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Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Mass Culture Hardcover – April 1, 2003

3.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"...an informative read and a much-needed work on the alien image in popular culture." -- Science Fiction Studies, 2004

"...extensively researched...this volume deserves serious attention from historians of science..." -- Isis, March 2004

"Moffitt's arguments are well-thought-out and meticulously documented...could be the basis for some very lively and interesting discussions." -- Tampa Tribune, September 21, 2003

From the Inside Flap

A recent Roper poll revealed that more than two-thirds of Americans believe the government is not telling the public everything it knows about UFO activity. Each week "The X-Files" is broadcast in sixty countries world-wide. And Steven Spielberg's blockbuster "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial" is among the highest-grossing films of all time. What do these facts say about contemporary culture? Why have we become so preoccupied with alien depictions? What is at the root of our infatuation with extraterrestrials?

In PICTURING EXTRATERRESTRIALS, art historian John F. Moffitt presents a thoroughly researched discussion of the popular iconography depicting alleged extraterrestrial (ET) visitors and the widespread appeal of this New Age craze as a mass cultural phenomenon. Moffitt is interested in kitschy ET portraiture, not as evidence of aliens among us, but for what this imagery reveals about contemporary culture. By brilliantly placing the present cultural moment in historical context, he demonstrates how typical portrayals of aliens reflect long-running (even ancient) cultural motifs.

Whether we realize it or not, among ET's precursors are the pagan gods and goddesses of ancient Greek art, the religious visions depicted in fifteenth-century Spanish paintings, and the popular images of witches and incubi from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, in our postmodern space age, these timeless figures of the artistic imagination have taken on the other-worldly trappings of alien creatures. By the same token, centuries-old beliefs have evolved into the current New Age mythology that often surrounds the stories and pictures connected with aliens. Fueled by a huge entertainment industry and the mass media, alien imagery pervades our society, and the line between fantasy and reality becomes ever harder to discern.

Including 35 illustrations that trace the history of ET portraiture, this thoroughly entertaining perusal of popular culture presents a sophisticated yet very accessible and often funny dissection of our current obsession with the possibility that "we are not alone."


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 595 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; First Edition edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573929905
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573929905
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,226,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark Alfred on February 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I hoped that this book would fulfill its subtitle. Instead the author recounts his opinions, with snooty asides that drip with superior feelings and elitism. The sad thing is, I probably agree with his viewpoints concerning the (interior) origins of most of these encounters. I agree that most experiencers probably did NOT encounter something that was abjectively real. But that DOES NOT give him the right to make fun of the people! If this book were written with the compassion that (for instance) Jacques Vallee shows, it might be worth reading and finishing. But instead of discussing the various images of ETs and what-have-you, Moffitt recites various "reports" and picks out the most salacious or unflattering aspects to make snide remarks about. I hope that Mr Moffitt learns to write with humanity, humility, and compassion before cranking out another few hundred pages.

It's also too bad that a book about "ETs in popular culture" would have only one black-and-white photo insert. Such a subject requires illustrations throughout. Of course, such a subject also requires objective reporting, not elitism.
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Format: Hardcover
It's possible that Professor Moffitt may have something to say. It's not possible to know, because he's so incapable of saying anything clearly. The book is 550 pages of parentheses, interpolations, snarky side comments, mean-spirited irrelevancies, odd and glaring logical errors, and downright ranting, presented in a rambling and repetitious prose which goes nowhere and leaves me wondering whether, cut to perhaps 100 pages, there might be an argument here. As it stands, good luck finding one.

To focus on the book's mean-spiritedness. Professor Moffitt seems to hate pretty much everyone. It's a long and tiring catalog. He quite irrelevantly emphasizes his intense antipathy for people who make more money than he does; who make less money than he does; who have more books in print than he has; who watch TV; who aren't trained as art historians; who belong to the bourgeoisie, or the petty-bourgeoisie, or the proletariat, or the lumpen-proletariat; who listen to popular music; who read paperback books. To show you that I'm not exaggerating, here's one random example, from page 521: "Pullulating at the lower rung of the (chronological) postmodernist audience culture are those bio-organisms who merely consume any sort of television, also patronizing rock concerts, blockbuster movies, and mass sports events, all essentially just to 'kill time.' These people, of which there are millions and millions, are to be found swarming at the bottom of the postmodernist cultural pond, essentially because this inferior siting seems to be their social, economic, and/or educational birthright." What this may or may not have to do with the way supposed extraterrestrials are pictured is not made clear.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Let me preface this review by saying that I'm well educated. While I don't have a master's degree or Ph.D., I do have two bachelors (one BA and one BS) and two minors (one in history) from a well-known four year liberal arts university. I have read and still read plenty of academic works, and this book was obviously written by an academic for a limited academic audience. In this book, Dr. Moffitt has a penchant for using pretentious wording and foreign phrases which unfortunately is too common in academic writing. Apparently he has not read "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, or if he has read it then the good doctor has chosen to ignore their advice about not using "a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready, and able." On the topic of using foreign languages, Strunk and White wrote that "some writers... from sheer exuberance or a desire to show off, sprinkle their work liberally with foreign expressions, with no regard for the reader's comfort. It is a bad habit." This describes "Picturing Extraterrestrials" succinctly. No matter; I happen to be fluent in French and I also know some Latin, though I must confess ignorance of German. While not as bad as other academic works I've read, the overly ornate word choices can be an unnecessary annoyance to readers as well as a hindrance to effective communication. As another reviewer said, this book is longer than it needs to be (in my opinion it is at least twice as long as it should be), and is a repetitious and tedious read.

Stylistic complaints aside, the description of this book is misleading and does not fit well with the content. I was very enthusiastic about reading this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a very poorly written book about a potentially interesting subject. The print edition runs 595 pages, and endless parade of condescension and self-congratulation. Did anyone ever copy-edit this book? It is an exercise in tedious verbosity. The reader doesn't need to be told fifty times that the alleged Betty and Barney Hill abduction is the origin of the common image of the alien "grey."

The author reminds us on almost every page that he knows WORDS!! LONG WORDS!! WORDS IN SEVERAL LANGUAGES! We are treated to snippets of Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Nahuatl (the last in an account of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico). For no apparent reason, in discussing Elijah's vision of the fiery chariot from the Old Testament, he quotes, as he would say, "in extenso" from the Latin Vulgate, before providing the King James Version. Why not Hebrew? That would give him another language to preen about. Occasionally, he defines words in foreign languages with words in other foreign languages. "CV," we are told, means "curriculum vitae," or, in German, "Lebenslauf."

The author, who reminds us frequently that he has a Ph.D. in art history, also pads out the length of the book with lengthy chapters of psychology and sociology. He also shows what a witty writer he is, with a tedious "satire" comparing golf to alien abduction, and provides a stand-up routine for Bob Newhart, if he had done a schtick about alien abduction in 1962. He twice tells us that British UFO writer Jenny Randle is "the Miss Marples [sic] of UFO researchers." Someone please tell the learned professor that Agatha Christie's iconic character is named Miss Marple.
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