Branding the Contactees

By February 9, 2015 Filmmaking, Ramblings 4 Comments

The classic Contactees from the 50s and 60s have a bit of a branding problem.  When someone sees a picture like this:

Alice K. Wells’s drawing of Orthon

There’s just not a lot of interest.  It’s just a guy in a puffy suit.  There’s not a lot to go on.  But when people see something like this:

…it makes the rounds on Tumblr and other blogs.  In addition to it being a frame capture from a very popular TV show (South Park), it is popular because it’s iconic.  The simplified cartoon image of an alien gray is like a kind of cognitive shorthand that brings up a whole range of ideas that extend beyond the image itself.  First, you know that these guys aren’t from around here.  Second, they probably got here in a flying saucer of some kind, and third, they’re probably going to perform some unpleasant medical procedures on you.  This iconic shorthand was popularized by the Schwa.

Not to be confused with the typographical schwa, ə.

The Schwa was created by artist William Barker in the early ’90s.  His intention, as he outlines in this article, was to show a corporate takeover of the earth through branding and marketing.  Sort of like an alien invasion, if you will.

He did this extremely well.  The Schwa is such an elegant distillation of the iconic image from the cover of Whitley Strieber’s Communion that I think it helped to spread the idea of alien abduction and invasion in the pop culture in a way that actual narratives cannot.  Budd Hopkins’s work about missing time and alien probes remained on the fringe, but Barker’s artwork is inviting and fun to look at.  It’s also so well designed that you could remove even the head and still get a distinctly alien feeling from it.

Still makes me shudder a bit.

I can’t help but think the Schwa played a role in how the Grays became stereotypical aliens in the eyes of popular culture, rather than the benevolent humans that the Contactees claimed to have met. Or even the Reptilian, the Michelin Man, or the Hopkinsville Goblin.  There’s something so simple and primal about the image of a Gray that it makes for an icon that wouldn’t look out of place on an iPhone.

The Contactees were already a relic of a bygone era by the time the Schwa came around.  But I wonder if it’s because they never had that kind of simple, easy to grasp brand.  Sure, they had their own typical sorts of encounters–beautiful blonde haired humans in tight jumpsuits, messages of peace and love, etc. etc.  But they never had that one image, that one icon that took their message to the masses.

Thus, sixty years later, I propose an icon for the Contactees:

It’s not quite as elegant, I suppose, nor as evocative as the Schwa.  But at least it’s a step.  I invite anyone  reading this blog to submit their own designs, and I will post them up here.  Even rough sketches.  I think it’s high time the Contactees had an iPhone-friendly icon of their own.


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