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Alien

    Alien

    Read the above review carefully and analyze it, identifying its thesis, main argumentative points, and key lines of evidence. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the argument and consider how it helps you better understand Aliens.

    Briefly introduce the film and introduce the general topic of the article
    Explain the thesis or main purpose of the article
    Summarize the main points in the critic’s argument
    Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the various points
    Discuss the degree to which you agree and/or disagree with various points
    Conclude with a discussion of how this article helps you better understand the film.
    AUTHOR: Tim Blackmore
    TITLE: “Is this Going to be Another Bug-Hunt?”: S-F Tradition Versus Biology-asdestiny
    in James Cameron’s Aliens(FN1)
    SOURCE: Journal of Popular Culture v29 p211-26 Spr ’96
    The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with
    permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited.
    If the critical world’s reaction to Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien was mixed, the academic
    condemnation of James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens, has been uniform. Cameron,
    a young Canadian filmmaker, writer-director of Terminator, The Abyss, Terminator 2,
    and writer (with fellow Canadian David Morrell) of Rambo, fought hard in order to direct
    the Alien sequel. “But,” Constance Penley writes, “this time there is a difference….
    What we get finally is a conservative moral lesson about maternity … mothers will be
    mothers, and they will always be women … here reduced to phallic motherhood” (73).
    For Penley and her fellow critics Berenstein, Bundtzen, and Greenberg, Aliens is not
    about feminism, female empowerment, motherhood, or even colonialism: rather, it is
    about women who have been duped into serving the patriarchy. This paper uses the
    sharpest criticisms of Cameron’s film as openings through which to reinterpret the text.
    A closer reading demonstrates that Aliens is a war film about Vietnam (including a discussion
    of friendly and unfriendly technology), and colonialism. There are many other
    issues in the text: on this point I will address the propriety and power of critics in the
    academic world who feel it is their job to save us from our porr cultural habits.
    BUGGED BY CRITICS
    Berenstein argues that “these [alien] monsters are intimately linked to reproduction,
    or what can be termed ‘pregnancy anxiety’” (57). She rereads Swiss surrealist Hans
    Rudi Giger’s infamous “chestburster” which so shocked the movie world in 1979, as a
    womb-burster. Berenstein’s claim about pregnancy anxiety, one which Greenberg finds
    farfetched, is weakened when we consider the “original” (and restored) version of
    Aliens. Cameron told the fan press in the summer of 1986: “The first thing I did was
    give Ripley a past, a life back on Earth … she was married … her career took her into
    space, and she had a daughter” (McDonnell 18). The excised scenes about Amy,
    Ripley’s daughter, were returned to the film when it aired on television in 1987. The
    scenes also appeared in Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the movie. By the fourth
    scene in Aliens, a grief-stricken Ripley has discussed the fate of her daughter with
    Company representative Carter Burke.
    In light of Ripley’s shock about Amy’s death (“I promised I’d be back for her birthday.
    Her eleventh birthday”), Bundtzen’s criticism that Ripley “Never expresses anguish
    or even interest about her past on Earth, the people whom she might have cared for,
    now dead and lost in the years of space sleep” (16), is ironic. The irony deepens when
    Ripley and Newt have a discussion about children:
    Newt: Did one of those things [a chestburster] grow inside her [Newt’s
    mother]?
    Ripley: I don’t know Newt. That’s the truth.
    Newt: Isn’t that how babies come? People babies they grow inside you.
    Ripley: No. Oh no! [laughter] That’s very different.
    Newt: Did you ever have a baby?
    Ripley: Yes I did. I had a little girl.
    Newt: Where is she?
    Ripley: She’s gone.
    Newt: You mean dead.
    Ripley: Yes.
    Aliens 1987
    1
    Having had a child does not necessarily prevent Ripley from suffering pregnancy
    anxiety; however, Bundtzen’s (and Berenstein’s) interpretation of the film as an underhanded
    gynephobic text, is symptomatic of the slack quality of their close readings.
