Thought For The Day
Thought For The Day
Space Invaders

What you've heard is almost certainly true. The Incas were visited from space by alien extraterrestrial civilisations who landed their spacecraft on mountain plateaus, gifted the indigenous people with information technology, and left.

The evidence is easy to spot. Primitive decorative patterns the world over are full of references to computer designs. We are now learning to refer to these resemblances, far too numerous to be fortuitous, as Info Deco.

That we were visited at some point can now hardly be in doubt. But these visits were probably few and far between. Years, decades, centuries could go by without a single landing. And when, as now, there were no alien or divine presences on our planet, we just had to get on with human history as best we could, using the pieces of wisdom and technology we had, adding a piece of wood here, a new type of strut joint there.

Some say that, when there are no aliens actually with us, the world is in the hands of a caretaker race set the task of making sure we don't get out of hand or lose the plot between visits from our extraterrestrial mentors, who are busy making social work calls the length and breadth of the troubled galaxy.

I don't doubt that's true. There may by now be millions of beings with extraterrestrial blood somewhere in their family tree and a strange inherited instinct for the education and preservation of others.

But I think these caretakers, if they exist, have gone to seed. They've lost touch with the aliens and aren't quite sure what they're supposed to be doing. Like flaky minor diplomats in a Graham Greene novel, or like The Man Who Fell To Earth, they've got demoralised. Rotting slowly in tropical provinces far from their extraterrestrial control centres, the caretakers have been corrupted by sun and undermined by sex, their good intentions slowly blurring as they pickled in alcohol.

But while the caretakers were running to seed, like a forgotten garrison losing discipline in Bolivia, left for dead by the King of Spain, the terrestrials weren't standing still. They were getting on with human history, taking some of the old alien gifts and adding to them with their own native ingenuity. In time their progress became exponential.

One day, without anybody noticing (the caretakers were slumped in a snooze, their breath smelling of sweet rum, while on their extraterrestrial telegraph machines generations of spiders sat repairing their ancestral webs), something unexpected happened.

Suddenly and quietly, the human civilisation overtook its alien mentor.

It just so happened that at about this time (it was on or about the year 1970, which we now call The Epoch) the busy aliens, aware of their neglect, dispatched to Earth two ships full of the very hottest technology they could muster: Space Invaders machines. After travelling for light years in convoy across the galaxy, the twin ships bearing their proud gifts reached Earth in early 1999. With a fanfare of synthesised trumpets, one touched down on the roof of a building in Akihabara, Tokyo's Electric Town, the other in the Bastille district of Paris.

The dusty, slightly battered spinning tops made little impression. People thought they were promotional items for some ironic new Tim Burton spoof, and studiously ignored them. The fifties were not a trendy reference point, having been too much revisited in the previous decade. The movie for which these little green men were the trailer was clearly going to bomb.

When, on either side of the globe, the aliens emerged from their craft clutching Space Invaders machines, there were two different reactions. In Akihabara passers by, many of them clutching 128-bit Dreamcast consoles under their arms, started laughing at a bunch of funny looking country cousins trying to offload yesterday's game systems. But in Paris, where there has always been a humane and tolerant attitude to noble savages of all kinds, there was some real anthropological interest, not to mention a wry appreciation of the kitsch factor. This trendily retro technology appealed to the artists, DJs and graffiti kids of Bastille, Ivry, Pigalle and Montmartre, who saw the Space Invaders consoles as something charmingly vintage, ripe for recontextualisation.

Instead of playing these antiquated games, clearly fit only for some Museum of Jurassic Technology, one posse of Info Decos on the Rue Keller thought it would be funny to recast them as some sort of techno-ethnic, pseudo-primitive craft. With painstaking care, working under cover of darkness, they glued images of the cute descending alien craft tile by tile to the walls of Paris. Like idiotic chickens dropping little eggs instead of bombs, ceramic Space Invaders started appearing on street corners all over Bastille and Le Marais, next to the liberation slogans of displaced third world peoples, graffitti spray tags and street signs.

The aliens were, of course, dismayed. There was no pulling the wool over their eyes; they could see when someone was cocking a snook. But in a corner of their hearts they felt like proud parents, first generation immigrants who, having retired to the old country, put on their best clothes one day and catch a plane back to the big city, where their children are now sophisticated and successful modern people with lifestyles their wooden-faced old parents can barely comprehend.

The Space Invaders (for their games were their vain if somewhat naive self portrait) spent the last of their hard-earned savings on a stack of Dreamcast consoles, wrapped themselves in multi-patterned layers of thick and slightly comical ethnic knitwear, and went home, their simple hearts swollen with pride.

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