Thursday, 31 December 2020

Thor: The Last Days of Midgard - How to Hold onto Hope in a Dying World

How do we save the environment from the seemingly insurmountable forces of capitalism, an ideology determined to destroy the planet as it extracts every last resource from it?

Intro & Context

Regardless of the blatant and apocalyptic detrimental impacts they have on the very planet we live on, unregulated and rampant business interests will be protected by the state. This should be obvious when the political elite are often in the pocket of oil companies, billionaire tech-bros, and industries who profit from the exploitation and pollution of the Earth. 

While the general population suffers and the planet dies as a direct result of their actions, the business class will continue to strip the world of its resources for short-sighted gains at the expense of our long term future.

It is a problem so insurmountable that even a god cannot fight climate change without being confronted by the impenetrable web of corporate greed and a legal system designed to protect the interests of capital and business. That's the lesson that Jason Aaron's Thor learns in the fantastic Thor: The Last Days of Midgard arc from 2012 (Thor: God Of Thunder #19-25).

Who needs Aquaman to save the ocean when Thor can swim?

However, it is not the lesson I learnt from this comic but we'll get to that. First, some backstory.

Backstory (to the Worst Year Ever)

This year, 2020 if you're reading this in the future (presuming there is a future), I had started to fall into despair at the state of the world and my inability to affect change on it. I was wound tight with stress, feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and starting to crumble under the pressure. 

The resurgence of populist fascism, the enduring destruction of late stage capitalism, gross immoral inequality, a global pandemic, the fact that the world is literally on fire... and all I could do was watch it unfold on a computer screen. 

It feels overwhelming because it is overwhelming. It is too much and it all seems doomed. It is relentless, a constant feed of bad to terrible news, a desolate wasteland where nothing is able to bloom. It is as though you're in the middle of the ocean and dying of thirst. Cut off and alone, unable to connect or contribute to make things better since you can't latch onto anything or see a way forward.

What can you do when confronting destructive giants far greater and more powerful than yourself?

In the face of this unceasing toxicity, I become cut off. I was unable to be present in the here and now, in my own life. I was too consumed by what was happening abroad in other countries or the latest online discourse, the latest injustices committed by this corrupt state, politician or corporation, and so on, that I was unable to be fully present at work, with my friends, or even my family. 

I was tethered to the endless stream of terrible news that unfolded daily on my Twitter timeline...

And I believe I'm not alone in the loneliness caused by the hellscape that is social media. Too many of us feel cut off. Too many of us feel alienated and disillusioned by the constant suffering in the world and the failure of modern liberal democracies to meaningfully address the issues plaguing the world today. 

Issues of rampant corporate greed, the unequal distribution of resources, the gross exploitation of late stage capitalism, the continuing systemic bigotry of our societies, the inept responses to a global pandemic, and the ticking bomb of climate change. I mean, due to the dominance of neoliberal ideology which places the failures of society on the individual, often these democratic systems which are supposed serve the people deliberately make these issues worse when they aren't too busy ignoring them.

So the central question becomes, "How do we hold on to hope in dying world?". 

What if there is no one to smite since capitalism has no face to punch?

Let's Discuss the Comic

In Last Days of Midgard, there are two story-lines that are told in parallel which mirror and comment on one another. 

The first is Present Day Thor as he gets entangled with ROXXON Energy and its CEO Dario Agger, who, as Thor puts it, "seeks to poison Midgard for financial gain". Here Thor faces challenges not only in physical battle and of the magical variety but also of legal red tape and corrupt bureaucracy set up to protect the business elite. 

The second story-line is set millennia in the future, as old King Thor battles Galactus to prevent him from devouring a barren Earth which long ago died and is now just a dusty, hollowed out husk.

I'm sure there's no pointed commentary about our real-life future being made here.

The two story-lines are told simultaneously, mostly with the future plot adding layers of pathos and dramatic irony on the present day story. 

In the Present story-line, antagonist Dario Agger is the perfect embodiment of the modern neoliberal tech-bro, full of empty PR spin to obfuscate exploitative business practices. He also makes Elon Musk-like grandiose proclamations of his company's (modest) accomplishments, and expresses an insatiable desire to privatise vital resources from the public good. 

I mean, this is a man who wanted to establish an interplanetary ice pipeline to mine water from one of Jupiter's moons to "solve" the Earth's water crisis. 

I dunno man, you seem more preoccupied with the taking part...

Thor knows that Agger is actively destroying the planet and polluting the air but as Agger points out that neither he or his company "have never been convicted of any wrongdoing by any court in the world". In the eyes of the law, Agger and ROXXON are innocent and it is Thor who is the aggressor by thwarting ROXXON's enterprise by trying to stop them from destroying the planet. 

