
human than animal—which only helped to bring the ques-
tion of “what constitutes ‘humanity’” into cleaner perspec-
tive. How do you categorize a being that is so close to being
human, yet isn’t? Every time the aliens were rejected, belit-
tled, diminished by humans, it became the perfect parallel to
any race or society who deems themselves superior and di-
minishes the rights and dignity of another. But, because it
was being told in the “one step removed from reality” genre
of science fiction, it was easier for audiences to perhaps wit-
ness their own prejudices without immediately being turned
off by a “message” film rubbing their noses in it.
Although O’Bannon conceived the film, he was not involved in the
creation of the television series scripts, and has no information on
the interests and motivations of the series’ writers. However, he
tective, 20:1 Clues: A Journal of Detection 77–88 (Spring–Summer 1999) (studying the
black female amateur detective, Blanche White, in Barbara Neely’s detective series); and
Joe Weixlmann, Culture Clash, Survival, and Trans-Formation: A Study of Some Innova-
tive Afro-American Novels of Detection, 38:1 Mississippi Q. 21–32 (Winter 1984–1985)
(providing a critical analysis of detective fiction within African American literature).
165. See Marilyn Jeanne Anderson, The Image of the American Indian in American
Drama: From 1766 to 1845 (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, U. of Minn., 1974) (on file
with Stetson Law Review) (discussing the treatment of Native Americans within early
United States dramatic literature); Laura Schrager Fishman, How Noble the Savage? The
Image of the American Indian in French and English Travel Accounts, ca. 1550–1680 (un-
published Ph.D. dissertation U. of N.Y. 1979) (on file with Stetson Law Review) (discus-
singk the treatment of Native Americans within early French and English travel litera-
ture); Theodore S. Jojola, Moo Mesa: Some Thoughts on Stereotypes and Image Appropria-
tion, in Dressing in Feathers: The Construction of the American Popular Culture 263 (S.
Elizabeth Bird ed., Westview Press 1996) (exploring the creation of Native American ste-
reotypes within the United States popular culture). For further analysis of Native Ameri-
can detectives and other role models, see generally Jane S. Bakerman, Joe Leaphorn and
the Navajo Way: Tony Hillerman’s Indian Detective Fiction, 2: Clues: A Journal of Detec-
tion 9–16 (Spring–Summer 1981) (discussing how Tony Hillerman integrates knowledge of
the Navajo people in his Joe Leaphorn fiction series); Tom Quirk, Justice on the Reserva-
tion, 18: Armchair Detective: A Quarterly Journal Devoted to the Appreciation of Mystery,
Detective and Suspense Fiction 364–370 (Fall 1985) (discussing the treatment of Native
Americans in detective literature).
166. Email from Rockne O’Bannon, creator of Alien Nation, to Christine Corcos, Assoc.
Prof., La. St. U. L. Ctr. (Aug. 19, 2001) (copy on file with Stetson Law Review) [hereinafter
O’Bannon E-mail].
Stetson 03/25/10 Law Review
[Vol. 39
speculates that the question of human/alien rights continued to
be a central focus of the series.
Concerning the purposes of
Alien Nation, O’Bannon says:
With my film Alien Nation, my [interest] was in examining
the question of human rights as applied to a group of indi-
viduals who would certainly have to be categorized as “non-
humans.” There is speculation among futurists that some
day not too far off, there will be test cases where animals
will be afforded some direct protections under laws currently
reserved for humans. At which time the social/legal question
at the center of Alien Nation will come into more direct re-
lief—albeit with more down-to-earth players (namely terre-
strial animals rather than extraterrestrial aliens).
