Bengt Petter
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Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Wed 25 Dec 2019, 17:28

So far, most posts in this forum have been focused on details in the design of spaceships and the life cycles of the xenomorphs. That’s just fine and not that surprising. But, as my question more than hints, there is also a political aspect of the Alien franchise.

In the films we see female protagonists facing male representatives from The Company. I would say, it’s hard to even imagine the franchise without this specific set of gender roles. In my eyes it’s profoundly political. To me it’s also thought provocing how these themes can be used in game. Actually, I can imagine campaigns with both feminist and Marxist approaches. In a game perspective, it’s a way of describing conflicts and power relations. No, I’m not aiming to reducerade this game to identity politics, just approaching in another way.

Of course, I get that even raising these questions might seem provocative to some, probably partly also because we are both Europeans and Americans in here. But my point is NOT to win any political discussion - several interpretations of what the movies really means are possible. What I’m looking for is more a discussion about the political aspects of the Alien franchise. They are there, no matter what your political preferences. Even if you hate identity politics or other leftist perspectives, it’s still a part of popular culture. You could see it as a question of who is good and bad in a movie. I would say that Ripley is portrayed as a good hero fighting corporate villains. Does it have to be like that? Could the lines between good and bad be more blurred? How and why?

As I see it, Alien uses well established tech noir and cyberpunk tropes known from Bladerunner and William Gibsons Sprawl triology. They were both created in the era of Reagan and the global spreadth of what is called neoliberalism. For example, Gibson has commented this in several interviews.
Last edited by Bengt Petter on Fri 27 Dec 2019, 23:06, edited 1 time in total.
 
sathyr
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Re: Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Wed 25 Dec 2019, 23:48

So far, most posts in this forum have been focused on details in the design of spaceships and the life cycles of the xenomorphs. That’s just fine and not that surprising. But, as my question more than hints, there is also a political aspect of the Alien franchise.

In the films we see female protagonists facing male representatives from The Company. I would say, it’s hard to even imagine the franchise without this specific set of gender roles. In my eyes it’s profoundly political. To me it’s also thought provocing how these themes can be used in game. Actually, I can imagine campaigns with both feminist and marxist approaches. In a game perspective, it’s a way of describing conflicts and power relations. No, I’m not aiming to reducerade this game to identity politics, just approaching in another way.

Of course, I get that even raising these questions might seem provocative to some, probably partly also because we are both Europeans and Americans in here. But my point is NOT to win any political discussion - several interpretations of the movie really means are possible. What I’m looking for is more a discussion about the political aspects of the Alien franchise. They are there, no matter what your political preferences. Even if you hate identity politics or other leftist perspectives, it’s still a part of popular culture. You could see it as a question of who is good and bad in a movie. I would say that Ripley is portrayed as a good hero fighting bad corporate villains. Does have to be like that? Could the lines between good and bad be more blurred? How and why?

As I see it, Alien uses well established tech noir and cyberpunk tropes known from Bladerunner and William Gibsons Sprawl triology. They were both created in the era of Reagan and the global spreadth of what is called neoliberalism. For example, Gibson has commented this in several interviews.
I think you have to draw a line between "themes" and "message". Alien absolutely has feminist themes. I'm not convinced it carries Marxist themes aside from generic capitalist/quasi-cyberpunk dystopia.

But whether it carries those themes of not, it doesn't carry a message. It's not trying to prove anything to the viewer. It's not preaching these ideals. There's no "moral" to the story. It's an illustration of believable characters in believable (if fantastical) circumstances, and that's a key part of what has made it so timeless. Messages age like milk, but stories are forever.
 
Bengt Petter
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Re: Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Fri 27 Dec 2019, 23:24

So far, most posts in this forum have been focused on details in the design of spaceships and the life cycles of the xenomorphs. That’s just fine and not that surprising. But, as my question more than hints, there is also a political aspect of the Alien franchise.