    Cameron’s revised text is one they ignore: the restorations he made are significant (in
    the British video release, Cameron added some twenty minutes of cut footage). Much
    of the charge of gynephobia rests on the strangeness of H. R. Giger’s artwork. In
    Bundtzen’s view, the marines don’t enter a hive, but rather the Alien “vagina, then her
    womb … [and] with all their fire power and ejaculatory short bursts of guns, are the
    ineffectual and insignificant male gametes” (14). Vietnam vet Ron Cobb, an industrial
    designer for films including Star Wars, Alien, Conan, and The Last Starfighter, was
    recalled to work on the Alien sequel. He notes that fellow designer “H. R. Giger’s
    surreal vision combining the machine and the organic is a central concept to both pictures”
    (McDonnell 24). The art in Giger’s collections, particularly Necronomicon and
    Biomechanics, shows Giger’s terror of, and fascination with, the combination of human
    and machine. A Freudian reading of Giger’s work, based on Giger’s loving depiction
    of various orifices and protuberances, lessens the work. The work is not gynephobic:
    it is more generally phobic, and if anything specific, mechanophobic.
    There is further irony in Greenberg’s complaint that “Women are on an exactly
    equal footing with men”: in both Scott’s and Cameron’s films there is equality “to the
    point of androgyny; [women] wear no make up, use the same serviceable clothing as
    their male counterparts…. Although not unattractive, both sexes evince little, if any
    sexual interest” (97). Ripley’s lack of make-up is an issue with both Greenberg and
    Berenstein. If Ripley wore make-up where the others did not, or were she to dress differently
    from the others, surely the condemnation from these same critics would be
    severe. Berenstein inveighs against the “uniformity of costumes in Aliens” which, she
    contends, “provide an illusory sense of gender ‘equality’” (63). Berenstein’s comment
    raises the notion of “uniforms” which heighten, rather than lessen, differences. “Uniforms”
    which indicate different sexes are not uniforms at all.
    When Ripley asks Sergeant Apone “Is there anything I can do?” and is answered,
    “I don’t know. Is there anything you can do?”, she is prompted to take on the bluecollar
    job of running the power-loader. But, according to Berenstein, Bundtzen, Greenberg
    and Penley, Ripley’s proficiency with the “mechanical fork-lift” (the servomotor
    enhanced power-loader) is a betrayal of her status as a woman. Berenstein sorts the
    women in Cameron’s films into three categories: “dykes,” androgynes, and frigid,
    asexual princesses (Vasquez, one of the grunts, refers to Ripley as “Snow White”).
    Following Berenstein’s scheme, Ripley, with her “short hair, [lack] of make-up” and
    habit of wearing, “t-shirts and pants,” has been co-opted by the patriarchy; Vasquez,
    having become a total warrior, is no longer a woman; and the female executive early
    in the film is of “stereotypically lesbian construction” (Berenstein 62-63). In Greenberg’s
    view, Ripley serves the patriarchy when she “return[s] to the scene of emotional scarring
    and mutat[es] into a phallic superwoman” (“Fembo” 170). Cameron’s film, damned
    by Berenstein and her fellow critics because the only positions of power women are
    offered are those defined by the patriarchy, now apparently lies in celluloid tatters: it
    is those shreds I am interested in.
    RETURNING TO THE HIVE
    Despite the danger of committing the intentional fallacy, I have looked to the many
    authors of the film for help with a fresh exegesis. The critics discussed above move
    to shut down Aliens, its different meanings and its popularity. The critical response has
    not been one of reflection on the work (no matter how ‘ugly’ that work is judged), but
    one of denial and reduction. The film is reduced to a simplistic masculinist text,
    Tim Blackmore: “Is this Going to be Another Bug-Hunt?”: S-F Tradition Versus Biology- 2
    denying Fiske’s general assertion that “Images are clearer, more impressive than the
    reality they claim to represent, but they are also fragmented, contradictory and exhibit
    a vast variety that questions the unity of the world of experience. Images are made
    and read in relation to other images and the real is read as an image…. The images
    are what matter” (116). Fiske urges us not to be upset by contradiction and disagreement
    in the text. Reader-response or not, varying critical reaction proves that there is
    not ‘one’ text here: the assertion that there is one and only one text (of which
    Berenstein and her fellow critics will inform you), denies Bahktin’s notion of
    heteroglossia. Arguably, heteroglossia is created by a crowd of resisting readers who
    wish to open a place for themselves in the text, a notion central to popular culture.
