Recently–and it bears repeating–I had to close Films, Deconstructed off to foreign nationals. If you don’t have time to read the long version (see: Site News: Why I Had to Block Countries, and a Warning to Other Americans), the TL;DR version is that because of a confluence of forces, film criticism and analysis has become a corrupt medium designed to exploit and stoke tensions in the United States.
Foreign nationals have been the guiltiest out of everyone in this regard, and a reason why they’ve been so effective at it is that Americans, in our foolishness, have been too open about ourselves on the internet. Consequently, foreign nationals of weak moral character–particularly those from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK–have been eagerly studying our content to figure out how to use it against us, even going so far as to imitate our tone and style of writing.
A perfect example of what I’m talking about is Canadian national Tamari Kitossa, who wrote a demented screed about two of America’s most popular sci-fi franchises, Alien and Predator. Entitled How Hollywood’s ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ movies reinforce anti-Black racism, this is one of the worst examples of bad faith media criticism and analysis that I have ever read so far, even worse than this piece of crap from The Daily Beast. It’s so completely off-base in everything that it’s claiming about these two films that the entire piece comes across as the product of a diseased mind:
Because that article gained traction on social media and forums, as a public service announcement, I’m going to deconstruct both the Aliens and Predator franchise, so Americans can learn about their true historical and political roots. But I’m going to also show you how foreign nationals like Tamari Kitossa have been maliciously exploiting cultural warfare in the United States using a weaponized form of media criticism.
Alien was Inspired By Roger Corman’s Night of the Blood Beast (1958)
No one has ever admitted it, but the first Alien movie was clearly inspired by Night of the Blood Beast (1958), a cheesy B movie sci-fi horror that would’ve fallen into obscurity had it not been for Mystery Science Theater 3000. While this might’ve been a great thing for the film, it wasn’t so much for the Aliens franchise. The reason is that in plucking the movie from obscurity, MST3K inadvertently gave away where Alien most likely got its idea from.
I know this claim sounds pretty far-fetched, but if you watch both movies and take notes, you’ll see what I’m talking about. With the exception of the last act and a few superficial storyline changes, Alien is pretty much a note-for-note remake of Night of the Blood Beast, right down to the twist in which a crew member–presumed dead–suddenly wakes up from a comatose-like state.
Keep in mind that this isn’t to accuse Alien of plagiarism or unoriginality, as the movie improved on Night of the Blood Beast to such an extent that it deserves all the credit for setting a new standard in sci-fi. The point is that the movie was rooted in 1950s B movie sci-fi horror and had nothing to do with any socio-political subtext about race and fertility.
Not only was Alien firmly rooted in B movie horror, it was capitalizing on other movie trends at the time, such as the slasher genre (Tobe Hooper’s 1974 film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). A combination of both movies, the story involves crew members living and working on board a space ship in the coldness of space, being picked off one by one by an unseen menace until one is left standing.
In Canadian national Tamari Kitossa’s agitprop, he claims that somehow, the original Alien movie and the franchise was a racist expression of American’s desire to control black women’s fertility. This is not supposition, thesis, or a mistaken conclusion. It’s completely manufactured bullshit that forces a completely offensive, dehumanizing association between the xenomorph and black American women, to prop up the claim that these movies were rooted in anti-black racism.
Oh, and speaking of which–
Alien’s Xenomorph was Based in the Artwork of Swedish artist, H.R. Giger, Who Painted in Black Tones
As a former art student, someone who grew up with the Alien franchise, and a cinephile who had her nose buried in books about the film industry, I can tell you without reservation that the Alien universe and the xenomorph itself were both inspired by and directly designed by H.R. Giger, a Swedish sci-fi artist who became famous for macabre artwork that combined goth, erotic, industrial and macabre elements. The reason why I’m particularly well acquainted with his work is that I was also a reader of Heavy Metal Magazine, which both featured Giger and the many cartoonists who were heavily influenced by him.
