Star Dreck: Paranoia & Patriotism in Alien Invasion Films
My premise is really quite simple: aliens are among us.And they're bad.But they're not the aliens you think they are, and they're not bad for the reasons you might imagine.In order to understand who these aliens are and why they're bad I want to begin by reaching back into the dark heart of the McCarthy era, when American paranoia in its most popular incarnation as American patriotism was at its peak.The year is 1951 and the film is Howard Hawkes' The Thing: From Another World.
For those of you who have somehow come this far in your otherwise admirable education without once seeing this influencial film, a brief synopsis: a ...view middle of the document...
We might see in Carrington an enthusiasm for other ways of thinking and being taken to suicidal extremes, a sort of multicultural mania.
The soldiers, on the other hand, understand the mortal threat the Thing represents from the very beginning; in fact, they can't even stand to look at it--a deep-seated aversion which sets the plot in motion, as it causes a soldier to put a blanket over the block of ice which contains the Thing, thus melting the ice and setting it free.Throughout the film, while the intellectuals stand about debating endlessly about how to deal with the Thing, the soldiers resolutely do what is necessary to first exclude the alien from their midst, and then annihilate it, without wasting a moment worrying about whether the Thing and its culture are worth getting to know.As their commander says at the end, he doesn't want "any part of it."
In traditional readings of this film, the Thing is seen as a stand-in for our fear of Communism as a de-humanizing ideology, a system which made people into unfeeling, replaceable, souless plants.But I find this argument unconvincing.After all, the Thing does not represent the real threat in this film; rather, that distinction goes to Dr. Carrington, the intellecutal, who works at every turn to betray his fellow Americans because he believes in the superiority of the Thing and its culture.At most the Martian represents brute strength, while Carrington embodies the cunning arrogance of deceptive rhetoric and ideological fervor, which I would argue are the true trademarks of the demonized Communist.While the intellectual carrot, as the reporter Scotty calls it, is an enemy the American soldiers can understand, it is Dr. Carrington who is the true alien to them.As Margaret Sullivan, the commander's love interest and Dr. Carrington's secretary puts it, "he doesn't think the way we do."Thus, not only is Carrington saddled with the blame for creating nuclear weapons, but his desire to understand foreign ideas is figured as inherently fanatical, dangerous, crazy--and, most importantly, traitorous.Lastly, I would point out that Dr. Carrington--with his goatee and fur hat--looks a lot more Russian than the Martian does.
Of course, much has been written about The Thing as an expression of 1950s American paranoia, especially given the last line of the film, when the reporter Scotty warns the world to "Watch the skies!Keep watching!Watch everywhere!"Clearly Scotty is heralding the coming seige mentality of the Cold War.But I believe, given Carrington's intellectually amoral commitment to selling the whole bunch of them down the river, Scotty was also warning his fellow Americans to keep their eyes peeled closer to home; to watch not just the skies, but their neighbors.The American paranoid of the 1950s understood that the real threat to American ideology wasn't the brute strength of the Red Army, but the theorized tendency of certain intellectual internationalists to misread the mentality behind...