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January 7, 2013 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Illegals -- Aliens as oppressed or oppressing groups in Avatar, Super 8, Attack the Block and... Alf? (Previously)
posted by Potomac Avenue (50 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wonder why no mention of District 9? Too overt? Or maybe it will come in a future installment.
posted by Mister_A at 7:20 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of accusations of puppetry going around at the moment, but Alf? Screw you and President Assad.
posted by biffa at 7:21 AM on January 7, 2013


‎"So the question that posed itself ever more insistently was: Why were the Germans so hung up on this show? And one night in Berlin, an American buddy and I drank our way to clarity. ALF, of course, is a Holocaust story (...) a sitcom about a family hiding someone in its attic, someone the government wants to seize, a permanent exile with no homeland to which he can return."

...whoa.
posted by Shepherd at 7:25 AM on January 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


You all remember the bit in Aliens, right, where the Marines are waking up from cryosleep and exercising and limbering up and getting dressed, and somebody calls out "When they said aliens, Vasquez thought they said 'illegal aliens' and signed up!"

Yeah, it's an example of the kinds of dumb jokes people make, but it's also literally true; Jenette Goldstein (who was, incidentally, also awesome that year in Near Dark) only heard the title of the movie and, confused about the subject matter, showed up to the casting call dressed as a migrant worker.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:27 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Deep thought about shallow stuff.
posted by Segundus at 7:29 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Deep thought about shallow stuff.

It's the house special.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:31 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Deep thought about shallow stuff.

Well, it is a plate of beans and not a bowl...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:36 AM on January 7, 2013


Deep thought about shallow stuff.

I love this sort of deep thoughts about shallow stuff because ultimately I'm immersed in the shallow stuff. Dumb pop songs on the radio and stupid summer blockbusters make up a huge part of the media I consume. If I can find a way to beanplate those experiences into something genuinely fascinating, I think that has real value because I can't escape the shallow stuff. Shallow pop culture will always be there, always be a part of my life, but being able to make something deep out of it makes it a more intellectually stimulating part.

If nothing else, this post made me retroactively find Avatar interesting.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:39 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Alien Nation, anyone?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:47 AM on January 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I recently re-watched Alf for the first time since I was a kid, and was amazed by how good it was; whether or not you grant the Holocaust allegory, the whole show is about a lonely, trapped creature who's constantly being berated by the family keeping him in their home. It's really remarkable how often the show seems to act as an indictment of the Tanner family.

I also don't really feel like getting into it again, but it's nice to see the article seems to look askance at a lot of the same aspects of Attack The Block that I did. Last time it came up on mefi, I recall being in the minority as someone who found the whole movie pretty fucking loathsome.

Thanks for posting this, and for the record, I don't think the subject matter is shallow stuff at all.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:48 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but if all you get out of Attack the Block is "OMG THE ALIENS ARE BLACK IN COLOR THEREFORE RACE THEREFORE RACISM!!!" then you're basically a parody of shit film critisism.
posted by Artw at 7:48 AM on January 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


He really isn't saying that at all though Art. In fact he's saying that the gestures towards depicting the aliens as blacker than the protagonists, even in the minds of the characters, is part of what makes it such an interesting film.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:51 AM on January 7, 2013


Wouldn't a parody of shit film criticism be good?
posted by fullerine at 7:52 AM on January 7, 2013


I'm sorry, but if all you get out of Attack the Block is "OMG THE ALIENS ARE BLACK IN COLOR THEREFORE RACE THEREFORE RACISM!!!" then you're basically a parody of shit film critisism.

Yeah, that would be pretty shit, all right. Good thing the article didn't do that, and in fact, took great care to explain that it wasn't doing that.

The aliens are also black—hairy, subhuman, grinning, and black. I don’t actually want to put too much emphasis on the color in isolation. Racial allegory, after all, is not automatic. Lots of black things are not black. Darth Vader is not black. If all we had to go on is that the creatures are inky-dark, I’d say we could let it slide. But that’s not it: The movie is entirely upfront about how it wants us to understand the aliens’ ebony. The kids stand over the first adult monster they kill, and two of them speak out loud what they see: “Wow, that’s black, that’s too black to see. … That’s the blackest black ever, fam. … That’s blacker than my cousin Femi”
posted by Greg Nog at 7:53 AM on January 7, 2013


Yeah, while I do not necessarily agree with it, Greg's deconstruction of Attack The Block in that last thread is really awesome and thought-provoking.
posted by elizardbits at 7:54 AM on January 7, 2013


I don't like the Attack the Block essay: "Second: The movie does almost nothing to revise one’s perception that its heroes are sadistic predators."