Giger’s style–which often incorporated skulls, human organs, and what looked like desiccated corpses–could best be described as “nightmare fuel,” which explains why he was asked by director Ridley Scott to contribute both to the design of the xenomorph, as well as the dark, gloomy, industrial look of the movie.
The reason why the xenomorph’s skin color is dark in the Alien franchise is that Giger’s work was always monochromatic. Because his work was meant to invoke horror, he fittingly chose to work in a gloomy palette–so, in tones of black ink, not black in the sense of an African skin tone.
As for the gender, the xenomorph may have been technically female, but its design was unapologetically phallic. As you can see in the concept art below, its head was deliberately designed as one big, long, throbbing male member. This erotic element wasn’t a one-off; it was a signature of Giger’s work.
Even if someone didn’t have all this background knowledge of Aliens, I don’t know on what planet someone could look at the xenomorph and draw some kind of association between it and black women, to further make the case that it’s all representative of anti-black racism. Not even the most racially paranoid person on the planet would ever think that.
If anything, the association itself is racist (or in Kitossa’s case, ethnocentric), because Giger did everything in his power to make the xenomorph as non-human as possible to create a heightened sense of unease in audience members. How and why could anyone immediately associate this alien design with that of American black females, unless he was projecting his own xenophobic views of them as subhuman?
Aliens (1986) was an Allegory About the Vietnam War
At the height of Cold War tensions, President Lyndon B. Johnson escalated conflict in Vietnam in 1965, based on the absurd concept known as “Domino Theory”. The United States expected this conflict to end as quickly and painlessly as the Korean War. Instead, an astounding number of American soldiers either were killed or became captured as POWs by the Vietnamese (including Senator John McCain), because the US military–for all of its high-powered weaponry and sophisticated tactics–had underestimated the effectiveness of guerilla warfare.
The Vietnam War officially ended in 1975, but it left such a lasting impact on the American psyche that for decades, American moviegoers hungered for any films that were either about it or referenced it in some way. This resulted in “Vietnam War Fever,” a period in movie history in which Hollywood pumped out an astronomical number of Vietnam War-themed films.
Just to give you an idea of how many, here are the ones that were released after 1975: The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), First Blood (1982), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Hamburger Hill (1987), Casualties of War (1989), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Forrest Gump (1994) and Tropic Thunder (2008).
As you can see, 1986-1987 was when Hollywood’s Vietnam War fever was at its peak. This makes sense if you know anything about American history or were actually a part of it; these years reflected the 20th anniversary of the US military’s escalation in Vietnam, as well as when the antiwar movement began to pick up steam.
Enter Aliens (1986), the sequel to Alien. Rather than repeat the storyline and themes of the first movie, director James Cameron reinvented the franchise as an allegory about the Vietnam War, which included the painful lesson that the US military had learned about its limitations in the face of guerilla warfare.
Not only are the similarities between the Vietnam War and the scenario in Aliens obvious, the look of the film is evocative of the thousands of news photographs and hundreds of hours of news footage and photos that had become emblazoned in the public consciousness:
For a more in-depth look into the Vietnam War and how Cameron used it, there’s this informative YouTube video from Alien Theory. Here, you can learn how Cameron not only used imagery from the Vietnam War as a point of reference, but studied the language of marines to further ground the movie.
Alien was not the only movie to use sci-fi horror to serve as an allegory about The Vietnam War and guerilla warfare. As we’ll learn in the next section, Predator not only followed James Cameron’s lead but added another brilliant take on the genre.
Predator (1987) was an Updated Allegory to The Most Dangerous Game, Using both the Vietnam War and the War in Nicaragua
In 1924, American writer Richard Connell wrote a short thriller entitled The Most Dangerous Game. In the novella, the protagonist is a world-famous safari hunter who gets shipwrecked on a remote island. As it turned out, his ship had been purposely capsized by a bored millionaire who became so tired of hunting animals that he started using people instead. The millionaire and his goons then force him and other captives into the wilderness without any weapons, to be hunted for sport.
