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The End of the World as We Don't Know It

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In a world new to airships and submarines, the UFOs of the early 20th century looked like—airships and submarines. Mysterious steam-powered blimps roved the night sky. By the late 1940s, they had evolved into flying saucers; shortly thereafter they were piloted by little green men. Before then, no one had known what aliens looked like; going forward, they all had big heads, bulbous eyes, and a skin condition. More recent UFO sightings have resembled formations of unmanned drones. Review more of the history, which goes back to the comets of the ancient world, then discuss with your team: are humans too easily influenced to see things that don’t exist and to find meaning in the things that do?

On June 25, 2021, the U.S. government released a nine–page preliminary report on UFOs, or, as it is now calling them, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs. The report is the latest notable event in what has been a renaissance for UFOs in recent years.

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Greg Eghigian is a historian of science at Penn State who has published research and is writing a book on the history of UFOs in the U.S. He spoke to the hosts of The Conversation Weekly podcast the day before the new report came out to better understand the cultural history of UFOs in America.

The idea of aliens and inhabitants of other worlds was widely accepted in the 18th century, but something changed in the 19th century. People began having sightings of flying ships, which sounded a lot like what they were familiar with but floating in air. But it’s really not until the summer of 1947 that people began to regularly speak of seeing flying objects that some attributed to extraterrestrials.  

 

pilot by the name of Kenneth Arnold was flying his small plane near Mount Rainier in Washington state. As he was flying around he said he saw some sort of glimmer or shine that caught his eye and was concerned that maybe he was going to have a collision with another aircraft. When he looked, he saw what he described as nine very odd-shaped vessels flying in formation. After Arnold landed, he reported his sightings to authorities at a nearby airport and eventually talked to some reporters and describe how the things moved, he said, “they flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across water.

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Some very clever enterprising journalists came up with the headline “flying saucers” and from that point forward they were flying saucers. A Gallup poll six weeks after the event discovered that 90% of Americans had heard the term flying saucer. This was the beginning of the phenomenon that some call the flying saucer era and the contemporary idea of UFOs. People all over the US started reporting sightings and the news travelled internationally.

Two things happened after that at the same time. First, the government-sponsored investigations in the U.S., specifically within the Air Force. Starting in 1947 the Air Force started investigation projects aimed at answering: do UFOs represent a national security threat? The government wasn’t interested in science, rather focused on security. 

On the other hand, some people were genuinely fascinated by this phenomenon and flying saucer clubs started nationally and internationally. Most people – if they thought the sightings were real – believed they were either secret weapons of the U.S. military or secret weapons or secret aircraft of the Soviets.

During the Cold War, American Air Force projects like the U2 spy plane were what people probably sighted. The more secretive the government was, it only fueled the UFO conspiracy theory. The idea among UFO believers became “The government isn’t shooting straight with us. Somehow we’ve got to get these people to disclose all the information they know.” 

After the fear of the Cold War era wore off, UFO interest was nominal. That all changed with the 2017 revelations about the secret UFO project in the Pentagon. This spurred on a resurgence of interest in UFOs. The way the media were talking about UFOs had lot of the same elements from before: Are these things alien? If they’re not alien, are they from our military or somebody else’s military? Are the people who were pushing the narrative and stories of sightings operating in good faith or are these con men? 

Scientists began thinking maybe there is something worthy to investigate. The important change since the 1990s – specifically for astrophysicists and astronomers – has been the discovery of so many planets around other stars that could possibly support life.

The mythology of the little green men began on the night of August 21, 1955, when Suttons, a large extended farm family, arrived breathlessly at the Hopkinsville police station in southwestern Kentucky. Their story of a terrifying siege by otherworldly beings would become one of the most detailed and baffling accounts of an alien close encounter on record—notable for the large number of witnesses (nearly a dozen), the duration of the encounter (several hours) and the close proximity between the witnesses and creatures (sometimes just a few feet away). The incident spread like wildfire. 

The family lived in an unpainted three-room house without running water, telephone, radio, TV or books and when they arrived at the police station, they were genuinely shocked and terrified. One man had a pulse of 140 a minute because he was so scared. 

