Monday, August 01, 2011

Yoo-hoo, Earth – D2-E2-C2-C1-G1!

Oh truly hilarious! Over the weekend I watched that old movie called "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", with its homage to the horn theme from the fourth movement of Brahms' First Symphony: D2-E2-C2-C1-G1, and that huge Christmas-tree ornament "mother ship" thing. Speaking of themes, it was of course the usual theme of "Man's Search for a Redeemer" - so honest and human and traditional and entirely Christian. But this isn't that sort of commentary - I don't have time to do the analysis, but speaking as a Chestertonian, I find it very suggestive. (See GKC's The Everlasting Man if you want more details - maybe another time I will write more about that.) No: I will say one more thing about it, since it's worth pointing out. It's one of the very first lines, and I always think about it as I consider the Third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary - except (like Chesterton) I've shifted things just slightly:
The Son came out at night and they [the angels] sang to him.
It's hard to get more deeply Christian than the Nativity.

There are a few scenes I particularly love, like when our electric company Field Tech hero is driving around through the Indiana night, gets lost, and stops at a railroad crossing to check his maps. Yeah, there's more to say about that, but I merely mean the setting itself... it's an awesome picture.

Though there are two (or three) other bits about that scene. He's there, lost, fumbling with his map and then a car comes up behind him and he waves it around - and we see the lights shift as the car passes him (the driver yelps, of course) - but that's just so we understand the next little bit. Then another set of lights comes up, and he waves it around again - but this time the lights rise up. Ahem. Very funny. Of course it then shines its super-bright beam at the truck, presumably zapping our hero with his "urge to get to Devil's Tower"...

Speaking for all my multitudes of extra-solar, galactic, and intergalactic friends, I find this so insulting. These beings have presumably crossed interstellar space, have all sorts of sophisticated technology - and an implied compassion for us - yet they cannot deal with English, nor with any human tongue, spoken or written? They're willing to handle our curious spherical coordinate system of latitude and longitude (that's how the government guys know to get to Devil's Tower too) but they can't bring themselves to say it very plainly. Oh well.

It's easy enough to say that God didn't tell the Magi "Go to Bethlehem" but just sent them a star as a guide... but these are supposedly superior alien beings, with nothing but open arms for us! It's funny, one of the places where Father Jaki can make one laugh is his quoting others on the idea that the typical extraterrestrial would be more likely to view humans as a "protein reservoir"...
Addicts of ETI research hardly ever think of the dark lining behind the silvery facade of their expectations. The most frightful of those dark hues is not that, instead of distant cousins ready to fraternize with us, we might contact an alien species that would take our bodies for a convenient protein reservoir and live up thereby to the Darwinian principle of universal struggle.
[Jaki The Savoir of Science 121]

But can an evolutionary theory, in which all is matter, provide logical ground for the emergence of mind as a form of living matter which is not subject to the law of speciation? That law means the inexorable rise of barriers among the different species. A chief of those barriers means the breakdown of biological altruism. While more often than not members of the same species do not feed on one another, members of one species all too often constitute the basic food for members of another species. There is a profound biological wisdom in the remark, now three decades old, by the Nobel-laureate physicist, C. N. Yang, that we should not try to answer an eventual radio message from another planetary system.
[Jaki, God and the Cosmologists 188]

If they came, they would have achieved an enormous technological superiority over us. But whether they speak English or not, they will be found to be a different species, another product of a universal grim struggle for survival. As such products, they would readily use us either as slaves or, what is more likely, a convenient source of protein.
[Jaki "Christ, Extraterrestrials, and the Devil" in A Late Awakening and other essays]
Wow, either slaves or "a convenient source of protein" (brrr) Well, we know that to be quite classical, and even more recently, Lewis has anthropophagy in his The Silver Chair and so does Tolkien in Lord of the Rings, and so we might link... Ah, but let's not wander off the subject. Ahem!

Let us return to the movie. Oh yes, the scene at the railroad. Well, everything electric shuts off or malfunctions, and junk flies around the cab of his truck - then the saucer cruises down the road and he peers out - suddenly, way down the road it beams its light again, but all it hits is a stop sign. Oh well. Then his truck comes back to life, and he yelps again. It's a great, funny scene - and afterwards it turns out he's sunburned on the side of his face where he looked out to see what the heck that bright light came from. Yeah, the next thing EPA or OSHA or is it the CDC will do is require little warning labels inside our cars: "Avoid Overexposure To Alien Brain Waves Beams Which Implant Urges to Visit Devil's Tower. Take Sunblock With You At Night." Or something. Hee hee.