To be fair, Thor is deliberately destroying ROXXON facilities which hurts their profit margin and makes their shareholders sad. On the other hand, some of those facilities are so completely toxic that they have to be fully automated since no humans can work there, so yeah. Funnily enough, ROXXON cannot claim insurance since the insurance company is refusing coverage since the damage was caused by an act of god. Cute.

Fittingly, Thor is teamed up with Agent Rosalind 'Roz' Solomon of S.H.I.E.L.D's first ever environmental task force for this arc. Agent Solomon is a pragmatic idealist who wants to save the environment and believes it is possible but fully understands it is an uphill battle where you not only have one hand tied behind your back but also a chain around your ankles while your opponent has had a 20 year head start and more resources than you can imagine.

Of course, S.H.I.E.L.D are an espionage, special law enforcement, and counter-terrorism agency in Marvel comics. They are analogous to the CIA, by which I mean they're basically an arm to enforce American imperialism under the guise of counter-terrorism. So, that sucks and is a mark against Roz but she seems to have her heart in the right place.

However, the real take-away from this Present Day plot is how even the mighty Thor is in some ways powerless to stop the machinations of capitalism. 

Agger relocates ROXXON's floating factories to Broxton, a small town next to where Asgardia (the remnants of Asgard on Earth, home of Thor and the gods) is in an attempt to hurt Thor by buying up most of the town, displacing his friends and neighbours. And when Thor tries to fight Agger directly, he is served with a sue notice for damages done to ROXXON Energy.

What good is a hammer against a court action lawsuit?

It's quite interesting to watch Thor try to attack Agger head on, only to be hit with a lawsuit and restraining order, a fantastic example of how corporations will use the law to their own means in order to stifle criticism and activism. The law is on Agger's side because he has unlimited capital and the law is always on the side of those with capital, largely because it was written by people with capital. Funny that. 

Naturally, since this is a superhero comic, Agger turns out to be a Minotaur and hires trolls to kill Thor, which means Thor can smack his face with his hammer. Unfortunately, the town of Broxton is destroyed in the ensuing battle, showing how it is always average everyday people who suffer under capitalism.

Moving to the Future story-line, old King Thor, having seen the millennia since the events of the present day plot, as well as the death of all his friends and allies from that time period, stands in the dust of a dead Earth. Lamenting the loss of his beloved Midgard, who should arrive but Galactus, the devourer of worlds.

Galactus is a perfect metaphor for the unceasing need for perpetual growth and expansion, not to mention the destruction left in its wake, fundamental to the functions of capitalism. Galactus is famously always hungry. No planet, no matter how large or rich in resources, can satiate his burning desire to consume more and more and more until the end of time. He must always have more, constantly travelling the galaxy forever consuming. Just like capital, Galactus must feed.

But Thor says thee nay!

Visually, they made the rather deliberate choice to have Galactus give off bellows of smoke and ash, polluting the air with his mere presence. Oh well, sure there's no wider meaning to be read here.

Before they begin their battle, Galactus and King Thor discuss the Earth and why they want to devour or save it, respectively. Thor points out that the Earth is already half dead, and asks why he would even want to eat a world such as this. However, Galactus turns the question back on Thor, questioning why would he want to defend it. Their answers are quite illuminating.

Thor responds that the Earth has saved him more times than he can count while he hasn't saved it nearly enough. Galactus similarly states that the Earth has defied him more times than he can count and no matter its current state, the taste of it will be sweet.

Thor's response points out our duty to the world we live on, to nurture it and take care of it as it provides for us, while Galactus' reply highlights the pettiness and desire for conquest inherent in capitalism's need for perpetual growth and consumption.

It is interesting, that Thor then thinks to himself that it would so easy to let it slip away just by doing nothing. Perhaps it would be a mercy to let the planet be consumed... however, Thor is not the god of Mercy and stands his ground against a being far larger and more powerful than he is.

When standing up to a giant, simply breaking his hand is a victory of immense proportions.

I won't retell all the events of their battle here since it would take too long and distract from the point I'm trying to make but suffice to say, it is epic and a tale worthy of being told. 

Fittingly, Thor's granddaughters, the Girls of Thunder join the battle when Thor is knocked out and attack Galactus, causing some significant damage, even if they ultimately are unable to defeat him without their grandfather's help. It's almost like in order to defeat a monster like Galactus or capitalism, we cannot do it on our own but only if we work together.