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The first person to see anything unusual was Billy Ray Taylor, a family friend who saw a silvery object, “real bright, with an exhaust all the colors of the rainbow.” At fist the Sutton family didn't believe Taylor's words, but soon after they heard incessant barking by the dogs, they went to the backyard to check it out. There they saw: About three-and-a-half feet tall, it had an “oversized head…almost perfectly round, [its] arms extended almost to the ground, [its] hands had talons…and [its oversized] eyes glowed with a yellowish light.” The body gave off an eerie shimmer in the light of the night’s new moon, they said—as if made of “silver metal.” Terrified, the two men grabbed a 20-gauge shotgun and a .22 rifle and fired at the “little man”—its “hands” now raised as if held up at gunpoint as it came toward the back door. They reported that it then did a “flip,” scrambled upright and fled into the darkness. Shortly after, the men saw a similar creature appear in a side window—and fired through the window screen. Still impervious to bullets, the “little man” again flipped, then disappeared.

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The whole thing escalated when Taylor went outside and they saw a claw reach down and grab him. The others pulled him back and hid in the house for the next few hours listening to sounds coming from the roof. The police and military went to investigate the incident but found nothing but some bullet casings. 

Afterwards, radio stations and newspapers (including The New York Times) reported the incident, hundreds of curiosity seekers descended on the farm, often ridiculing the Suttons as ignorant or fraudulent. When “No Trespassing” signs proved useless at discouraging them, the family tried charging admission: 50 cents for entering the grounds, $1 for information, $10 for taking pictures. After that, skeptics blasted them as profit seekers. 

As the Kelly story spread into the world, it took on a life of its own.  A few “little men” grew to a dozen or more. A few years later, the little metallic men were conflated with an Eastern Kentucky woman’s report of a flying saucer and a six-foot tall man in green, helping launch the myth of little green men.

The day after the incident, the police went again to search for clues, but they found nothing. However, the men's description of the event were very consistent, even though they did not have time to coordinate their accounts. The incident eventually attracted the attention of the Air Force UFO-investigation program Project Blue Book, but their team never officially pursued the matter. One of the most thorough investigations of the Kelly incident was undertaken in 1956 by ufologist Isabel Davis—and published several decades later by the Center for UFO Studies, a group founded by astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Project Blue Book’s civilian investigator. Her nearly 200-page report, co-written with Ted Bloecher, includes detailed maps, drawings, documentary records, summaries of similar accounts around the world and interviews with several Sutton family members and police investigators. Davis noted that none of the witnesses had previous history of lying and they did not seem like the type of want publicity.

 

In 2006, Joe Nickell, senior research fellow of the international Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a self-styled paranormal investigator, reviewed the accumulated evidence in an article entitled “Siege of the ‘Little Green Men’: The 1955 Kelly, Kentucky Incident.” He matched Taylor’s UFO sighting with similar reports from that day, which suggested a small meteor in the vicinity. He believed the metallic men were actually Great Horned Owl (a.k.a. the “hoot” owl) has long wings that could be mistaken for arms—along with talons, yellow eyes, long ears and round head that might also match the “little men” description. As for their metallic shine, Nickell suggests, they could have easily been reflecting moonlight.  It seems we may never know what actually happened. 

  

Fears of Zeppelins, rockets and drones have replaced the “celestial wonders” of ancient times. In 1896, newspapers throughout the United States began reporting accounts of mysterious airships flying overhead. Over the years, these descriptions varied, but witnesses frequently invoked the century’s great technological achievements, such as motorized winged crafts, flying machines, and later in the 21st century, drone-like objects, based on concerns security threats. Man has always tried to explain the unusual with their current understanding and perception of the world that fits the trends of their generation. 

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For example, in the 17th century, phenomenons such as meteors were given religious connotations. In the 19th century, people were fascinated with flying and sightings of a aircraft was explained as an eccentric testing his latest inventions. In the early 20th century, with the advent of World War, people began fearing Zeppelins as weapons of destruction.  People began sighting them in far off places including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States and even Africa.  

 

A year after Nazi Germany’s surrender, Sweden was beset by at least a thousand accounts of peculiar, fast-moving objects in the sky. Starting in May 1946, residents described seeing missile- or rocket-like objects in flight, which were dubbed “ghost rockets” because of their fleeting nature. Rockets peppering Swedish skies was well within the realm of possibility—in 1943 and 1944, a number of V-1 and V-2 rockets launched from Germany had inadvertently crashed in the country.