Ugh, what?

I think it's a good movie for revealing what cultural values are privileged in viewers. Moses' redemption comes in uplifting his "jingoism of the neighborhood" while simultaneously rejecting the self-cannibalism of the neighborhood that comes from becoming a drug dealer. If you don't see that kind of loyalty as valuable, of course you'll feel that these aspects "not fully resolved into one another" but you'll also be fairly missing the point.

Haven't read the other essays yet, but I find that these suffer from a common problem with this kind of writing. Overly broad assertions dressed up in flowery prose with scant evidence to back it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:01 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Darth Vader is not black.

Fail.

OK, you can explain to James Earl Jones that he's not black, and/or that none of his life experience or cultural background has any place in his acting... I'll just be over there cowering behind something substantial, like a mountain range.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:02 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that would be pretty shit, all right. Good thing the article didn't do that, and in fact, took great care to explain that it wasn't doing that.

He literally spends the entire rest of the article after the section you quote doing just that.

Of course, I may be just irritable because of this gem before that:

Almost none of the movie’s heroes are conventionally, ethnically English

Is he in the BNP?
posted by Artw at 8:06 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Almost none of the movie’s heroes are conventionally, ethnically English

Yeah, a few of the kids are white, anyway.

And with this insight in mind, I made a special trip to the university library in Berlin to chase down a hunch, and it was right: Anne Frank was not the girl’s real name, or at least not her full name. Her name was Annelies Frank: A … L … F.

I'm not trying to be a stick in the mud, but this is a joke, right? These articles are really, really relevant to my interests, but . . .
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:09 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was watching The Next Generation last night, and Data said something like, "The aliens are trying to contact us." Dude, you're the aliens!
posted by Brocktoon at 8:12 AM on January 7, 2013


Goldstein showed up with long hair and Chica lip liner, not "dressed as an illegal alien"--the story is on the DVD extras.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:21 AM on January 7, 2013


I'm not trying to be a stick in the mud, but this is a joke, right?

It's a joke in that he's not suggesting the writers of ALF knew about Anne Frank's name, I think he's pointing out an amusing and enlightening convergence where through no intent of any one author a parallel arises in culture that suggests a pattern beyond synchronicity. In other words it doesn't prove anything, but it's an absurd coincidence that reveals a truth in it's connection rather through the validity of the connection.

Alf isn't really about the Holocaust. But look: all these connections between them! What does that say about our translation (or misprison) of stories of hiding--like Anne Frank's--into comedies? -- Is I think the point there.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:21 AM on January 7, 2013


I was watching The Next Generation last night, and Data said something like, "The aliens are trying to contact us." Dude, you're the aliens!

I was thinking about the general lack, in reality, of the sorts of pre-human artifacts that litter earth in fantasy and sci-fi novels, and it occurred to me that obviously we're the first, which makes us the Elder Things. Where's my shoggoth slaves, dammit?!
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:22 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dude, you're the aliens!

I was actually just thinking, the other day, about how one of the best TNG moments is Bebe Neuwirth forcing Riker to eff her, saying "I've always wanted to make love with an alien."

Really, the best thing about that scene is that, given the Constant Riker Horniness, who on earth would believe the dude? Can you imagine Starfleet getting that report?

Admiral 1: "And then Riker said he had to get it on, so he could escape from his captors."
Admiral 2: "What? Seriously?"
Admiral 1: "Yeah, he apparently couldn't get out of there unless he sexed up some lithe alien babe that looked like Frasier's wife from Cheers."
Admiral 2: *quietly puts head in hands; long exhale*
Admiral 1: "So anyway, about his promotion to Captain?"
Admiral 2: "Let's leave him as Commander for a little while longer."
posted by Greg Nog at 8:22 AM on January 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


think he's pointing out an amusing and enlightening convergence where through no intent of any one author a parallel arises in culture that suggests a pattern beyond synchronicity.

