Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Political Allegory: Receptions and Their Implications in V and District 9

Political Allegory: Receptions and Their Implications in V and District 9
by Shaun Duke

Science fiction and allegory have had a cozy relationship since the genre’s rise in the Golden Age (1930s-50s) and its market takeover in the last twenty years in film and television. So much of science fiction, if not all of it, flirts with the past and the present to extrapolate the future and imagine how our species’ baggage will shape it. Thus, every work of serious science fiction literature or film is inherently allegorical, because science fiction questions our future, and asks us to consider the implications of what we might do and how that is inevitably influenced by what we have already done. It should come as no surprise, then, that science fiction allegories are often political, in the sense that they represent specific political biases/beliefs or that they can produce political action, either through misinterpretation of the author’s intent or through legitimate concern with the implications of a particular political message. The rise of science fiction film in the last ten years has made the politics of allegory and genre even more relevant, particularly in 2009, which introduced two exceptionally controversial, but fascinating films, each representative of the political power of science fiction: District 9 and the re-imagined V. Both films appeared at a time of political and cultural strife and both were immediately subsumed into national and political dialogues—District 9 in Nigeria and V in the United States.

As part of present day dialogue about society, both District 9 and V could be used as political weapons. V, as an allegory about leaders and trust, directly engaged with the widespread and vocal concerns about the Obama presidency and, as such, became a vehicle for political activism and thought. Its introduction to the film landscape was inevitably met with mixed reviews, many of which were tainted by the reading of the first episodes as a political allegory for present day America. But as a science fiction story and allegory, V has the distinction of being one of the few television shows to take an original work, in which Nazi imagery played a crucial role, and revamp it to comment upon a much greater issue in world politics.

The same is also true of District 9, a film that pulled no punches as it attempted to deal with legitimate and mounting political problems on the African continent, and in South Africa specifically. As a film by a South African, set in African locations and populated by African actors and interests, District 9 is inevitably about one of the “distinguishing feature[s] of South Africa” and one of the “important theme[s] of South African writing, which permeates its science fiction also”—that is, race (Byrne 524). Its reception, much like that of V, was mixed, but its political orientation—pigeonholed as it was as an allegory about Apartheid South Africa and disregarded or lamented by Nigerians who viewed the film as a slight on their nation and people—earned it a place on a number of awards lists and an astonishing amount of respect for bringing to the Western mainstream a view of the world rarely seen or discussed by average Westerners. But its allegories also motivated those who took the film’s messages to heart—namely, Nigerians—into political action.

Both films are representative of the persistence of allegory within science fiction and the power of science fiction to play a political role in the world at large. Each engages with an internal politics that allegorizes the external world and its many faults, and each have been appropriated or used as political weapons for various purposes. As such, they serve as valuable tools for dealing with our world and considering the many problems we have and likely will face for years to come.

Obamanation and the Visitors

The urgency of the present and the need for allegories to think about the past and the future is exceptionally true for Americans. In a stark political and economic climate, Americans have become more polarized, more concerned, and more vocal—not least because of the Internet—than during previous presidencies. V’s appearance during this time seems, based on its recycled plot and its apparent less-than-subtle allegory of present-day politics, both opportunistic and understandably controversial.

The one year anniversary of the election of President Barack Hussein Obama was also the day the first episode of the re-imagined V appeared on our television screens. Its arrival sparked an online and television debate about the referential origin of its allegorical narrative: an all-too-familiar play on the blindness of human trust in the face of overwhelming hope or a barbed commentary on the Obama administration. While news agencies reported the initial backlash as a product of leftist or liberal fears of reprisal—namely, a public backlash, however real or imaginary, against the Obama administration by associating the hope of “Yes We Can” with the hope-with-another-face of the Visitors of V—the interpretation of V as an allegory for the Obama presidency was also spearheaded by right-leaning political commentators; collectively the argument spread from smaller venues like the conservative website Big Hollywood to larger organizations such as The Huffington Post, Slate, The Chicago Tribune, and even the Bill O’Reilly Show on FOX News.

