There’s context (what the artist means to say) and subtext (what the artist says unintentionally but the audience picks up on). This is to say the Tea Party has invaded pop culture. It’s very evident in the television series Falling Skies and has found its way into the new film Cowboys and Aliens. The screenwriters have genre credentials (among their credits are the Transformer movies, Lost, Fringe, and the reboot of “Star Trek”). I doubt they fancy themselves as “Conservatives” and I can imagine them in the story sessions talking about high-minded ideals like how we’re all the same and all want the same things and  if we just sat together and talked instead of argued (they do this in the movie, literally) we’d find a common ground and so on. And perhaps some of the characters were meant to satirize the Far/Christian/Crackpot Right. But if it is a joke, it’s not the one they intended, and they didn’t get it.


The movie opens with Jake Lonergan waking up in the New Mexico desert. Except he doesn’t know he’s Jake Lonergan, or why he’s in the desert, or why he has this fancy (what we’d call “high-tech”) bracelet on his arm or what it’s for. What Jake does remember is that he doesn’t like being told what to do and he can fight with the lethal ease of a Jason Bourne/Jack Bauer/(okay, I’ll say it) James Bond that seems a little out-of-place in a 19th century gunslinger.


He rides into the nearest town and quickly runs afoul of the local robber baron and the sheriff. While the latter discuss who gets to keep him, strange flying machines attack the town and start scooping up the residents. When their arrival activates the fancy bracelet on Jake’s arm, he quickly masters (what we realize is) its holographic targeting system and he manages to shoot one down. From this point on it’s the dual quest for Jake to find out who he is and for the townspeople to find their loved ones.


Part of the fun of Cowboys and Aliens is supposed to be that we know what the aliens are but the cowboys don’t. But there’s that pesky subtext, like the preacher who thinks while it’s okay to put your faith in the Lord, it’s more practical to get a gun and learn how to use it. (I think that covers the first two Amendments.) Jake’s memory may be gone but the one thing he’s sure he remembers is “English.” (So he’s a "real" American!) The nominal bad guy, Col. Dolarhyde, when advised to tell the Cavalry about the strange goings-on sneeringly refuses. A veteran of the Civil War, he’s had first-hand experience with Washington red tape: if you want saving you gotta do it yourself.  And when the real Indians show up the Natives and the Settlers blame each other for the invasion. But it’s through this common threat, these aliens who have illegally entered their country and disrupted their way of life that the two sides (three if your count the outlaws) learn to work together. With bombs and guns.


(Now, while there are NO BLACK PEOPLE KILLED IN THIS MOVIE—perhaps mainly because there are no black people in this movie—there is a Native American who wants nothing more than to be accepted by the Colonel, who puts him in his place rather harshly and often. He gives his life saving the Colonel who, as he dies, finally accepts him. And he dies happy. Have you ever heard of anything like that before?)


Now, the biggest joke in this movie (and for that matter in Falling Skies) is that you have a situation where a technologically superior entity (like, say, the United States) occupies a less-developed entity (like, say Afghanistan or Iraq or one of the 140+ other places we have a military presence) and the occupied civilians mount a resistance movement aimed at resisting an action “not authorized by or in accordance with the law of the land;” they, by definition, become insurgents. And we root for them, when it’s happening to us. But when we’re the occupying entity…


The Aliens are your garden-variety Other whose true motives are speculated rather than articulated and there are too many inconsistencies to go into. Cowboys and Aliens is not a complete waste of time but I’d suggest waiting for the cable/DVD release.

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