I'm sorry, but that's just incredibly silly. It's random coincidence and to ascribe anything more than that might as well be magical thinking. There is no connection there, any more than there's a connection between, say, The Wizard of Oz and the gold standard. Which is to say, none.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:26 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


As soon as he said, in that first piece, that "to anyone who speaks English, a language in which the word “alien” means both “squid creature from another solar system” and “Mexican.” "[emphasis mine] I thought (i) Oh FFS not all Mexicans are Aliens and not every country calls immigrants "Aliens" either, you dolt and (ii) I'm not sure if I want to read his Attack The Block analysis.

And while he makes some good points in it, he also makes some howlers:
Only once does Attack the Block’s dialogue turn openly nationalist, when a gang member sticks up for the home country at the expense of Africa, pouring contempt on a white philanthropist off doing aid work in Ghana: “Why can’t he help the children of Britain? Not exotic enough, is it?”
isn't a patriotic dig at the expense of Africa, it's a dig at the kind of charity do-good mindset that finds the African poor exotic and other, and the British poor savages on Daily Mail Island.

Anyway, the main point that he misses in his Attack The Block essay is HUGE. Attack the block isn't a dual-allegorical single plot "RACIST!"/"NOT RACIST" film. It's an hour an a half of swearing, ulraviolence and modern London multi-racial patois that serves as a refutation to all the mad old right wingers, frothing royalists and xenophobic bastards who hold up the Blitz Spirit of London in 1940 as the epitome of what Britain is as a nation, a Spirit which has now – thanks to a post-war influx of colonial ingrates, European meddlers who want to regulate the size and shape of our bananas, and fatherless estate families who are breeding like rabbits – gone to the dogs.

London is under attack, and who protects it? Not some Churchillian speeches, nor Queen Liz touring the bombed out ruins of the east end. Attack The Block says that said Blitz Spirit – this time around comprised of a multi-racial working class council estate crew of latter-day Oliver Twists with a penchant for weed – is alive and well and these kids embody it better than any Jubilee parade. It's a big, loud, fuck you to anyone who argues that multiculturalism has been the ruin of modern Britain (or even more specifically, modern England).
posted by Len at 8:29 AM on January 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


I mean how you can write about a film in which working class bits of London are attacked from above and not ever mention what it went through in WWII seems ... careless or absurd.
posted by Len at 8:30 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Magical thinking, if you acknowledge it as such, is much more fun than most other kinds of thinking in essays. The best exegesis has a lot more in common with poetry than science, in my opinion. That's what I enjoy about this guy's blog!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:32 AM on January 7, 2013


I mean how you can write about a film in which working class bits of London are attacked from above and not ever mention what it went through in WWII seems ... careless or absurd.

There is a lot of selective blindness going on in that article. It definitely falls under the category of "Here's a cute thesis, let's dredge for examples" rather than "the following examples lead me inexorably towards the following thesis..."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:35 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I keep getting hung up on this point:
First: The film’s visuals might be plenty nationalist—all fireworks and Union Jacks—but its dialogue is not. Anything but: The film’s teenagers routinely say that they are fighting only to defend their housing project, their block. Where the movie is John-Bullish, the characters are instead intensely localist: “We wouldn’t have mugged you if we’d known you lived here.” That’s a sentiment available only to someone whose sense of the imagined community stops cold at the corner shop. And to this jingoism of the neighborhood the characters add a working-class or black ethos of self-policing—the code, in the US context, of Stop snitching and jury negation and Walter Moseley novels: “This is the block. We take care of things our own way.” It might be possible, when trying to make sense of the movie, to simply superimpose these two terms—the nation and the locality—in which case we would conclude that Attack the Block is proposing a council-estate nationalism, a black-white alliance of the distrustful and cop-hating poor. There’s something to this idea, and yet the individual components remain visible and not fully resolved into one another.
And honestly, I think Len perfectly explains why: "It's a big, loud, fuck you to anyone who argues that multiculturalism has been the ruin of modern Britain."