Again, this is a superhero comic and Thor retrieves an all-powerful weapon that helps him defeat Galactus, although it is one which corrupts his soul as he uses it. What is fascinating is that during this part of the battle, Thor reveals that it was he that caused the destruction of the Earth by standing by and allowing it to fall. It was his inaction that lead to the death of the planet.

However, at the end of the battle, Thor bleeds from his wounds onto the ground, causing it to grow anew. 

I hope the message isn't too subtle...

But rewinding to the end of the Present Day plot, following the destruction of the town of Broxton, Thor and the Asgardians ask to help the people of Broxton on their terms to rebuild the town, acknowledging the townspeople's agency to determine the type of aid they require rather than it being assigned to them from on high. 

However, they don't completely fix the town before they have to leave since, to avoid further retribution or collateral damage to their neighbours, Asgardia is relocated to space. Lacking homes to live in among the rubble, the people of Broxton ask where they are to live since this land is their home...

Only for Thor to give them a castle from Asgardia to live in, the greatest of all halls in Asgard - his castle.

They lost their home so he gave them his, while acknowledging it cannot replace what they lost...

The Lesson I Learnt From Thor

All of this leads me to the lesson I personally learnt from Thor's struggle to save the planet against capitalism's never-ending desire to consume and expand, regardless of the damage it causes. The lesson was not a major revelation or startling epiphany but it was reaffirming and meaningful. 

It was simply to hope again. That, even though the struggle is seemingly insurmountable, it must still be fought. That, even if you will not win, you need to continue to do what is right. 

Furthermore, I learnt from this comic about a Norse god with a hammer flying through space that, even though I as an individual cannot hope to create the change I want to see in the world, I must do all I can to help better my immediate environment and community. 

That even though a god is sometimes helpless in the face of a system that will always prioritise corporations and profit over people, there can still be hope in the minor victories gained, no matter how small. 

Even if this fight is one long defeat, it is a fight worth fighting.

In conclusion, I realised that although you may not be able to change the world alone but you can collectivise with others to nudge it in the right direction. 

Do what you can while always remembering the Marxist maxim, "to each according to their ability". 

Try to focus on what can be done to improve your local community, connect with your friends, join a union if you haven't, petition your representative on issues you believe in, protest injustice, listen to others, support or join an activist group if you are able, log off social media sometimes, and look after yourself.

We are all we have and a better world is possible.

Happy New Year. Here's to the ongoing struggle in 2021.


Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic for creating Thor: Last Days of Midgard.

Matt Draper for his video on Mad Max: Fury Road which inspired the tone of this article -

Friday, 1 May 2020

Pink Floyd's 'Us and Them': Group Mentality and the Death of Politics in the Culture War

'Us and Them' is a famous anti-war anthem from what is Pink Floyd's most popular album, The Dark Side of the Moon. The song is quite epic, one of Pink Floyd's best, with a subdued verses that have soothing sax and watery guitar licks, before an utter explosion in the bridges, complete with female vocal choir, clashing symbols, distorted guitar. It's a fantastically well-composed and musically effective song.

The lyrics of the song quite explicitly explore the futility of war and how soldiers on both sides of any conflict are mere pawns for generals and the powerful, their battles reduced to mere "lines on the map" that move from side to side. Since the message of the lyrics is so starkly clear to anyone who gives them a glance, it would be rather foolish to use them to comment on something else.

So naturally I'm not going to explore the obvious anti-war message of the song in any way but instead will pivot hard to discuss something Roger Waters definitely was not thinking about when he wrote the lyrics, the current Culture War between liberals and conservatives in the Western democracies.

What a great song.

Wait, what? How can I just use the lyrics of a song from 1973 with an obvious anti-war message to comment on the current political climate of 2020? That seems like a stretch and rather disingenuous.

Like any piece of art, song lyrics can accumulate new meanings over time and as people interpret them within different contexts. And the sentiment expressed in 'Us and Them' seems to me to relate perfectly to the current political moment we find ourselves in and the artificial divide between the two sides of the Culture War.

Or at least enough so that I want to use the lyrics to frame my discussion of our current moment.

So let's get into it.

Here are the aforementioned lyrics in full (that I will cherry-pick from to make my argument).

Us and Them

Okay, so what is this Culture War anyway? The Culture War is this ideological conflict where every issue is reduced of its material conditions into a 'battle' between liberals and conservatives. While conservatives tend to more explicitly weaponise these cultural battles, liberals are not immune to its effects.

Within the Culture War, both sides succumb to the division caused by treating issues less as problems that require solutions but as a way to indicate your political team. The way this starts is through the creation and spread of "wedge issues".

A helpful definition from this Renegade Cut video.

