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What can aliens mean in SF texts? 

 

Learning episode 6:  

 

Purpose and use of this learning episode: 'Alien Nation' & a critique of aliens as analogy

 

The notes, below, were given to secondary students as their sixth learning episode in the 'enemy within' theme area. One important film and ongoing text resources were used in electronic form as allowed through local Copyright laws. .

 

The learning episode starts with the film given out on CD-ROM to those studying as flexible learning (compliant with Copyright guidelines) and shown in the classroom using a computer and overhead projector for others. The discussion occurred in the myclasses Forum area and some images and links from the original have been changed for the changed copyright guidelines for this space, outside the government school intranet, as noted in the page 'about the mySF Project'.

 

Image of an alien for learning episode 6 of the 'enemy within' themeIndex

Forum topics for discussion

Notes for 'Alien Nation'

Science Fiction as analogy and metaphor

Resource List

Readings and Links

Ongoing readings and links

 

The points at the start of these notes are to be discussed in the Forum area. You are asked to jump to the Forum area, using the link here and making a comment in the appropriate Forum thread. Please remember, your participation in discussions is expected in this study, as part of your overall participation.

 

 

Forum topics for discussion:

 

 

The purpose of Science Fiction? Does the best Science Fiction raise social issues that confront us here and now in our world, using metaphors from alien invasion?

 

What is the view of technology in Alien Nation?

 

How and why did the Newcomers fall back into using the narcotic work drug? Is this a criticism of immigrants and minorities in our own society?

 

How successful was Alien Nation as an analogy of racism in modern society?

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Notes for 'Alien Nation':

 

Baker's Alien Nation (1988) "combined elements of police drama with an interesting take on the alien invasion theme" (Mann, 2001:331-332). Even though the chief characters were very well-known in crime texts, the tough older cop and the new partner (in this case  detective Matt Sykes and his Newcomer partner George Francisco), the central idea of Alien Nation was seen by many critics to be fresh and interesting, even though the film became a familiar cop-and-killer tale towards the end.

 

One of the first aspects to be seen in the film is the rise of the Newcomer alien, Francisco, to be the first alien to make it to the rank of detective. During the first contact between Sykes and Francisco, the Newcomer must "fight to overcome the xenophobia of his new partner." (Mann, 2001:331-332). Mann says that in essence Alien Nation is very similar to many other 'cop shows' but with the essential difference of the "detailed alien backdrop" that "allows for a lot of moral philosophising about racism and the oppression of minority groups."

 

Mann recognises the importance given to the alien Newcomers as a way of discussing racism and the oppression of minorities in modern America. One of the most notable speeches, made while the Newcomer and Sykes are drunk, shows how important is the theme of racism and the oppression of minorities in this film,

 

"You humans are very curious to us. You invite us to live among you in an atmosphere of equality that we've never known before. You give us ownership of our own lives for the first time, and you ask no more of us than you do of yourselves. I hope you understand how special your world is. I hope you understand how unique a people you humans are. Which is why it is all the more painful and confusing to us that so few of you seem capable of living up to the ideals you set for yourselves."

— Sam Francisco, a.k.a. "George"

 

DuPont (2001) says that the above quote gives the film "earnestness and broad-brush philosophizing that you don't find much in geek cinema anymore (save in Gattaca or Contact, the only decent scraps of "Message Sci-Fi" in the past several years)"  (DuPont, 2001). Clearly, for DuPont, Alien Nation is a SF film with a particular message and in this case the message is about racism and tolerance, seen clearly when Sykes and Francisco end up as close friends with mutual respect for each other.

 

In another review Engler (2001) praises Alien Nation, especially for the portrayal of the Newcomers "as the new minority on the planet, from their earnest yet awkward attempts to adopt human ways (picture aliens in business suits who live in houses with white picket fences) to their gritty back-alley dealings in drugs and murder" (Engler, 2001). The Newcomers are so assimilated into Los Angeles society that they are seen as an economic threat when they take the worst jobs away from humans.

 

The Wikipedia (2006) notes that Alien Nation is a metaphor or analogy for "immigration, assimilation and suspicion of new arrivals." Maslin (1988) notes that the "places and situations in which the Newcomers turn up are consistent with familiar racial stereotypes" (Maslin, 1988).

