July 31, 2011

Aliens = metaphor for Indians?

“Cowboys & Aliens” & Obnoxious White GuiltWhen the Native Americans first saw European ships, these vessels may as well have been spaceships. And so goes the long-realized metaphors about aliens and the white man. One day the UFOs are going to come and enslave us all, just as we did to the Africans. It doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to realize that. Or they’re going to herd us like sheep and cattle and slaughter us for food. Okay, that’s an analogy employing general carnivorous human beings*. But the process is still the same, of turning our guilt about conquering other races and other animals into science fiction fantasies where we get a taste of our own medicine. Only in a movie like “Cowboys & Aliens,” the idea isn’t that we’re getting payback for our past wrongdoings. It’s not even that we’re now walking in the others’ shoes. Instead we’re getting to play the victim, and the hero, and the survivor.

Mostly, though, it’s a kind of slap in the face to the Native Americans and anyone else conquered and exploited by the European invaders. Because by having white guys as the heroes, even with assistance from an Apache tribe, it’s as if to say, “this is how it’s done.” I guess rather than today’s usual white guilt, this is more an act of white innocence with a ton of white pride—like a declaration that we’re strong enough to avert invasion, and it’s not our fault that others weren’t. Notice that in the title “Cowboys & Aliens,” it’s the Indians who are substituted for new bad guys. Even if “Aliens & Cowboys” had a better ring to it, the phrasing would be incorrect. Cowboys remain first, best, top-billing.
Comment:  Interesting viewpoint. Yes, aliens clearly were substituted for Indians in the title, at least. Does that mean Cowboys and Aliens is a metaphor for cowboys vs. Indians?

Could be. I can't say much more about this question without seeing the movie. But I'll reiterate that it's lame that the cowboys and Indians weren't equal partners against the aliens.

It's also lame that the protagonists were overwhelmingly white. In the Southwest where the Apache lived (and still live), the local population probably was a quarter to a third Latino, at least. How about having several minority characters in significant roles? And making a point of the humans having to overcome their prejudices to work together?

Killing monsters at the box office

I gather the aliens were mindlessly evil CGI effects. Although destroying monsters can be fun, the best villains--Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, the Joker--are more complex. They hold your interest more than creepy crawlers do.

Are overly simplistic heroes and villains what the audience wants? Apparently not. Proving Cowboys and Aliens was lacking something, it didn't crush the opposition at the box office:

Box Office:  Spielberg's Struggling 'Cowboys' Stumble on Surging 'Smurfs'In one of the biggest surprise box-office finishes of the summer, Sony's Belgium-based blue-troll movie "The Smurfs" over-performed and tied Universal's genre mix-up "Cowboys and Aliens" this weekend, with both films registering about $36.2 million in ticket sales, according to preliminary estimates.

Touting a high-profile roster of producers including Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, and directed by Jon Favreau, "Cowboys and Aliens" had been projected to take in somewhere between $40 million to $45 million.
Comment:  Obviously, Cowboys and Aliens shoud've pitted humans against Smurfs. Blue aliens (Avatar) have a proven track record of success. It could've been fun if the Na'vi went back through time and space to conquer the humans before the humans conquered them.

For more on Cowboys and Aliens, see Adam Beach on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Indians MIA in Cowboys and Aliens.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Most of us just assume it's pirates vs. ninjas, and that's that.

The entire alien metaphor, H.G. Wells made it clear from the beginning that in War of the Worlds, he was talking about indigenous issues and imperialism. Everything after that's just pastiche.