Alien Resurrection in the Ghetto
by Ralph Dumain
Yesterday I was finally forced to succumb to the wisdom a precocious, exceptionally intelligent, very bitter black girl once imparted to me: what's the point of having higher standards for people than they have for themselves? My day started out innocently enough. On a whim, I decided to take two companions to the movies, whom I shall call A and E. Our viable choices at the theater at that moment came down to Flubber or Alien Resurrection. A black woman standing nearby assured me that she had seen 7 out of the 9 films showing, including our potential choices, and they were all good. Knowing that A likes nasty, yukky horror films, I decided, what the hell, let's see Alien Resurrection and we won't have to wait around as long beforehand. It's a mistake I won't soon live down.
We trudged on into the theater and grabbed three seats, but not on the aisle itself. We left two empty seats on the aisle to my right. E sat on my left, and A one seat further over. Just before the film began, a young black couple entered the theater and took the two aisle seats, parking a baby carriage piled five feet high with various paraphernalia next to the aisle. Neither one of these parents could have been more than 23 years old, and as they lifted out their baby, I thought to myself: these idiots brought a baby into a movie theater? this is most ominous.
Before the baby itself could cause a disturbance, the father began talking loudly to the baby and teasing it. Ultimately baby started making noise. Momma was completely mum, sitting on my right side. The baby carriage remained parked beside the aisle, piled high with junk.
Soon after the film began, I realized I made a horrible mistake. The gore and the goo were hardly shocking or frightening at this late date: I was shocked only by the sliminess of the script. Every other word was "fuck" or "fucking", with some "shit"s thrown in from time to time. The whole scenario was sleazy and lowlife: the film was aiming right into the gutter. It took only a few minutes to realize the film was going to be a piece of shit. But what was much worse was the audience.
Of course the baby next to me began crying and making noises. But the father made more noise than the baby. He kept shouting out "Damn!", "What was that!", and "Ee-yoo!". E kept turning to me and giving me incredulous dirty looks. Knowing I would never live down this entertainment choice, I whispered: "I'm really ashamed of myself." I kept glancing over at A, who was completely impassive, totally absorbed in the movie, neither visibly scared nor surprised nor bored nor disgusted.
Audience participation grew, though, as the movie proceeded. Because the film was so sleazy, there was no way to go but to play it for laughs. The audience went along with the campy approach. The movie teased the audience with the anticipation of the obligatory monster-bursting-forth-from-the-chest-of-the-human scene, which, when it finally occurred, was played comedically. The audience cheered on throughout the rest of the film, too, but without the self-consciousness of people who know they are being played; rather, with the uncritical unreflectiveness of a passel of ignorant field hands.
A remained absorbed and impassive. E was totally scandalized, with furrowed brow and shaking head. The baby next to me was crying and carrying on; the father was carrying on even louder. Momma put the baby face down on her lap. The baby started grabbing onto my leg. After a while momma laid the baby down in the opposite direction: the baby kept kicking me in the thigh. Amidst all this, I turned to E, and waving my hand over the audience from left to right, I proclaimed: "THIS is the horror."
At one critical juncture in the film, it was revealed that the space station with homicidal aliens loose, in a state of emergency, is hurtling toward Earth. The most simian of the troglodytes in the crew first comments: "Earth? I'd rather be up here with these things." A couple of minutes later he delivers the coup de grace: "Earth! Man, what a shithole!" Right then I lost it, and began laughing hysterically. As I was the only one to do this at this moment, everyone turned around to stare at ME.
Is it possible for a culture to be more cynical? I was just about to bust open myself by the time this filth was finished. The film ended on its sole non-cynical, non-debased note: remarking on the beauty of Earth. As we began piling out of the theater, A asked me: "Aren't you going to stay and watch the credits?", as I usually do. I snapped: "This time I'm going to make an exception."
I had so much to vent I didn't know where to begin. We had escaped from the theater, but there was a long corridor filled with people to get through before we could emerge from the theater complex out into the food court, the most congested area of the building. I checked out the audience one last time and estimated it was 85%-95% black. I said to A: "Let's not do this again, OK?" And then: "So have you had your fill of this stuff?" A replied: "It wasn't scary at all, but it was cool."
I continued: "The worst part was the audience." And then I went on a tirade about the imbeciles sitting next to me, the father making a fuss and the baby kicking me. E joined right in, denouncing the immaturity of these people and especially of the baby's father. A asked, "You mean that person yelling out "ee-oo!" was an adult?" I said: "These are the kind of idiots that are cranking out children these days."
I couldn't stop carrying on. Parading through the length of the food court, I kept gesticulating and then cried out: "Why do I have to live in a nation populated by morons?" We continued on into the subway. E laughed as I said: "I'm going to sit in the corner", and I sat alone in the last seat of the car behind a plastic shield, further contemplating this watershed experience.
When we switched trains, we got to sit together, and I carried on my harangue: "This culture is digging BENEATH the bottom of the barrel. How much more degraded is it going to get? What kind of future can this civilization have? Can it possibly sink any lower?" E replied, "Yes it can." A burst out laughing.
Hanging my head in shame one last time, I bid them goodbye when my subway stop came up. I stopped at the drug store on the corner to retrieve a prescription I had left there two days earlier, but the pharmacist kept me waiting ten minutes, fumbling around because he couldn't find it anywhere. Then it turned out to be more expensive than I had anticipated, and I was nearly broke, so I had to leave without it. There was nothing left to do but walk home and wait for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to come on.
Earth. Man, what a shithole.
Sunday, 7 December 1997
Edited for public consumption 21 May 2003
Postscript: Response to a Professor
As mindless as the average person often is regarding entertainment, the intellectuals always manage to attain levels of idiocy the average person couldn't even dream of. Any comic book has allegory and social commentary embedded in it; that makes it no less insipid. The social commentary in this case is perfectly obvious: the bad guys are the military-scientific establishment, cold, heartless, mechanistic, oblivious to the human consequences of their actions. The good guys are the lumpenproletariat: they are crude, violent, grungy, nasty, but when it comes down to the crunch, they manifest traits of humanity, solidarity, courage, responsibility, and compassion lacking in their social betters. Obviously a film like this is a product of a cynical age: the corporate manipulation of people's anti-corporate, anti-government sensibilities. However, the fact that the working class audience is still held hostagewillinglyto corporate America even in its leisure activities, and doesn't even hold out for a high-quality product, is suggestive of how pitiful social life has become. For the only qualities Hollywood recognizes are high-tech special effects and adrenalin-pumping actionthe fascist aestheticwhere humanity itself is dwarfed by the awesome power of capital demonstrated by the spectacular blockbuster. The opposition represented by the lumpenproletariat to the power of capital may have some appeal for ghetto audiences, but that itself is symptomatic of how effectively they are kept in their place.
12 December 1997
Edited 21 May 2003
©1997, 2003 Ralph Dumain
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Uploaded 21 May 2003
©2003 Ralph Dumain