February 21, 2008
Here is good news. For any of you out there nostalgic for the lovable extra terrestrial, NASA is beaming out songs into deep space trying to lure anything that might be out there to our shores. The bad news is that scientists warn that transmitting songs could put the earth at risk of an alien attack. They voiced fears that advertising humanity’s place in the universe could attract the attention of aliens who are less friendly than ET. SETI—Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence—plans more broadcasts from its base in Mountain View, California. Dr Douglas Vakoch of the SETI Institute, which has been leading the search for extraterrestrials, told New Scientist Magazine: “Before sending even symbolic messages, we need an open discussion about the potential risks.”
For the past 20 years, SETI has used radio telescopes to scan the skies for alien radio messages. After getting nothing but static, some of its researchers have decided that listening for aliens is not enough. Instead, they say, we should be actively sending out friendly signals to the stars. Now comes the horror that might signal the end of life on earth. NASA broadcast a Beatles track toward the North Star along with attached engravings depicting humans and our planet to the outside of the craft, and aboard it put tapes of voices, music, and maps of where the earth is. The problem is the voices and the Beatles. If some terrestrial hears the lyrics of a rapper, or listens to the boring tunes of the Beatles, our goose is cooked. Thank God they are not able to send out pictures. Seeing Barbra Streisand or Ronnie Wood, not to mention Puff Daddy, would alert unfriendly species to cross interstellar space with deadly intent.
Mind you, not everyone is as pessimistic about our chances as I am. Dr. Seth Shostak says that if there are any extraterrestrials out there listening to us, they would have already had plenty of experience of the earth’s vulgarity. Early broadcasts of “Star Trek” and “I Love Lucy” are washing over one star system a day. Radio waves, like other forms of electromagnetic radiation, travel at the speed of light, around 186,000 miles per second. This means it would take a radio broadcast four years to reach the closest star, Alpha Proxima.
Well, as they’ve just started to send out Beatles music, we are guaranteed four years without an alien invasion. After that anything can happen, but here’s a suggestion which could save life on earth. Recall immediately the signals and begin sending out the following: Mozart and Beethoven symphonies and piano sonatas. M&B are the most protean spirits in the history of human endeavor. To dislike their music is to renounce life itself—which we might be doing if we insist on sending out modern crap. When the ETs out there hear them, they will be bathed in a celestial light, and even the ignoramuses among them will come around. But let’s assume that there are aliens with no sense of melody, passion, or drama. What we do is deluge them with jazz, the first and only American contribution to high art. With Louis Armstrong, Duke Wellington, Fats Waller, Charley Parker, the ET’s will go nuts and start dancing in their space ships. And if some of them are racists and don’t like African-American music, we hit them with grace, sophistication, and wit à la Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, and Lorenz Hart.
Just imagine: these extra terrestrials are buzzing around 431 light years away, and to put it mildly they are bored stiff. How excited can one get after the millionth cosmic ray collision? Suddenly their antennas pick up Hoagy Carmichael’s “Star Dust.” And they even get nostalgic when they hear Hoagy singing about a place they may have been a trillion years before: “I’m gonna get a moonburn when I’m out with you tonight, and when the glowing stars above … flash the words that you love me, the moon will warm my heart.” Now that’s a real signal in a language any self-respecting ET will understand and appreciate.
And what about Cole’s “Night and Day,” with Fred Astaire’s tap dancing in the background. If that doesn’t convince them we are good guys, Paris Hilton is a born again virgin. And there’s more from Porter. He was a master of writing extended verses that reflect the world-weariness of high-society folk. And ET’s can be both cosmos-weary as well as snobby: “My story is much too sad to be told / But everything leaves me totally cold / The only exception I know is the case / When I’m out on a quiet spree / Fighting vainly the old ennui / And I suddenly turn and see Your fabulous face…” Just think of Drew Barrymore and ET at their first meeting in the closet. She screamed, ET was delighted. The same will happen with his fellow extraterrestrials. I guarantee it.
Broadway will also swing them to our side—“South Pacific,” “The King and I,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Oklahoma,” “Anything Goes,” “My Fair Lady,” “Show Boat,” “Of Thee I Sing,” they’ll be rolling in their space capsules. And those wonderful songs of a bygone era: “These Foolish Things,” “You Go To My Head,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “Fools Rush In,” “Body and Soul,” “All the Things You Are,” “You’re the Top,” “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” (this would really get them excited) … I could go on and on. Let’s for once be smart. Do it my way, and all earthlings will have a long life to look forward to.