For some reason, and without any rhyme, I have become increasingly obsessed by end of the world science fiction films these last few weeks. Usually my thoughts, such as they are, flit between the Third Reich, an idyllic England that probably never existed but in my mind resembles Devon circa 1965 and large, milky-white breasts preferably attached to a sex-crazed woman whose own obsession is to sit naked on my face and wriggle, slowly.
As an obsession this future sci fi doom scenario began quietly and, by obsessional standards, surreptitiously with my re-reading some predominately 1950s and 1960s novels over the last few weeks including John Wyndham’s brilliant Day of the Triffids and the gorgeously haunting Chocky, Edmund Cooper’s All Fools Day and Kronk and a few forgotten gems like Steve Frazee’s Sky Block (Bodley Head, 1955) and George O. Smith’s Hellflower (Bodley Head, 1955). These apocalyptic tomes sowed the seeds of my own personal journey to a kind of McCarthyite nirvana where mankind or rather mankind as personified by pockets of very middle class ‘nice’ people fought off nasty, untrustworthy aliens and, after many setbacks, won.
And thus it came to pass that I watched on an almost daily basis films like ‘War of the Worlds’ including both the 1953 version and the 2005 versions, Independence Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Day After, Threads, The Omega Man, Day of the Triffids, No Blade of Grass, Village of the Damned, The Earth Dies Screaming, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, Gattica, I Robot, Planet of the Apes and a film that terrorized me as an eight year old, Dr Who - Invasion Earth 2150 AD.
Why my usually earth-bound mind had filled with end-of-the-world visions perplexed me for a while, particularly as all references to this phenomenon usually cite the fifties fear of communism and the burgeoning Cold War as the cause. Which, given that all the West has to fear coming out of Russia right now is the nouveau riche and visually disturbing fashion, meant I was obviously barking at the wrong shoulder pads. But fifties sci fi films did capture a mood and a sense of a nation's fear. Fear of communists and of invasion purvey films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars more than anything else and, despite Senator Joe McCarthy's perhaps overzealous patriotism, the alien was the bad guy, and the bad guy was communist scum, admittedly portrayed as a little green man, but commie scum nevertheless.
It is interesting that in the original 1953 version of War of the Worlds, mankind, personified by action man actor Gene Barry, is prepared to fight the alien no matter what the cost and to exhaust every remedy in their desire to fight to the last. But in Spielberg's 2005 reworking of the War of the Worlds. mankind, personified by new man Tom Cruise, is portrayed as a fleeing, craven rabble where even the ‘hero’ is shown killing a man who had hidden him and his daughter from the aliens because the man who saves him is prepared to fight the invader and Cruise is worried that the noise of the man’s gun might alert other nearby aliens and consequently endanger him and his daughter. So Spielberg reduces the fighter to a crazed ‘survivalist’ that Cruise has to kill in order to survive. Crazed man bad, craven man good is the modern message which that means that 21st Century man doesn’t kill and fight the invader he hides and flees and lets the alien assimilate him and his culture. Ultimately of course, mankind fails and is only saved by our bacteria which, unsurprisingly given how generally revolting we all are, poisons and kills the aliens. But still Spielberg leads by example and the example is give in.
In our brave new world there is no modern McCarthy to alert the citizens to the threat of an alien, dangerous ideal. Nor is there a fear of another Cold War because Communism has been trounced by the Capitalist West and hurrah the wicked commie alien witch is dead. Or is she? Perhaps she’s just changed sex, grown a beard and started believing in an ideology that is as vicious and as threatening to our way of life as anything that Marx and Lenin concocted. In fact, if anything, the witches new cave dwelling cronies are more dangerous because, since the fifties, we have lost the will to fight the alien and those that can or do want to fight, are portrayed, like Spielberg's gibbering survivalist, as dangerous fools. It is no coincidence that George Bush’s attempts, tragic as they were, to fight Islam were damned as the futile gestures of a ‘stupid’ man. The new ‘wise’ men reason and emphasize with the alien and alien culture for they see only goodness in aliens and will ‘assimilate’ their culture into our culture and eventually our differences will blur and we will all live as one. Cue singing birds and smiling, multi ethnic crowd.
In the post WWII world, where the shadow cast by Nagasaki and Hiroshima was still fresh and communist expansion into China and Korea were just happening, McCarthy saw a threat to the US and the US way of life that was very real and his ‘scare-monger’ views permeated society creating witch-hunts against perceived communists. Reds-under-the-bed scare stories were everywhere and many card carrying communists, trade unionists, socialists and indeed totally innocentists were arrested and quizzed by the FBI and also, which is often forgotten, many real Moscow connected spies and radicals were outed and exposed. Despite the cost in liberal sensibilities and a few left wing casualties, the Cold War was won and communist ideology silenced.
The ‘red’ Russian alien too would eventually be defeated, and ironically by another ‘tough’ actor from the fifties, Ronald Reagan. Reagan was also portrayed as stupid and hateful by the liberal media and, in particular, Europe’s left-leaning intelligentsia who ruthlessly lampooned Reagan from the moment he took office. They were so clever and he was so stupid but then what could Europe expect from America? What indeed. Here, proclaimed the liberal alien loving intelligentsia, is a crazed, gibbering, communist-baiting half-wit who will start a nuclear war, a man who won’t even talk to the Russian aliens. Well the alien-loving intelligentsia were wrong and the ‘stupid’ actor was right and communism collapsed and right now the intelligentsia are wrong again, only now there’s a ‘smart’ man in the Whitehouse with the hots for bearded alien witches and Spielberg is writing the script.
The 21st Century alien is not to be feared, its followers are not to be hated, and most of all it is not to be fought. In fact we created the alien with our bad policies and imperialist ways and now must make amends and even if the aliens do bad things now and then like fly planes into tall buildings or blow up tube trains we mustn’t get angry because most aliens aren’t like that and when they are its our fault anyway. We should in fact listen to the new Obama disciples, men like actor Sean Penn and director Oliver Stone, who has just made a love-you hugumentary about Venezuelan President, the thug Hugo Chavez, and who paraded with him arm in arm at the Venice film festival last week. Stone leads by example and gets into bed with the enemy. Not for Stone, the red-under-the-bed, the reds in his world are in his bed and fucking him up the arse!
No, the witch is not dead, she’s alive, has a beard, a poe-face, a hatred of women and a circumcised clitoris-severing cock and is preparing to lead her people out of the caves and into the promised land or, to be more specific, Europe. We now live in a world where the fifties' science fiction cold war analogies have become realities, only no one is listening. We need a big bad wolf like McCarthy to stir the people up and champion our imperialist, capitalist, wonderful and flawed world before it is too late and yes, we probably need a ‘stupid’ commie hating leader too. One who speaks from the heart rather than one who speaks well to the heart and who isn’t afraid to look a crafty alien in the eye from time to time and, if necessary, blow his head off. But most of all we need to tell Oliver Stone he’s crap.