O’Bannon understands, perhaps more than some other writers,
how much influence the law has on the ordering of a rule-
conscious society into which marginalized groups request admit-
tance. He states,
In my original draft of the screenplay, there was an opening
narration that told a little more about how the aliens came
to be integrated with human society. Once the alien space-
craft was discovered and guided into orbit around Earth, and
the 350,000 occupants awakened from their state of cryonic
sleep, the conditions aboard the ship were instantly intoler-
able. In the narration it was stated that the ACLU imme-
diately leaped in and petitioned to bring these beings to
Earth rather than condemn them to die in their overcrowded
craft. The question of how the law was to treat these non-
humans was thrust out there right on the first page of the
While the scriptwriters have fun with American popular cul-
ture itself, the result is that the American dominant culture is
pushing out the minority Newcomer culture. First, poor Neilsen
ratings result in the cancellation of a Newcomer comedian’s
vaudeville comedy show.
Its replacement is a talk show fea-
167. Id.
168. Id.
169. Id.
170. Alien Nation: Millennium (20th Cent.-Fox Jan. 2, 1996) (TV movie).
Visits to a Small Planet 35
turing George Stephanopoulos and Tori Spelling.
Second, in the
TV movie, Alien Nation: Millennium, American consumerism
quickly sucks in the unwary Newcomer, Detective George Fran-
cisco, when he runs up his Visa bill.
His wife Susan tells him
that this is a symptom of his “PSM”--post-slave mentality.
Some workers at the Bureau of Newcomer Affairs
have giv-
en or assisted Newcomers in choosing new “Earth names,” most of
which seem intended to either bring forth laughs or induce philo-
sophical thinking in viewers.
One of the aliens, frequently ac-
cused of being mentally challenged,
who works as a janitor at
the police station, is named “Albert Einstein.”
Albert’s mental
capacity distracts us from his very real abilities; he is clearly a
stand-in for humans whose mental processes are different from
the norm. Those whose mental abilities are different are often
labeled as belonging to groups in which they might not otherwise
Various other characters have names like “Edgar Allan-
171. Id. The writers were only slightly ahead of their time. George Stephanopoulos
became host of This Week for ABC in 2002. Brian Hiatt, King George,,,263911,00.html (June 19, 2002). In the credits for the
opening of each TV episode, we see a theater marquee advertising Rambo 6; the film Ram-
bo IV (Weinstein Company/Lionsgate) was released in 2008. Rambo IV (Weinstein Compa-
ny/Lionsgate 2008) (motion picture). Network executives have cancelled several series
after only one episode. See e.g. Emily’s Reasons Why Not (ABC 2006–2006) (TV series)
(telling the story of a successful young woman who lives by a set of reasons why not to do
something which was cancelled after the pilot aired); Who’s Your Daddy? (Fox Broad. Co.
2005–2005) (TV series) (showing a game where an adoptee must choose who his or her
biological father is from a panel of eight men which was cancelled after the pilot aired); see
also Ryan Christopher DeVault, Past Life Cancelled by Fox After Three Episodes,
(Feb. 19, 2010) (discussing the Fox Broadcasting Company show Past Life and its cancella-
tion after only three episodes aired in February 2010).
172. Alien Nation: Millennium, supra n. Error! Bookmark not defined..
173. Id.
174. Compare this agency with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which handles the rela-
tionship between the U.S. Government and 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska na-
tives. U.S. Dept. Int. Indian Affairs, What We Do,
.htm (accessed Mar. 14, 2010).
175. Id.
176. Alien Nation: Millennium, supra n. Error! Bookmark not defined.. We do not
know what, if anything, categorizes him as “mentally challenged” rather than simply
someone who thinks outside the box. Id.
177. Id.
178. Even though the mentally challenged may not truly understand the nature or
quality of their acts, we have seen all too often that society is willing to hold them to the
same standard as those who do understand. Frank Green, Va. Case to Serve as Test for
Court; Topic: Death Row, Mental Retardation, Richmond Times-Dispatch A1 (Sept. 26,
2001). Or they may be defined “out” of the group, such as those mentally challenged per-
sons who have fought hard for the right to marry and have children, or to live where they
Stetson 03/25/10 Law Review
[Vol. 39
“Wyatt Earp,”
“Virginia Ham,”
and “Emily Bronte.