When set against the backdrop of current American politics, V’s narrative does appear to be a mirror image of the Obama administration, with one notable exception: there are no lizard-like aliens wearing humanoid exoskeletons on our world. The Visitors appear on Earth and offer mankind an escape from the wretchedness of its existence: free healthcare, safety, and, perhaps most iconic of the Obama administration, hope; underneath the mask, however, we learn, just in the first four episodes, that the Visitors have other plans for mankind—we don’t know what they are just yet, but we’re made well aware of the fact that whatever the Visitors intend, it means nothing but bad news for humanity. Whether one reads V in this light, or takes its themes as a representation of something bigger and human, rather than nationalistic, the connection exists and is politically charged, most notably because the rhetoric surrounding the Obama presidency, particularly from those opposed to it, has been instrumental to the alien-ation of Obama:
In questioning Obama's citizenship and heritage, conservatives have always portrayed Obama as an alien visitor. They've also constantly implied that behind Obama's friendly veneer are sinister motives - and they seem to believe that while most of the public are gullible fools believing in Obama as a savior, they and their tea-party protestors see the "real truth" of those motives. (Sirota)

The Obama Presidency saw the making of history in two ways: 1) the election of the first ever African American President, and 2) the formation of a vocally active political right, organized in a somewhat haphazard and unkempt fashion, but organized nonetheless. An example of this unkempt organization can be found in the regular Tea Party rallies across the country, which are organized perhaps by general theme, but not necessarily by political ideology or by a cohesive argument; such phrases as “keep your government hands off my Medicare” or the general inability of many Tea Partiers to define what socialism is, let alone what terrifies them so much about it beyond a fairly rudimentary anti-communist rant, are part of one segment of the political right that has, largely speaking, become far more unified and far more oriented towards the beliefs—a fact that is equally true of many Democrats.

From a political standpoint, V’s narrative provides a kind of fuel for an American fire that has, even now, begun to burn particularly bright in the face of mounting change. To think of Obama in terms of the current political climate, it is easy to see why Sirota’s argument about conservative views lends support to the V/Obama connection: the almost universal rejection of the Obama administration by conservatives has created a distinctive divide in America’s political climate, one which displaces Obama from what might be considered the normal political space and gives him the almost alien presence embodied by Anna in V. Likewise, the regular arguments over Obama’s birth, the various arguments about Obama as anti-American, socialist, fascist, Muslim, and so on—all politically charged accusations, and all inherently alienating from an American standpoint—provided little counterargument to the V/Obama allegory.

Yet the allegory attributed to V thus far has been exceptionally nationalistic—in the sense that the proponents of this view see the narrative as an American allegory rather than as a world allegory—and unfortunately narrow-minded. While the connections are there, many politically oriented commentators have attempted to turn the entire narrative of V, right down to the hidden agenda of the Visitors, into an Obama allegory. Jeff Varga, in his Big Hollywood column “Obama Parable?: Brownshirt Lizards Return in ‘V,’” made such an argument, likening V and its Obama allegory, not just to leftist ideals, but to an even more insidious and controversial subject:
You see, once upon a time, there was this other real life charismatic leader. He offered hope, unity, plans to rebuild and strengthen his nation and even promised to eradicate disease and sickness. The people loved him. His rise to power seemed effortless. But behind the scenes, everyone who didn’t jump in line to support his agenda were systematically murdered… news reporters, police chiefs, etc. Those committing the murder became known as Brownshirts by the unmarked uniforms they wore. Then once the movement was well underway and excitement ran high, they enlisted the youth. Actual uniforms were handed out and they were brainwashed by the promises of a better world and that they would be the ushers into that new world, by being the eyes and ears of Der Fuhrer. My teacher was literally stabbed in the back BY HIS BEST FRIEND, because he would not join the Nazi Hitler Youth. (Varga)

This comparison is not isolated just to discussions of V, but one that has become profoundly representative of many anti-Obama positions spanning the political spectrum. The Nazi imagery, and its corresponding red socialist icons, has become a potent political tool used to make unfounded accusations about the Obama administration amidst legitimate concerns—from nearly every political corner—about the administration’s various policies and interests. Yet, now, the argument has stretched into the realm of science fiction allegory, turning V into another political tool, despite the corrections by cast and crew of the series. Morena Baccarin, for example, has attempted it dispel the rumors about V, saying in an interview:
I don't think we're saying Anna is President Obama. But she is the leader of her people, and she is coming down to Earth and offering healthcare, and offering cures for diseases, and things that sort of clean out and give people hope, and there are definite parallels to be drawn and our intentions are to create a show that people relate to. And I think this is something that's been on people's minds, even before Obama... finding hope again, and healthcare, and finding a leader, and someone who can save us from the hole we've gotten ourselves into. (Baccarin)

