If you haven’t noticed, immigration and race politics have kind of become a political talking point recently, and the conversations surrounding the topics have become more disingenuous than ever, almost as if it’s some kind of tradition for any subject that becomes politicized. Politicians and “activists” bark, and the people bleat. Crying out into some intellectual void, where nothing matters, because it was never meant to. You’ll care today, and tomorrow you’ll move on. It’s one of the more disgusting aspects of human nature: out of sight, out of mind. We only care if it’s brought to our attention, shoved in our face, and even then our empathy really only extends as far as our immediate experience allows.
It’s so hard to have honest conversations about this stuff. I mean, it’s almost impossible to even obtain any straight information about anything, really, no matter the topic, as news becomes more and more opinion panel driven. It’s getting harder and harder to mine through the bull shit, searching for something resembling information that will allow us to make up our own minds. And to make things worse, we openly spread bad information to one another in our endless quest to be “the right kind of right.” It’s mildly infuriating…
So, with all this stuff going on this past year, and now the attacks on Paris, the protests in Missouri, and the Syrian refugee situation, it made me think of the 1988 movie, Alien Nation. The story of a slave race of aliens, that are marooned on earth and then begin integrating into our society. It’s some good old fashioned, preachy science fiction, but it’s able to stop you from rolling your eyes by presenting it’s thesis of tolerance in a fairly entertaining package.
The thing I realized this afternoon, while watching the movie(and the TV series, actually) again, is how little has changed when it comes to the rhetoric surrounding these ideas. There are some “man on the street” style news segments at the front of the picture, and the things that come out of their mouths are literally the same things we hear nowadays. “They’re taking all of our jobs.” “My education should come before theirs.” “They could be dangerous.” Etc., etc., etc… You get the point. It pretty much mirrors what you hear every election cycle, as the politicians all get out there and promise that “THIS TIME WE GOT IT,” which, of course, then spurs on all those prepackaged talking points to spill from our garbage maws.
The cool thing about Alien Nation is that it posits the idea that humanity, as a whole, would be complicit in oppression. If we were to come across an entirely different species, from another planet, we’d all probably be a little weird about it. Especially when you consider the fact that these “newcomers”(the film’s non-derogatory name for them) were marooned, forced upon us, so humanity was forced to deal with it. There was no choice, no acts of self-congratulatory altruism(Is there any other kind?). No, just a problem that was thrust upon humanity, by some kind of cosmic fate. And how well do people react to being told that they have to do something? Not very well, that’s how well. (Whatever, Mom! I’ll clean my room later… I said I’ll do it later! Jesus Christ!)
There’s an innate sense of rebelliousness that exists inside of all of us. No matter what our color, race, or creed we want to do things our way, the de facto American way. It’s what we’re taught from the day we’re born in this country. It’s why people want to come here. They want the opportunity to be that boorish and audacious. On the world stage, being able to define your own existence is kind of a big deal. As bad is gets, as socially authoritarian as it feels like it’s becoming at times it’s still better than anywhere else when it comes to personal freedoms and opportunities. It’s easy to lose sight of that, especially as we’re all in line waiting for our turn in the oppression Olympics. Myopia kind of creeps up on you, and maintaining a fair and broad perspective can be really hard, and that’s something that effects us all, across the board. We can all be prejudice, we can all be shits, we just need the opportunity to have that part of ourselves exposed, and that’s really what’s at the heart of Alien Nation. We’re all complicit, and that includes the alien refugees.
There’s this weird of the down-trodden in our day and age. It’s almost as if people think everyone in need is some type of noble hobo stereotype, just trying to make it, you know, looking for a winning lotto ticket, or magic beans. The reality is much harsher, much… realer… I guess you could say. No matter what culture we’re talking about, it’s going to have it’s bad elements, because, literally, every culture does. Why? Because it’s made up of people, or in the case of Alien Nation, anthropomorphic looking aliens that have their own cultural struggles, specifically dealing with class. Whether you come from the stars, or just another country, it always really just comes down to that. The haves and the have nots. Hey, even third world countries have their rich people, and, just like everywhere else, that wealth usually comes at the cost of someone. It doesn’t just appear, you know.
The movie, and TV show, acknowledges all of that stuff, and even though it came out in the late 80’s and early 90’s it was all really refreshingly honest and genuine It cut through so much of the bullshit that we get mired in whenever social/identity politics gets discussed. It takes some really serious topics and distills it to the necessary bits, and in doing so engenders an actual conversation. It’s definitely broad in how it represents these topics, but you’d be surprised at how well the themes hold up. The series was either really ahead of it’s time, or maybe it just proves that some things just never really change.
So, if you’re some lame ass, and not a rad type of person that can’t get into the 80’s/90’s aesthetic and vibe of this thing, you should check out District 9. For all intents and purposes, it’s basically a spiritual successor to the Alien Nation series. In fact, it’s a little more straight forward, and makes it’s central thesis a little clearer by making the marooned aliens look nothing like humans, which makes it even easier to “dehumanize” them. It’s not a perfect movie, but not bad at all. Actually, it would probably make a decent double feature. Well, if you’re like me. I like to have theme based movie marathons. Yeah, I’m pretty awesome.
Also, I tweeted some thoughts about the movie and the TV series while I was watching it it. Check out #AlienNationMarathon for some stray observations.