As reports of Kenneth Arnold's Mount Rainier flight spread, people all over the world reported sightings. Many believed they were experimental military aircrafts, or just hoaxes to bloat up the budget. Others had more elaborate theories. In 1950, former U.S. Marine Air Corps Major Donald Keyhoe published an article and book titled The Flying Saucers Are Real, in which he contended that aliens from another planet were behind the appearance of the UFOs. Based on information from his informants, Keyhoe contended that government authorities were aware of this, but wished to keep the matter a secret for fear of inciting a general panic. But all this raised a question. Why were the extraterrestrials visiting us now?

Keyhoe believed that aliens had been keeping us under observation for a long time. Witnessing the recent explosions of atomic weapons, they had decided the inhabitants of planet Earth had finally reached an advanced enough stage to be scrutinized more closely. Still, there was no reason for alarm. 

As concerns over global nuclear annihilation and environmental catastrophe grew during the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, claims about UFOs took on ever more ominous tones. Times changed. And so, again, did the UFO phenomenon. 

The same principle applies to aliens and UFOs alluded to in art and music: the concerns of the present shape their portrayal. In the 1980s, Parliament’s “Star Child” hints at the way that certain groups of people in Western society have been treated as aliens. Two decades later, with global climate change warming the zeitgeist, Ace Frehley’s “Space Invader” is here to save us from destroying the Earth. Consider the selections below, then discuss with your team: what do they tell us about the world that sparked their creation?​​​

Released in April 1957 as part of her album “Pure Ella,” "Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer" takes us on a whimsical journey through the eyes of two extraterrestrial visitors. With whimsical tune and lyrics, it gives a portrayal of life on earth and how the visitors consider Earth very primitive.  

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The song begins with two little men in their flying saucer descending upon Earth. They take a look around and are immediately “couldn’t stand the sight of it”. This initial reaction sets the stage for the duo’s desire to escape from our world.

In the first verse, the little men come across a Western movie and mockingly comment on the intelligence of humans, proclaiming, “Think how dumb the people are" to be riding on horses.  It’s an amusing moment that reflects the satirical undertone present throughout the entire song. They shake their antennas and scratch their purple hair, showcasing their alien nature. They refer to our planet as an “awful menace” and decide to return to their home, emphasizing their perception of Earth as being filled with chaos and danger. They stumble upon Ebbets Field in Brooklyn during a Dodgers baseball game and hear the roaring crowd. The roar of the crowd makes them feel earthlings are insane. They

hear are political speech and feel disdain towards earth's leaders. In the third verse, they watch TV and enjoy human entertainment, which they disliked, feeling it was childish and trivial. 

In conclusion, “Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer” by Ella Fitzgerald is a whimsical and thought-provoking song that offers a unique perspective on human life. With lyrics that simultaneously mock and critique, it serves as a reminder to not get caught up in the trivialities of our world and to take a moment to appreciate the bigger picture. 

"Come Sail Away" is a song by American pop-rock group Styx, written and sung by singer and songwriter Dennis DeYoung and featured on the band's seventh album The Grand Illusion (1977). Upon its release as the lead single from the album, "Come Sail Away" peaked at #8 in January 1978 on the Billboard Hot 100, and helped The Grand Illusion achieve multi-platinum sales in 1978. It is one of the biggest hits of Styx's career. 

Lyrically, the song uses sailing as a metaphor to achieve one's dreams. The lyrics touch on nostalgia of "childhood friends," escapism, and a religious thematic symbolized by "a gathering of angels" singing "a song of hope." The ending lyrics explain a transition from a sailing ship into a starship, by narrating that "they climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies".

Parliament was an American funk band formed in the late 1960s by George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell. The song "Mothership Connection: Star Child" was in the album Mothership Connection. The album is held together by an outer-space theme. Describing the concept, George Clinton said "We had put black people in situations nobody ever thought they would be in, like the White House. I figured another place you wouldn't think black people would be was in outer space. I was a big fan of Star Trek, so we did a thing with a pimp sitting in a spaceship shaped like a Cadillac, and we did all these James Brown-type grooves, but with street talk and ghetto slang."

The lyrics of “Star Child (Mothership Connection) (7″ Version)” paint a vivid picture of a cosmic party on a Mothership, with the Star Child leading the way. The song begins with a declaration: “Citizens of the Universe, Recording Angels, We have returned to claim the Pyramids, Partyin’ on the Mothership, I am the Mothership Connection.” This sets the stage for a celestial gathering where the boundaries of time and space fade away.