    Fiske emphasizes that “the images are what matter”: Aliens discusses, criticizes,
    and re-views the world of patriarchal right-wing isolationism which has, apparently,
    given birth to it. The film is part of a subgenre which Aufderheide calls the “noble-grunt
    film.” According to Aufderheide, “taken together, these films revise, even erase, our
    understanding of what was, historically, not so much a military as a political process.
    They replay history as an emotional drama of embattled individual survival” (86). The
    act of revision is perhaps more instructive than the formation of the original vision, or
    myth. The four above critics argue that Ripley is not a character: she is a patriarchal
    stooge or “a feminist guérillere doing battle with the premise that female anatomy is
    destiny” (Bundtzen 15). Sigourney Weaver sees the role differently: “I think I actually
    act for women…. I’m more concerned with how other women respond to what I’m
    doing than I am that a man should look up at the screen and fall in love with me …
    maybe I’m acting for the women in men—the feminine side of men” (Yakir).
    Not only should the text be reopened for general discussion, it should also be
    reassessed on formalist grounds. While Bundtzen and the others are unhappy with the
    odd forms of closure, the so-called “sleeping beauty” sequences, at the end of each
    film, Fiske notes that for films which have produced sequels in the ’80s, “the
    syntagmatic chain of events may reach a closure, but the paradigmatic oppositions of
    character and situation never can” (145). I suggest that the paradigmatic oppositions
    operating in the Aliens films have more to do with science fiction tropes than with
    gynephobia (though the two are not mutually exclusive). Cameron’s thoughts about the
    media he uses are a reasonable place to enter the formalist debate.
    Cameron believes that “what creates a sense of you-are-there reality, is the way the
    film has been shot” (McDonnell and D’Angelo 51). In Aliens’s opening scenes,
    Cameron uses extreme close-ups of Ripley staring into the middle distance while lazy
    curls of smoke drift from her cigarette, to give us the feeling of her shell-shock. The
    camera’s intimate gaze, Fiske argues, produces a sort of jouissance: close, almost
    physical contact with the character and her emotions. Fiske does not equate film with
    television, but, he argues, since: “TV characters have a future … and the end of each
    episode has built into it the expectation of the next,” then there’s not much difference
    between a TV serial and “popular cinema” with “its production of miniature series,
    which it calls ‘sequels’—Rocky I, II, III, and IV, Mad Max I, II, and III, Rambo I and
    II, and so on” (150). What differentiates serial films from others is not just that they are
    closed syntagmatically and open paradigmatically, but that they provide space for, and
    invite the participation of, the reader-viewer.
    Viewer participation is encouraged by Cameron’s preference for a video, over widescreen,
    format. Just before the sleeping troops on the Sulaco are brought out of hibernation,
    the camera focuses on a video monitor which produces a scrolling list of the
    troopers’ names and service records. The quiet ship and the watchful machine is a
    direct quote of Scott’s Alien, where “Mother” wakes up the Nostromo and her crew.
    Cameron’s image holds more, however: part way between metafilm and metavideo, the
    Tim Blackmore: “Is this Going to be Another Bug-Hunt?”: S-F Tradition Versus Biology- 3
    display of the dramatis personae blurs the line between those who will play out the
    action of the next two hours (objective), or twenty-four (subjective). Cameron is leery
    of the “proscenium-type scene” where the camera hovers outside the action: instead,
    he wants the camera to “become, in effect, one of the characters” (McDonnell and
    D’Angelo 51). But Cameron is not satisfied with one camera-as-character: each soldier,
    with headset, high-intensity lamp, and lense, becomes a walking video-eye.
