Alien vs. Predator: Gender Politics

I recognize that there are still skeptics out there who question the cultural relevance of Alien vs. Predator: The Musical.  Maybe you feel it is too low-brow for you, or that the entire endeavor is silly.  This is a naïve assertion. Like all great art Alien vs. Predator holds up a profound and important mirror to our society.  I’ll explain.

A few years ago I was still hung up on how the Alien and Predator combination felt so appropriate, so apt.  You can’t just throw any two film franchises together and make them stick in such an iconic way.  Seriously, I’ve tried: the Little Mermaid vs. the Terminator, Bill and Ted vs. the Care Bears, the Gremlins vs. Bridget Jones.  It’s hard work!

After all this pondering and pondering I finally had what may be the only epiphany of my life, Alien vs. Predator works because it is about the endless and irresolvable battle of the sexes!  That’s the secret.  At its core Alien vs. Predator is a slightly more violent Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

Female to Female Competition
You have the Alien beings, which are based on ant and bee colonies in which every worker and drone is default female working towards the greater good of the colony.  This typically meaning aiding and protecting the egg-laying Queen, i.e. matriarchal.  The Alien specie is not only female but their life cycle is almost completely based around the complex physical act of reproduction in the most visceral and violent way possible.  The Alien creature is so extremely female that it makes other beings even males, like John Hurt’s character in the first Alien film, endure the painful act of childbirth for them. 

It may be personal opinion, and I doubt it is, but I feel that the most successful film in the Alien series is the second installment Aliens.  This was where James Cameron introduced the society and habits of an Alien colony and the Queen herself.  Aliens is perhaps the first action film franchise to have a female hero.  The film Aliens is, on a subtextual level, about a number of things, the director himself drew a parallel to the difficulties faced by American forces in Vietnam and their inability to defeat a technologically inferior adversary.  I would like to add to this that the film is also about female-to-female competition.  Sigourney Weaver’s character represents a woman who is modern in her nature and circumstance.  She has been traumatized by her encounter in the first film and is forced to face it.  Throughout the movie you see her become self-actualized and rise above the victimization she experienced.  She is commonly presented as competent, professional, and ultimately more capable than her male counterparts.  This modern woman is set against what I will be calling the primal woman, personified by the Queen Alien.  The Queen represents many negative qualities associated with women.  First, she is mute which symbolically implies that she, as a being, is unintelligent or “dumb”.  Second, she as mentioned before, is preoccupied with reproduction solely.  She is unreasonable, ruthless and violent.  You’ll notice that these negative characteristics being assigned to women are not, as one might expect, the traditionally dismissive collection of passive traits like being weak, emotional, or naïve.  The Queen instead is an example of what, more often than not, is characterized as “a bitch.”  Weaver’s character herself even famously calls her a bitch.  This is important because the plot is presenting two examples of powerful women.  In the end Weaver’s character wins out, promoting her characters values as superior.

Male to Male Competition
If Aliens is about female to female competition, Predator is very much about male-to-male competition.  In this case you have competing ideas of the masculine capacity for violence and what is the merit strength, which is synonymous in this case with power as well.  The character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is a very successful soldier, he is shown able to kill more efficiently than anyone else, and he and his team are recognized within the film as “the best.”  Arnold’s character, however, is very much bound to his own morality.  At the start of the movie he is asked to complete an assignment that he only accepts because it is a mission to rescue captured soldiers.  Later it is discovered that he has been deceived and the mission was entirely politically motivated (oh that sneaky Carl Weathers).  Needless to say, Arnold’s character is none too pleased. 

When the Predator arrives, the conflict is presented between the idea of the noble killer, who kills out of necessity or obligation to an ideal, set in opposition to the trophy killer that will kill out of sport or whim.  The culminating conflict is about survival, revenge and honor (or idealism) for the Arnold character, very male justifications for physical violence.  The Predator then represents the violent use of power for greed, spite or entertainment.  In the end Arnold wins, even after the Predator attempts to cheat by blowing himself up.

It has been a very long time since I’ve seen Predator 2 with the charming and talented Danny Glover.  From what I remember, and I was 12 so bear with me, it was not quite as resonate as the first.  It was a good effort but it lacked that larger sub-textual tensions of might and morality found the original, probably because Danny Glover just isn’t ripped enough.

Female to Male Competition
Here at last we get to Alien vs. Predator.  Primal and ethically corrupt examples of both gender set in a conflict made starker and dramatized and the differences are made more pronounced by shifting those basic gender differences to differences of species.  There battle in script must be characteristic and symbolic of the difficulties experienced by the genders.

In Alien vs. Predator: Box Office Poison I’ll talk about how this thematic understanding is one reason that the movies fail (again I haven’t seen Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, I’ll NetFlix it soon, but this website leads me to believe that they haven’t seen the same social undercurrents).  The idea of balance and conflict must be simultaneously depicted in the creatures and mimetic of the conflict of the plots human counter parts. 

This entry was published on August 16, 2009 at 4:36 am. It’s filed under Alien vs. Predator: The Musical, Art/Comics, Arts & Culture, Bric-a-brac, Comics, Cultural Criticism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Alien vs. Predator: Gender Politics

  1. While I am totally sold on the theoretical goldmine that is Alien vs. Predator, my questions remain regarding the appropriateness of the medium. Inquiring minds want to know: why a musical?

  2. That is a great question! One I will be answering in the forthcoming post, Alien vs. Predator: Why a musical? I just need to brush up on my Brechtian theory to best make the case.

  3. Pingback: Alien vs. Predator: The Musical – Update: Poetry and Predators « Death By Orphans

  4. Pingback: Alien vs. Predator: The Musical – Update: Adrien Brody, Bertolt Brecht & Box Office Poison « Death By Orphans

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