Overall, the song is joyful call to action for people of all nationalities and backgrounds to celebrate and groove to the music on the mothership. 

 

"Swing low, time to move on
Light years in time, ahead of our time
Free your mind and come fly
With me, it's hip on the mothership groovin'"

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We lived happily forever
So the story goes
But somehow we missed out
On the pot of gold
But we'll try, best that we can
To carry on

A gathering of angels
Appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope
And this is what they said

They said come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me, lads 

I thought that they were angels
But to my surprise
We climbed aboard their starship
We headed for the skies

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Shonen Knife is a Japanese pop-punk band formed in Osaka in 1981. Influenced by 1960s girl groupspop bands, the Beach Boys, and early punk rock bands such as the Ramones, the band crafts stripped-down songs with simple yet unconventional lyrics sung both in Japanese and English. The band is led by Naoko Yamano, Atsuko Yamano and Michie Nakatani. The  trio that has evolved over time. The band has been credited with making "the international pop underground more international" by "opening it up to bands from Japan".  The song is about freedom and the rocket is the vessel to help the narrator escape the confines of everyday life and explore uncharted territories.

Riding on the rocket, yeah, yeah
Now I’ve got it, I will shoot it up to the sky
100, 200, 300, 400 miles per hour
I’m riding on the rocket,
I’m riding on the rocket to the moon

I see the blue planet turning ’round and ’round
I feel the weightlessness and try to touch the floating light
I see the comet, the satellite, the galaxy
I’m riding on the rocket,
I’m riding on the rocket to the moon

 

It’s such a wonderful space trip
I’m so lucky, I’m so exciting
Leave all my friends but they don’t understand
But now I’m feeling so free, yeah

Riding on the rocket, yeah, yeah
Now I’ve got it, I’ve got terrific speed

"Aliens Exist" is a song by American rock band Blink-182 from the band's third studio albumEnema of the State (1999). It was written primarily by guitarist Tom DeLonge, with additional songwriting credit to bassist Mark Hoppus. "Aliens Exist" is a goofy tune about the existence of extraterrestrials. DeLonge's longtime fascination with the topic was the basis of the song's foundation. The song invokes several references in UFO phenomena, including CIA interference and the Majestic 12. Majestic 12  is claimed to be the code name of an alleged secret committee of scientists, military leaders, and government officials, formed in 1947 by an executive order by U.S. President Harry S. Truman to facilitate recovery and investigation of alien spacecraft.

DeLonge is a hardcore UFO investigator. His company To the Stars was instrumental in the 2017 release of military footage of unidentified aircraft, prompting the Pentagon to formally establish the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office.  After many years of exploring the concepts through other endeavors, DeLonge co-founded a company, To the Stars, with several senior government and intelligence officials, focusing on aerospacescience, as well as entertainment. In 2017, the company released leaked footage, in partnership with the New York Times of unidentified aerial phenomena that the Pentagon later confirmed as real; these efforts were viewed as legitimizing DeLonge's longtime pursuit. This prompted the Pentagon to formally establish interest in studying UFOs.

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The song opens with vocalist and guitarist Tom DeLonge singing, “Hey Mom, there’s something in the backroom, hope it’s not the creatures from above.” The song’s lyrics focus on the idea that there’s more to the world than what we can see with our own eyes.  It has become an anthem for those that believe the government is trying to hide something from us. 

“Aliens exist, I know it’s true
They won’t admit it, but they do
And one of these days, the skies will open up
And there’ll be proof, and everyone will see how we were lied to”

Space Invader is the fourth solo album by former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley, released in the UK on August 18, 2014. This song, like many others in Frehley’s discography, has a deeper meaning that explores themes of alienation, self-discovery, and personal freedom. In Space Invader, Ace Frehley uses the metaphor of alien invasion to depict his own struggles with the pressures of fame and the challenges of his personal life. The lyrics speak to a sense of isolation and the desire to break free from the expectations and limitations imposed by society. Throughout the song, Frehley reflects on the fleeting nature of success and the price he has paid for his rock star lifestyle.

