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Utopian Effects, Dystopian Pleasures

Series:

Peter Fitting

Edited By Brian Greenspan

This collection brings together for the first time Peter Fitting’s writings about the utopian impulse as expressed in science fiction, fantasy, cinema, architecture, and cultural theory. These wide-ranging essays trace the constant reconsideration of the utopian project itself over the past four decades, from its mid-twentieth century period of decline to its revival in counter-cultural science fiction of the 1960s and ‘70s, its second decline with the «dystopian turn» in film, and the rise of feminist pessimism in the 1980s.

These pages reveal what popular utopian, dystopian, and science-fiction narratives tell us about today’s most pressing political issues, including gender equity, education reform, technological change, capitalist excess, state-sanctioned violence, and the challenges of effecting lasting political change. Through analyses of various popular genres and media, the author demonstrates how utopian visions written from particular political perspectives transcend narrowly partisan concerns to stoke our collective desire for another world and a more adequate human future, teaching us how to become the citizens and subjects that a utopian society demands.

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CHAPTER 16: The Second Alien

Extract

In the following discussion, I will attempt to set out the situation and functions of the film Alien as an ideological practice which reproduces in the spectator a particular understanding of the real and of his or her place in that reality. In other terms, analogous to the work of the dream (and its subsequent decoding and analysis), cultural artifacts seek to resolve in an imaginary way, through the work itself, real conflicts and contradictions. Like the unconscious, ideology conceals and obscures real conflicts; and art, like the dream, becomes the privileged place in which this unconscious expresses and manifests itself, albeit in a displaced and covert fashion which it is the critic’s task to unravel and disclose. Popular narrative forms – here specifically the SF-horror film – function through the displacement of authentic fears and anxieties generated by the contradictions of contemporary life under capitalism onto the source of the terror and suspense proposed by the film. Like the images of a dream which disturb us without our understanding why, the monster becomes a coded figuration of what we imagine to be the source of our problems and anxieties.

The central conflict of Alien, the immediate source of the spectator’s tension and anxiety, lies with the fate of the crew of the space-freighter Nostromo and the terror and death they undergo. The first threat to them is, of course, the alien monster which stalks and kills them after they have brought it on board. But there is a secondary...

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