Sunday, December 11, 2011

Are aliens the new zombies?

It's been well-established that everyone's favorite zombie-movie maker George A. Romero used the living dead as a way to rail on whatever he thought was wrong with society, i.e. war, consumerism, etc. The zombie-as-blank-cultural-canvas theories are every where.

And we're reaching new heights in zombie popularity these days — a planned "World War Z" movie, The Walking Dead on A&E, zombie walks globally fighting for a spot in the record books (OK, seriously, the existence of zombie walks at all), entire conventions devoted to zombie culture (which Warning Signs attended, of course). But as the living impaired become even hipper, are we reaching the peak of zombie-oversaturation? And what do we do if we lose our blank canvas on which we project all of our cultural insecurities?

The answer, of course, is get a new one. And in fad-happy Hollywood, that's pretty easy to do. But can zombies, which have held our hearts for so many decades, be replaced by something as cheap, as flimsy as, say, aliens?

We may find out. In 2011 and 2012, at least 28 movies (by one count) are hitting theaters about space invaders, including of course "The Thing" and "Super 8." But there was also "I Am Number 4," "Paul," "Cowboys & Aliens," "Battle: Los Angeles," "The Darkest Hour," "Mars Needs Moms," etc., etc., etc. And let's not forget everyone's favorite Alien hard-on, "Avatar." (Editor's note: "Prometheus," the prequel to Ridley Scott's "Alien" is also due next year. Yes, I'm excited.)

But we all know Hollywood is never on the cutting edge of anything, and the growing trend of alien movies may be built somewhat on the success of 2009's "District 9."

Before you balk at the very suggestion of using aliens as a way to express artistic, cultural disgust, consider:

•  Both zombies and aliens are creatures we know little about. Generally, the story is told from the "human" perspective, as populations struggle to survive against a perceived deadly invader.

• We know little about them. Sometimes, we don't know what created zombies or how to stop them. Sometimes, we don't know where or why the aliens came from. Neither speaks our language. Their motives are often unknown, and are therefore threatening.

• We want to understand them — both are subject to dissection and probing, if caught.

• The thing that's scary about zombies is that they used to be human — That's your mom, or your sister, or your boyfriend under that flesh-eating face. The scary thing (often) about aliens is that they want to be human. In "Alien," "Thing," etc., we see the take over human bodies in order for the host to accomplish their goals. They are after our resources or our planet or our selves ... we think.

"District 9" is a great example of using a similar project-culture pattern as Romero's zombies. There's a cultural we don't understand that we're at war with for reasons no one quite gets. But no, they aren't terrorists — they're aliens.

It's not a perfect 1-to-1 from space invaders to zombies, but it's worth looking at. As our globe becomes increasingly united even as America becomes increasing segmented, are alien invaders a better metaphor for our cultural climate? Is an active, hostile invader more reflective of Occupy than a mindless flesh-eater? Certainly, they could do more damage — control and rule us rather than just making us one of them.

And in America, isn't the fear of being dominated what rules us all?

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