    Cameron is careful to draw our attention to the prevalence, and importance, of
    video: “I created a Command Center that was a video link with every trooper, via
    cameras that are built into their helmets. Everything they see is transmitted… [Ripley]
    is there with the soldiers” (McDonnell 20). Gorman, the green lieutenant, orders Drake,
    a veteran smart-gun operator, to “check his camera” which is malfunctioning. The lieutenant
    is oblivious to Drake’s vicious smack to the headset (which promptly clears up
    the picture), so intent is Gorman on seeing “what we can see.” Inside the colony compound,
    Cameron engages in a sly piece of metavideo. Ripley literally directs Hicks to
    “pan right”: he is both camera and operator. Looking at a bank of monitors, Gorman
    addresses Hudson. In order that the audience see Hudson reply, another trooper (and
    camera) must look at him. The apparently natural give-and-take between Gorman and
    Hudson does not actually occur. Hudson plays to Vasquez’s camera (why would he?
    he would see nothing there but a lens), while Gorman interacts with a video image
    from Vasquez’s camera. The shot-reverse pattern which follows between Hudson and
    Gorman through Vasquez’s camera, makes the camera into a ghostly character (Ripley
    and Hicks engage in a similar play with Drake).
    The video camera is an omniscient, low-resolution eye. Ripley cannot see out of the
    drop ship ports: she must use a video monitor to get a picture of the colony. The audience’s
    first clear sight of the atmosphere processing station, a sort of industrial
    pyramid, comes from a video screen. Similarly in searching the compound, Ripley, who
    is intently studying the monitors, sees on video what Hicks misses in actuality—huge
    sections of metal have been eaten away by an Alien’s acid blood. Ripley reassures
    Newt that their safety will be guaranteed by the surveillance cameras in the compound.
    Burke apparently gains control over Ripley and Newt when he switches off the medlab
    video monitor. Ripley has already demonstrated that video controls reality: she turns off
    a “high-resolution environmental wall screen, a sort of cinerama videoloop” before
    talking to Burke about her daughter (Cameron 5). Later, she reduces Burke to static,
    using his video business card to end a discussion. For Cameron, “the degradation of
    image quality is important to creating the sense that this is really happening”
    (McDonnell and D’Angelo 51). Those on the set noted that “Cameron often took the
    video camera in hand,” in keeping with his belief that, “we’re a generation that’s grown
    up watching things happen on the evening TV news”: for something to appear real, it
    must be shown on a TV screen (McDonnell and D’Angelo 51). His comfort with video
    is best indicated by a penchant for creating “video storyboards”: though Cameron is a
    more than capable artist, he prefers the video camera to markers and a layout pad,
    for visualization (Shay “Aliens” 47).
    HUNTING VIETNAM
    It is significant that much of Aliens is seen through a video camera, a camera which
    focuses on what Cameron’s generation are used to seeing on television: war. Greenberg
    recognizes that “the marine outfit clearly resembles [those] from the Vietnamese
    conflict” (“Fembo” 168), identifies Ripley as a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferer,
    and presses on. But the issue of Vietnam cannot be dismissed so easily. Cameron
    recalls: “I was writing Rambo at the time and I was getting into the whole Vietnam
    thing, and it occurred to me that ‘grunts in space’ was a wonderful concept,” one which
    Tim Blackmore: “Is this Going to be Another Bug-Hunt?”: S-F Tradition Versus Biology- 4
    follows a science fiction tradition of imagining war in space (Shay Aliens, 7). Science
    fictional war overlaps with Aufderheide’s identification of a new genre: “We are on our
    way, in the movies, to forgiving ourselves not for anything the U.S. government and
    forces did in Vietnam but simply for having felt so bad for so long” (111). Rather than
    deal with systemic issues (politics, the army, glorification of war), the films Aufderheide
    points out are relentlessly personal: Go Tell the Spartans (1978), Platoon (1986), Hamburger
    Hill (1987), BAT 21 (1988), and 84 Charlie MoPic (1989). These films concentrate
    on the mechanics of the war: how it was fought from day to day.
    Cameron repeatedly alludes to a human, or in this case, Alien, wave attack: Hudson
    panics “They’re gonna come in here and come in here and come in here just like they
    did before.” Wave attacks, a known tactic of the North Vietnamese Army, were based
    on surprise (Newt tells Ripley: “They mostly come at night. Mostly”), panic and shock.
