“District 9” is an insightful action movie that powerful reflects the dynamics of Culture, Race, Technology, and power in our world today. If would allow an anthropological dialogue between the elements of the movie and deeply reflect on how we manage our human affairs today, we could arrive a critical and transformative insights which we could use to make the world a better place. “District 9” clearly reflects our human situation and how the dynamics of culture, race, technology power creates and informs human behaviour and structures society’s institutions, ways of thinking and acting, and our lifeworld.
The movie deeply reflects important social issues such as racism, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, segregation, biological warfare, control of technology, social stratification, multinational companies and power dynamics. With or without aliens, we have in fact treated other people different from us as “aliens”. By simply looking at the way we have organized our cities and residences, we have in fact practiced segregation very much like “District 9”. Look at how the rich and poor are segregated from each other.
On one side we have slums and ghettoes; on the other side we have the palaces of the rich and famous. Poor people don’t roam around in 5 star hotels and casinos. Rich people don’t get themselves filthy in wet markets and slums. The unequal distribution of wealth has in fact segregated what the poor and rich can eat, wear, and use. On the country level, we have segregated the city from the country, the rural from the urban areas, and there is a corresponding cultural “breeding” and slang that is deemed more appropriate for the “city bred” as compared to those who grew up in the farms.
On a planetary level, we have segregated advanced industrialized countries from poor developing countries. We have launched wars in the name of religion, race, and culture. In the movie “District 9”, the aliens are derogatorily called “prawns”. The usage of term itself implies that the “other” is a lesser being. Applied in the social world, this could have tremendous negative impact on the “other’s” assertion of rights, and his pursuit of happiness and wellbeing. Yet we are never really free of guilt in this respect. In the schools, we call others who are different as “nerds.
” We call people of other colour “niggers” or other derogatory names. We have green jokes that insensitively look as women as sex objects. We have a lot of jokes that make fun of the “ignorance” of those who are not city bred as ours or those who have different cultural practices as hours. Fashion has made us laugh at those who dress differently and “out of fashion”. The main thesis of this paper is this: If we could only emphasize on the millions of things that unite as humanity rather than the few things that make us differ, then our world could be very much transformed for the better.
If we could only look at the basic humanity of another putting aside the differences in race, religion, ideology, class, language, cultural practices, colour, we would realize that we have the same biological emotions, the same hurts, the same emotions, the same dreams and visions, and only one planet to live unto. This major realization alone can stamp out segregation and racism in their various expressions in society and culture. The Ills of Physical and Cultural Segregation
The movie “District 9” is in fact inspired by the actual historical situation in South Africa in the times of the apartheid. There was one elite residential area in Cape Town where only the whites lived called District 6. There were actual historical accounts of forced evictions of blacks in the same area where the film was shot. If we would look at the film, the discrimination was not only cultural but also backed by “science” where the more powerful have greater control of science, and where science itself is being used to justify racial discrimination.
This is reminiscent of the Doctrine of DNA where the science of biology was used to measure brain sizes to the point of saying that Caucasians are the only Homo sapiens sapiens and that Africans are lesser human beings and that Australian aborigines are 2 levels even lower (Lewontin). If we would subscribe to this so called “scientific” finding, this kind of belief would be expressed in social practice as colonization, discrimination, black slavery, and oppression. In our world today, science has in fact lost its objectivity when put in the context of social stratification.
Science has become a playing field of the rich and the powerful. It actually become an ideological tool, where in the name of science, industrialized nations have the monopoly to define development for the other nations. Development has become an instrument of internal colonization where only those who control science can define development. Thus when indigenous people define development as having good community relations, they will be frowned upon by multinational corporations who only understand development by the plunder of natural resources.
For a long time, the colonization of the east was justified by the so-called scientific studies on brain sizes. Yet even now, this kind of problem has found new expression in the issue of global warming, where only the scientists have the solution but when put in the context of geo-politics, the US who has the best scientists in the world is also the main contributor to greenhouse gases. Biological Warfare The discovery of biological warfare experiments on the alien populace on District 9 alludes to real experimentations of biological chemicals on blacks and convicts and ghetto populations.
Led by corporations of the military industrial complex and with congressional budget, experiments on biological warfare were done on human subjects who are blacks, prisoners, or those living in the ghettoes and slums (Ken Alibek). Some of these experiments went out of control and now the world is suffering from outbreaks such as bird flu, mad cow disease, and even the origin of AIDs is now highly suspicious. In the film we were appalled by this issue being used among aliens. But truth is more bitter than the film.
We have experimented biological warfare not on aliens but on real human beings. There are firsthand account of these told by the man who led the project himself (Ken Alibek). The movie “District 9” is a statement not about our being human but about our being inhuman. As Wikus, the hero in the film actually becomes less human biologically and more alien, he becomes culturally more humane and begins to understand how the “other” really feels and helps them in their escape. Here we can witness the main alien hero Christopher as more human in his emotions and actions.
Ethnocentrism In the film, we can see ethnocentrism expressed in various forms. Aside from the speciesism and cultural domination applied to the aliens calling them derogatorily as “prawns”, have all the power and control to segregate aliens and forcefully evict them at will. The show of military force is obvious. Here is a situation where a superior culture imposes its will upon the “Other” not respecting their lifeways and their self determination to go back to their homes. There are actually thousands of parallelisms that we can find in this film.
The whole history of colonialism attests to this kind of ethnocentrism. In the name of Christianity, of science, and of progress, nations were subdued. Cultures were trampled upon. Various cultural life forms disintegrated. US history is replete with examples. Here we have the ethnocidal war against the original inhabitants of America who are the American Indians. Indians who were summarily destroyed by so called “cowboys” until they were only a handful and bereft of mind and spirit to fight that they could be contained in “reservations”.
