MAY 19, 2009 12:02AM

So What About “Alien Nation”?

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Michael: How do I do “Michael:”?

Melissa: Option-M. I mean, mash-M.

Michael: Let’s drop this whole absurd multi-indirection thing and just write about writing about our subject.

Melissa: But if we write about writing about our subject, that’s the same thing we’ve been doing all along.

     That’s the metaness of this.

Michael: That’s not how it’s been in my mind. We couldn’t even talk about the subject.

     Now I think we should talk about the subject.

     We’re writing about the act of writing. That’s meta.

     By denying us even mentioning the subject, I was pushing it past simple meta and making it meta-meta . . . I think.

Melissa: I agree. Spending all this time in abstraction is getting tedious.

Michael: Agreed.

     What should our real first subject be?

     Should we do one we’ve already tried, or a new one?

Melissa: Definitely a new one.

Michael: What about Alien Nation?

Melissa: That’s a good one.

Michael: (long pause)

     Now I feel like we’re in a strange new world.

Melissa: Sort of like George.

Michael: Yeah.

     I hope we’re not going to be putting a bunch of links in this one.

Melissa: Just this one.

     Can I go back to typing now?

Michael: Gladly.

Melissa: Hurray!

     I don’t think I know a single person who knows about Alien Nation, at least as far as I know.

Michael: That’s because you’re surrounded by academics who don’t watch television.

Melissa: We don’t watch television, but we know about Alien Nation.

Michael: Well, we watch DVDs. And we learned about Alien Nation before we stopped watching television.

     And that was a long time ago.

Melissa: So what about Alien Nation? I mean, the obvious is that it’s one of the best explorations of racism that we’ve seen.

Michael: Well, it’s one of my favorites, at least.

Twilight Zone did a pretty good job of that, too. And then some.

Melissa: Yeah, science fiction actually seems to allow the latitude to delve into politically sensitive issues.

Michael: I think that’s what Rod Serling found so liberating about it.

     It let him get away with things he could’ve never gotten away with in a serious drama.

Melissa: Yeah, I can’t believe they were having to deal with corporate censorship even back then.

Michael: It’s been with us our whole lives.

     Let’s get back to
Alien Nation.

     When did it originally air?

Melissa: Late eighties, early nineties.

Michael: No, I mean, the actual date. We’re writing about this, and we would have to say something like, “Alien Nation was originally aired on blah blah blah.”

     Are we going to use Wikipedia for all of our reference?

Melissa: Are you sure you wanna leave it like that? "reference"?

Michael: That's what I said!

Melissa: Okay, just checking.

     So now we have to indicate that this is an aside from the future.

     How do we do that?

Michael: We could've done it with—

Melissa: You can't say that yet, love! They don't know—

Michael: You're right.

Melissa: Okay, back to where we were.

     You said . . . what, now?

Michael: Something like . . . just copy and paste it.

     "Are we going to use Wikipedia for all of our reference?"

Melissa: We should.

     If we can.

Michael: You didn’t say “If we can.”

Melissa: I did now.

     Oh, 1989 through 1990! Only one season. That’s tragic.

Michael: It’s hard to believe because they covered so much ground in that one season.

Melissa: How many episodes?


Michael: Just put “22” without the exclamation point.

Melissa: One of my favorite things is how each episode focuses on a particular theme, and how the subplots are even tied into that theme.

     And underlying all of those themes is the overriding theme of learning to empathize with the Other.

Michael: Yes. Well, all great works let us see life from another person’s eyes in the hopes that it will change us. Expand us.

     “Change us” period. “Expand us,” new sentence.

Melissa: So how does Alien Nation achieve that?

Michael: By dropping people, aliens in this case—who actually happen to be more humane than the humans who surround them—into a situation that they are completely naïve of. So every tiny detail of their new life is new to them. It allows us to see through fresh eyes. And those eyes belong to very articulate and sensitive beings.

Melissa: Yes. And I think the humor is disarming, as well.

Michael: Yes, you’re right. Played out as straight drama, it would probably make it seem too self-righteous.

Melissa: Well, I think you get a sense of how it would play out as a drama when you watch the movie. And you see how it doesn’t work as well.

Michael: That’s for sure. Both Mandy Patinkin and James Caan did well. But the focus on action robbed it of the possibilities that I think Kenneth Johnson said he saw when he watched the movie.

     The opportunity to spend time with the family.

Melissa: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. That one scene in the film where—

Michael: What scene?