    The fact of the enemy being “in the wire,” having breached a firebase’s perimeter, was
    a recurring nightmare for American troops in Vietnam. During Tet 1968, many firebase
    were overrun by wave attacks. In Aliens we hear about, and see the aftermath of, a
    last stand in the medlab compound. The carnage is proleptic of the wave attack the
    grunts themselves will have to survive in a few hours. Cameron and his effects crew
    went to great lengths to show the Aliens performing impossible stunts, leaping from
    wall to wall, running sideways. The illusion of Alien-ness was enhanced by suspending
    the camera, or actors, (or both), and having the actors “fall” toward the camera;
    dancers and mimes were hired to play the Aliens, in order to produce “movements that
    were sporadic and odd and strange” (Shay Aliens, 20). The result is a terrifying flood
    of Alien warriors, from all directions at once.
    The electronic battlefield is one response to the wave attack: Hicks, Hudson, and
    Vasquez erect and arm robot sentry guns which create automated killing zones. The
    sentry guns are operated from Apple-like laptop terminals at remote stations. The
    defense of the compound rests on these guns, but rather than show us the shooting
    gallery in the tunnels and corridors, Cameron focuses on the laptops as the guns
    rapidly expend their ammunition. The motion trackers carried by some grunts are
    cousins to the one Parker and Brett cobble together in Alien. But, as in the first film,
    the trackers only seem to make the imminent catastrophe worse. Aliens’s emphasis on
    the failure of intricate technology parallels the complaint that much of the Vietnam war
    was lost due to smugness about U.S. firepower and matériel. Drake’s smartgun, a
    heavy machine gun on a steadycam harness, fails him at a crucial moment. Hicks
    retires his automatic in favor of a pump-action shotgun which he keeps for “close
    encounters.” The grunts find that reliable technology is that which they can understand.
    Berenstein contends that the “mechanical fork-lift” is an example of Ripley’s success
    being dependant on “technological (read cultural) intervention” (68). But the power
    loader, impressive though it may be, traps Ripley. Her fall in the loader nearly kills her:
    only by abandoning the machine and relying on her own strength does Ripley survive.
    Aliens makes a distinction between friendly and unfriendly technology. Friendly technologies
    have a number of attributes in common: they are small, human-scale, easily
    operated and understood. The unfriendly technologies are large, complex, untrustworthy
    and dangerous. Friendly technologies include the robot sentries (made friendly and
    familiar by their terminals), Ripley’s wristwatch tracker, and the flashlight-sized
    cutter/welders which most of the grunts carry. Late in the movie, Hicks uses one of
    these tiny devices to cut through a huge grating in the structure which imprisons Newt.
    Cameron’s choice of location for the compound, a derelict power plant in Acton,
    England, enhances the sense of imprisonment and unfriendly technology. The atmosphere
    processor, referred to as the creator of a “shake and bake” colony, is an
    inhuman pyramid whose activities cause a constant raging storm on the planet. The
    Tim Blackmore: “Is this Going to be Another Bug-Hunt?”: S-F Tradition Versus Biology- 5
    medlab complex, as well as the sub-basement where the colonists have been taken
    by the Aliens, quickly become deadly prisons of metal grillwork floors and stairways.
    Bishop acts as a bridge between the two kinds of technology. Lance Henrikson,
    who plays the calm android, notes: “I don’t really try to make him charming but there
    is something delightful about innocence…. The one very clear thing about Bishop is
    that he doesn’t have a prejudice about living things. Anything alive is, to him, miraculous—
    whether it’s human or alien” (McDonnell 44). Because of the past, Ripley can’t
    bring herself to trust a creature to whom life, whether benign or malignant, is like a
    religion. Bishop is visibly upset at the troop’s insistence on seeing the knife trick played
    out again. Having volunteered to go into danger, Bishop examines a gun Vasquez
    hands him and quietly returns it. He refuses to be a combatant and instead ministers
    to life as a protector, pacifist, and healer.
    Greenberg argues that Aliens has been squeezed out of the “reawakened pride and
    conservatism” of 1980s America, and that like other revisionist texts, the film suggests
    “that our forces were vanquished by the fecklessness of liberals at home rather than
    by the skill or conviction of the Asian enemy” (“Fembo” 166). But there are no “liberals”
    on board the Sulaco: there are smug soldiers who are soon properly terrified of their
    unbeatable enemies. Ron Cobb notes: “Aliens struck me right away as a grand takeoff
    on Vietnam, with all these odd echoings of Apocalypse Now…. There was a rich, witty
    aspect to the picture. It’s not a projection, truly, into the future. It’s more like a contemporary
    war film…. it’s more a reflection of Vietnam” (Shay Aliens 9).
