Date: Sat, 6 Jul 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 6, 1996 +quot;Inde

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Date: Sat, 6 Jul 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 6, 1996 "Independence Day" Special Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #87 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 7/6/96 ~"Independence Day" Special INDEPENDENCE DAY ~~ A SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER RESONATES WITH PSEUDO-SCIENCE, MYSTICAL THEMES AND PRE- MILLENNIUM ANGST Hit. Blockbuster. Summer Spectacular. These are the types of words being used to describe the new movie "Independence Day" (or ID4) which open last Tuesday evening, and is apparently well on its way to becoming perhaps the biggest box-office movie in history. According to news reports, the film will probably shatter the record for a five-day opening of $52.3 million set by Terminator 2 in 1991. News services report that at many theaters which show "Independence Day" around the clock, there are capacity crowds for all showings, even at 4 a.m. People are camped-out on sidewalks eager to purchase tickets. And in newspapers, TV programs and talk shows, the film has ignited a discussion of aliens, government cover-ups and UFO's. Although "Independence Day" is generating favorable reviews (CNN called it "splendidly cheesy entertainment" and "sure-fire appeal to the popcorn-snarfing, adolescent movie goer...") and features considerable action and good special effects, the wild reception the film has generated may be saying more that KA-BOOOOM about the state of the culture. It's a fairly straight-forward plot which some critics have compared favorably to the 1953 hit "War of the Worlds," based on the novel by H.G. Wells. Giant alien spaceships suddenly arrive, providing at least a fictional answer to the nagging question: Are we alone in the universe? In New York, the visitors are greeting with a combination of panic and slack-jawed wonder; Los Angelinos climb to the roofs of highrises, and proceed to wave signs inquiring about the fate of Elvis, or imploring the anonymous aliens to "Take me!" Things quickly turn grim, though, when a helicopter flashing light signals at one of the enormous UFO's is blown out of the sky, and missiles fired by attacking Air Force jets are vaporized by an alien force field. The menacing invaders then proceed to wield a death ray that barbecues the urban landscape beneath them. "We're looking at total annihilation in 36 hours," warns a military advisor to the President. The inevitable and successful counter-attack comes after the usual subplots Will Smith gives a bit of a swashbuckling performance as a fighter-jock who's afraid to marry his girlfriend -- an exotic dancer -- for fears of ruining his chances of becoming an astronaut. Jeff Goldblum is typecast again as a nerdy scientist whose pessimism is held in check by his Jewish dad (Judd Hirsch), and sees impending global destruction as perhaps his last chance to get back together with his ex, played by Margaret Colin, who just happens to be an advisor to the President of the United States. Bill Pullman plays Commander-in-Chief; and is one of the few characters in "Independence Day" permitted any real character development. He's a bit of a Bill Clinton clone -- young, slightly handsome, but the sort of fellow who comes through in the clutch. Pullman rallies the troops for the inevitable victory, and in a comic-book finale even climbs into the cockpit of a fighter jet to join in the alien butt-kicking. Brent Spiner plays a slightly-deranged -- what else? -- scientist who has spent too many years performing alien autopsies and trying to get crashed UFO's flightworthy in the secretive government redoubt known as Area 51. In reality, this is a maximum-security area of the Nevada Desert which has spawned a veritable cottage industry of paranoid speculation. Aerospace industry publications say that Area 51 is really a testing site for advanced-design aircraft, including the next generation of stealth planes known as "Aurora," but that has not reassured many UFO and conspiracy buffs who insist that it is really home to everything from the bodies of dead aliens to crashed flying saucers being operated by the CIA. Spiner is the quintessential Hollywood embodiment of a truly, nutty professor; it's amusing to see a wave of recognition wash over the ID4 theater audience when "Commander Data" of Star Trek appears in long, grey hair and a lab coat. "Indepndence Day" continues a Hollywood tradition dating back over four decades to the release of "War of the Worlds." That movie was part of a whole genre which during the fifties emphasized invasion and subversion motifs mixed with the populux fascination with rocket ships, monsters and atomic power. "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) had already captivated viewers and provided a mental