Now, these 'wedge issues' often have no bearing on reality or even impact people's lives in any meaningful way but still people feel incredibly passionate about them since they signal their political identity or affiliation.

As stated in the definition of a 'wedge issue' above, manufacturing wedge issues has two effects. One effect is to manipulate people into a Culture War such that they turnout in order to defeat the other political party. The other is to distract and divide the working class.

A great example of how a wedge issue can be used for both is the "War on Christmas".

As this informative article by Media Matters details, the War on Christmas is a completely manufactured cultural battle. A wedge issue created by propagandists on Fox News, such as noted sexual harasser Bill O'Reilly, to fracture objective reality along political lines.

As the article states,
Imaginary culture war issues like the War on Christmas make for good politics, as the people arguing that these are real issues can at any time simply dust off their hands, declare victory, and pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
According to the article, the creation of a fake issue like the War on Christmas provides "right-wing media a convenient way to manufacture divisions between the left and the right" in order to ignore real issues.

To be honest, looking at how the right in American has weaponised the War on Christmas victim narrative every year for the past 15 years or so while ignoring the real problems facing America's poor and most vulnerable, it's hard to disagree.

Up and Down, And in the end it's only round 'n round

However, I would go further than the Media Matters article and say that the Culture War is no longer limited to fake battles such as the War on Christmas but has infected all aspect of politics.

Every issue, real or imagined, is now a wedge issue, reduced to a political stance. All politics has become an aesthetic affect that signals which 'side' you are on - Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican, Labour or Tory, NZ Labour or National, Red or Blue.

No where is this clearer than in how people on different sides of the Culture War believe governments and countries should response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instituting a shutdown or quarantine in the face of a pandemic shouldn't be a political issue but simply a health issue.

When you have a pandemic, you need to institute a quarantine of some kind or people will die. And yet...

See this Reddit thread for more examples of people getting corona to "own the libs".

The tweets above show what happens when you turn every issue into a culture war.

It no longer becomes about health or what's the right response, or even the issue itself, but simply opposing the other team. This is how right-wing media trick people into thinking that ignoring doctors and health professionals to break quarantine and go out during a pandemic is simply "expressing their freedom" to own the libs.

People have been convinced that blind opposition to the other side, regardless of whether the other side is right or wrong, is a win in the battle for the 'soul' of their country.

This thinking affects liberally minded people too, as they often get a sense of superiority and can dismiss whole swaths of the populace as uneducated backwater hicks or rednecks, ignoring how that population has been misled and manipulated by politicians, media companies and rich assholes.

Their smug superiority often blinds liberals to completely ignore how they themselves are also manipulated on 'liberal' wedge issues by politicians, media companies and rich assholes on the other side. This is why liberals will often fall for hollow moves towards 'progress' that don't actually progress anything but protect the interests of the elite.

An example of this is the "girl boss" phenomenon.

Aw, yeah. Lean in!

Before we go further, let me state for the record that representation is incredibly important and it is vital that we address the decades of systemic gender discrimination in the workplace and politics. However, where liberals get tricked into a Culture War is that they are told representation in and of itself is what is important. This is regardless of whether this representation actually helps the marginalised group in question or is just tokenism designed to placate criticisms of discrimination.

That's how some liberals start thinking that simply putting women in positions of power will right the world because women are just intrinsically better than men because uh, feminism? Liberals such as former US President Barack Obama, who said last year that "if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything".

However, as this article by The Guardian points out, "Women, you’ll be amazed to know, are not a monolithic group". What is the point in electing a woman leader if she is will simply continue the systems of exploitation that currently exist?
Having more female leaders is also completely meaningless if those women simply “lean in” to exploitative systems of power. It’s not old white men that are the problem, it’s patriarchal capitalism.
Liberals will sometimes even defend far-right figures like Margaret Thatcher because of her "girl power" and how she had to break through the glass ceiling of misogyny to become the United Kingdom's first female Prime Minister, but come on.

You all know the Eric Andre bit, right?

We stan an imperialist murder queen.

The "girl boss" trope is a recuperation of feminism by capital, stripping it of its radical systemic critique of patriarchal structures, until it is a shallow husk of progressivism. An mere aesthetic signally change while providing nothing of substance. The idea that if one women is able to succeed, that is a win for all women, even if she only did so by playing by the rules of the patriarchal system.

This is how identity politics is weaponised in the Culture War to manipulate liberals into supporting candidates based solely on their gender, race or sexuality. Think of Hilary Clinton's "I'm with Her" campaign slogan.

Again, please don't mistake me, representation is incredibly important and having a government that actually reflects the diversity of the constituents they represent is only a good thing. But here's the thing, they should also support policies which serve the interests of that diverse constituency, not lobbyists or the status quo.