Another scene I like is the one where the four little hot-dogging flying saucers (flown by teen-age pilots, I expect) are cruising the rural roads of Indiana, playing "catch-me" with the police. Of course the police go racing after them, which is a bit curious. But the great bit is when the saucers make the toll-gates rise on their way to Ohio, and THEN, as they hit a curve around a hill, they take the tangent to it (thereby revealing their knowledge of differential calculus) and fly off into space. One of the unfortunate police cars attempts to follow them, but he has neglected to enable his anti-gravity mode. Oh well. (In the book, the officer only sustains minor injuries, though his car is totalled.)

Finally, there's that scene when the "mother ship" shows up. Only the most embarrassingly silly of aliens would be caught flying such a thing! Please, do you think energy is free? What's the point of all those lights? Sure it looks nice, but let's be practical. And don't tell me they're part of the interstellar drive... I know that everyone requires that sort of flashy stuff for television, but it's rather disappointing. Now, I happen to like the album covers from "Boston" - which show proposals for taking that city into space. Maybe that's the idea... It' very nice, but it would seem a bit easier to not have lights so as to not give away your presence, if that's what you're worried about. I think it was in grad school that we concocted our own version of the Star Trek "Prime Directive":
No High Technology In Front Of The Natives!
It's far too easy for them to guess about things once they've seen it done... not always, but - ah well. Interstellar empires have crumbled because of slips like that. It was a famous line from World War II, but it's true in intergalactic commerce as well:
Loose Lips Sink Ships.
Ah, so where was I? Oh, yeah, the horn theme. Another oddity. The aliens know our latitude/longitude, and they also know our penchant for simple multiples of frequencies - the stuff that great music from Buxtehude and Jungen and Soler, from Gregorian Chant to rock-and-roll... Especially rock-and-roll, which seems to be built around the tonic and dominant and subdominant... Neither the movie nor the book explained what those notes were supposed to be, unless they were just intended to be a sort of alien "Yoo-hoo!" or "Anybody home?" - kind of a planetary doorbell in reverse. I know a college fraternity that used to have a "whistle" so you could catch a brother's attention from across campus - quite handy, though nowadays they'd just send a 146-character twit or a txtmsg, or equivalent. Hee hee.

But really, D2-E2-C2-C1-G1 as a cosmic doorbell - now that is something wonderful, and very Chestertonian. You may know he has a wonderful essay about it - here's just a bit:
a door-knocker is so full of significance that any person of quite average intelligence might write volumes of poems about it. It is - to name but a few of the things beyond question - the symbol of courtesy, the guardian of the home, the declaration of the proposed meeting between man and man, the salute to the rights of the individual, the sign of the bringing of news, the herald of happiness, the herald of calamity, the iron hammer of love and death. That we have a knocker on our doors means almost everything that is meant by the whole of our ritual and literature. It means that we are not boors and barbarians; that we do not call on a man by climbing into the window or dropping down the chimney. It means all that was ever meant by the old fairy stories, in which a horn was hung up outside the castle of the giant or the magician, so that the daring visitor might have to blow it, and utter in echoing sound the thing that he dared.
[GKC "The Pessimist and the Door-Knocker" in Lunacy and Letters]
So in this case the aliens came and tooted their horn - sort of like the teen motorhead crusing by his buddy's home some summer evening - honk-honk-honk - HONK HONK. (The last two notes are bass brass fortissimo, as played by the "mother ship".) It's funny too, because that melodic phrase works as a harmony to the famous Dresden "Amen": D-E-F-G-G, though I don't expect to ever hear the CE3K/Brahms tune in church.

Anyway, I had a good time watching it and a few good laughs, and found some interesting things to think about.

And in case you are wondering: Do I think there are aliens? No, I don't believe there are - but there could be. However, I don't think they would be quite like those imagined in CE3K. Of course, they may have an excellent explanation for these things - I don't deny it. It's the sort of thing that wants a sequel - just like "E.T." Which reminds me, I've got to finish off my own intergalactic adventure one of these days, and then, once it's been made into a movie someone can write a goofy commentary about. Maybe I'll write it myself - AFTER I've written the conclusion. Oh well.


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