Additionally, executive producer Scott Peters addressed the accusation directly, stating:
We are not looking to put any sort of agenda onto the table but…you know, I wake up in the morning and you look at the news and you see there's wars; there's new diseases being discovered; there's old diseases that we are still dealing with. The economy is in the toilet; there are people losing their homes. Wouldn't it be awesome if 29 ships showed up and they all said, 'We've got this. We'll take care of you. Don't worry about it?' (cited in Moraes)

And his partner, producer Jeffrey Bell, echoed the same argument, but added an element of time to the problematic nature of the V/Obama allegory:
‘Look, there are always going to be people who will look for agendas in everything…This show was conceived during the Bush administration; it got executed during an Obama administration.’ (cited in Moraes)

While it is entirely possible that all three are simply playing a game of political cat and mouse with the intention of preventing the ratings from being tainted by politically oriented boycotts, the more likely story is the one given by Bell. Since television programs, like novels and films, often sit in limbo for years, maybe even decades, it is only fair to give credit to the producers and the actors when they say that V is not intended as a direct allegory of the Obama administration. But if all science fiction stories are allegorical, what is the allegory of V and is it reasonable to still apply the narrative to the real world?

Allegories are not intended to be limited to specific points in time, but reflective of any moment in which they are read. Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, published in 1974, is as much relevant to the discussion of Vietnam as it is to the discussion of present-day wars such as the ones still being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the wars that will, unfortunately, follow them. Likewise, V serves not simply as a way to look at our present conditions, but also as a way to try to understand the problems of human culture as a whole. The number of incidences that mimic that of Anna’s rise to power and fame are countless, reaching across the entire globe in dozens of countries, new and forgotten. If anything is to be taken from V, it isn’t that it is only a reflection of the potential for wrong in our present, but for the potential for wrong in any place or time. It’s an amalgam of all those historical narratives in which leaders are portrayed as masks of their true selves. The act of producing these kinds of allegories for public consumption is political in as much as it is political to read personal politics in a connect-the-dots fashion into a narrative, science fiction or otherwise.

In this sense, it seems that everyone missed the point of V’s science fiction allegory. Left or right, V comments upon the potential pitfalls of buying into any political ideology without properly investigating it first, a point echoed rather poignantly by one of V’s main characters: “‘We're all so quick to jump on the bandwagon…A ride on the bandwagon, it sounds like fun. But before we get on, let us at least make sure it is sturdy’" (cited in Garvin). Orienting the television series outside of this, as an entity that represents a particular political ideology in a narrowed and immediate space and time, detracts from the potential for its narrative to reach farther and to succeed in a purpose greater than the ideology to which it has become attached.

Perhaps the greatest downfall of the appropriation of V’s allegory into political ideology—on the right and through the fear-induced responses of the left—is its potential to increase the already volatile political ecology that has come to dominate American politics. Using V as a vehicle for discussing the Obama administration within an already problematic political ideology provides a boost to that particular group, but also aids in the continued divide of national politics and the erosion of national dialogue.

Allegory, however, is just as capable of being used for negative purposes as it is for politically motivated change. While V has only added to the debate over Obama’s credentials and the efficacy of his presidency and his administration, District 9 has been instrumental in fostering a desire for change to Nigeria’s global image, despite the fact that District 9’s allegorical narrative has not only been ill-received, but is inarguably blatantly negative, not just to Nigerians, but to mankind as a whole. As an allegory, District 9 engages with the politics of the everyday in South Africa and the African continent, and, like V, has been used as a political “weapon” by those who, arguably, were most affected by it. But it has also been widely misinterpreted, and it is this misinterpretation that has acted as a motivational force.