Can we claim we have made any progress to celebrate the election of someone from a marginalised group if they pull the ladder up behind themselves? Is that a gain for equality? Is it a feminism to replace a male warmonger with a female warmonger? Is it a win for gay rights when a gay mayor ignores the issues facing the LGBTQ community?

I dunno about you, but that doesn't look like progress to me.

Haven't you heard, it's a battle of words?

Let's talk about the "Death of Politics" mentioned in the title. What do I mean by the "Death of Politics" anyway? That seems rather ominous and melodramatic.

Like in any war, at the end of the day it often is a battle of words. What is said about what happened is often far more important that what actually happened. Words are what bring meaning to things, they provide the framework for understanding. Indeed, the choice of words can often frame an incident one way or another, depending on how they are used.

What am I going on about? Well, how do we talk about those on the other side of the Culture War? What words do we use to describe them? How are those words used? Do those words even mean what they are supposed to or are we using them devoid of meaning in order to get an emotional reaction?

Let's take a concrete example, and a local one if you're from New Zealand like me, about a NZ Labour MP Deborah Russell who said some dumb things about personal responsibility for small business owners who were struggling during the Covid-19 shutdown. Russell said,
We are seeing a number of small businesses really struggling after only a few weeks in a difficult situation, which must speak to the strength of those small businesses going into this lockdown. It worries me that perhaps people went into small business without really understanding how you might build up or capitalise it in the first place so you have the ongoing strength to survive a setback.
Now, to me that seems like typical "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" type nonsense which you typically see from right-wing libertarianism or conservatism. It's kinda sad to see from a Labour MP, who are supposedly centre-left, but what you gonna do?

Well if you are David Seymour, you try score some cheap political points.

Got them.

If you're not from New Zealand and don't know who David Seymour is, you might not understand what I'm getting at. David Seymour is the leader of the libertarian ACT party. He is literally the personal responsibility "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" guy in New Zealand politics!

Yet hee's taking a jab at Russell, and by extension the NZ Labour party, for espousing views which are completely in line with his own political ideology. Which is weird enough on the surface but then Judith Collins, a member of the right-wing National party, chipped in with a little Red Scare, "Thank you for this little gem about socialist thinking against small business."

Essentially, she proclaimed that libertarian philosophy applied to business owners was actually socialism. Which makes no sense right? Nothing Russell said could be considered socialist in any way, shape or form. It's kind of directly opposed to socialist principles like social welfare, solidarity and anti-capitalism.

However, this is the "Death of Politics" in the Culture War. Actual awareness of political ideology or theory is discarded and replaced with empty name-calling for points scoring. There is no understanding of politics apart from "my side = good, other side = bad".

Within this false understanding, ACT and National will purposely say Labour are socialists so when a Labour MP has a bad take, they can pull out the "see communism is cancer" card, even when the take they apparently disagree with is actually in line with their own right wing ideology.

This is a common tactic the world over. How often has a left-leaning candidate or politician been labelled a 'communist' in order to dismiss them or make their ideas seems scary and invoked the scaremongering of the Cold War? Such claims were swung at Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, and deliberately.

Oh, by the way, remember those people protesting the shutdown in the States? Well...

Yeah, okay. Sure.

It doesn't matter that saying social distancing equals communism makes little no sense to the point of absurdity. It doesn't matter that the claim is self-contradictory. The only thing that matters is the emotional plea. What the claim invokes for people on your side that hear or read it.

If your side thinks that communism is cancer. then that is the plea you make. If your side thinks that conservatives are all uneducated rednecks, then that is the plea you make. The emotional plea of the claim is far more important than whether the claim is true.

After all, it is all just a battle of words and words have power even when they are meaningless.

Black and Blue, And who knows which is which and who is who

So, if both sides can become ensnared by wedge issues that either distract from real issues or superficially seem like progress but are actually hollow, which side actually wins in the Culture War?

Neither side. They are both being played.

As stated in the lyrics of 'Us and Them', the soldiers are just victims in war, pawns to be sacrificed in the front-lines while the generals are safe from the violent consequences of their decisions. (I mean, unless there is another way to interpret, "Forward he cried from the rear/And the front rank died". If so, please let me know. I'm genuinely interested.)

So if people are the "soldiers" in the Culture War, then who are the generals they are being sacrificed for? Whose interests are best served by perpetrating wedge issues that only serve to divide the working class from achieving solidarity due to their shared material conditions?

Why, those in power of course.

I'm not going to hammer this too much since it's obvious and I've pointed out how obvious it is, but keeping the populace distracted by non-issues or politicizing real issues into wedge issues, only benefits the capitalist elite and those in power.