Because the movie's resolution hinges on accepting that protecting "the block" is, in fact, a patriotic value--Moses not only saves his neighborhood, but puts off the alien invasion in its entirety. He's only able to do this through embracing a modern, working class value, one traditionally excluded from models of British morality. But he is British. He might be a black, uneducated, working class kid, but he's got a Union Jack in his room and unless we embrace his heroism as valuable, then we're all ruined. These aspects are only unresolved if you cling to the idea that black kids are always the other, that their values are worthless or strange or without potential for good. And sure, you can do that--the cops at the end of the movie do. But it's your loss, really.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:47 AM on January 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Tell Me No Lies: There is a lot of selective blindness going on in that article. It definitely falls under the category of "Here's a cute thesis, let's dredge for examples" rather than "the following examples lead me inexorably towards the following thesis...

I think there's a bit of this, but more than that I think it's the he fails to completely (rather than completely fails to) grasp the intricacies of post-WWII British race relations. I mean, he gets part of the way there, but still seems to want to view the whole thing through the lens of the American experience. Not that I blame him for that too much; but it leads him to miss a lot.

(On preview, PhoBWanKenobi kind of nails a big part of it.)

PhoB:He might be a black, uneducated, working class kid, but he's got a Union Jack in his room

This is such a huge point. The Union Flag is massively loaded with racial symbolism in a way that – in America at least, I think – the American flag is not*. A black, uneducated working class kid having a Union Flag displayed like this is a reclamation of it, not an adoption of the values that its elite owners hold dear, or at least claim to hold dear while fleecing the country of its silver.

The Union Flag is such a complex symbol in different part of the country, and between different ethnic minorities. To give some examples: as a Scot, and one who spent almost two decades in Glasgow, the Union flag is inextricably tied, for me, to the Northern Ireland situation, and it really weirded me out being in England for the Jubilee last summer, with Union flag bunting everywhere. The only places you see that in Scotland are hardcore Irish Unionist supporting areas like Bridgeton in Glasgow, and Larkhall, where the kerbstones are painted red white and blue. And of course, there's the current situation in Belfast, now into its sixth day of rioting over how often said flag is displayed above City Hall.

And this is before we even get into the relationship ethnic minority English kids have with the flag, when it has, over the past 50 years, been used as the flag under which any and everyone saying "send them back home", not to mention beating and murdering them, has marched.

*Not so say that the American flag isn't loaded with racial symbolism, but it manifests in a very different way
posted by Len at 9:02 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is no connection there, any more than there's a connection between, say, The Wizard of Oz and the gold standard.

If you look for direct connections you will usually get in trouble, but if you stick to themes you can connect just about anything up.

The basic point of the gold standard is that the powerful fiction we call "money" must be backed by something very real if it's to be stable. The great reveal in The Wizard Of Oz is that the fiction of Oz's power is backed only by smoke and mirrors. When this is discovered the fiction collapses.

The theme of power backed by illusion is by no means unique to those two topics. It's a thread that runs through human affairs.

The more specific you get with the thread, the sillier the game gets. Proposing that "hiding someone from an unfriendly government" == "holocaust" takes you in some bizarre directions in a hurry...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:06 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


"hiding someone from an unfriendly government" == E.T.

Actually, wait, am I defending his point there?
posted by Artw at 9:13 AM on January 7, 2013


I would like to see him wax academic about Mac and Me, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:14 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not leaving until I get a 3000 word treatise on Flight Of The Navigator.
posted by Len at 9:16 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry, to continue prattling on about The Flag and why I think he misread Attack The Block as a result:

If the American flag is a symbol for America itself, that's definitely not the case for the Union flag and the UK, where the flag is much more a symbol of the monarchy, Empire and all its associated, er, issues. I remember seeing endless pictures of anti-Iraq war marches from America, and it kind of staggered me how many American flags there were. Not many – don't remember a single one, in fact – Union flags on display at their British equivalent, of which I went on many.

When Jessica Ennis – a Yorkshirewoman with a black father and a white mother, who are still happily married after 30 years – won the heptathlon gold at the Olympics last summer, she walked through the stadium with a Union flag. Not just that, but one with her fucking name on it! That said, pretty powerfully – and this is what Moses does with the flag in the film – that the Union flag does not mean what it used to mean. It's a huge symbolic shift: this flag is about, and for, us, not just the Queen and the Navy at Trafalgar and Enoch Powell.
posted by Len at 9:28 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not leaving until I get a 3000 word treatise on Flight Of The Navigator.