Melissa: I was just starting to tell you. That scene where Francisco is waving goodbye to his family. We don’t even hear his family speak. And yet when we were watching it, I noticed it.

     And then later, we read that Kenneth Johnson had been inspired by that scene.

Michael: Yeah, I was really surprised to find out he’d had the same response.

     Well, the writing seems to be going easier, anyway. Now that we can talk about the subject.

Melissa: Yes, all that meta-ing was getting exhausting.

Michael: But then what’s so meta about this?

Melissa: It isn’t, really. We’re cheating.

Michael: Well, I don’t know about those last paragraphs, where we’re talking like we’re some kind of authorities on Alien Nation or something.

Melissa: Not authorities. Just, appreciators.

Michael: Then we should limit ourselves to saying what we appreciate about it.

     Actually, it all started when I thought, “How do you normally do this?" And the answer was, “Get facts about it!" That’s why I asked when it started.

Melissa: Yes, the context is important. It was in the transition between two decades. 1989–1990. Think about the two cultural ethoses those decades represent.

Michael: Which are?

Melissa: Okay, so the eighties—you’re coming out of an era of oppression, fear. The Cold War. The Iran-Contra affair. “Greed is good.” All that crap. And then, it’s not quite happening yet in this series, but it foreshadows the shift from a repressive ethos to a more open-minded one.

Michael: The nineties?

Melissa: Yes, even though they seem naïve now—

Michael: In what way?

Melissa: Well, we were just coming into awareness of greater social and ecological issues—and we still thought we could do something about it. Now, there’s so much cynicism about this tidal wave of destruction that’s been unleashed on the world. But back in the nineties—the Berlin Wall was coming down.

Michael: True. That felt like hope born. Like something profound had changed in the world.

Melissa: Yes, there were a few precious years without the specter of war hanging over us.

Michael: Precious peace.

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Type your comment below:
'Alien Nation' lick M & M!
each M & M has no letter!
possum eat M & M candy!
poor Melissa!
at the M & M candy store
proprietress ask male M.,
go listen to Mendelssohn.
M & M give Ya free wedgies
My O Momma, M & M, Mo
hang in there MO, Ya moo
Moo cow milk for Melissa
Michael sips the goat Milk
Peace out & learn calculus
sprinkled ice cream cones
and ask no dumb question
exclamation point! yes! Ay no?
No eat hemorrhoid ice cream!
Michael is too morbidly obese?
Michael: See! That seems like something generated by a script.

Melissa: If it isn't, he sure puts a lot of effort into articulating his—;


Michael: Yeah, what is he trying to say?

And it doesn't even have as nice a shape as the last one.
it's coded. It's about M & M sex dreams.
Michael and Melissa warmly shake head.
M & M need to get dread-lock hair styles.
(define (metaness:metaness) (cons metaness (args)))

(define (speak m)
(join (list
(amb "go" "no eat" "ask") (m 1) (amb "candy" (m 1) "free" "milk")
(string (amb "store" "land" (m 2) "obese") (amb "." "?" "!"))
) " ")

;; sample runs for (speak (metaness "ArtSpeak" "dread-locks"))
"go ArtSpeak candy dread-locks."
"ask ArtSpeak free obese."
"go ArtSpeak ArtSpeak store?"
"no eat ArtSpeak milk dread-locks!"

;; sample runs for (speak (metaness "ArtSpeak" "peace"))
"go ArtSpeak free peace!"
"no eat ArtSpeak candy land!"
"go ArtSpeak ArtSpeak land!"
"ask ArtSpeak ArtSpeak land."
"go ArtSpeak milk land."
"no eat ArtSpeak candy store?"
"no eat ArtSpeak candy store!"
"no eat ArtSpeak milk store."

;; sample runs for (speak (metaness "ArtSpeak" "hemorrhoid"))
"no eat ArtSpeak ArtSpeak hemorrhoid!"
"no eat ArtSpeak milk land!"
"go ArtSpeak milk obese!"
"no eat ArtSpeak candy land?"
"ask ArtSpeak free land."
"ask ArtSpeak free obese."
"go ArtSpeak milk obese."
"no eat ArtSpeak milk store!"
"ask ArtSpeak free hemorrhoid?"
"ask ArtSpeak candy land?"
"no eat ArtSpeak candy store."
"no eat ArtSpeak ArtSpeak land."
"go ArtSpeak milk land."
"go ArtSpeak candy hemorrhoid."