Becoming the alien: Racism Ideology and District 9
Wikus:
The whole point of Wikus, of course, is that he is such a prat. ...
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Racist ideology

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Racist ideology

  1. 1. Becoming the alien: Racism Ideology and District 9 Wikus: The whole point of Wikus, of course, is that he is such a prat. He is thick as a plank. He is awful. He is as unlike a Bruce Willis or a Samuel Jackson as it is possible to be. He is cringe-makingly uncool: cheesily in love with his ‘angel’ wife, dorkily clumsy in front of the camera, cravenly obedient to authority, crudely bullying to the aliens that he deals with, and horrifyingly inept in his dealings with his Black underlings, whom he patronizes with cheery ignorance. At the same time, in his earnestness, in his desire to be liked, in his bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eagerness to make a success of this impossible, chaotic, disaster of a job, one cannot but like him. Racist ideology This is the heart of the film. In many ways the most disturbing and unsettling aspect of the movie is the rendition of the aliens themselves, who appear like nothing so much as huge, quasi-human cockroaches. They are ‘prawns’, they are ‘bottom feeders’, they appear to be addicted to giant tins of blue cat food; they live on rubbish dumps, they breed. They are disgusting. The figures of the aliens are, in a sense, nothing other than the exaggerated, concrete rendering of the way in which racist discourse depicts its objects: the way Nazism talked about ‘the Jew’ and Apartheid ideology talked about ‘Coloureds’; the way present-day white racists in Europe (and black and white xenophobes down here!) talk about immigrants. By presenting the aliens to us, not as attractive, noble creatures, by making them half-human and half insect, the film constantly trips us up by making the racist gaze our gaze. Rather more subtly – but perhaps more disturbingly - the same logic is at play in the film’s treatment of the reviled ‘Nigerians’, who are depicted in much the same fantastical ‘othering’ way as the aliens themselves. Like the aliens, the ‘Nigerians’ are rendered as surrealistically horrendous; in fact part of their awfulness is that they live so close to the aliens, doing business with them, even (or so some of the whites in the film fantasize) having sex with them. And no wonder. For in the racist world view, the most terrible thing about the relation with the Other is that the boundary might break down – that ‘they’ might become like ‘us’, or we like ‘them’. Part of the fascination of the science- fictional notion of the alien is that it allows us to imagine an encounter with an ‘other’ that is both like and entirely unlike us – and who therefore brings the thrilling possibility that ‘they’ might do to ‘us’ what ‘we,’ the whites, the Northerners, have done to blacks, to Indians, to ‘natives’ on so many places of own world. ‘Take us to your leader’ says the tall ambiguous figure… And then? Do they come in peace? Are they wise? Do they bring technology or miraculous medicine? Do they invite us to join an interstellar commonwealth of worlds? Or do they eviscerate us, turn us into slaves, eat our children, take our land?

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