    The language of the film is not, as Greenberg suggests, simply “Parris Island
    Macho”: Ripley is asked to accompany the mission, but only, Burke tells her, “as an
    advisor,” a phrase loaded with powerful resonances from America’s early days in
    Vietnam. The claustrophobia of Aliens is reminiscent of some, the jungle scenes in
    Platoon. In 1987, David Halberstam noted that until Platoon, most Hollywood versions
    of Vietnam had been a “rape of history,” but Platoon “understands something that the
    architects of the war never did: how the foliage, the thickness of the jungle, negated
    U.S. technological superiority. You can see how the forest sucks in American soldiers,
    they just disappear” (51). Cameron’s grunts talk about “getting short,” (a reference to
    the end of the 365 day tour), demand “immediate dust off” (helicopter evacuation to
    safety), and are told to “watch your spacing” (“maintaining the interval” was one of the
    hardest lessons troops had to learn in Vietnam: soldiers bunching up meant an easy
    target). The language is supported by the design of the film, including Cameron’s drop
    ship which “looks like an Apache AH-64 helicopter…. The nose drops down when it
    accelerates forward and the ship sort of spins in place as it descends. All of that was
    very intentionally imitated from helicopter movements” (Shay Aliens 24).
    The overconfident marines (“there’s nothing they can’t handle”) carry “state of the
    art firepower” in an operation which is to “go smooth [sic] and by the numbers”: these
    phrases almost describe a football game (Nixon named two of his bombing operations
    “Linebacker”). Gorman and Burke’s executive doublespeak puts a familiar, euphemistic
    gloss on the war. Ripley soon understands through action, not words, that it is the seasoned
    troopers, the powerful woman-warrior from south of the border, or the quiet man
    from the farm, who really know what is going on:
    Ripley: Well, I believe Corporal Hicks has authority here.
    Burke: Corporal Hicks!?…Look, this is a multi-million dollar installation. He can’t
    make that kind of decision [to destroy the compound]. He’s just a grunt. (glances at
    Hicks) No offense.
    Hicks: None taken.
    Cameron 57
    Hicks is a Populist hero. The veteran trooper who knowingly follows an inexperienced
    superior’s ridiculous orders is the leitmotif of most Vietnam texts. Officers are
    Tim Blackmore: “Is this Going to be Another Bug-Hunt?”: S-F Tradition Versus Biology- 6
    constantly shown as inept, green young fools, who are sent into the line in order that
    their military promotions be guaranteed. In science fiction, the shrewd troopers who
    think independently are usually juxtaposed with the unitary hive intelligence. Cameron’s
    film is no different.
    PESKY TRADITIONS
    The idea of the hive intelligence does, as Greenberg suggests, “hearken back to the
    malignant conception of unearthly life found in fifties science fiction” (“Gargoyle” 83).
    Films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing (the originals and remakes
    of each) canonized, while allegorizing about communism, the science fiction trope of
    alien interchangeability: all the aliens seem to know what one knows; one brain
    governs them all. Science fiction examines the classic mistake of assuming one central
    mind is a lesser intelligence than many individual minds (The Forever War [1975], A
    Matter For Men [1983], Ender’s Game [1985]): a desperate Hudson bellows “whaddaya
    mean they cut the power? How could they cut the power, man? They’re animals!”
    Cameron’s hive has not been designed in order that women will be designated as
    “other.” When alien females appear in science fiction they are not immediately read as
    twisted versions of human women.