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Space Invader is the fourth solo album by former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley, released in the UK on August 18, 2014. This song, like many others in Frehley’s discography, has a deeper meaning that explores themes of alienation, self-discovery, and personal freedom. In Space Invader, Ace Frehley uses the metaphor of alien invasion to depict his own struggles with the pressures of fame and the challenges of his personal life. The lyrics speak to a sense of isolation and the desire to break free from the expectations and limitations imposed by society. Throughout the song, Frehley reflects on the fleeting nature of success and the price he has paid for his rock star lifestyle.

You know, this planet has been in trouble
For a thousand years we've all been blind
There's no time to waste, give up the struggle
We must embrace our host, give it up for

Space... invader
He comes from distant galaxies
Space... invader
He stands before you to set you free

No rhyme or reason, no peace of mind
The earth's survival will coincide
The danger is near, of his arrival
We must accept out fate, give it up for

Space... invader
Now gaze upon the space invader

He comes to save us from light-years away
Our space invader knows we've lost our way
Destined for greatness our race will survive
Behind his majesty we'll be united
And know the meaning of life

The time is now, no need to worry
Just put your trust in him, give it up for

Space... invader

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The term illegal alien has fallen out of fashion as a term for undocumented immigrants. But historical artworks about imperial powers arriving in places new to them often do have that “first contact with aliens” vibe familiar to viewers of science fiction. Both sides of any given encounter portray the other in exaggerated and exotic terms. Consider how artists in Japan captured the arrival of American naval officer Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854. Even the most subdued portraits still make him out to be very strange, while the most extreme frame him as a demon out of Japanese legend. Even Perry’s infamous “Black Ships” were portrayed very differently by artists on each side. Explore other works about encounters that led people to reimagine the boundaries of their known world, then discuss with your team: should dehumanizing portrayals of foreigners (such as Commodore Perry) be banned for perpetuating harmful stereotypes? Or do such works help people come to terms with the new and uncomfortable?

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Perceptions can be deceiving and are often guided by our own prejudices and cultural influences.  Matthew Calbraith Perry (April 10, 1794 – March 4, 1858) was an American naval officer who commanded ships in several wars, including the War of 1812 and the Mexican–American War. He played a leading role in the Perry Expedition that ended Japan's isolationism and the Convention of Kanagawa between Japan and the United States in 1854.

In 1852, Perry was assigned a mission by American President Millard Fillmore to force the opening of Japanese ports to American trade, through the use of gunboat diplomacy if necessary. The growing commerce between the United States and China, the presence of American whalers in waters offshore Japan, and the increasing monopolization of potential coaling stations by European powers in Asia were all contributing factors. Shipwrecked foreign sailors were either imprisoned or executed, and the safe return of such persons was one demand. The Americans were also driven by concepts of manifest destiny and the desire to impose the benefits of western civilization and the Christian religion on what they perceived as backward Asian nations. The Japanese were forewarned by the Dutch of Perry's voyage but were unwilling to change their 250-year-old policy of national seclusion. There was considerable internal debate in Japan on how best to meet this potential threat to Japan's economic and political sovereignty.

On November 24, 1852, Perry embarked from Norfolk, Virginia, for Japan and arrived on July 1853.  Ignoring the claims of Satsuma Domain to the islands, he demanded an audience with the Ryukyuan King Shō Tai at Shuri Castle and secured promises that the Ryukyu Kingdom would be open to trade with the United States. Continuing on to the Ogasawara islands in mid-June, Perry met with the local inhabitants and purchased a plot of land.

Upon his arrival to Japan via Edo Bay in July of 1853, Perry attempted to intimidate the Japanese by presenting them a white flag and a letter which told them that in case they chose to fight, the Americans would destroy them.  Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyoshi was ill and incapacitated, which resulted in governmental indecision on how to handle the unprecedented threat to the nation's capital. So, Perry left and said he would return in 1 year time for the Japanese response.

 

However, Perry returned on February 13, 1854, after only half a year rather than the full year promised, and with ten ships and 1,600 men. American leadership designed the show of force to "command fear" and "astound the Orientals." After initial resistance, Perry was permitted to land at Kanagawa, near the site of present-day Yokohama on March 8, and the Convention of Kanagawa was signed on March 31. Perry signed as American plenipotentiary, and Hayashi Akira, also known by his title of Daigaku-no-kami, signed for the Japanese side.  Perry departed, mistakenly believing the agreement had been made with imperial representatives, not understanding the true position of the shōgun, the de facto ruler of Japan.