All these names are (or should) be familiar to American viewers,
so they would understand the references. The recurring “impor-
tant” Newcomers have “normal” monikers like Cathy Frankel (the
human police officer’s girlfriend) and George Francisco (the hu-
man police officer’s partner).
A Newcomer’s intentional adop-
tion of a human name with specific history and an ironic associa-
tion immediately puts him or her in the class of “other.”
If Bureau of Newcomer Affairs (BNA) employees deliberately
choose these names for the Newcomers, such mean-spiritedness
serves to identify and marginalize the aliens as well as to label
the BNA employees as cruel or mean-spirited. If the Newcomers
chose these names in an attempt to identify themselves with hu-
man culture (or adopt human names because their own names are
difficult to pronounce) they will inevitably be the victims of spe-
cies-ist stereotyping and identification because humans can in-
stantly identify them as non-human (therefore “other.")
Alien Nation explores the difficulties of the concept of “other”
as it depicts the Newcomers’ integration into human society.
please. D’Vera Cohn & Dan Keating, Group Homes on the Rise: Census Finds Number in
D.C. Area More than Doubled in 90s, Wash. Post B01 (Aug. 15, 2001) (explaining that
people with mental retardation are the largest number of group home residents); see Tom
Gibb, Case of Sterilized, Mentally Retarded Teen to Go to Trial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette D-
14 (Dec. 5, 2000) (discussing the case of Elizabeth Arnold, sterilized at the age of 16); see
also Robert L. Hayman, Jr., Presumptions of Justice: Law, Politics, and the Mentally Re-
tarded Parent, 103 Harv. L. Rev. 1202 (1990) (discussing continuing legal limitations for
the mentally challenged parent).
179. Alien Nation, “Gimme, Gimme” (Fox Broad. Co. Apr. 9, 1990) [hereinafter “Gimme,
180. “Spirit of ’95,” supra n. 147.
181. “Eyewitness News,” supra n. 157.
182. “Little Lost Lamb,” supra n. 148.
183. In the film Sykes tells his new partner that he will not call him “Sam,” which
sounds ridiculous in combination with the last name “Francisco,” and substitutes the name
“George.” Alien Nation (20th Cent.-Fox 1988) (motion picture) [hereinafter Alien Nation
184. This identification assumes, of course, that humans are educated enough to identi-
fy the historical significance of the names. In today’s society, where many Americans can-
not write, spell, or identify geographical entities on a world map, such an assumption may
not be warranted. Susan Trausch, The ABC’s of Illiteracy, The Boston Globe 13 (Sept. 15,
1993). The situation does not seem to be getting much better. Mark Kutner, Elizabeth
Greenberg & Justin Baer, A First Look at the Literacy of America’s Adults in the 21
tury 4 (National Center for Education Statistics 2005) (available at (comparing the literacy levels between 1992
and 2003 and showing no change in the below basic skills in prose literacy, only a slight
decrease in the below basic skills in document and quantitative literacy).
185. Alien Nation Series, supra n. 12.
Visits to a Small Planet 37
Newcomers have clashes with the Purists, whose activities and
personas are analogous to Nazis and the segregationists of the
Civil Rights era as well as the more recent Posse Comitatus
and other 1990s fringe groups.
These groups gain legitimacy
and credibility among non-legally trained persons unable to dis-
tinguish between legitimate and illegitimate forms of legal rea-
The Purists actively attempt to cleanse the United
States population of any contact with the Newcomers. The police
in the series are constantly pursuing these people, arresting
them, jailing them, and sometimes arresting them again because
defense lawyers get them released.
