Ubiquitously Funny Obsessions: With the invasion of Area 51 memes across all social media, students and teachers analyze possibility of real-life alien invasion


Veronica Teeter, Wendy Zhu

Junior Daniella Richardson views an Area 51 meme on her phone. She said she first noticed the rise of the memes over the summer.

By Grace Xu, Carmel High School

Over the summer, junior Daniella Richardson went on Instagram to catch up and unwind as usual before coming across something decidedly unusual: an Area 51 meme. Strange, she thought, and she just kept scrolling. And scrolling. But the memes didn’t stop.

The meme, titled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” encouraged people to run en masse “Naruto” style toward the Area 51 military base in Nevada. The event was scheduled to occur today.

“I was like, ‘What is that? Why are there so many (memes about this event)?’” Richardson recounted. “I found it a little bit strange, but at the same time, it doesn’t really surprise me, with our culture.”

The Area 51 meme is just the latest in a number of different alien-related references to show up in social media and elsewhere. Aliens make up a significant amount of our pop culture, with no lack of references from the Star Wars film series to radio anthologies to today’s memes. According to William Turner, astronomy teacher and CHS’s planetarium director, said the interest surrounding extraterrestrial life often stems from people’s curiosity about the unknown.

“It’s fun to speculate,” Turner said. “I attended the original Star Wars in 1977, and I remember seeing a Luke Skywalker longing to leave his planet, and there was a twin sunset. And I just thought how alien, how wild that looked. That could never be a real thing, right? Now, astronomers speculated that probably wouldn’t happen; however, within the last 10 years, we’ve found a gas giant that orbits two stars.”

In fact, the existence of alien life is one of the most popular conspiracies, simply because of the vast possibilities of the universe. The scientific aspect of aliens may be what sets this conspiracy apart, contributing to the Area 51 meme’s popularity.

Claire Van Meter, Conspiracy Club president and senior, said most conspiracies are simply speculations that sprout from a few factual roots. According to her, Conspiracy Club is a fun-loving club where members can discuss such speculations without taking themselves too seriously. She also said the whole Area 51 trend is quite similar in that it started out as a joking meme vaguely based on logic.

“Just with the vastness of the universe, it is very possible that there are other life forms out there,” Van Meter said. “I just think even from a scientific standpoint that it is very possible, and it’s just fun to theorize about (aliens)… Personally, I don’t think there are little green men walking all over the world, but it is fun to talk about it.”

However, Turner added that even if alien organisms do exist, perhaps one of the reasons mankind isn’t yet aware is because of how hard it is to actually detect human life. He brought up the Galileo spacecraft that was sent to orbit Jupiter but also remotely studied Earth, with the goal of seeing how signs of life might appear. Turner pointed out that many of those identifiers of life, such as unnatural wave transmissions, can only arise from complex civilizations, so it would be hard to spot primitive organisms on other planets if they did exist.

Yet Richardson said the scientific aspect and difficulty of actually identifying life doesn’t take away the fun of imagination—after all, the Area 51 raid lost no popularity whatsoever, even as government spokespeople came out with statements debunking Area 51’s alien life.

“I feel like once we get a straight answer for things, we don’t necessarily want it to be over,” Richardson said. “So we’ll create our own conspiracies. Like, ‘Actually, this is what’s happening and you need to think about it,’ when in actuality, it’s probably not real. But sometimes, it’s also a good thing we are that way because questions should always be asked.”

In the particular case of Area 51, arguably the Air Force’s most famous and infamous training ground, Turner said much of the speculation may have its roots in the Cold War when countries were very secretive about technology. He added that back then, UFOs weren’t synonymous with aliens but simply stood for unidentified flying objects—presumably of human origin. “I think (Area 51) was the Air Force testing some high altitude balloon type things, and part of one of those crashed, and they were blocking off the area because they didn’t want people to see,” Turner said. “Speculation, you know, and things just keep adding up. So now the Area 51 thing—it’s just kind of little legend. It’s grown. People want to think that we’re hiding aliens or something there, and it makes for a fun story.”

According to the Area 51 raid’s Facebook group creators, a fun story is all it is intended to be. Van Meter said the joke likely spread so fast due to today’s meme culture rather than a genuine belief in the prospect of aliens.

“I think that society, especially gen Z and millennials—we like to latch onto ideas. We especially like memes and things that we find funny,” Van Meter said. “Even if (those memes) are for a very short period of time, that they can spread so rapidly that all these wild ideas can get really out of hand and really crazy. But honestly, I’m here for it.”

Despite her beliefs that aliens do exist, in the end, Richardson said she’s well aware of the fact that the Area 51 meme is simply that—a meme.

“I think that aliens are, in fact, real. However, they may not be in Area 51, and the raid just might not be a good idea,” Richardson said. “We’ll make a party out of it.”

This story was originally published on HiLite on September 20, 2019.