New Century – New Aliens

Watching E4’s new 6-part drama The Aliens, I was strongly reminded of the 1989 American TV series Alien Nation, based on the 1988 film of the same name. Initially, I was struck by the similarities between the two programmes: in each an alien ship crash lands on earth, spilling it’s refugees, who then commence a new life on our planet. But, if art imitates life, then the differences between the two shows may be a mirror of how society’s views and attitudes have altered in two plus decades.

Aliens in SF are often used to represent the other: the foreigner, the outsider, the ‘not one of us.’ In both The Aliens and Alien Nation, the offworlders are literally refugees and immigrants so the metaphor is clearly drawn. So how do the respective shows reflect the social attitudes of their time and place of creation?

Alien NationIn 1989, the US was still seen as the land of opportunity – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as the 19th Century poet Emma Lazarus famously said. In Alien Nation, the Tenctonese, or “newcomers” as they were called, were being gradually integrated into human society, although not without being on the receiving end of a fair amount of racism – they are referred to as ‘slags;’ given silly human names such as Albert Einstein; and often have the most menial of jobs. However, they live in human neighbourhoods; mix in human society; and work their way up the employment ladder – both the film and TV series feature a human/alien police partnership, for instance. The aliens are portrayed as victims rather than threats: tellingly, the ship that crashed was a slaver.

In contrast, E4’s spaceship was said to be a prison ship (according to the humans – the aliens have lost their memory of life before Earth) and the refugees are confined behind a wall, only allowed into the human side to work for a limited period each day, returning to Troy (their place of abode) before their curfew at 7pm each evening. They are portrayed as an evil influence, due to the fact that their hair, when smoked, has a narcotic effect on humans, and they take advantage of this by working as drug dealers and organising into criminal gangs.

Bearing in mind the media hysteria over immigration in Britain in the run up to the 2015 general election, with politicians of every stripe threatening to clamp down on it, it is obvious that The Aliens plays right into these fears and controversies. Although it suggests towards the end of the series that keeping them behind the wall is not a good idea, there is no indication that anything is going to change. Almost all of the alien characters are shown to be violent, no matter what side they are on.

Interestingly, in terms of actually living there, present day Britain is probably a better place for ethnic minorities than late eighties/early nineties LA, as evidenced, for instance, by the police beating of Rodney King and the subsequent riots; but in terms of official, media and public attitudes to immigration matters have certainly deteriorated badly in the past 25 years and The Aliens accurately reflects this zeitgeist.

Although both series concern refugees, Alien Nation overall seems to be more about racism in general, whereas The Aliens appears to relate more to immigration (the aliens don’t actually look any different than humans, for example).  However, the biggest difference, to my mind, is that of perspective: Alien Nation was optimistic and full of millennial hope that problems may be overcome; The Aliens offers nothing but despair for the future, which sadly reflects the feelings of many in Britain today at the dawning of the new century.

The Aliens

Travel News

Confusion over flight plans caused chaos in both Saudi Arabia and France this morning, with protestors currently surrounding Mecca Airport.  The angry Muslim clerics arrived en-masse after being tipped off that there were a group of middle-aged Irish Catholics in the terminal.  Due to an unfortunate air-traffic error, the pilgrims had been forced to land at the Arab airport instead of in France, as originally intended.  The inconvenience was compounded by a large percentage of the group being wheelchair users.  The group, mostly women, have been confined to a cafeteria in the airport for their own protection, after several instances of being hit on the leg with sticks; told to cover up; and called unclean.  “Why should I cover my hair?” asked Susan Farrell from Ardrath, County Kerry.  “Haven’t I just been to the hairdressers for a wash and set?”  In another corner of the café, Fr Michael Flatley had set a large statue of the Virgin Mary on a table and was proposing to lead 15 decades of the rosary to enthusiastic agreement.  The stoic band seem happy enough to continue waiting while the mix-up is sorted out, planning a few renditions of Faith of our Fathers when the rosary is completed, but catering manager Abdul Al Faid confessed that he had almost run out of tea, “and then the shit will really hit the fan,” he prophesised to our reporter.

Pilgrim Air, the airline responsible for the mix-up, have apologised profusely for the inconvenience and promised to pay full compensation.  “We don’t know how it happened, but we intend to carry out a full investigation, after which several of our cleaning staff will be sacked,” a representative told us.

Meanwhile, in France, Police had to be called to the shrine at Lourdes to calm the furious group of followers of Mohammed, who had been causing disruption at the holy site by spitting at the devoted.  “They are praying to a woman.  It’s obscene.,” declared a recently-arrested bearded man who refused to be named.  “Stoning’s too good for them.”

It is hoped that both flights can be rescheduled later today so that the intrepid travellers may continue on their respective pilgrimages unhindered.

In related news, Ryan Air announced plans to start charging for seats today.  The low-cost airline intends to install a sort of cattle pen at the back of the plane for those too poor, or too cheap, to pay extra.