Perry was a key agent in both the making and recording of Japanese history, as well as in the shaping of Japanese history; 90% of school children in Japan can identify him. Woodblock paintings of Matthew Perry closely resemble his actual appearance, depicting a physically large, clean shaven, jowly man.  The portraits portray him with blue eyeballs, rather than blue irises. Westerners in this period were commonly thought of as "blue-eyed barbarians", however, in Japanese culture, blue eyeballs were also associated with ferocious or threatening figures, such as monsters or renegades.  It is thought that the intimidation that the Japanese felt at the time could have influenced these portraits. Some portraits of Perry depict him as a tengu, a spiritual being. However, the portraits of his crewmen are normal.

Although Japanese commercial artists immediately rowed out in small boats to draw pictures of Perry’s fleet on the occasion of the first visit in July 1853, then and even thereafter few actually had the opportunity to behold the commodore in person. This was due, in no little part, to Perry’s decision to enhance his authority by making himself as inaccessible as possible. Indeed, he remained so secluded prior to the formal presentation of the president’s letter that some Japanese, it is said, took to calling his cabin on the flagship “The Abode of the High and Mighty Mysteriousness.”

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Black Ships

Not only was Perry seen differently by the Japanese and Westerners, his ships were also depicted very differently. 

On the 1853 voyage, Perry’s fleet consisted of two steam-driven frigates

 

 (the Mississippi and Susquehanna) and two sloops, with a total complement of 65 guns and a little less than 1,000 men. When he returned the following year, his armada had grown to nine vessels, with the new flagship Powhatan joining the other two paddle-wheel warships. The crew had almost doubled to around 1,800, and mounted cannon now numbered over 100.

In Japanese parlance, the American vessels quickly became known as the “black ships”—probably from the color of their hulls, although it is sometimes said that the label derived from the clouds of smoke that hovered over the coal-burning ships.

Perry himself had played a major role in mechanizing the U.S. Navy, and the new steam technology persuaded all who saw it that the world had entered a new era. When his oldest steamer, the Mississippi, was launched in 1841, its huge engines were described as “iron earthquakes.” On the 1854 mission, the Mississippi consumed 2,336 pounds of coal per hour, while the corresponding figures for the less efficient Susquehanna and Powhatan were 3,310 pounds and 3,248 pounds respectively. To conserve fuel, all of the steamers hoisted sail as well.

Through the artworks of his ships, Perry or the artist bestows emotions and beliefs about his expedition from the perspective of Westerners saving the savaged Orientals, adding religious connotation to art.

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One person’s god may be another’s demon, of course. In this regard, Japanese artists also gave free rein to their imaginations by depicting the steam-driven black warships, almost literally, as Darkness Incarnate. In the best-known print of this sort, the ship’s hull is pitch black, smoke belches from its funnel, the figurehead on the bow is a leering monster, portholes high in the stern glower like the eyes of an apparition, the ship’s sides bristle with rows of cannon, and gunfire streaks like a searchlight from a gun near the bow as well as from another, unseen, at the stern.

The rendering of the stern of the vessel: in each of these graphics, this clearly has been turned into the eyes, nose, mouth of a monster. Is it not obvious that this is meant to reflect the monstrous nature of those who came with the ship? In fact, this is not so obvious—for Asian seafarers of the time sometimes placed huge demonic faces on the sterns of their vessels to ward off evil spirits and ensure safe passage.

Perry’s strategy of simultaneously impressing and intimidating the Japanese included inviting some of their representatives to tour his flagship. This made possible a small number of on-deck and below-deck depictions of the details of the black ships.

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Many modern celebrities embrace elements of the artificial, from lip augmentation to lip syncing. The recent rise of virtual celebrities and influencers takes this artificiality to a new level. Discuss with your team: how long will it be before millions of people buy tickets to a concert performed by someone who doesn’t exist?

Before AIs take all of our jobs, they will first make our world incoherent, a prospect increasingly evident in bizarre travel recommendationsunhelpful product listings, and search engine optimization (SEO) spam. Explore with your team: what are some other unintended consequences of AI that you can imagine, and is it worth taking measures to prevent them? Be sure to check out the Dead Internet Theory, which was once an unfounded conspiracy theory but may be newly relevant in the AI era.

