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« In Which We Confine Ourselves To District 9 »

Space Age Sign of the Times


District 9 is about what happens when starfaring men become quarantined with a virus and send the ones they couldn't cure to Earth. Or perhaps this is only the most probable explanation for why a group of indigent aliens took hold of a ghetto in South Africa. District 9 takes the sf cliche of every alien species coming to America and imagines if they ignored America entirely, as it is far more likely they'd do. A parasite preys on the weak, after all.

The city of Johannesburg houses the contaminated populace, who love cat food and use a technology that surpasses humanity — except they can't use it to get home. Our hero is a bureaucrat, just another sad sack who shovels up the shit the government's been serving. He becomes contanimated himself upon attempting to evict a particular enterprising pair of aliens.

The bureaucrat's journey actually glorifies violence as a solution to human problems. This is at least in comparison to more diplomatic methods, which are death by an increasing series of steps according to the filmmakers. The bureaucrat goes into individuals hovels demanding a signature for eviction. This is implausible; what rights would aliens have on U.S. soil except the dignity granted to animals?

If this really happened, you can be sure there would be an alien commentator on Fox News before the day was out. This would be the most important political issue of a generation. In fact, the U.S. would probably feel responsible, even to aliens in South Africa. There's nothing our politicians love more than a messy international situation, for some reason.

Once infected with the virus, the bureaucrat finds his priorities changing rather drastically. He wants to reunite with his wife, but as what? Some alien scumbucket?

In real life, a smoldering, useless ship doesn't metaphorically represent a moral injustice. There is no ship over Johannesburg, no more reminder that whites enslaved blacks anywhere in the world. It is quite shocking that apartheid existed, but slavery also existed, very recently, in the country where we reside.

Slavery is a human custom, and a fairly old one. It's an aftereffect of religion; separating the haves and the have-nots for spiritual reasons. Men are often delighted to find something to wed themselves to closely, like a baseball team or a Democratic politician. And of course it is only ourselves we enslave, is the basic point of Neil Bloomkamp's movie.

We have pens that hold humans; seen the Palestinian territories lately? Go to North Korea — there are camps worse than Disctrict 10 in our world. I suppose my earlier charity towards U.S. aims grows cynical after all.

Eleanor Morrow is the contributing editor to This Recording. She tumbls right here.

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Reader Comments (1)

What I take fooking exception to is the tendency of the white auteur to let the subhuman (eg, Planet of the Apes) or the grotesque (eg, the dreadlocked Predator or JarJar Binks or the big-headed humanoids of Alien Nation) signify human minority groups in their fables (even in Sayles' PC "Brother from Another Planet", the titular hero is a mute, three-toed slave). When it's Jeff Bridges as Star Man or Bowie as T.J. Newton or Chris Reeve as Kal-El or Michael Rennie as Klaatu, the message isn't about minority travail and the leads are therefore Messianically beautiful. In film, what you show is so much more powerful than what you "say"... what are all these hideous Sci Fi minority-stand-ins showing? Rhetorical q., btw.

August 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Augustine

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