Aliens and the arts
June 27, 2016 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Can you name some films or stories where aliens become enraptured with humanity's creative arts (music, painting, poetry, etc.) and thereby see their redeeming value? Similar but not exact tropes include "Alien Arts are Appreciated" and "Klingons Love Shakespeare".
posted by roaring beast to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This may not be QUITE what you're looking for (because it's sports rather than art), but -

The X-FILES episode The Unnatural is an as-told-to-Mulder story about an alien who came to earth in the 40's as part of the advance guard to help prepare for a colonizing invasion, but then he sees a baseball game, and doesn't have the heart to work for the colonization effort any more. He also runs away and disguises himself as a Negro League player so he can play baseball for the fun of it while still staying hidden from his alien companions. (It's also just plain wonderful.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:26 PM on June 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Martin Amis's short story, The Janitor on Mars, makes a slight gesture in this direction. The bulk of the story has the janitor on Mars revealing to humanity just how completely backwards and shitty they are compared to every other intelligence in the universe. As in, most species progress promptly from the discoveries of language and fire right on to the industrial revolution and beyond within a few generations.

Also, he notes that "Art is not taken very seriously elsewhere in this universe or in any other." But he's been monitoring earth for millions of years:
“I like art now. It takes a while to get the hang of it. What you’ve got to do is tell yourself ‘This won’t actually get me anywhere’ and then you don’t have a problem. It’s strange. Your scientists had no idea what to look for or where to look for it, but your poets, I sometimes felt, divined the universal …"
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:32 PM on June 27, 2016

History of Future Folk! Music stops aliens from exterminating all human life (that's really not a spoiler).
posted by snaw at 12:37 PM on June 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I clicked in to say Galaxy Quest, but it's mentioend on both of the TV Tropes links you cited and doesn't seem quite right.

Something that's not listed (and also doesn't seem exactly right) is that Klingons love prune juice. Another Star Trek commentary on human culture as related to beverages is Quark's great speech about root beer. Similar (but even less right) is that milk is an intoxicant for the aliens in Alien Nation.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:39 PM on June 27, 2016

In the '80s anime Macaross, some horrible Japanese pop songs help bridge the divide between humans and the aliens at war with them.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:40 PM on June 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

We just saw an episode of "Rick and Morty" which featured an alien civilization abducting the earth for a reality talent competition. Earth only gets abducted after an audition, so I guess that could count as "enraptured". Season 2, episode 5, "Get Schwifty".

Remember Dan Harmon? He made this series. It's _brilliant_. The pilot is kind of boring, but after that it really picks up fast.
posted by amtho at 12:42 PM on June 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Year Zero by Richard Reid is a novel that starts with the premise of what happens when alien civilizations get hooked on Earth music and commit copyright violations on a massive scale meaning that Humans own the entire universe.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:01 PM on June 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Breq (more accurately, Justice of Toren's One Esk decade) from the Ancillary Justice series is a serious enthusiast of human folk singing, but she/ it's an AI rather than an alien.
posted by sukeban at 1:15 PM on June 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Isn't Under the Skin in this vein? It's more pitying than laudatory, and doesn't end well, but nevertheless.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:21 PM on June 27, 2016

Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery , by Eleanor Arnason, is about this very thing! An alien has the job of translating human stories for her government (which is at war with the humans). She finds herself more and more captivated by a character called Holmes Sherlock...
posted by ourobouros at 1:42 PM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I apologize because I can't remember the title or author, but I remember a short story from the 80's (maybe published in Omni) in which the first alien to make contact with Earth is a huge fan of Earth's standup comedy. When he lands his ship and greets the humans, the first thing he says is "Please take my wife!" He winds up becoming a celebrity due to his endearingly clueless attempts at humor. Anyone else remember this? (Heads up: Turn your adult content filter on before searching "please take my wife.")
posted by ejs at 1:53 PM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm only half-way through it and it's sort of the converse of what you're looking for overall, but the book Constellation Games comes to mind ('cause I happen to be reading it atm). It contains some of what you want (so far) and a lot of the converse. Plus it's fun.
posted by hypercomplexsimplicity at 2:05 PM on June 27, 2016

Connie Willis' "All Seated on the Ground" is a slightly tongue-in-cheek take on this. The aliens are about ready to write off humanity altogether, but take choir music as evidence that we may have some redeeming qualities after all.
posted by staraling at 4:36 PM on June 27, 2016

Thomas Jerome Newton, the alien protagonist of the novel 'The Man Who Fell to Earth', gets distracted from his mission by sex, alcohol, and blues music.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:04 PM on June 27, 2016

Alan Dean Foster wrote a series called the "Humanx Commonwealth" about how the human race met a race called the Thranx, which more-or-less resemble a man-sized Mantis. The races hit it off hugely, to the point where they unite into a single political unit. One of the reasons is that both races find aspects of the other race to be hugely attractive.

For instance, the Thranx, being possessors of an exoskeleton and not being very nimble, are very, very taken by human ballet and gymnastics. They also become addicted to Chess.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:21 PM on June 27, 2016

The Fifth Element!
posted by kbanas at 6:48 PM on June 27, 2016

Maybe not exactly what you mean, but 'Agent to the Stars' by John Scalzi is about an extremely unattractive-looking alien species who hides a Hollywood PR agent to help them overcome their 'image problem' and come out to humanity.
posted by JoannaC at 4:07 AM on June 28, 2016

An oldie but maybe a goodie (I'm too scared to go back and re-read it after 40-odd years): A Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn. The art form was music, and I've been a bit mental about the Waldstein Sonata ever since.
posted by Logophiliac at 4:09 AM on June 28, 2016

The movie 'Explorers' features aliens enamoured by human culture, soaked up through intercepted TV and radio signals.
posted by srednivashtar at 4:17 AM on June 28, 2016

Finally, an excuse to mention this: The alien in A Mirror For Observers uses a variant of my first name and my actual last name as one of his identities. It really freaked me out when I was a teenager.
posted by wittgenstein at 12:23 PM on June 29, 2016

This trope definitely occurs in Carl Sagan's Contact, where the alien intelligence who meets Ellie after she journeys through the wormhole says nice things about classical music. I'm pretty sure a similar conversation occurs in John Wyndham's Tripod series, though I haven't read those since I was a kid. The trope is parodied, of course, in Hitch Hikers' Guide, where Ford humming the opening bar to Beethoven's Fifth fails to move his and Arthur's Vogon guard sufficiently to prevent him throwing them out of the airlock into interstellar space, though he does promise to mention it to his aunt.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:07 AM on June 30, 2016

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