Nigeria, Political Motivation, and Misreading Allegory

When District 9 was released, it was met with critical acclaim. Its unique method of storytelling, its attempt to bring voices from outside of the West into the mainstream, and its willingness to brutally and honestly engage issues such as racism (or speciesism), free market capitalism, and the crisis that has plagued the African continent for decades in many forms, earned the film a place in the science fiction canon. But the film was not universally loved, perhaps for good reason. Author Nnedi Okorafor, one of the many viewers angered by the film, wrote a scathing review of District 9, pointing out both the flaws in its narratives and in its portrayal of its various nationalities and races. As a Nigerian, she, like so many Nigerians who eventually spoke out against Blomkamp’s “masterpiece,” saw the portrayal of her people as shortsighted, politically charged, and blatantly racist. Her emotional stance left a lot of room for argument, but, nonetheless, represents the foundation for the political implications of District 9’s allegorical narrative and its reception by Nigeria and its people:
Why were the black South Africans portrayed so positively and the “Nigerians” so negatively? On top of all this, there was not one redeeming Nigerian character. They were all crazy, motiveless, and blood thirsty.

While much can be said about Okorafor’s argument, particularly the problem of interpretation and the political potential of allegory in the modern world, there is one question that must be raised: who exactly is portrayed well in the film?

The whites, who do play a prominent role, perhaps to the detriment of the non-white characters, are not particularly sympathetic figures. Wikus, the central character, is, up until the end, perhaps one of the most despicable characters to enter into science fiction film as the “hero”—and the end serves only to make us hate him a little less. He is selfish, astonishingly humanist (or racist, since this is the allegory being played with), and willfully disinterested in any of the obvious abuses of the Prawns, even when their biology begins to imprint itself upon him. As such, he remains apathetic to the Prawns even when his own kind (humans) begin to steal everything away from him (life, family, etc.); as a result, he only uses the Prawns to serve his purposes—i.e. to get back what is “rightfully” his. That is until the end. In the final moments of the film, we see sacrifice. It’s a pity, however, that it came an hour and forty-five minutes too late.

The secondary characters fair no better. Even those few who are black are not given much better treatment than the whites. The opening for District 9 displays them using racialized language, rioting and using violence against the aliens, serving eviction notices, and so on. Tola Onanuga, a columnist for The Guardian, made a similar argument in her article “Why District 9 isn’t racist against Nigerians”:
If District 9 really does hate Nigerians, it clearly hates its powerful, white characters even more. Objecting to Nigerians being portrayed as morally bankrupt criminals seems pointless when almost every group of characters in the film have little or no regard for the law. The company in charge of shipping the aliens out of the country, MNU, and many of the white politicians giving the orders are invariably ignorant, double-crossing and corrupt. The soldiers come across as mind-controlled thugs, using violent threats and tricking aliens into signing dubious eviction notices. Scientists carry out underhand experiments on captured "Prawns"; the aliens arm themselves with illegal weapons and brawl in the streets.

Despite initially appearing powerless, the Nigerians exert a tremendous amount of power over the aliens by controlling their weapons and food supply. These power struggles are an everyday reality in District 9's slums, emulating the country's real-life problems during the same period in which the film is set.

Nobody, it seems, is particularly safe from criticism. Despite this, Nigerians have largely looked at the film as detrimental to their image—and for good reason.

One has to wonder about the reactions of various Nigerians—most prominently, perhaps, the Nigerian government, who have tried to ban the film since its release—to the seemingly racist, anti-Nigerian narrative of District 9. It isn’t hard to see why Nigerians might feel betrayed and have reacted with something akin to rage: the film portrays the vast majority of the Nigerian characters as believers in a kind of witchcraft in which consumption of alien flesh transfers some of their “power” to the consumer and as gangsters, opportunists, criminals, prostitutes, and worse—a view that no group of people would take lightly. Likewise, District 9’s narrative allows to rest comfortably within South African popular culture, which further credits Nigerian reactions to the film because it “is sad but typical of interracial encounters in South African science fiction that racial others are so often stereotyped” (Byrne 524). While it has become unacceptable “in South Africa to kill off racial others, even in fiction,” stereotyping and caricaturing have persisted (Byrne 525). Exceptions do exist, which Deirdre Byrne mentions only briefly in her article on South African science fiction, but stereotyping has remained strong within South African science fiction to this day. At times this stereotyping is for allegorical purposes, however—as is the case with District 9.