I Don't Leak, You Leak: Incontinence and Shame in Flight of the Navigator
posted by adamdschneider at 9:31 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not leaving until I get a 3000 word treatise on Flight Of The Navigator.

Compliance.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:32 AM on January 7, 2013


I'm not leaving until someone explains black Vulcans.
posted by mule98J at 10:00 AM on January 7, 2013


I find it intensely odd that the analysis of Super 8 makes not one mention at all of the Cold War.

I stopped reading after that.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:02 AM on January 7, 2013


How about an entire planet of black Klingon thugs?
posted by Brocktoon at 11:26 AM on January 7, 2013


I'm not leaving until someone explains black Vulcans.

Genetic variation, like black Humans.
posted by _paegan_ at 11:27 AM on January 7, 2013


When Jessica Ennis – a Yorkshirewoman with a black father and a white mother, who are still happily married after 30 years – won the heptathlon gold at the Olympics last summer, she walked through the stadium with a Union flag. Not just that, but one with her fucking name on it! That said, pretty powerfully – and this is what Moses does with the flag in the film – that the Union flag does not mean what it used to mean. It's a huge symbolic shift: this flag is about, and for, us, not just the Queen and the Navy at Trafalgar and Enoch Powell.
I have a feeling the Olympic legacy is not millions of kids doing cross-country it is Dizzee Rascal going bonkers and Mo Farrah falling to his knees in prayer.

This is for everyone.
posted by fullerine at 12:58 PM on January 7, 2013


How about an entire planet of black Klingon thugs?

Blackness: Kronos' environment is harsh (I'm guessing here), with a thin atmosphere and includes a high UV level planetwide. Accordingly, the entire stock of humanoids there evolved dark skin. There is still some variation where darker skin is associated with areas of higher UV, say the equator (if Kronos happens to have a significant axial tilt).

Thugs: There is variation - it may be that Klingon culture is highly caste based, but only the warrior caste are space farring. There's that one Klingon opera singing chef on Deep Space Nine - he's the exception rather than the rule.

Reality: They're space communists or something, with a dash of racism thrown in.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:20 PM on January 7, 2013


I mean how you can write about a film in which working class bits of London are attacked from above and not ever mention what it went through in WWII seems ... careless or absurd.

He also fails to mention The Word For World Is Forest in his article about Avatar, which is even more careless and absurd.
posted by dng at 1:29 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The aliens are also black—hairy, subhuman, grinning, and black. I don’t actually want to put too much emphasis on the color in isolation. Racial allegory, after all, is not automatic. Lots of black things are not black. Darth Vader is not black. If all we had to go on is that the creatures are inky-dark, I’d say we could let it slide. But that’s not it: The movie is entirely upfront about how it wants us to understand the aliens’ ebony. The kids stand over the first adult monster they kill, and two of them speak out loud what they see: “Wow, that’s black, that’s too black to see. … That’s the blackest black ever, fam. … That’s blacker than my cousin Femi”—which moniker is Nigerian and usually followed by names like Ogumbanjo and Kuti.

Ugh. This is the worst sort of aesthetic criticism: the sort that feels like even if a line is funny and humanizing, it's still not enough and therefore it must also be an encoding of some deeper symbolic issue. This is such a misread of Attack the Block that it's not even worth addressing seriously.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:48 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


The basic point of the gold standard is that the powerful fiction we call "money" must be backed by something very real if it's to be stable.

The basic point of the gold standard is that gold is a powerful fiction that some people believe is real enough to back money so that it's stable.
posted by ersatz at 4:15 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


"hiding someone from an unfriendly government" == E.T.

Actually, wait, am I defending his point there?


I'm not sure. He does seem to think that all Spielberg films are Holocaust films.

[goes back to watch Goonies again]
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:20 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Darth Vader is not black.

What's a Nubian?
posted by radwolf76 at 12:46 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


What's a Nubian?

SHUT THE FUCK UP
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:00 AM on January 8, 2013


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