In the films we see female protagonists facing male representatives from The Company. I would say, it’s hard to even imagine the franchise without this specific set of gender roles. In my eyes it’s profoundly political. To me it’s also thought provocing how these themes can be used in game. Actually, I can imagine campaigns with both feminist and marxist approaches. In a game perspective, it’s a way of describing conflicts and power relations. No, I’m not aiming to reducerade this game to identity politics, just approaching in another way.

Of course, I get that even raising these questions might seem provocative to some, probably partly also because we are both Europeans and Americans in here. But my point is NOT to win any political discussion - several interpretations of the movie really means are possible. What I’m looking for is more a discussion about the political aspects of the Alien franchise. They are there, no matter what your political preferences. Even if you hate identity politics or other leftist perspectives, it’s still a part of popular culture. You could see it as a question of who is good and bad in a movie. I would say that Ripley is portrayed as a good hero fighting bad corporate villains. Does have to be like that? Could the lines between good and bad be more blurred? How and why?

As I see it, Alien uses well established tech noir and cyberpunk tropes known from Bladerunner and William Gibsons Sprawl triology. They were both created in the era of Reagan and the global spreadth of what is called neoliberalism. For example, Gibson has commented this in several interviews.
I think you have to draw a line between "themes" and "message". Alien absolutely has feminist themes. I'm not convinced it carries Marxist themes aside from generic capitalist/quasi-cyberpunk dystopia.

But whether it carries those themes of not, it doesn't carry a message. It's not trying to prove anything to the viewer. It's not preaching these ideals. There's no "moral" to the story. It's an illustration of believable characters in believable (if fantastical) circumstances, and that's a key part of what has made it so timeless. Messages age like milk, but stories are forever.
I think it’s hard to draw a line between theme and message - and moral. It’s not a preaching franchise, preaching is not a part of the cyberpunk or tech noir genres (I think Alien is a space based sibbling to those genres). I would say that there are messages in the movies, but they are expressed in the subtext. Perhaps are they there as somewhat empty genre based expressions. It’s a matter of interpretation.

To me, these aspects are a way to grasp what Alien really is about. As I have said in other threads I think there are some obvious core themes: human encounter with alien lifeforms, dark corporate power, and artificial intelligence. I think the campaign chapter should have emphasised those core themes more by providing more tools for them. As I said before, to me this is a mythos game whithout any good mythos tools.

I also think that the political aspect could be a part of the game. It does give you ideas about what the conflicts in the game could be about - and how the layers of power might work. To me, that’s campaign material, just like all the specific details about spaceships and xenos. Everything in this franchise is not obvious or explicit.
 
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Re: Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Sat 28 Dec 2019, 02:17

Marxist? no.
Not even neosocialist (such as much of Europe).

It's the cyberpunk dystopia, and even the marxists in the EU are nasty, backbiting, and just as evil. 

There is a feminist message to both Alien and Aliens... in Alien, it was almost accidental, but the director does agree with it - Women can be strong, capable, and protagonists, and the fact that the initial drafts had Ripley as a man show that the message was more at Hollyweird than the general public: "People will watch and enjoy horror with strong, capable, female protagonists." In Aliens, the message is more overt...

Hicks: "Hey, Vasquez... Ever been mistaken for a man?"
Vasquez: "No. Have you?"

Vasquez is as tough as any of the boys. And, within her scope, one of the more competent characters in the movie. Ridley is the protagonist, and Vasquez the one we hope survives but doesn't - Full of sass, good to look at, tough as nails, crack shot, heroic death. 

Would have been nice if a similarly competent latina actress had played her, but the actress did a great job of just inhabiting the character. Perhaps no latina at the call came across with the same spunk. Perhaps the director unconsciously discriminated. Either way, we get a great feminist message in Aliens.

Alien³? Ripley is the "Big Damn Hero"... and no other female characters are portrayed alive...

Alien: Resurrection? An interesting dynamic, and it has several strong women.