template of what a flying saucer SHOULD look like. Ray Bradbury's story "It Came From Outer Space" (1953) was translated into a sci-fi cinematic hit; aliens were busy trying to repair their wrecked space ships, and were frantically trying to go unnoticed by locals. In "Invaders From Mars," (1953), the aliens plan on invading the earth -- a threat realized by a young boy who has trouble convincing adults that they're heeeere.... And "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" (1956) featured the special effects of model builder Ray Harryhausen, including UFO's crashing into the Capitol dome in Washington. Aliens were doing more than joyriding to earth in sophisticated UFO's though; they were busy taking over bodies and minds. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" became a cult classic and spawned a respectable 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland. In the original, Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter battle disbelief and their own paranoia in trying to warn others about an invasion of alien pods that gradually duplicate the inhabitants of a small town. Like the invasion-motif, subversion-fear movies like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" characterized an era of cold war tension. Worries that fleets of Russian bombers would be overhead any minute, or that communist spies and agents were lurking under the box mattress were widespread. The 1978 remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" cast Sutherland as a psychologist in San Francisco. In the remake, "people aren't quite behaving themselves" as the pods take over -- a good metaphor during the era when cults and America's epidemic of "sudden personality changes" was in vogue. In ID4, a fleet of enormous alien ships hover over earth's major cities and proceed to wreck havoc. These are not the "warm and fuzzy" extraterrestrials of even a decade or two ago which But "Independence Day" is more than simply a 90's twist on this older invasion-theme. Cultural historians may ruminate on how America is a very different place from even the time in the late 50's and early 60's when films like "Gigi" and "The Sound of Music" served up a calmer, innocent fare. We've evolved from the time when audiences lapped up Maurice Chevalier singing his way across the screen, or delighted in Elizabeth Taylor role in 'National Velvet." In a peculiar sense, some of the worst fears of the American Christian right are rooted in fact; the cultural landscape is a darker, more violent, and far more menacing venue than even two or three decades ago. If one of the fingerprints of postmodernism is the blurring line between reality and fiction, then Hollywood has certainly left its distinctive patterns. Tinseltown stunt experts have always been able to make a fist fight or a fall look real; but "special effects" have moved beyond the clumsy models which were backgrounds for Godzilla. In the popular consciousness, the movies now depict something which is more "authentic" than reality itself. The grainy images of astronauts cavorting on the lunar landscape seem pale imitations of what audiences saw on the big screen in "Alien" or "Star Wars." The film version is how reality "ought" to look; the illusion has replaced the real thing. "Independence Day" has cashed in not only on Hollywood's developing special effects wizardry, but on the cultural angst of pre-millennium audiences. It plays to that part of the collective psyche where invasion fears reside, a symbolic icon of human uncertainty about the future. And just as 50's cinema exploited the gnawing worries over the cold war and the spectre of nuclear holocaust, ID4 taps a growing mass ambivalence about the human future, especially with the prospect of the year 2000 looming ahead. The end of a century, at least for contemporary historians and sociologists, is usually marked by indulgence in fears and insecurities which are the burden of everyday life. Stjepan Mestrovic's "The Coming Fin de Siecle" describes the mood in Europe, noting the similarity between that close of a century and the impending demise of our own 20th century: ""Syphilis, wars, political scandals, economic catastrophes, the increase in rates of mental illness, suicide, smoking, and drug abuse concerned them. They read in their newspapers about satanism, devil worship and the spread of the occult. They started talking about the rise of homosexuality -- lesbianism became almost a fad. Sado-masochism was much discussed, and they wrote much about the rise of immorality in the family, in sexual relations, and the general style of life..." The 1990's equivalent of this is even more pronounced; a growing fascination with pseudo-science, the postmodernist erosion of confidence in science and technology, a retreat into orthodox, fundamentalist ideologies, a resurgence of mythos, fears of catastrophe, and apocalyptic dread. The ID4 