Working class conservatives getting angry at the "liberal shutdown" only helps capitalists who want to 're-open the economy' at the expense of those same working class conservatives health and lives.

College educated liberals supporting a female candidate for office simply because she is a woman, without really evaluating her political ideology or policies, only helps that specific woman and maintains the status quo of exploitation under capitalism.

Speaking of capitalism...

And who'll deny it's what the fighting's all about?

Within the current system, politicians, the media and rich assholes uses wedge issues to blind people to the shared solidarity they should have with each other. This is done in order to keep the powerful in power and to protect capital.

"The two parties need wedge issues to motivate their voters and distract them from the fact that both parties wish to maintain the system that has the most to do with their oppression." - Leon Thomas

Capitalism, baby! It's a problem. Maybe we should do something about it.

Maybe we need to avoid unnecessary Culture Wars and focus on what is really important - building solidarity and improving the material conditions of people everywhere.

Just like how the generals don't want the soldiers of either side talking to each other and recognising their share humanity, the politicians and media who manufacture these wedge issues don't want voters, particularly the working class, on either side to recognise that they have more in common with each other than these wedge issues would suggest.

They do not want you to realise that dismantling capitalism, and other systems of division such as racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, will result in a better society for everyone.

Since "after all, we're just ordinary men," women and non-binary folks caught in an never-ending cycle of pointless political battles where nothing ever gets better or changes and "God only knows it's not what we would choose to do".

I dunno, it's just a thought.


Us and Them (song) - Wikipedia

Misinformation for Fun and Profit | Renegade Cut

A War on Christmas Story: How Fox News built the dumbest part of America's culture war

r/ownthelibs - Getting Corona to Own the Libs

You're not helping, Obama – just reinforcing myths about men v women

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Alien: Covid-19 and Quarantine under Capitalism

Well, the times have certainly changed since my last article, which was basically a year ago.

I won't try recap everything that has happened in the past 11 months since it would be impossible considering we live in the cursed timeline where each week feels like a month but four months ago feels like only yesterday, but it is worth putting things into context for what I want to discuss. Therefore, I'll give a brief summary of the moment we are in.

Currently, we are facing a global pandemic due to Covid-19 with countries shutting down to stop the spread. This pandemic is putting the failures of neoliberalism in stark view for all to see, as free market capitalist governments ineffectively scramble to react within a system completely ill-prepare to respond to such crises.

A looming economic collapse is just on the horizon as the billionaire class hide away and governments look to give stimulus packages for big business instead of providing welfare for the working class and most vulnerable in society. To some it seems like the end of the world and we are all watching it unfold while under quarantine.

So naturally, this is the perfect time to talk about Ridley Scott's 1979 film, Alien.

A face only the corporate interests of capital could love.

Wait, what does a 41 year old horror sci-fi featuring an murderous alien killing off the crew on a spaceship have to do with a global pandemic and impending economic crisis? Oh, you sweet summer child. Far too much for comfort.

Horror has always been a genre that explicitly reflects and explores the anxieties of society. For instance, monsters are potent symbols for aspects of society, physical manifestations of our existential fears or societal concerns. We see this from vampires representing the liberal bourgeoisie elite to the social outcast. Similarly, zombies can symbols of relentless consumerism or the loss of agency, depending on how the film decides to use them or what message it wants to get across.

However, it isn't just the monsters in horror which can reflect our societal anxieties or comment on our political moment but also the narratives within horror. This can be obvious, such as the allegorical exploration of liberal racism in Get Out (2017), directed by Jordan Peele, or oblique, such as the critique of middle class anxiety and fear of the other in Us (2019), directed by Jordan Peele.

With Alien, the obvious connection is that the events of the film are literally about a quarantine break. The crew allows an infected person onto the ship which results in the death of all but one of the crew. To be specific, it's the Science Officer Ash who actually breaks quarantine but we'll get to him later, don't you worry.

In our current moment, self-isolating and maintaining quarantine is paramount to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and avoid the illness or death of our loved ones and neighbours.

I mean, she's not wrong.

"Okay, sure." you might say. "So, there's a broken quarantine in the film Alien which results in people dying, an important lesson for us to learn as we have to live in quarantine in real life but that's like one scene in the film. It's not like you can really extrapolate much more from the film to our current situation than that."

"And how does this relate to capitalism? You mentioned capitalism in your title. Did you forget? By the way, what does capitalism even have to do with the Covid-19 pandemic or quarantine, anyway?"