While District 9 does have a racist vision, it seems fair to consider the film within its fictional world, where its racist leanings are not only intentional and literal, but also allegorical. To take its narrative as a reflection of truth would miss the point not only of many third and former third world narratives, of which District 9 is arguably a part, but also science fiction in general. District 9, with its documentary style and its distinctly anti-heroic narrative, is very much an attempt to show the darkest sides of humanity, right down to its very core, albeit through an iconic example: Apartheid.

Apartheid South Africa, arguably the most racist regime to exist in the last thirty years, was responsible for creating its own brand of District 9s, which were used primarily to house the black population; as in District 9, these spaces became slums and were subjected to harsh restrictions by the whites who were in power—blacks even had to get special permission to enter the city proper, because such areas were reserved only for whites and their “servants.” Racial superiority was the rule of law and the system built around it continues to shock the world with its brutality, despite having long since ended—though some would argue otherwise—and having been written about countless times in fiction and non-fiction across the world.

District 9’s allegories, however, shouldn’t be left to narrow comparisons with South African Apartheid, but extended to a broader political crisis on the African continent, in which millions have been stranded in refugee camps, exiled from their homes by corrupt political or military regimes, or displaced to other nations with the help of the UN and her partner nations as a result of civil wars, cross-border wars and disputes, and so on. For many refugees, this process is forever. The conditions of the Prawns reflect the very uncertainty of life on the African continent: they, as so many Africans have been and still are, are refugees in a world that doesn’t seem to want them, doesn’t know what to do with them, and has little interest in their wellbeing, despite the masks put on the faces of those working for corporate interests. South Africa is perhaps the perfect setting for this discussion, though certainly not the only one—the Sudan is absolutely a consideration when discussing violence and refugees. With its history of Apartheid, a particularly brutal system of deportation and white racial supremacy, South Africa is probably the most “black and white” location for the discussion of race, corruption, and so on in a global context, not least because of the fact that Apartheid has become, for better or worse, and iconic representation of former South Africa. But even Nigeria has dabbled in this system: in 1983 the Nigerian government deported over one million people, primarily Ghanaians. As convenient as it would be to apply the negative aspects of refugee systems specifically to Nigeria and South Africa, the reality is that most of Africa and many other parts of the world have had to deal with the ramifications of the conditions that create refugees.

Being concerned with real world issues, District 9 also looks at its setting internally to tease out the darkness not just in South Africa’s past, but also in its present. The film’s portrayal of Nigerians—far from positive—reflects a legitimate South African concern with crime and its Nigerian element. In 1998, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) released a report on organized crime in post-apartheid South Africa, which made clear that not only was organized crime noticeably prevalent, but remarkably identifiable by nationality:
Organized crime assessments…indicated substantial activity by Nigerian organized crime groups in South Africa…parts of inner city Johannesburg are increasingly dominated by the activities of Nigerian and central African ‘drug lords.’ (cited in Shaw)

At the time, the ISS believed organized crime to be a step below that of nations with markedly more prominent and deeply rooted criminal organizations, such as in Russia, but the threat was still apparent, not just from Nigerian crime lords, but also from organizations from Asia and other parts of the world. Perhaps the most important point to take from this quote is its reference to Johannesburg, the same city in which District 9 is set and where Neill Blomkamp grew up. Blomkamp even commented on this issue in an interview, in which he explained, to some extent, his motivations for choosing Nigeria as an allegorical and political vehicle within District 9:
The Nigerian thing is there because I wanted to take as many cues from South Africa as I could. I wanted South Africa to be the inspiration. If I try to keep South Africa as true to South Africa as I could, then, unfortunately, a massive part of the crime that happens in Johannesburg is by the Nigerians there. It's just the way it is. I wanted to have a crime group, and thought the most honest refraction of a crime group would be Nigerians, for one. (Balfour)

As allegory, District 9 embodies this conflicted relationship between South Africa and its past and present, both equally troubled by the problematic subject of race and the state of Africa and its struggle to resolve its internal and external tensions after independence. Blomkamp, in choosing Nigeria as a vehicle for discussing the internal conflicts of post-Apartheid South Africa, is channeling this very problematic subject, and, in doing so, reaches into the tainted heart of a nation still struggling to leave behind its Apartheid roots and a continent dominated by the conflicted seesaw of progress, poverty, and corruption. The Nigerians, thus, act as both reflections of South Africa and of Nigerian history within the African Crisis.