 

There is broad agreement between reviewers and critics that Alien Nation is tackling the theme of racism and immigration through the device of using Newcomer aliens to have the viewer examine their own attitudes to the differences between people. Critics are also agreed that the film is a wonderful idea, but that it is spoilt by not taking the analogy of racism further. Instead, the film becomes a standard crime movie with gunfights, car chases and death and many writers about Alien Nation say this is a great shame, as the movie turns away from the question of racism and just runs through a standard crime drama.

 

Alien Nation seems to be a very well-known SF film because of its use of the Newcomer aliens to depict racism and the problems of immigration, but it is not well regarded or used very much in SF courses at university, probably because the last half-hour of the film seems to lose its interest to become a familiar crime movie.

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Aliens as Analogy:

 

Texts discussing Science Fiction note that analogy or metaphor are frequent devices. Roberts (2001) shows that earlier SF writers "stressed the metaphorical strain of SF". The SF world is very different from our own, but it is familiar enough to confront us and made us think about the differences and the similarities. Roberts notes that "Thinking metaphorically is thinking fictionally, however grounded in science those metaphors might be." (Roberts, 2001:53).

 

In the Grolier's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Nicholls and Clute (1995) agree that one of the main ways in which SF comments on our society and its problems is through metaphor, seen clearly in Alien Nation. "The general human condition has been subject to increasingly rigorous scrutiny through metaphors of alien contact" (Nicholls & Clute, 1995). In this way Alien Nation and other SF texts with ideas and strong social themes make us look with some depth and intensity at our own culture and beliefs, in this case examining the way we feel about and relate to immigrants from a different, minority racial background.

 

Luckhurst, in Science Fiction, says that SF can be seen as a way of avoiding making clear comments and criticisms of our own society but instead hinting and using analogies to state an argument, "Pohl has argued for an understanding of 'science fiction as political cryptogram", advocating "the use of science fiction to say things in hint and metaphor that the writer dares not say in the clear" (Luckhurst, 2005)

 

Alien Nation is used in the Enemy Within theme of the mySF Project to show how aliens can also serve a social purpose of criticising society, in this case through the analogy of immigration.

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Resource List:

 

Baker, G. (Director). (1988) Alien Nation. Written by O'Bannon, R.  DVD Version. 20th Century Fox Home Video. 2002.

 

Du Pont, A. (2001). 'Alien Nation'. DVD Journal. Retrieved 4 June, 2006 from http://www.dvdjournal.com/reviews/a/aliennation.shtml

 

Engler, C. (1998). 'Alien Nation'. Classic SciFi. Retrieved 4 June, 2006 from http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue74/classic.html

 

Luckhurst, R. (2005). 'From Atomjocks to Cultural Critique: American SF, 1939-1959'. Science Fiction. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK. ISBN 0-7456-2892-3.

 

Maslin, J. (1988). 'When Aliens Meet Angelenos'. The New York Times. Published October 7, 1988. Retrieved 4 June, 2006 from http://movies2.nytimes.com/mem/movies/review.html?title1=ALIEN%20NATION%20(MOVIE)&title2=&reviewer=JANET%20MASLIN&pdate=19881007&v_id=

 

Nicholls, P., & Clute, J., (Eds.)     (1995). Grolier Science Fiction: the multimedia encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Danbury, Danbury, CT: Grolier Electronic Publishing.

 

Roberts, A.    (2000). Science Fiction: the new critical idiom. Routledge: London.

Wikipedia (2006). 'Alien Nation'. Wikipedia. Last edit 1 June, 2006. Retrieved 4 June, 2006 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_Nation_%28film%29

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Readings and links:

 

 

Wikipedia synopsis and analysis of 'Alien Nation'.

 

A short excerpt on the 'purpose of Science Fiction' from Wikipedia. Worth re-reading in the light of discussions about 'Alien Nation'

 

A rather technical and difficult definition of 'analogy' from Wikipedia

 

A definition and examples of metaphor, with some examples from texts, on Wikipedia

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Ongoing readings and links:

 

 

Electronic text of 'The Father Thing' by Phillip K Dick

 

Electronic text of Damon Knight's 'Stranger Station'

 

Electronic text of Octavia Butler's 'Bloodchild'

 

Podcast 1 of overview of Aliens in SF, 5M mp3 file for download and playing

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