Thanks hypothetical reader asking the specific questions I'm about to answer. You're correct, one scene about not breaking quarantine is not really enough to connect Alien to the pandemic, aside from teaching us not to break quarantine. Luckily, I did not in fact forget about capitalism and actually have more to say about both it and the film.

Unfortunately, so many of us do forget about capitalism, and this is intentional. Capitalism affects all aspects of our lives to the point it is just invisible background white noise - as just the way things are and can only be. People do not question it or even think that any alternatives are viable.

"Can you hear that? For a second it sounded like the bourgeoisie exploiting the proletariat."

This is literally what Mark Fisher termed 'capitalist realism', the "widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it". We have become so conditioned to seeing capitalism as the only way of doing things that we no longer question it or even see how it shapes our lives everyday.

Just like the "invisible hand" of the market, capitalism shapes our lives in seemingly arbitrary ways unless we understand the fundamental goal of capitalism is to accrue more capital by any means. Capitalism does not care about people, only profit.

This is particularly the case since neoliberalism has been the dominant ideology of the past 30-40 years, an ideology which sees privatization and free market capitalism as not only ideal but natural. Neoliberal capitalism is the extension of the "profit, not people" ethos to the extreme. It's literally the idea that society works best when it's run by the free market, despite literally all evidence to the contrary.

As this article by Organise Aotearoa outlines, "Under neoliberalism, austerity is everything. The existence of everything, often including human life, has to be justified in terms of cost-effectiveness, self-reliance, and interoperability with the rest of the system."

This is why wages have remain stagnant for the past 30 years despite the fact that productivity has increase exponentially, resulting in the Productivity-Pay Gap. It's why social benefits have been relentlessly cut due to austerity policies. It's why the gap between the rich and the poor has grown so insurmountably massive in recent decades. It's why, although the amount of billionaires has sky-rocketed, the working class still bear the brunt of taxes. That's neoliberalism, baby.

Left: Employer has $$$$$$ from which to pay the Worker.
Middle: Worker is paid $$ by Employer.
Right: Privatised Housing & Healthcare is charges the Worker $$.
Now, I'm no mathematician but I think this leaves the Worker with, uh, let's see... bugger all.

The above image comes from a neat video by Carlos Maza, which very simply and succinctly breaks down how neoliberal capitalism, specifically in the US, is uniquely unequipped to deal with crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic. I don't want to rehash his points here but suffice to say, it's hard to argue otherwise. I mean, have you looked at the world lately?

But what does all this have to do with Alien? Quite a lot actually or I wouldn't have brought it all up. The message from neoliberal governments in the face of this pandemic after only a few weeks of shutdown is "get back to work", to get things back to normal as soon as possible.

Even in Aotearoa New Zealand where I live, a country which has been praised for its response to the pandemic and has been under shutdown for nearly three weeks, there have been grumblings from some sectors that the shutdown has worked well enough and everyone should get back to work shortly in order to save the economy.

Bear in mind, we are supposed to be in shutdown and self-isolation for at least four weeks and they can barely handle a fortnight before wanting to risk people's safety and lives for the market.

Which brings us back to Science Officer Ash.

I told you I would get round to him. 

In Alien, Ash is revealed to be an android [spoilers for a movie from 1979, I guess] operating on secret orders from the Weyland-Yutani Corporation that his number one priority is to bring back the alien life-form and to consider the crew "expendable" in achieving this goal.

Put a pin in that for a moment.

Remember when I discussed how we tend to forget about capitalism since it's all around us? Well, that extends to class consciousness. We don't see each other as all belonging to a shared class but rather as isolated individuals operating within society. Which is ridiculous of course, class is a huge factor in the quality of our lives and our material conditions. But why am I talking about class?

Since we are conditioned not to think about class, most people don't really acknowledge that the crew of the Nostromo are working class folk doing a working class job. In space!

As the late great Roger Ebert said in his retrospective review of the film, "These are not adventurers but workers, hired by a company to return 20 million tons of ore to Earth." And he's right.

Ripley putting in the appropriate level of effort for a wage slavery job.

By the way, this is also why the Nostromo looks less high-tech than the ships in the prequel films Prometheus and Alien: Convenant - it's a bloody freighter, not a luxury cruiser. This tangent has no relevance to my argument but I thought I'd point it out. It just bugs me when people complain about the Nostromo being low tech in comparison as though this is a flaw in continuity, when they are comparing top of the line scientific vessels to what is basically an intergalactic truck.

Getting back on track, the fact we ignore the crew's class is kind of fascinating since the movie repeatedly hits you over the head with its awareness of class, specifically through the engineers Parker and Brett. Parker is forever trying to haggle better wages on behalf of Brett and himself, who, as the blue collar workers of the crew, have been stiffed on their contracts compared to their crew members.