But many Nigerians saw the film not as an allegory of Nigeria’s history, but as an attempt to send a political message about the image of Nigerians. Nigerian information minister Dora Akunyili, speaking around the same time that the Nigerian government tried to ban the film, was particularly vocal against District 9:
‘Why do they want to denigrate Nigerians as criminals, cannibals, and prostitutes who sleep with extraterrestrial animals? We’ve had enough with the stereotypes they have branded us with…we are not going to sit back and allow people to stigmatize us.’ (Karimi)

Similar arguments were made by other Nigerians and supporters of Nigeria, amounting to a significant uproar in late 2009 against the film and its director. These remarks, however, seem to not only miss the point of District 9, but to also miss the political implications of its allegorical elements. While the film does portray Nigerians negatively, such portrayal as reflected through current and past political, social, and cultural events seems to suggest a concentrated representation of Nigeria in all its flawed glory. Nigeria’s history is one peppered with violent revolts, crime, political corruption, and so on, spanning back decades. Its image has been tarnished by its violent history and, perhaps unfairly, by Internet scams (called 419 scams) and other less-frequent-but-often-cited incidences, such as cannibalism, child trafficking, and so on. Even its own film industry, aptly named Nollywood, has reportedly helped aid in the production of Nigerian stereotypes by focusing on the same elements which make an appearance in District 9—notably the visualization of prostitution, witchcraft, and cannibalism (Karimi). With Nollywood contributing stereotyped or even fictional accounts to the more accurate and dark historical narrative of the country, it is no wonder that so much negativity has been absorbed globally about the country. Nigerians, however, were still outraged that a film produced by Hollywood had so unfairly represented them.

District 9, though, has been instrumental in igniting Nigerians against their unwanted global image. The film’s allegories have successfully re-birthed Nigeria’s attempts to rebrand itself amidst an increasingly global negative portrayal of the country and its people. Dora Akunyili, in her public condemnation of District 9, also announced a reinvigorating rebranding program after “all allowing the international community to define the country based on the behaviour of ‘[a] few criminals’” (Nigeria).

Originally a failed project, the Nigerian government had restarted their rebranding program in March of 2009 (Tattersall). The project, however, was not met well by Nigerians and critics of the country: some pointed to the murders and other violence still occurring in the country, which the government had apparently done little to suppress (Akpabio), while others, writing months after the rebranding project had been in effect and following the Nigerian government’s public outrage at District 9, argued that Nigeria’s leadership was primarily at fault (Ekeopara). The dialogue following District 9, however, has been remarkably open and brutal. Bloggers and online news agencies have criticized the Nigerian government for its faults, while the Nigerian government has attempted in the last six months to make changes to its image. The BBC even made a short audio documentary about the rebranding effort in October of 2009; the documentary created the impression that Akunyili was both passionate and dedicated to making Nigeria a better place—from someone who had worked to, more or less, destroy the Nigerian illegal drug market, her voice does carry some weight (“Rebranding Nigeria”). While some have attacked the campaign for being na├»ve, similar practices have worked for other nations with equally as terrible records: namely, South Africa. Whether these changes to Nigeria will take effect is yet to be seen.

Yet, the resurgence of Nigerian pride, not just by the leadership, but by ordinary citizens as well, should be seen as a welcome outrage, not necessarily because of an agreement about the wrongs committed by District 9, but because it is one of the few times in the history of science fiction that a single work has acted as an unintentional political weapon for a positive purpose. If Nigeria takes District 9 as a cue and makes the effort to truly rebrand itself and clean up its image, then not only will the political power of science fiction be reaffirmed, but so will the belief that science fiction is relevant to modern society and an essential part of human culture. District 9’s ability to motivate nations towards positive goals is an affirmation of this very notion, but in order for science fiction to take the next step, motivation must produce results.

