The World in the Satin Bag has moved to my new website.  If you want to see what I'm up to, head on over there!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reader Question: The Alien Exit

Mercy from Young Writers Online had this interesting question to ask:
Why does everyone resort to aliens in recent sci-fi/gov/end of the world movies?
Because aliens are easy. People do not question aliens as the villains, because, despite all our efforts to acknowledge our difficulty in understanding and dealing with the human/Other dichotomy, we are still as xenophobic as ever, regardless of race or gender. Aliens represent the ultimate Other, the figure that is so clearly not human, that any human argument cannot figure them into a human version of the human/Other dichotomy. Similar logic allows for the continued discrimination against animals—because they are not “human,” and, thus, do not, under any circumstance, deserve the same rights as you or me. We are human, they are not, and no matter how hard you might want to argue for their humanness, we will always refute it with DNA evidence, a factor we can no longer use to apply to people of color (no logical genetic variations exist in the various “races” to adequately provide evidence for the argument that we are different).

The alien, thus, is the easiest target to choose, especially in harder times. Hollywood is remarkable at knowing viewer trends. They have people somewhere who watch viewer habits to determine how they will react to movies under different situations. It seems that they have determined that we really don’t need any more instances of human error in our end of the world stories, or even in a lot of our science fiction (w/ exception to certain movies). Aliens offer a way out, a way of saying “now you have a bad guy who doesn’t exist, who, as far as we, cannot actually harm any of you or do any of the things in our movie.” After all, why worry about the rights of imaginary creatures?

Why indeed. They’re aliens. Fictional aliens. There’s no need for us to ponder the possibility of their existence, nor how we might treat them if, by a stroke of luck, we meet one of these strange creatures.

But, to be fair to Hollywood, they are on a remake kick, and much of the films that fit into this category of “the aliens did it” are re-imagined tellings of old movies, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and even Knowing, which was not a direct remake, but certainly a rehash of a story that has been told numerous times before (heck, even Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke has an ending which reflects very much the bizarre final moments of that Nicholas Cage flick).

These are my arguments, though, and certainly not absolutes. Anyone reading this is welcome to chime in if you have a different opinion (or the same opinion). Just be thankful that we’re not resorting to old giant monster clich├ęs…oh, nevermind, there was Cloverfield, a bastardization of the genre by the evil and craptastic J. J. Abrams. Seems like science fiction movies are in full rehash mode.


If you have a question about science fiction, fantasy, writing, or anything related you'd like answered here, whether silly or serious, feel free to send it via email to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com, tweet it via Twitter to @shaunduke, or leave it in the comments here. Questions are always welcome! If you liked this post, consider stumbling, digging, or linking to it!

Related Posts by Categories

Widget by Hoctro | Jack Book


  1. I might add that the other side of the alien-treatment coin is to put them on a pedestal, where the alien is basically a stand-in for angels or godlike beings who are both our superiors in technology and wisdom but also compassion, but who have graciously decided to contact us for purposes of enlightenment. For example, the aliens in Close Encounters of a Third Kind are of this type -- though I persist in thinking that the true reason the feeble little aliens sent their big ship was for some nummy human protein; I mean look at how malnourished they appeared! Anyway, that approach, though on the surface kinder than the traditional foreigners-are-evil characterization, is just as limiting and de-personalizing. I prefer movies where the aliens have both good and bad characteristics, just like humans. It's true this is very difficult to do and make the aliens seem alien and not just humans with rubber foreheads.

    And on an unrelated note: would you be able to tell me how you get the "read more" tag to show up on your main blog page and lead to the full single blog post? I have some Blogspot blogs and I can't figure out how to set this up. Blogger gives no clues that I can see. Thanks.

  2. Anonymous3:02 PM

    Which is why the best alien movie to come out in a long time is District 9. Now, I wasn't crazy for all the gore, and the story was a bit weak. But the concept is a winner: aliens appear above not New York, but downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, and they aren't super intelligent but pretty thick, but not so much as people think they are. And they aren't good, or bad, but actually victims. In this case it's the humans who are the bad guys (and I might add, humans die in their hundreds in the film, compared to very few aliens).

  3. Andrew: Very true, but even then Hollywood is resorting to using aliens to accomplish something. Even movies like Knowing, which is about the world ending (not at the hands of aliens) ends with aliens coming in on a peace mission. It's bizarre.

    As for the "read more." It's a hack you need to hunt down on Google. I don't remember where I got it, but it's not something that is provided by Blogger, as far as I know.

    Anon: I've been meaning to see that. It's basically a graphic version of Alien Nation.

  4. RE the read more -- thanks! I'll keep searching.

    As for District 9 -- it reminds me a lot of Alien Nation. That movie was good, and I loved the series when it was on. As I recall it ended rather abruptly, though, on a cliffhanger... but for a television program it actually managed to be thoughtful and present alien characters who had foibles and good characteristics, instead of being cardboard cutouts, and the issues presented are still topical today though everyone is now on such tenterhooks about offending anyone that I doubt the series could be made today, or at least the way it's been made. But people should know that the whole "aliens as marooned immigrants" has been done before, and the country didn't fall apart. Sometimes I think we've changed and not for the better.

  5. Andrea: I don't remember how it ended, but it might have been canceled, hence the abrupt ending. That happens a lot in television, unfortunately.

    But yes, Alien Nation was awesome!