On the surface, The Most Dangerous Game seemed to be an adrenaline-pumping action-adventure for red-blooded males. However, it was a clever allegory and morality tale about the evils of animal hunting, as both the protagonist and the reader are forced to experience what it’s like to be a defenseless animal. Connell’s novella was also ahead of its time, as it was the first story to introduce Americans to the concept of guerilla warfare, as the protagonist–outgunned and outmatched–uses tribal techniques to defeat his pursuer.
As you can imagine, The Most Dangerous Game, with its action-paced storyline and clever use of allegory, was begging for a movie version, so several film adaptations were made, the earliest and most famous being the 1932 version starring Joel McCrea and Fay Wray of King Kong (1933) fame.
By the 1980s, The Most Dangerous Game had either been adapted or referenced so many times that it had become cliché. Besides, its anti-hunting message would’ve felt like overkill in the “fur is murder” era of animal rights activism, a time when animal rights activists were splashing red paint onto fur coats in protest. Rather than just give up adapting the movie, Hollywood did something even clever–it updated the story by giving it a sci-fi twist, as well as switched its pro-animal rights message to something else.
That something else–as you guessed by now–was The Vietnam War. Like Aliens, Predator’s storyline paralleled the conflict, right down to the arc in which heavily-armed American soldiers find themselves being easily defeated by an adversary using primitive warfare.
However, Predator did something else, too. With the Reagan administration threatening to kickstart a similar war in Nicaragua against the Sandinistas “cuz Communism”, Predator was a golden opportunity to also use the movie as a cautionary tale against future interventionist attempts in Central America or any other region of the world that the Reagan Administration had begun pinpointing as a potential military flashpoint between the US and The Soviet Union.
None of what I claim is spin or conjecture–Predator being about the Vietnam War and US interventionism in Nicaragua is not even subtle about it. The movie takes place in the jungles of Central America, a setting not only reminiscent of the jungles of Vietnam, but also a clever reference to the worrying obsession of the Reagan administration with Nicaragua. Many of the shots in the movie were also evocative of images of The Vietnam War, in case the slow kids in the back of the class didn’t get it:
Another major clue that Predator was a Vietnam War allegory were its antecedents. More obvious than Aliens putting a sci-fi twist on the war was Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979). Starring Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen and Dennis Hopper, the film became celebrated for cleverly modernizing the Joseph Conrad novel, Heart of Darkness by switching the setting from the 19th century Belgian Congo to Vietnam.
Given all this, you can see how Apocalypse Now might’ve inspired the studios or even a filmmaker to take a short story like Heart of Darkness, adapt it into a Vietnam War allegory, and add a sci-fi element to it to capitalize on the success of Aliens.
Now, I ask you: what does any of this have to do with what Tamari Kitossa said, about how Predator is symbolic of America’s demonization of black men as predators? Not a damned thing.
I also know how he manufactured this nonsense from, too, because of how crude and transparent his methodology. To wit, in 1995, a Rightwing racist, John J. DiIulio, Jr., wrote an alarmist piece warning Americans about an oncoming swarm of inner-city youths wreaking mayhem in cities around the country, labeling this fictional horde super predators.
DiIulio’s coining of the term, super predator, had nothing to do with the actual movie, Predator. In fact, if you’re an American who was alive at the time, you’d know exactly why DiIulio coined that term. It was the age of political correctness, and Rightwing racists like him kept scrambling to create new coded words that could escape accusations of racism. Blacks had been historically dehumanized with animal metaphors; for instance, at the time, groups of black youths were described as “packs” and “animals.” The phrase, super predator, was just another variation on a theme, a coded dog whistle that continued the tradition of referring to blacks in animalistic terms.
In short, the concept of the super predator had nothing to do with the actual movie, Predator. What Kitossa did was draw a false association with that article and the film to make the equally false claim that it popularized the image of black men as predators. He then tried bolstering this falsehood by calling attention to the fact that Predator’s special effects designer, Stan Winston, had been inspired to design the alien based on a photo he’d seen of a Rastafarian warrior in Joel Silver’s office (producer of the movie).