    Reassurances about genre traditions are not enough for Berenstein who puns that
    “Space is similarly conceived in Aliens such that the settlement walls literally form
    vaginal passageways” (66). But the Alien “settlement” is not a “massive reproductive
    system”: it is specifically called a “nest” which has been built “much the way ants do
    when they cement the walls of their tunnels.” While the nest is organic in appearance,
    it has been concocted with the usual Gigeresque mixture of “forms suggestive of
    bones, machinery parts and flexible conduit” (Shay Aliens 15). In 1979, Giger
    described his disturbing art as “a combination of art nouveau and technical stuff. I call
    it biomechanics” (Shay Alien 47). In the nest, an echo of the lethal and intricate tunnel
    systems established (particularly around Cu Chi) in Vietnam, the grunts find they are
    in too close quarters to fight Aliens who literally “com[e] out of the walls.” The only
    really effective weapon against the Aliens is fire; the flame-throwers in Aliens are supposed
    to operate on Napalm. The details given here have much more to do with
    Vietnam than gynephobia, real or imagined.
    Cameron’s penchant for naming gives us very real signs. Berenstein and Greenberg
    argue that Cameron is not only condoning, but supporting, military imperialism. Yet
    Cameron has followed Scott’s lead, drawing on Joseph Conrad’s 1904 novel Nostromo
    for direction. Nostromo is a rebellious, but trusted, lackey (Scott used the name for the
    space-freighter in Alien): Cameron named his military vessel, the Sulaco, after Conrad’s
    town in which the white owners and operators of the San Tomé silver mine live and
    “work.” In Aliens, the marines are sent by the Company to quell trouble in the fractious
    colony. There are further connections between Conrad, Scott, O’Bannon, Cameron, and
    Vietnam. Scott’s first feature film was an adaption of Conrad’s story “The Duellists”: the
    Conrad subtext is carried over to Alien. Alien writer Dan O’Bannon later wrote John
    Badham’s Blue Thunder (1983), a clear allegory about Vietnam. Vietnam and Conrad
    have been united most obviously in Francis Ford Coppolla’s Apocalypse Now, the film
    which Ron Cobb had in mind while he worked on designs for Aliens.
    Another of Alien’s literary parents is A. E. Van Vogt, whose story “Black Destroyer”
    (1939), incorporated into his novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950), shows
    respect for the alien: “We are faced with a super-being in control of the ship…. He’s
    utterly ruthless and he probably sees galactic power within his grasp” (197)(FN2). But
    Greenberg is convinced that “The Alien…elicits a double measure of contempt, [when
    it] is counted a ‘bug’ rather than a ‘gook’” and that the grunts’ “vision of the enemy is
    Tim Blackmore: “Is this Going to be Another Bug-Hunt?”: S-F Tradition Versus Biology- 7
    Manichean and contemptuous: They want a ‘stand-up fight,’ not just another ‘bug hunt’”
    (“Fembo” 168). Greenberg fails to note that not only does Hudson, the boaster, make
    the “bug-hunt” comment, but he makes it at the beginning of the mission: after a brief
    exposure to the Aliens, a chastened Hudson is ready and willing to “butt out and call
    it even.” Van Vogt’s Space Beagle and her crew are, like Conrad’s Nostromo and
    Sulaco’s team, lost in a hostile place, and “in its vastness your ship floats unseen….
    The eye of God himself…could not find out what work a man’s hand is doing there;
    and you would be free to call the devil to your aid with impunity if even his malice
    were not defeated by such a blind darkness” (Conrad 20). It is in reaction to blind
    darkness, not some patriarchal directive, that Ripley goes to the colony LV-426, also
    called Acheron.
    ALIEN CRITICS
    In this last section of the paper, I wish to address the issue of academics who arrogate
    to themselves the power to “approve” popular texts. Cameron, Cobb, Giger,
    O’Bannon, Scott, and Weaver are not the simple artisans and stooges of the patriarchy
    Berenstein, Bundtzen, Greenberg, and Penley make them out to be. The combined historicity
    and weltanschauung of the creators is relevant to the creation: “For Spec 4
    Ronald Cobb, the Vietnam war was less traumatic than was his vast leap out of Army
    life [reflected in] such recent designs as his Alien Temple and the corridors of the
    spacecraft Nostromo. The basic vision is a cavern world, lit by shafts of light from the
    side—a creation balanced between human craft and evolutionary accident” (Colorvision
    19). Cobb compares the two Alien films, deciding that the second “was a kind of stylized
    fantasy on technology—almost satirical in a way—as was the first one. The original
    film [Alien] had people tra