I finally saw District 9 and feel no need to walk back any of my uninformed comments on it here now that I’m informed; it could have been a much better movie — should have been — but it just isn’t, nor did the people who made it want it to be. Timothy Burke claims it’s a movie that’s good to think with, but I just can’t see it and I think he gives it such a sympathetic reading as to describe the movie those people might have made but veered away from about when they decided to make Halo instead. It’s a movie that unthinkingly replicates all the basic racist tropes of settler colonial societies like South Africa and the US, everything from a rooting its moral compass in the eternal verities of happy white domesticity troubled and threatened by mindless alien invasion to its equation of the alien presence with insect-vermin that have to be kept separate because they refuse to work (the “worker-bee” narrative that is necessary to describe the simultaneity of hive-mind insects with their ownership of spaceships). The single alien that has any individuality or social ethos at all is, after all, not a repudiation of this broad-stroked characterization but precisely the single exception that proves the general rule. He’s like Chris Matthews’ Barack Obama: the good alien because he’s not like all the other aliens, who happily live up to every cliché.
Of course you know all that, right? But with post-Avatar retrospect it is interesting to see the same narrative device used to excuse “our” bad consciences even while performing-so-as-to- expiate it: while the decision to send the marines in, the corporate/statist choice to intentionally exploit other sentient beings (and ruthlessly stoke and exploit nativist fear to do it) actually happens off stage and therefore goes unremarked, the presence of the evil-bad-marine allows us to pile all the guilt on a convenient scapegoat, be he the hillbilly marine or the Afrikaaner MNU guy.
Also a quick description of Avatar:
Avatar is an animated film, an immersive experience with a lot of flying/swinging through the jungle, about an outsider born into (but alienated from) a technologically advanced society who tries to join an apparently primitive and inhuman — but also sort of more human than him — society, and after an extensive training montage, becomes so awesome that he convinces all but the alpha-male to more or less accept him. But then! Oh no! After kind-of-inadvertently leading members of his own race to the secret hideout of the primitive group, the violent greed of the outsiders leads threatens to totally mess everything up. But then, luckily, there’s a violent face-off in which his awesomeness turns out to be just enough to save the day. Though not before the primitive alpha-male character expresses deep sorrow for having not accepted our hero and dies to show that he really, truly regrets having been all mean and un-accepting. And then, happy times with getting the girl and going all native.
Oops, did I say Avatar? I meant Disney’s Tarzan.