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Topic 1 – Aliens, Monsters, Compare, Contrast

COLLAPSE

The works we have studied this semester all feature aliens of one kind or another. Sometimes these aliens come from distant planets, sometimes other nations, and sometimes they live amongst us. Most of the works we have looked at, particularly the early ones, have depicted aliens as monstrous, but several have asked us to reconsider our initial rejection of the alien, to look past differences, to find common ground, and to imagine positive social change and peaceful coexistence. In older works, aliens have tended to be portrayed as hostile invaders, but in more recent works we have begun to see revisions of this traditional perspective, with stories featuring aliens as peaceful emissaries of an advanced civilization or as lost wayfarers in need of assistance. We have also seen works that reverse the norm by presenting humans themselves as the aliens, using the technique of estrangement to enable us to see ourselves from the outside, as others might, thereby offering a critique of our own society.

Aliens, by definition, are marked by their difference from the norm, but this difference can be viewed as destructive, corrupting, and threatening, or it can be accepted as a healthy part of a pluralistic society. Indeed, aliens tend to function as embodied allegories for social issues of current concern. For this reason, alien invasion stories can become vehicles for xenophobic, nationalist, racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist ideologies. Stereotyped characteristics of marginalized groups can be projected onto the alien, who can then be declared monstrous. This horrifying and dangerous creature can consequently be scapegoated and eliminated with seemingly justifiable violence, enabling society to return to the status quo. Alternatively, the horror of difference can be overcome through mutual accord, even love, and integration championed.

While aliens are different on the surface, their characteristics actually reflect our own unconscious obsessions. Aliens are thus uncanny: seemingly strange, and yet oddly familiar once we truly study them. As such, aliens can represent our darkest fears and desires, giving form to antisocial tendencies. Yet by bringing these into the light, they also create an opportunity to ponder the human condition, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Through the lens of the uncanny, we see that the aliens are us. When we see ourselves and our society as monstrous we open a space for critique and transformation.

Aliens are typically depicted as abject and queer, challenging our national and individual identities as well as our social norms, especially those related to family structure, gender, and reproduction. But while change is often frightening, it does not need to be viewed as destructive. As some alien narratives show, overturning the status quo and breaking with tradition can create new opportunities for individuals and societies.

Compare and contrast one work studied this semester that depicts the alien as definitively monstrous with another that challenges or complicates the perception of the alien as monstrous. Focus on a single issue and develop an argument with depth.

TOPIC 2- CRITIQUE, RELEVANCE

Many of the works on aliens studied this semester include explicit or implicit critiques of human societies. Pick a particular critique (for instance of hubris, imperialism, capitalism, environmental destruction, anthropocentrism, xenophobia, racism, segregation, sexism, rape, homophobia, ableism, violence, etc.), list the works which contribute to that critique, and explain how that critique is relevant to our contemporary society and why it is important.

topics that can be used

1 – War of the Worlds

2 – King Kong

3 – Who Goes There Options Menu: Forum

4 – Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 – Alien Options Menu: Forum

6 – Vampires

7 – Artificial Life

8 – Murderous Machines

9 – Planet of the Apes

10 – Humans as Aliens

11 – District 9

12 – Dawn

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