Columbus, Space Invaders and our Inner Fears

In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Muslim Ottoman Turks, removing the last stronghold of Christendom in the East. The news sent shock waves throughout Europe. The Byzantines were no friends of the Papacy; in fact, the Eastern Christian city had been brutally sacked by reckless Norman Christian Crusaders nearly two and half centuries earlier, from which they never recovered. Still, the loss of Constantinople was a staggering blow.

For one, it placed the Sultan Mehmet II and his victorious armies right at Christendom’s doorsteps–and indeed, fears of the “dreaded Turk” would fill the minds of Europeans for generations, as the Ottomans rolled through the Balkans and reached the gates of Vienna. For the devout, here was yet another sign of the impending Apocalypse, that would pit the defenders of Christ against unbelievers. For European sailors and merchants, it meant the valuable flow of Eastern spices, silk and other goods–once controlled in great part through Constantinople–was now blocked by a hostile rival force. For investors in the profitable sugar plantations in the Mediterranean, it meant the drying up of much-needed supplies (from timber and Slavic slaves) to feed the sugar industry, and an increasingly dangerous waterway. A long period of Muslim-Christian détente would give way to religious rivalry, as two emerging fiscal-military states–the Ottomans and the Habsburgs–now battled over spheres of power for the next three centuries.

So what do Muslim conquests, the Apocalypse and trade have to do with Christopher Columbus and our primal fears of alien invaders? Perhaps everything. But if you like, you can skip past the history lesson to come and go right to Alien Columbus.

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Speculative Art: The Daily African- Diesel 2001

More alternate history and power reversals (for reasons I’m at pains to explain, I seem to be on this kick lately), this time from the fashionistas at Diesel. Created by DDB Stockholm advertising agency in 2001 for the overpriced famous denim company, the ad gained attention at the time for its provocative photos featuring the front page of a fictional newspaper, The Daily African. “Birthrate Booms in Italy and Spain,” one of them reads, “Europe Set Back Even Further;” the sub-headline continues: “With an average of 8.7 children born to every Italian woman and an annual GNP per capita below AFRO 45, there is a high risk of looming tragedy in southern Europe.” Another headline reads, “African hostages free after being held 148 days by Californian rebels,” while yet another proclaims “AU (African Union) agrees on financial aid to Europe.” Each daily is superimposed in white print against the backdrop of photos featuring African models, finely dressed (or in states of near undress) in various modes of play, lavishly indulging in decadent lifestyles of excess, while a poverty-stricken, politically unstable Third World Europe struggles to survive. Didactic enough for you?

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