2572: Alien Observers
Title text: ALERT: Human 910-25J-1Q38 has created a Youtube channel. Increase erratic jerkiness of flying by 30% until safely out of range.
- This was the seventh comic to come out after the Countdown in header text started.
This strip depicts a group of aliens observing earth, and discussing their "restricted flight zone", which they appear to change each time a human acquires a more powerful camera.
This comic was followed directly by 2573: Alien Mission, where aliens use similar looking flying-saucer type spacecrafts to observe Earth. It is not specifically stated that these two form a series, but the next comic could be seen as a direct follow up to the this one, indicating that the aliens are the same in the two comics. Just 7 comics later 2579: Tractor Beam also used similar spacecraft.
Both strips are based on UFO conspiracy theories, which are common in the US and a number of other countries. It is often claimed that Unidentified Flying Objects seen in the sky are, in fact, extraterrestrial space craft, visiting earth for various reasons. Reports of such sightings have existed for a long time, and ever since cameras became widely available, photographs (and later videos) have been produced which are claimed to show such flying vessels. Almost invariably, these images are sufficiently distant, blurry, or otherwise obscured as to make any kind of detailed identification impossible - they could not be Unidentified Flying Objects if it were possible to identify them!
This strip lampoons such ideas by positing that aliens are real, but deliberately maintain a distance such that no clear photographs can be taken. While this concept might seem initially plausible, it doesn't stand up to examination. Over the past several decades, cameras have become far more common, with most of the population of many countries carrying cameras every waking moment (and even sleeping with those same cameras within reach). At the same time, cameras available to the average consumer have dramatically increased in resolution and zooming capabilities. The same shot that resulted in blurry and vague photographs in early digital photography could result in much more detailed images today, and also overcome many of the pitfalls associated with 'analogue' photography without sufficient skill and/or bulky equipment. What's more, the cameras owned by individual consumers have a wide range of resolutions and other capabilities, meaning that an image that would show little detail from one person's camera could result in highly detailed photograph if someone else took a picture. The fact that improving camera technology has not resulted in improved images of these supposed vessels is an impossibly weak point in these conspiracy theories.
The humorous premise of the strip is that these aliens are real, and are monitoring earth, but are taking deliberate actions to keep evidence of their presence ambiguous. To do this, they would need to not only monitor what camera technology exists on earth, but the exact type of camera each individual owns, and maintain their flights right at the outer visual limit of those cameras. Such information would need to be implausibly detailed, and constantly updated, because technology is constantly improving and people are constantly getting new phones with new cameras. Part of the joke is that the aliens would have to know the visual range of our cameras, but instead of remaining safely outside of it (so that no pictures of their vessels could be taken at all), they stay close enough to be seen, but never close enough for detailed images.
In a broader sense, this strip addresses the same issue as previous strips, such as 718: The Flake Equation and 1235: Settled, in which the phenomenon of UFO sightings/reports is still left not resolved (either way) despite what modern technology should suggest is possible. The suggestion is that this trend either means that sufficiently advanced aliens are deliberately leaving ambiguous evidence of their presence, or that no such alien visitors are here, and the purported evidence is either faked, or misinterpretations of other phenomena. It's pretty clear which explanation Randall favors.
In the title text, the aliens note that one particular human now has a YouTube account, meaning they are likely to record video instead of attempting to capture still images. This means that the alien craft used to create the sighting must behave as erratically as possible, in order to avoid being identified. This relates to the often wildly oscillating (as well as blurry) films and videos of 'UFOs' that have been taken by the impromptu human observer beyond the limit of their ability to hold their fully-zoomed camera steady. Here it is explained as the flying saucers actually moving in an improbably jerky manner to prevent detailed recording of their craft. Further briefings of the sort depicted would doubtless accompany upgrades in optical/digital-stability features or the purchase of a camera tripod.
The identifier for the one buying the phone begins with "Human 38XT11". This seems likely to be a reference to THX 1138 as this was the title of George Lucas's first film, which is also referenced in the original Star Wars film. The name contains the number in reverse, as well as the letters, if "human" could be written as H. Forty comics earlier, in 2532: Censored Vaccine Card, the number 1138 is also used along with another number referencing Star Wars.
- [Three aliens are looking at a screen. They each have six tentacles, of which four are used as legs, and the other two can be used as arms. They also have a small mouth and two eye stalks with a large eye at the end of each. The eyes has large eyelashes all the way around. One of the aliens is standing to the left of the screen, pointing to it by raising one of its tentacles. The other two aliens stand to the right of the screen looking at the picture. The screen's image depicts a cross-sectional diagram showing two humans in a rough landscape. There is a shaded area above each of the humans and the terrain. The shaded area's boundary consists of arcs of differing sizes centered upon each human. To the left of the first human there is also a small straight area over the ground. To the left of this towards the edge of the screen, what appears to be an arc with a very large radius that begins and rises high up compared to the other two arcs, around a point beyond the on-screen image's edge. The rightmost human's zone has a dashed region between concentric radii of different sizes indicating that this zone has been revised further out than before. Four flying-saucer like spaceships are shown in the air close to, but above, the shaded areas. One high near the left curve, one over the flat area, one near the intersection between the two small arcs and one over the middle of the right arc.]
- Left Alien: Human 38XT11-B-C54 just bought a new phone with a 10x zoom, so we have to expand our restricted flight zone by 1,800 meters to keep our ship blurry.
- Right Alien 2: Seriously? Didn't they just upgrade?
- Left Alien: I know, I know...
- [Caption below the panel:]
- The hardest part of being an alien observing Earth is keeping track of what cameras everyone has.
- The aliens depicted here appear to be the same lifeforms as seen in the bottom row of 2359: Evidence of Alien Life.
- They also have similarities to the illustration in the what if Diamond.
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