Meanwhile, the local governments and various non-profit or-
ganizations encourage a certain amount of intimacy.
they are United States citizens, the Newcomers have the same
right to marry as humans, and some Newcomer/human relation-
ships already occur even though many unassimilated Newcomers
live in an area called “Little Tencton,” which looks a great deal
like any large city’s Chinatown or Little Saigon, reinforcing the
Some Newcomers, who are marginalized not just by the Pur-
ists, but also by other Newcomers, are the “Eenos,” because of the
work they did on the slave ships.
Some of these “Eenos,” who
occupy a place reminiscent of the “untouchables” in the Indian
caste system, have made a place for themselves in the desert.
They have chosen to separate from both human and Newcomer
The suggestion that the solution for those who do not
“fit in” is complete isolation (that is, “segregation”) is one that
Sikes comes to only reluctantly
since his view of the possibility
of integration and harmony among species is more idealized than
is Francisco’s. Sikes sees no difference among the Newcomers
186. See James Corcoran, Bitter Harvest: The Birth of Paramilitary Terrorism in The
Heartland v–xvii (Penguin Books 1995) (discussing the Posse Comitatus and its activities).
187. Neo-Nazi skinheads exploit racial tensions to espouse hate and violence toward
ethnic and minority groups. Robert A. Jordan, Skinheads: An Alert, The Boston Globe 17
(July 22, 1989).
188. Id.
189. Alien Nation Series, supra n. 12.
190. Id.
191. Id.
192. Alien Nation: The Enemy Within (20th Cent.-Fox 1996) (TV movie).
193. Id.
194. Id.
195. Id.
Stetson 03/25/10 Law Review
[Vol. 39
(although he sees differences among humans).
Notes Francisco,
“We all look alike to you.”
Again, for Sikes the Newcomers are
all grouped as “other.” He cannot discern differences. Members of
a social group which cannot discern differences among another
group are less likely to be sensitive to the concerns of that group
and to support legal rules which provide a “level playing field” for
that other group.
Some of the Newcomers, who do see differences among them-
selves, are concerned about a “dilution” of their race, particularly
if Newcomers and human interspecies breeding becomes possi-
As Buck Francisco puts it, if such a thing happens, and
since only 250,000 Newcomers exist on Earth, they would neces-
sarily be overwhelmed by the inferior human gene pool.
for a very different reason from the human reluctance to inter-
mingle, some Newcomers themselves might favor segregation.
Eventually, Buck abandons his eugenicist philosophy, partly be-
cause of his sister’s friendship with an Eeno girl, which suggests
that the majority Tenctonese view of the Eenos (which his father
shares) are racist and learned, and younger Newcomers can dis-
card them.
That viewers are still sensitive about the ghettoiza-
tion of some of our population is clear when we consider that the
episode storyline emphasizes similarities to Asian communities
(including the sub-Asian continent), rather than African-
American communities.
In the episode “Eyewitness News,”
we see that a local clinic
provides lessons in Newcomer-human sex, especially for human
men attracted to Newcomer women who are physically much
stronger and could injure their male human mates accidentally.
In order to facilitate their relationship, Cathy gives Sikes a video-
tape on how to make love to Newcomer females after she (Cathy)
ascertains his interest in her.
196. Id.
197. Id.
198. Id.
199. Id.
200. Id.
201. For additional discussion on the use of eugenics in SF films, see generally David A.
Kirby, The Devil in our DNA: A Brief History of Eugenics in Science Fiction Films, 26 Lite-
rature & Med. 83 (Spring 2007) (available at
202. Id.
203. “Eyewitness News,” supra n. 157.
204. Id. Alien-human sex here reflects the human (particularly the human male’s) fear
Visits to a Small Planet 39
We never see a child born of a union between a human and a
Newcomer in the series. Thus, the show never forces us to consid-
er how we might treat a human-alien individual, but we can spe-
culate that it might meet with a great deal of prejudice and cu-
riosity as well as acceptance and support. We can speculate that
mixed marriages, like Newcomer-human friendships, would face
the same kind of prejudice as interracial marriages, courtships,
and friendships. While the series does not present the issue of a
mixed marriage, thus not raising a Loving v. Virginia
issue, we
do know that the Newcomers must battle to obtain all the rights
of United States citizens.