This link between the predator alien and Rastafarianism might seem to vindicate Kitossa, but if you’ve actually seen the movie, you’d know that the alien is a humiliating–and humbling–symbol of the US’s limitations in the face of guerillas in far-flung lands perceived as easy targets. Had Kitossa actually watched the movie–which I doubt he did–he would’ve seen in plain sight what the predator symbolized.
Case in point–normally, in 1980s blockbusters, the hero would’ve been shown soundly defeating the predator with some kind of expression of American exceptionalism. Predator subverted this trope. In the last act, we see Dutch (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) heroically beating the alien at its own game by dropping his military weapons for guerilla warfare, much like the protagonist in The Most Dangerous Game.
However, just as it looks like Dutch is about to kill the alien, it starts to laugh mockingly and deploys a bomb, forcing him to run for cover. He gets horribly injured, eventually rescued and taken away by military copter. However, instead of looking triumphant, he lies there in complete silence with a look of dejection. He may have defeated the alien, but it was a Pyrrhic victory in which his faith in himself as a US soldier has been destroyed.
Ronald Reagan Created the Welfare Queen Trope, as Part of the New Right’s Attack on FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society Program
Even though Films, Deconstructed, is a movie blog, I had to address one of the biggest pieces of disinformation in Tamari Kitossa’s piece, which piled on the b.s. with historical revisionism about 20th century American politics.
He writes that Richard Nixon started the welfare queen trope. However, this is factually wrong. The welfare queen trope–a single mother who games the welfare system to such an extent that she is able to live lavishly– was a creation of Ronald Reagan during his 1976 presidential campaign. First governor of California and later president of the United States, Ronald Reagan was one of the vanguards of Rightwing Libertarianism aka the New Right, which arose in the 1960s as a rejection of government regulation, social welfare programs and safety nets.
Primarily irksome to Rightwing Libertarianism was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, a program of social welfare and safety nets that picked up where President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal left off. So, one of the aims of the New Right was to unravel the New Deal and Great Society.
However, with this goal, the New Right had a tough sell, as these were programs that Americans had not only fought long and hard for, but had depended on as lifelines in times of financial crisis. Not to worry, because the New Right had a trick up their sleeves–convince the demographics that had fought for these protections that people of a different race and socio-economic background were now indulging in them, and for all the wrong reasons.
To erode support for unions, workers were portrayed as lazy blue-collar, mobbed up bums who got paid $40 an hour to do nothing. To erode support for social programs, the homeless and destitute were reinvented as junkies or losers who didn’t know how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, best exemplified by Sam Kinison’s rant, “If you can’t If you can’t get it together here, where the fuck do you expect to go and make a life for yourself?”
As for social welfare for single mothers, according to the New Right, she was no longer a morally upstanding young mother turned single parent by circumstances outside of her control, but a poor, socially irresponsible woman from the inner city who willingly became a single mother to claim benefits.
Of course, all women–including white–had benefited from social welfare, but the reason why black women became the archetypical welfare queen was a brilliant act of subversion. At the time, the single black mother had actually been a positive image, as seen by the likes of shows like That’s My Mama, What’s Happening!! and Good Times. She was the hardworking saint who worked two jobs and even did demeaning work like housekeeping to support her children.
The New Right then weaponized this imagine by swapping out the image of the church-going, hardworking middle-aged black woman with the much younger ghetto princess, a young, worldly, materialistic woman from the inner city decked out in slick threads and clearly not of the churchgoing persuasion. The ploy worked, because it would’ve been next to impossible making this welfare trope stick to much older women when archetypes like Florida Evans were still very much a part of the American consciousness. The welfare queen archetype was much more believable with the likes of Linda Taylor, who clearly came from a much different generation than that of the stern disciplinarian who dragged her kids to church every Sunday.
As for Tamari Kitossa’s claim that Democrats were on board this stereotype, this is a falsehood as well, based on the contentious Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, signed by President Clinton. The law was signed as a response to growing pressure in the 1990s for welfare reform. The reason why pressure grew was that social programs–initially meant to help mothers made single through no fault of their own–had become a convenient out for sexually promiscuous male members of the Sexual Revolution to no longer fulfill their financial or ethical obligations to an unmarried woman should she become pregnant.