What is amazing is that mass media brainwashing worked so well even as to erase this historical malevolence from our minds. We have been culturally bombarded with films of cowboys and Indians portraying Indians as savages and villains and barbarians and cowboys as the gentlemen. Amazingly, even Indians themselves who were the supposed victims identify themselves with the cowboy heroes. A major historical catastrophe brought about by ethnocentrism is the holocaust of Hitler propagating the theory of the superior race.
In a “scientific” Darwinian interpretation of the survival of the fittest and the theory of natural selection, Hitler was willing to kill the population of the whole planet who are not Aryans. The killing of the millions of Jews is a major lesson tantamount to writing the sky of the ills of ethnocentrism and yet we still have not learned the lesson. In our present times, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in the guise of anti terrorism but actually to control the world’s massive oil resources.
In Suzana Sawyer’s book, we can witness as to how multinational companies impinged on the indigenous socio-political structures of Ecuador with the end in view of controlling their resources (Sawyer). Indigenous peoples who happen to reside in mine rich areas such as gold, oil, and other precious resources are especially vulnerable to plunder and discrimination. Ethnocentrism tramples on the rights of other people. It is disrespectful of other people’s cultural practices. In a rapidly globalizing world, we should have a deep respect for cultures that differ from our own.
Malinowski propagates this as cultural relativism where to understand other peoples’ culture we have to go inside their lifeworld via participant observation and try to understand them from their own point of view (Malinowski). In order to understand ethnocentrism, we may ask the question, how do “Other” people look at us. The article of Horace Miner creatively does this actually even demonstrating how even the science of anthropology can be ethnocentric. Mimicking the writings of anthropologists describing traditional cultures, Miner described US culture (Miner).
This is a creative literary rendition that opens our eyes as to how ethnocentrism resides deeply into our hearts and our minds. Then we can be able to reflect on the foolishness of our own culture such as our almost neurotic preoccupation with beauty to the point that it reveals how we conceive of ourselves as really ugly and our bodies as dirty. We come to reflect and realize that we do not as a culture appreciate our own bodies so that we have millions of dollars in the cosmetic and medical industry even to the point of really dissecting and altering body parts such as breast implants, liposuction among others.
The Role of Corporations Another important area worth of anthropological analysis is the role of corporations. In “District 9” we have watched how the government relies on multinational corporations as a state funded mechanism. The MNU epitomizes the kind of corporation which not only works in cohorts with governments, but also influences public policy into going into programs which have profit as the primary concern rather than people. Eventually these come up with programs that are detrimental to the world in general.
An example of this in our present situation is the multinational pharmaceutical companies that are engaged in germ warfare research. In the recent anthrax scare, Bayer Company reaped millions of dollars propagating a vaccine that turned out to have many negative side effects. An important concern here when the economy itself begins to depend on the military industrial complex so that the country thrives on selling arms to warring nations such as in the case where US sold armaments to both Iran and Iraq when both countries were at war.
If we would look now into statistics, the world’s spending on nuclear armament is tantamount to one trillion dollars per year while millions are jobless and dying of poverty. The world’s current nuclear armaments are enough to destroy ten planets the size of the earth and the US owns 70 percent of that destructive capacity. In a flagrant display of ethnocentrism, the former US President George Bush even has the gall to accuse countries of creating weapons of mass destruction, when the US is the number one culprit.
Because of the massive destructive power of nuclear armaments, the military coined the “Theory of the First Strike” where whoever strikes first becomes winner. If all nations who have nuclear power accede to this theory, then indeed even now we are on the brink of nuclear annihilation since everyone is so eager to strike first. Thus the ethnocentric search for national security has become the planet’s greatest security threat. In our age of economic globalization, the corporations now have the most power. With neo liberal policies in the economy, the term “let the market decide” is fallacious.
A more precise term is let the corporations decide. The ethnocentric ideology that hides beneath this massive economic and political power endangers the different cultures all over the world. Thus developing nations and indigenous peoples who have natural resources that interest multinationals are vulnerable to plunder, not to mention, oppressive and discriminatory policies that would be rammed on their throats. On positive note, we may say that corporations with the assistance of mass media advertising multinational products have been instrumental in the exponential increase on the rate of cultural diffusion.
Products and cultures from different nations are now in the market and are invading cyberspace. We are now exposed to a variety of cultural life ways and practices. If we can remove the ethnocentric undertones in mass media and the market, we can actually use information technology to promote a global respect of all cultures in the tradition of Malinowski. On the other hand, if ethnocentrism still lies at the core of multinational corporations’ ideology and practice, then we can expect the situation of global poverty and oppression to intensify.
Conclusion: The movie “District 9” has provided us with an opening to discuss the wonders of anthropological analysis as it brings to light an emancipatory criticism of our culture. Looking back the issues we have so far discussed, we are able to reflect on the idiosyncrasies of our own culture to the point of irrationality if not madness. Our own ethnocentrism has blinded us to the fact of our folly. It takes an alien movie to bring us to reflect how inhuman we can be and how “aliens” are human too.
The real goal of anthropology in analyzing different cultures is to come up with universals. If the whole world would recognize each others’ innate humanity- that we all have dignity and rights to live worthy of our being, then war and strife would end. There would be a basic respect for all cultures and although there are differences, they are not deterrents to our celebration of our humanity. Our biological evolution homonization has ended, what begins is our cultural evolution humanization. Works Cited Ken Alibek, Stephen Handelman.
Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World–Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It . New York: Dell Publishing, 1999. Lewontin, Richard C. Biology As Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA. New York: Bantam Books, 1991. Malinowski, Bronislao. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge, 2002. Miner, Horace. “Body Ritual among the Nacirema. ” American Anthropologist (June 1956): 58:3. Sawyer, Suzana. Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador. . 2004.