Unfortunately, I don't think the prequels do much justice to feminism... Elizabeth Weir is optimistic to the point of delusion, And Vicars is a stone cold (bleep)... a strong presence, but, fundamentally, not a strong role model.

And Covenant? Only one character survives... and it's technically neuter, but has a masculine appearance.

But the first three? At the time, many of my female friends were encouraged by hollyweird's use of a strong and smart female presence, especially one who is sexy, especially with girl-next-door kind of sexy, as the lead. 

So, coordinated message? Maybe, save for the prequels. But prequels often screw up the subtext messages of the originals.
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Riggswolfe
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Re: Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Sat 28 Dec 2019, 08:46

I don't see Alien having Marxist themes at all. It probably has some anti-military industrial complex themes and definitely a dystopian view on corporations run amuck but it doesn't advocate for any alternatives. It does have feminist themes though I think in the first movie it's mostly an accident. 

As an aside, I was this old when I realized the actress who played Vasquez wasn't Latina. I knew her name but assumed maybe her father was Jewish and her mother was Latina. 
 
Bengt Petter
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Re: Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Sat 28 Dec 2019, 11:48

How do you think the Alien franchise describes corporate power? Is it something positive or something deeply problematic? What is it like to work for the Company? How are employees treated? Who are the heros and who are the villains?

I wouldn’t say that Alien is a Marxist franchise, but I would say it has Marxist (and feminist) tropes. Those are a part of the tech noir/cyberpunk genre. Alien is basically cyberpunk in space.

I actually don’t think the Alien RPG really deals with corporate power. The corporations are for sure described, but not the conflicts and power relations that drives the drama. I would even say, that it’s possible to describe the xenomorphs with a Marxist perspective: they are capitalist predators in it’s most essensial form. You can see them as just a political metaphore. Of course, I get that most fans don’t see it that way, but as I said, many interpretations are possible. And this is, as you know, a franchise with a somewhat artsy origin.

So what I miss in the game are answers to questions that has to do with corporate power - and it’s connection to the mythos of the setting. What does it mean to work for a corporate boss? What does he or she want (probably not just money and power)? How can corporate conflicts be a part of campaign frame? Is it possible to change the system, and if not, what does that mean? What kind of dark secrets are the companies involved in (more in general, not just the xenomorphs, they are just a part of a bigger pattern)? How do you, from a game point of view, create your own corporate secrets? Are the corporate conflicts and secrets just about good and bad (probably not), and if not, how should the motivations be made into interesting gaming? What does the corporations really know and what is it that they want to find out (a big question, but it could still be playable)?

So what I’m basically saying is that I think that corporate power (capitalism) shouldn’t just be described, it should be a part of the game mechanic. To me that would be more true to genre and it’s tropes.
 
S.M
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Re: Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Sun 29 Dec 2019, 03:53

As others have said, not sure about the Marxist angle, but it's very deliberately feminist.

And not just Ripley, Shaw and Daniels - there's also Amanda Ripley, Zula Hendricks, Olivia Shipp, in the recent EU outings.

For Alien though, Ripley effectively became a feminist icon because she was originally written as a man.
 
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Re: Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Wed 01 Jan 2020, 15:28

Admittedly we'll never know for sure, but I had heard that Scott did the most sensible thing when it came to the main character of the film. Ripley was neither set in the script as a man or woman, which is why the casting call was open to anyone. Ripley was just written as a good character and when it came to casting they just took the best person on the day.
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S.M
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Re: Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Wed 01 Jan 2020, 16:06

Giler and Hill wrote Lambert and Ripley specifically as women.  Though having said that, Roby in particular changed very little when he became Ripley.  By the time they came to casting I believe they were only looking at women for both Ripley and Lambert.
 
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Diego
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Re: Is the thematic core of the Alien franchise Marxist and Feminist?

Wed 01 Jan 2020, 22:31

Last I heard it was Ridley Scott who made the switch. But again it's one of those that I've heard told differently in various articles.
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