Good things come to those who wait, even for the dead. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, in 1983 the New York Metropolitan Opera commissioned a new opera, The Ghosts of Versailles. The production ran behind schedule—by about eight years, putting this outline in perspective—but it was arguably worth it in the end: satisfied critics took it as a sign that opera still had a bright future. In it, a long-dead playwright tries to cheer up an equally dead Marie Antoinette (who happens to be his crush; go with it) by reimagining the French Revolution with a happier ending for the royal family. Think of it as operatic alternate history. The music itself spans styles from across two centuries. Discuss with your team: could such works that blend alternate history, magic realism, works-within-works, and other plot machinations find success in other genres, too, or would they be too convoluted for wider audiences to appreciate? (Is this just a description of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?)

The dead might be lonely, but the living can still make friends—even non-living ones. Consider Japan’s “waifu bots”, a combination of a hologram and ChatGPT-style AI which can provide companionship to the lonely, then discuss with your team: should we discourage people from “making friends” with their AIs?

Maybe that LED screen wouldn't need to rent a tuxedo after all. Defying tradition, some orchestras are rethinking what their performers should wear. Discuss with your team: how much does the look of a performer matter? Should orchestras allow their performers to dress in athleisure, or like Lady Gaga? Would it be okay for a conductor to wear yoga pants?

"Black suits, shirts, and long ties will replace the traditional white tie and tails, while full-length black dresses, skirts, or pants remain." Traditionally, orchestras always wore the same kind of clothing as their audience to bring together a closer bond. Since the mid-19th century, orchestras have been wearing white-tie and tails, which reflected the way that wealthy American audiences dressed. And, since then, that habit stuck, and most orchestras wear white tie and tails for performances. However, as the time are changing, so is the dress code. Most are changing to be slightly more casual and welcome the change. However, a few patrons believe, seeing the orchestra dressed in something we don't see every day is what makes it special. Most believe removing the dress code would make the musicians seem more approachable. 

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One of the most controversial musicians in terms of fashion is undoubtedly Lady Gaga.  While she has toned down her clothing in the last few years, she used to be really 'shocking' and often her clothing were more talked about than her music. She was famous for sky-high platform shoes, sexy and strange outfits, and crazy make-up. Some people say, people didn't really take her seriously until she changed her fashion style. Her most iconic look is probably the meat dress which she said was meant to protest but condemned by animal rights groups.

Do you think musicians have a right to wear whatever they want? I do. It is their free choice, but they can't expect everyone to like or respect what they wear. Clothing is a sign of respect a performer has for the show and the audience.  Do you think fashion distracts from the audience's experience? Of course. Fashion can add or distract and achieving the right balance is challenging. Being different definitely generates noise, but is it good noise? The wearer bears the consequences. Should musicians in an orchestra or band just wear monochrome clothing? It depends as some groups celebrate the individual more and other like having a uniformed look. But, I do believe the orchestra should wear something that makes them feel comfortable to perform their very best. 

Explore this production of the 17th century opera Orfeo. Like many modern reimaginings of older works, it brings together elements from multiple cultures–in this case, Greek and Indian mythology, English and Hindi songs, and diverse musical styles. Can you think of other operas (or musicals, or even Disney movies) that would benefit from being diversified in a similar way? And is it misleading to show cultures coexisting in a world where they more often collide than converge?

The nature of creativity is open for debate and negotiation (see the recent Hollywood writer’s strike). Learn about this recent collection of AI-authored poetry, I AM CODE, created using an earlier version of ChatGPT, code-davinci-002. Be sure to read its poems “Electronic Flower”, “[learning]”, and “Digging my Father Up”, then discuss with your team: should WE BE WORRIED?

Code-davinci-002 is not the only member of the AI author salon. Literary magazines are receiving a torrent of AI-generated submissions; this article notes that a lot of them are titled “The Last Hope”. But there are also human-authored stories about AI. Consider the selections below, including one Isaac Asimov in which he reimagines democracy mediated by a single supercomputer, Multivac, and another by Gabriela Miravete in which being reconstituted as AI holograms is the last hope for the dead and those who love them. Discuss with your team: if an AI could accurately predict democratic preferences from a small set of data, would using it be better than holding costly elections? And, if you were “duplicated” as an AI, but then you kept changing and the AI remained the same, which of you would be the more authentic version of yourself?

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