Independence Day: Jingoistic Nonsense
I felt violated, unclean.I also felt, against my own better judgment, a great wave of relief when Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum uncorked that nuke deep in the bowels of the alien mother ship. Light up a cigar guys, you sure deserve it.If only life were like the movies and we could just, uh, just, what? Kill everything that moves?Here I was, sitting in a packed and darkened movie theater, tears welling up in the corners of my eyes, violating the first rule of common cultural sense, the one that says: Don't Swallow the Hype. But I swallowed it. I was alarmed when the world was being zapped into oblivion by these slime balls from an outer galaxy. I was sad when the First Lady died in the arms of her husband. I was happy when they shot one of the buggers.Independence Day is almost pornographic in its appeal to the baser chords of popular fear and emotion. This is prurient movie making at its mass worst. Sure I responded, who wouldn't? These guys are damn good filmmakers.The summer's latest Really Big Thing is one long series of cliches, strung together with really loud explosions and really bad politics tricked up with enough emotional triggers to unsettle even the well-guarded skeptic. The president is a fighter pilot. The hero's girlfriend is a stripper with a heart of gold. The dumb guy can fly a jet fighter behind a pint of whisky. The nerdy scientist waltzes into the White House to save the world and win back his girl.And the aliens are real ugly fuckers who deserve to die.Like the carnival barker on the midway promising the pleasures of the flesh to farmboys titillated by the mermaid exhibit, Independence Day is roping 'em in to the big tent by the millions to watch the White House blow up, the aliens get pummeled and the good guys win one for the world.But behind all this great box office is a pretty disturbing melange of the worst kind of jingoistic nonsense, a universe where everything American is good and everything else is either bad - the aliens -- or superfluous -- anyone else. Every dismal cultural stereotype and ridiculous situation gets trotted out to the delight of the movie going public. A doomed overwrought gay man dies as he tries to phone his analyst while heading for Fire Island. The Jewish father dispenses witticisms from the old country. The evil scientists have the key to the aliens hidden away in a big bomb shelter in the middle of Nevada. At the end we are even treated to the sight of half-naked African tribespeople waggling their spears at the smoldering ruins of an alien mega-ship and presumably chanting in Swahili, Hooray for America! The World is Saved!It is not so much that Independence Day, a remake of remakes, a rehash of War of the Worlds, Star Wars and those Godzilla things from the Fifties, is dumb, that almost goes without saying during the summer blockbuster season. But that it is mean and really, really dumb is a bit more disturbing. Consider the changing message of sci-fi represented by Independence Day. 2001: A Space Odyssey, raised troubling open-ended questions about human origins and our relationship to machines. Star Trek described a universe of cooperation, where we are all aliens and mutual respect is the key to survival. Both E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with their liberal optimism and friendly alien visitors, now seem impossibly naive seen through the filter of Independence Day.In Independence Day the dumbest humans are those who gather on a rooftop in Los Angeles with stupid grins on their faces, waving signs welcoming the aliens to earth. The belly of the beast opens, a brilliant light shines and kazzam, those idiots on the roof, along with the rest of LA, are toast.If this is the trend in sci-fi -- and I am certain that it will spawn a great tsunami of imitators -- then Independence Day is right in keeping with the meaner, dumber America of the Nineties. The constant drum beat of recent years in the popular press, in the conservative churches, in the halls of Congress and the bully pulpit of talk radio is that the outsiders are bad and will be punished. America, the real America, is not a place filled with aliens from other countries, pregnant teen-agers, criminals, the underclass etc. The real America, the fairy tale says, is a place of goodness and family values and tough love. No whiners in this new America of ours, and outsiders need not apply.Independence Day sure fits into that political message. In an America where some see affirmative action as the Great Satan and the death penalty is supported by something like 70 percent of the population, there is little wonder that Independence Day warms the foolish heart. The aliens are so bad they don't deserve even one strike. The president only triumphs when he stops being a weenie with a low approval rating and a high wimp factor and starts kicking some alien butt. You can't reason with these aliens in Independence Day. They are from out of town and they are in a bad mood and they must be slaughtered.The message of Independence Day is pure firepower tugging at the heartstrings. If only us Americans can blast the outsiders into the next century then everything will be fine. If only life were like the movies. Come to think of it, maybe life really is like the movies. Now there's a scary thought.