The Future is Grim(ly) Satisfying


While District 9 and V have both produced rather politically charged reactions due to their science fiction allegories, they have also continued to suggest that science fiction’s relevance to the modern world has shifted. While many have argued that science fiction has become unimportant or exceptionally commercial—without substance, if you will—the reality of the matter seems to be quite the opposite. If District 9 and V have shown us anything, it is that the film industry is still capable of bringing to the forefront a plethora of serious issues that have arguably been set aside or ignored by the majority of those outside of the academic community. South African Apartheid has, perhaps for good reason, become a thing of the past and has, outside of South Africa, been left as a footnote, despite the reality that accounts of massive human rights violations occur almost daily across the globe. Likewise, while the inflamed political right may not have the right handle on the allegories of V, the reality is that so much of American culture has been driven by an unflinching maintenance of “party lines,” in which left and right proponents have dug in their heels without considering the deeper elements of argument that pepper their two political ideologies. Is it possible that V could be used as a way to bridge the gap and provide a way for both sides to consider that every politician and leader should be met with scrutiny, regardless of how they sound? Is it equally possible that District 9 can create real change in a continent that has struggled not just for independence, but also for political and cultural normality and progress? Science fiction has the potential to put these questions to rest, but it is limited by the culture that surrounds it. It can open the door, but the political choices must still be made by individuals.

If anything is to be taken from the last year of science fiction film and literature, it is that the genre is not only alive and kicking, but embedding itself so deeply within the cultural mainstream that its very existence is becoming integral to humanity’s continued pursuit to understand its nature. As thought experiment, science fiction offers a gateway into a world of wonder and terror, without all of the problems of the real world. We no longer have to use the past as the only object for the consideration of the potential for humanity to commit “evil”; instead, science fiction enhances our perceptions and shines a light on the conditions under which we live, the problems that our various human machinations can and often do produce, and the potentiality of action, whether political or otherwise, that reality has failed to bestow upon humanity at large. All it takes now is for us to act upon the things that, for nearly one hundred years, science fiction has been telling us about ourselves.

Works Cited


Akpabio, Eno. "Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation; Or Bad Joke? " IQ4News. Mar. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
Baccarin, Morena. "Morena Baccarin: I Am Not Obama." Interview by Charlie J. Anders. Web log post. Io9. 6 Nov. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
Balfour, Brad. "Neill Blomkamp: South African Sci-Fi Director Finds Life in District 9 Is No Picnic." Pop Entertainment. 24 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
Ekeopara, Nkem. "Is District 9 Movie a Fitting Metaphor For the Ugliness of Nigeria." USA Africa Online. 6 Oct. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
Garvin, Glenn. "'V' Aims at Obamamania." The Chicago Tribune. 3 Nov. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
Karimi, Faith. "'District 9' Depiction Angers Some Nigerians - CNN.com." CNN.com - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. 21 Sept. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
Moraes, Lisa De. "ABC Executives Sound Coy About New Series's Political Edge." The Washington Post. 10 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
"Nigeria 'Offended' By Sci-fi Film." BBC NEWS. 19 Sept. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
"Nigeria Timeline." BBC News. 6 May 2010. Web. 14 May 2010.
Okorafor, Nnedi. "My Response to District 419…I Mean District 9. ;-)." Rev. of District 9. Web log post. Nnedi's Wahala Zone Blog. 23 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
Onanunga, Tola. "Why District 9 Isn't Racist Against Nigerians." The Guardian. 8 Sept. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
"Rebranding Nigeria." Audio blog post. BBC News. 21 Oct. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
Shaw, Mark. Organized Crime in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Rep. no. 28. Institute for Security Studies, Jan. 1998. Web. 14 May 2010.
Sirota, David. ""V" - The Right's New Favorite TV Show, Or Inadvertent Proof of The Ubiquity of The Right's Fables?" The Huffington Post. 21 May 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.
Tattersall, Nick. "Nigeria Re-brands to Shed Chaotic Image Reuters." Reuters. 19 Mar. 2009. Web. 14 May 2010.

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Shaun Duke is a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy. He is also a writer, editor, co-host of The Skiffy and Fanty Show , and co-owner of Young Writers Online. His rants and musings on science fiction, fantasy, books, and related subjects can be found at The World in the Satin Bag.

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