Amid concerns about assimilation from both humans and
Newcomers, George Francisco is torn between his desire to assi-
milate into American society and his wish to preserve his own
When he discovers his daughter rehearsing for a school
play in which she takes the role of Pocahontas, he is somewhat
of upsetting the order of things. On the history and regulation of miscegenation, see Ra-
chel F. Moran, Interracial Intimacy: The Regulation of Race and Romance (U. Chi. Press
2001). Powerful females are perceived as unnatural and dangerous. The show seems to
assume that, for the most part, viewers would not object to such relationships, especially
because several episodes make abundantly clear that interspecies breeding is impossible.
The episodes Three to Tango and Real Men provide insight into Tenctonese reproduction.
Alien Nation, “Real Men” (Fox Broad. Co. Feb. 19, 1990) (TV series) [hereinafter “Real
Men”]; Alien Nation, “Three to Tango” (Fox Broad. Co. Nov. 13, 1989) (TV series); Alien
Nation Series, supra n. 12. The Tenctonese species requires a third person (male) to assist
the initial fertilization and the male carries the fetus. Id.
In Real Men, an irritated and pregnant George resents being told to “take it easy,”
even though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act entitles him to an accommodation. “Real
Men,” supra n. 204; see 42 U.S.C. 2000e(k) (making discrimination based on pregnancy
illegal). During the episode George and Susan’s son Buck objects to comments from his
sister Emily and tells her she is insensitive to the pain that Tenctonese males undergo
when reproducing. “Real Men,” supra n. 204. The episode allows for some discussion and
contemplation of role reversal, but is mostly played for laughs. However, in a tender,
though graphic, scene in the next episode, George gives birth, allowing the major charac-
ters to share in the joy of Tenctonese childbirth and the screenwriters to emphasize the
importance of family life in Tenctonese society. Alien Nation, “Crossing the Line” (Fox
Broad Co. Feb. 26, 1990) (TV series). This scene parallels slave society before the Civil
War, and suggests the Newcomers are now free to celebrate rituals that emphasize the
bonding of parent and child on Earth. Id. The writers assume the right to have children is
universal, but see Witten v. Witten, 672 N.W.2d 768, 768 (Iowa Sup. 2003) (holding that a
divorced couple must decide on fate of frozen embryos by mutual consent).
205. 388 U.S. 1 (1967) (holding that the state of Virginia had no authority to prohibit
interracial marriages).
206. “Little Lost Lamb,” supra n. 148. On the experience of immigrants and their
children see Angelo N. Ancheta, Race, Rights, and the Asian-American Experience (Rutgers
University Press, 1998) (discussing the importance of assimilation through language for
first generation children).
Stetson 03/25/10 Law Review
[Vol. 39
but he is horrified to find his spiritually inclined
Uncle Moodri rearranging the living room furniture (including the
sofa, which they all refer to as the “reclining platform”) to honor
the appropriate part of the universe.
Moodri: The reclining platform should face . . . toward the
galaxy Centaurus.
George: The reclining platform should face that wall, toward
the fireplace.
Both George and Susan Francisco believe that “fitting in” is cru-
cial for the Newcomers, but fitting in can cause problems and may
require compliant Newcomers to forgo pursuing their rights in
court. They worry, however, about the “taint” of human society.
While many Newcomers might be able to resist the lures of hu-
man consumer goods, many of the Alien Nation episodes explore
the traditional temptations of drugs, crime, and sex.
adult Newcomers can control their emotions and fail to react to
the baiting behavior of some humans.
However, Newcomer
children act much like human children in their tantrums, desire
for consumer goods, and desire to be accepted and liked.
With regard to another aspect of society, religion seems to be
a given in alien culture.
Most of the SF aliens we encounter in
novels, short stories, film </