However, although Parker "is vocal about his desires to be equal to the rest of the crew", as this article by Film School Rejects points out, "he is constantly shot down or ignored" due to his status as both a blue collar work and a black man.

The article goes on to state, "Within Scott’s examination of capitalistic power structures lies a critique on race as well and how those who are not white are even further exploited for their labor; Parker should work for less money and be happy about it."

"So, you're saying I should just accept racial oppression and capitalist exploitation?
Sounds like a crap deal to me. Can I talk to my union rep?"

Now, since we don't acknowledge the crew as working class people being exploited by the capitalist corporate elite, we tend to view them merely as individuals trying to survive a murderous alien. The problem with ignoring class is that it becomes easier to miss how they are all similarly exploited by the corporation which cares more about profit (procuring the Xenomorph) than people (the crew).

Let's take that out that pin now. As we know, the crew are viewed as expendable by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. And who is the representative of this corporation? A soulless synthetic android. It couldn't be more on the nose if they tried.

Ash has been ordered by the corporation to bring back the Xenomorph at the expense of the crew, essentially to sacrifice the crew on the alter of capitalism. Remember, these are orders he cannot disobey since he is an android. He is merely a cog in the machine, the ideal worker under capitalism, and as such, he treats the human workers as beneath him.

The rest of the crew have value only when they are useful to achieving the mission. Once they are no longer useful, they are disposable. For instance, Kane's body is used up and broken in order to transport the alien fetus on board the ship. He is reduced to a vessel and once he has achieved his job, he is discarded.

Of course, I linked the chestburster scene. It's an article on Alien, I think it's contractually mandated that every discussion of Alien should include the chestbuster scene. Coincidentally, it's the capitalist bootlicker who prevents the working class hero from killing the alien. Funny that.

Now, let's contrast Ash's dispassionate and inhuman treatment of the crew with Ripley's reaction when she finds out what Ash's secret orders are. She is not only shocked and upset but angry and disbelieving. Her reaction is emotional, visceral and, well, human. I hope I making the point clear.

I would also say it is not insignificant that it is only when the surviving crew members, Parker, Lambert and Ripley, work together that they are able to decapitate Ash and learn the truth about how they have been exploited by the corporation. It's almost like they need to build solidarity or something...

So, how does all this relate to Covid-19? Well, just like the Weyland-Yutani Corporation and Ash, the conglomerates and politicians who serve them are saying that people should not only sacrifice themselves to save the economy but be happy to do so, as outlined in this Washington Post article.

"Let's get back to work, let's get back to living... and those of us who are 70 plus will take care of ourselves but don't sacrifice the country." - An actual Lieutenant Governor, and not a cartoon villain, apparently.  

The Trump administration has repeated downplayed the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic even as the US has the most cases of any country, with just over 500,000 confirmed cases at time of writing.

Not to mention, we have Republican senators like Richard Burr, who, after having being briefed about the impending pandemic in January, decide to sell off millions of dollars in stocks before the market dropped due to fears about the pandemic. He of course did this while simultaneously keeping his constituents in the dark about the scale of the threat.

Naturally, he is not the only one, as at least three other senators were caught in the act, including a Democrat Dianne Feinstein because liberals are also capitalist stooges and not immune to crass opportunism in the midst of a pandemic. A pandemic which will inevitably disproportionately impact the working class and poor they are supposed to represent. Of course, neither Barr or the other senators will face any genuine consequences, legal or otherwise, from the current system.

Just like Ash and the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, under neoliberal capitalism, politicians and multi-billion conglomerates will sacrifice us at a moments notice to maintain their capital. They will happily let us all be brutally murdered one by one by a perfect organism whose structural perfection is matched only by its hostility than sacrifice a penny of their profits.

This is the lesson that Alien teaches us in this time of quarantine under capitalism.

I hope it is one we heed and learn well.

P.S. After I finished writing this, I watched Thought Slime's "Top 5 Anti-Capitalist Horror Movies" video and they described the capitalist horror of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation in Alien far better and more succinctly that I do here. Typical. Give the video a watch by the way, it's great.


Alien (1979) - Wikipedia

Alien (film) - Xenopedia

Covid-19 and the new era

The Productivity–Pay Gap

Growth in World's Billionaires

Coronavirus and the American death cult

Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?

Great Movies: Alien (1979)

In ‘Alien,’ Horror Comes In The Form of Labor Exploitation

A viral plea to let grandparents sacrifice themselves captures a truth about Trump

Republican senator urged to quit after report he sold stocks before Covid-19 market plunge

US senators accused of insider trading