Illusion Behind An Illusion ID4 Producer and co-writer Dean Devlin told Time Magazine that "Our movie is pretty obvious. The closest we get to a social statement is to play upon the idea that as we approach the millennium, and we're no longer worried about the nuclear threat, the question is , Will there be an apocalypse, and if so, how will it come." Alien invasion is just one of the possible scenarios offered by an assortment of doomsdayers, though, as we count down to the year 2,000. Fundamentalists, eco-catastrophists, new age apocalyptics and a host of other nay-sayers all boast their own household vision of the end times; and a shocking amount of this phenomenon is linked to the immediate onset of the third millennium, current era. In a time when belief in religious mysticism is enjoying a renaissance -- witness the public enthusiasm over miracles, bleeding statues and even apparitions of the Virgin Mary, as in Medjugore -- and new age pseudoscience may not stop even at the front door of the White House, there is plenty of millennialist angst to indulge in. After all, if aliens are simply a postmodern manifestation of earlier and more traditional religious beings like angels and demons, the wrath inflicted upon humanity in "Independence Day" seems about as tame as the tribulation extracted by Jehovah in the old testament. The religious message isn't as overt as it was in "War of the Worlds," where "God in his wisdom" used germs to humble the malevolent Martian invaders, this after all human effort (including the atomic bomb) fails. But ID4 is tapping into a pop culture stream of religious-spiritual yearning and pseudoscience, starting with some of the most bizarre claims and speculations that once graced only the front covers of supermarket tabloids. Now, rampant musing about flying saucers, dead spacemen, alien autopsies, intergalactic sex-fests and molestations are part of prime-time media fare. The Build-up: From Roswell to Hollywood In April, Twentith Century Fox began boosting its forthcoming release with a skillfull blending of hype and pseudo-science cheerleading, in promoting Nevada Highway 375 as "The Extraterrestrial Highway." The stars and behind-the-scenes heavyweights of ID4 where there, along with a cast of characters from both mainstream politics and the cultural fringe. The idea was to promote Highway 375 (and "Independence Day"), using a 98-mile stretch of blacktop which happens to be adjacent to the infamous Area 51. Rout 66 had finally reached the Outer Limits. About the only sign of civilization (let alone the extraterrestrial variety) is the 10-room Little A 'Le" Inn, which offers a $3 Alienburger with Secretion (cheese) and Appendages (fries.) And beginning next week, the Nevada Office of Tourism will offer a free "E.T. Highway Experience" kit complete with map and offerings for UFO kitsch, even a glow-in-the-dark license plate holder. ID4's "Extraterrestrial Highway" shindig attracted Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, Lt. Governor Lonnie Hammagren, and a host of professional UFO enthusiasts including Vicki Cooper and Walter Andrus of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), Don Ecker of UFO Magazine, and George Knapp, "an expert on Area 51." The "Independence Day" website ( tells browsers: "Rumored to hold alien spacecraft or even aliens themselves, Area 51 was built by the CIA in the late 1950's as a testing ground for the top secret U-2 spy one knows for sure what lies beneath the surface." The postmodern admonition that "no one knows for sure" has now become a green light for all manner of speculation and conspiracy-theory building, especially when discussing UFO's and possible government cover-ups. But the hype for ID4 gets even better. Under the section "Alien Lore", we are informed that "your first step on the road to higher understanding" is the proposition that "Mankind has long had contact with extraterrestrials, beginning with ancient cave drawings of beings from other worlds, to modern claims of abduction and paranormal activities." This would tend to discard a large body of scholarly research in fields like paleontology and anthropology; but no evidence whatsoever is presenting for so astounding a claim. And more: "While the government has tried to convince us that nothing out of the ordinary is happening, they have begun studying the alien mystery themselves..." At Area 51, "government has recovered crashed alien ships -- perhaps even alien bodies -- and is quickly trying to decipher alien technology." In contemporary UFO lore, there is considerable speculation that the alien bodies and pieces of a crashed extraterrestrial craft allegedly housed at Area 51 came from Roswell, N.M., a town which has managed to capitalize on the growing credulity of the new age public by confabulating an image as a "center" for flying saucer buffs. 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