Monday, October 27, 2008

Regarding Aliens, Pyramids, Music, and Transcendence

So I watched Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull the other day, and it was entertaining and fun. The ending to the movie was completely over the top though, even for Indiana Jones. And however ridiculous it was, it still got me thinking about Steven Spielberg's obsession with aliens, specifically good, wise aliens that inspire awe and admiration in the humans they interact with. This in turn got me thinking about a specific and reoccurring view that pop culture often puts forth of aliens and pyramids.

(Spoiler Alert!) In the film, Indy's crew ends up at an ancient hidden city in the Amazon, which they find by listening to to the crystal skull's messages - it tells them things telepathically. This city has an ancient temple-pyramid, which they enter into, and soon discover that it houses the aliens' inner sanctum. The aliens were treated as Gods by ancient Mayan civilization, and provided the Mayan society with technology to grow food and thrive. There are 12 crystal alien skeletons in the chamber, and once the stray and final skull is returned to its body, the aliens awaken, and offer universal knowledge and wisdom to the humans as thanks for making them whole again. This opportunity is lost, however, as everything disintegrates and crumbles as the aliens take off back to their dimension in their spaceship. Indy and his friends of course escape being destroyed in the nick of time.

This absurd plot treats the pyramid/spaceship as a vessel that inspires holiness and wonder in people. Such an approach to the pyramid figure is not new. This concept has recently been taken to the next level by the electronic act Daft Punk's live show. When Daft Punk toured in 2007, their stage centerpiece was a futuristic pyramid, equipped with an incredible light show. Perched atop the pyramid were the two members of Daft Punk, decked out in their robot-spacesuits. With their block-rockin' beats, their show turned them into alien/god-like figures. The stage was set to present Daft Punk as the master of ceremonies for a night of transcendence through light and music before a glowing pyramid. Check out some footage of this awesome spectacle here.

The concept of musical pyramid worship that this stage show suggests also reminds me of an epic trip that the Grateful Dead took in 1978. In what turned out to be a massive undertaking, the band arranged a set of shows to be played at an amphitheater at the foot of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx. The highlights from these shows were recently released on CD and DVD, and further add to the mystical and timeless tradition of celebration before the pyramid. In recounts from members of the Dead and their audience, those shows were imbued with an otherworldly feel, taking on a holy aura. Playing under a lunar eclipse at the World's Most Ancient Temple, the Dead sounded like they never had, before or after – something about the setting gives this music an extra transcendent and spiritual quality. Imagine, a worship of the gods, a celebration of life through the Grateful Dead. In the words of Bob Weir: “I got to a point where the head of the Sphinx was lined up with the top of the Great Pyramid, all lit up. All of a sudden, I went to this timeless place. The sounds from the stage – they could have been from any time. It was as if I went into eternity.” What a fucking scene.

Now to tie all these disparate concepts together, I'm reminded of another Spielberg alien film – Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For those who haven't seen it, this movie treats aliens in a similar way as Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull – they are peaceful, wise, and reach out to humanity, offering their wisdom to us. They do not have a pyramid, but instead arrive in a huge spaceship that offers us a spectacle of beautiful music and color. In this sense, the aliens' spaceship has more in common with the Daft Punk stage show than it does with any other Spielberg film. The movie climaxes with a blissful interaction with the aliens - the moment of contact. The aliens take our musical beacon, and respond by creating a symphony of sound and color out of it. The look on the people's faces during this scene is one of bliss and euphoria, not unlike one would feel at an excellent concert. (Watch this awesome scene here) The aliens are presented as God-like in this film, offering an ultimate answer to life's banal existence. And when Richard Dreyfuss' character is taken aboard the ship in the final scene, it can be viewed as his spiritual journey fulfilled, with the aliens providing transcendence. This is very similar to the end of Indiana Jones in this sense.

I suppose the bottom line is that we all crave to feel and be moved by something that's bigger and grander than we are, and the pyramid is an excellent symbol for this. It is stolid, immobile, and seemingly eternal. It is also mysterious in its grandiose majesty, seemingly not of this earth. Spielberg touches upon a similar sense of unknown desire in his alien films, and uses music to deliver his vision. Live music and the celebrations that arise from these gatherings are an ethereal way to reach toward these spiritual places we crave, and when pyramids and all they stand for are thrown into the mix, things can get pretty surreal. I hope I've gotten across what I've tried to convey regarding our pop culture's perspective of the role of pyramids, aliens and transcendence.


  1. what about the gay aliens with their penis probes?

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