Naturally, when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act passed, it came with tons of baggage, as it had been signed a time when Neoconservatism–the next evolutionary stage in Rightwing Conservativism in the post-Reagan era that was defined by its slogan, “Family Values”–had muddied the waters of welfare reform with racially coded language suggesting that only blacks were on welfare.
Kitossa’s assertion that the Democrats had adopted the welfare queen trope is not even close to being the truth, and is a lie crafted to further demoralize Black Americans as they face struggles in the new millennium. This kind of thing is something I’ve seen more times than I can count from foreign nationals, where they seem to take perverse pleasure in kicking disadvantaged groups when they’re down. It’s not enough to tell them that the Republicans are against them, but the party that is stumping for them, too.
Timora Kitossa, and the Surge in Incentivized Trolling of American Culture and Politics
Author Tamari Kitossa is one of the many foreign national culture warrior trolls who’ve picked up the poison pen on a medium–the internet–where weaponizing American culture has become incentivized.
Some people might gasp in shock calling out someone who proudly lists themselves as an associate professor of sociology. However, as someone who minored in sociology, I have no problems casting aspersions on what he said. I don’t know what passes for “sociology” in Canada, but if Tamari Kitossa is any indication, whatever “sociology” degree anybody earns there probably isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
The reason why I say this is that sociology is the study of the intricate relationship between the individual and the larger societal forces that play a major part in shaping his identity and role in society. For example, the movie, Rear Window, was based on various sociological studies that noted a major shift in how people behaved living in small towns, as opposed to major cities. What sociologists realized was that city life was making people alienated in ways that would lead to a breakdown in society. They then warned about all the potential social problems that might arise.
This is sociology, in a nutshell. What Kitossa did was post junk sociology, based on an all too common fallacy that it’s supposed to be about learning how to write polemics based around social justice issues.
On top of being junk sociology, Kitossa’s agitprop is an amateurish attempt at trying to apply a cynical version of media criticism and semiotics to the art of deconstruction. If you don’t know what I mean by semiotics, this is the study of signs and symbols. This field of study sounds pretty boring on the surface, but is a very exciting and eye-opening look into the subtle ways in which society conveys meaning, particularly through mass media.
Key word above–study. Semiotics is not a “dark art”, a tool of propaganda. It’s an actual scientific discipline, rooted in research, observation and logic. For instance, there is no question that Hollywood has played a large part in the large number of issues facing American blacks today. Semioticians would then watch movies to find which tropes or characters might’ve been used to send subliminal messages about their worth as human beings. One character they certainly would’ve singled out was Prissy from Gone with the Wind (played by Butterfly McQueen). They might make the case that she was Hollywood’s attempt at creating an enduring symbol of black slaves as being too childlike and helpless to have truly benefited from emancipation.
Semioticians would never have done something so crude as to make a false association between any character and blacks to make the larger point that Hollywood creates harmful stereotypical images that carry over into real life. That’s not semiotics. That’s just bullshit.
What’s infuriating to me about this cynically-crafted piece of garbage produced by the likes of Canadian Tamari Kitossa–hosted on an Australian content farm, no less–is that it’s so clear to me how it was arrived at. Americans started writing media criticism blogs and articles in all sincerity, based out of a writing tradition that goes back to Susan Sontag. Foreign nationals of poor character and lacking context behind this type of writing stumbled across this style of writing and misconstrued it as a made up format to “cash in” or exploit as part of the affiliate marketing/content farm/weaponization craze, going, “Cool! A new writing format we can exploit on the web! Let’s do that!”
This problem is why I have closed Films, Deconstructed off. As stated in Site News: Why I Had to Block Countries–and a Warning to Other Americans, I’m not going to continue writing if it means also giving pseudo-intellectual foreign nationals a leg up on how to weaponize American culture and history. I suggest other Americans, who write about American media and engage in criticism, do the same.