TRAA0052

An Deireadh Seachtain

Oíche dé hAoine,
Ré don bhóthair,
I mo shuí sa chúl le deartháir agus driofúr.
Ag imirt “I Spy,”
Ag canadh amhráin,
Máthair ag tabhairt seacláid dúinn.

Deireadh an turas,
Teach sa bhaile mór,
Iompairthe isteach i lámha cinéalta d’athair.
Sceallóga prátaí,
Uncail ag aoibhiúil,
Boladh de Players Uimhir a Sé agus de móna.

Lá eile,
Sa cistín tí feirme,
Aintín, uncail, colceathrearí agus Seanaithair.
In aice leis an soirn
Te agus codlatach,
Ag eisteacht le scéalta faoi daoine anaithnid.

Tráthnóna de Domhnaigh,
An filleadh,
Go dtí scoil agus leabhair is obair is baile.
Aistear níos ciúin,
Ag athmhachnamh,
Beid muid arais an tseachtain seo chugainn.

 

Weekends

Friday night,
Ready for the off,
Sitting in the back with brother and sister.
Playing “I spy,”
singing rounds,
Mother passing round some chocolate.

Journey’s end,
A house in a town,
Carried in sleeping by kind paternal arms.
Takeaway chips,
Uncle smiling,
Scent of Players No 6 and turf.

Another day,
In a farm house kitchen,
Aunty and uncle and cousins and Granddad.
Sitting by the range,
Warm and drowsy,
Listening to tales of people unknown.

Sunday evening,
The return,
To school and books and work and home.
A quieter trip,
Reflecting,
But knowing we would all be back next week.

Owen Clinton 27 March 1950 – 18 January 2014

The death occurred on Saturday, 18 January 2014 in St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney, of Owen Joseph Clinton (stage name Owen Nolan), late of Islington, North London.  A celebration of his life was held on 28 January 2014.  He is buried in Islington Cemetery.

I first met Owen in 2009, when we were cast together in a production of Julie Sibbons’ The Shoes at the London Irish Centre.  I was immediately struck by both his professionalism and his friendly, straightforward manner.  This initial impression blossomed into a friendship which I came to treasure over the time of our (too-brief) acquaintanceship.

Owen was born in Dublin and lived there until he was four years old, growing up in Manchester before moving to London, where he pursued a successful career in education.  He had several different roles in the field, including lecturer, head of department and even OFSTED inspector.  Education’s loss was entertainment’s gain, when, after taking early retirement, Owen trained as an actor at the Poor School in King’s Cross.  I had the privilege of playing his wife in his first professional production after leaving drama school (the aforementioned The Shoes with London Irish Theatre) and we worked together many times over the years (six months after playing my husband, he was playing my granddad).  Perhaps Owen’s most iconic role was as the definitive Frankie Flynn in Peter Hammond’s series of comedies about a likeable Dubliner, but Irish plays were far from the whole of his career.  His range was very wide –  encompassing opera, Shakespeare, and performances at the Old Vic in Inherit the Wind.  Owen’s take on Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell was a joy to watch, and you can read reviews of his performances in As You Like It and Poe: Macabre Resurrections elsewhere on this site.  Owen was also a talented musician and singer, performing Irish folk music with a couple of bands, most recently Chief O’Neill.

Owen’s impact was far greater than a professional one however.  He was a wonderful friend, family man and genuinely good human being.  Speaking for myself, I will remember the man who spent the night in hospital with me after I was hit by a car and drove me home the next morning; who came to see my plays and saw me safely home afterwards, and made me welcome in the home he shared with Mary, his partner of 15 years, and his sister Dora.  He looked after his mother in her final illness, and cared for his sister for much of his life.  Owen spent his last days in St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, where he was lovingly watched over by Mary and his brother Niall.  Predeceased by his brother Alan, Owen is mourned by his partner Mary, his sister Dora, his brothers Niall and Denis, his sisters-in-law Maggie and Alison, his niece Katherine and nephew Kevin, his cousins, family members and friends whose lives were touched by his.  In the words of his brother Niall, “the world is a better place now, because my brother lived in it.”

Ní bhfeicimid a leithéid arís ann.

Mary Tynan

Ships

I turned to my left,
you moved to your right,
we met in the middle:
hands reaching out,
foreheads touching,
lips finding mouth.

I moved to the east,
you sailed for the west,
an ocean between us;
heads drawing in,
bodies repelling,
soul losing heart.

To Resolve or Determine

Most people are familiar with the concept of New Year’s Resolutions, and the problems associated with sticking to them.  Before the smoking ban, it used to be common in night spots throughout the British Isles to see people smoking their “last cigarette” at 5 minutes to midnight, only to hear them say “I’ll start in the morning” less than an hour later.  Gym membership soars in January every year as does membership of slimming clubs, and I would imagine hypnotherapists see an upturn in business as well.

On the other hand, certain Buddhist sects have a practice of setting determinations for the year.  This is similar to goal setting in that it is a list of what you determine to achieve during the next twelve months.  This could be anything from passing an exam to having a baby and is not necessarily something you can achieve solely by your own efforts (although it can be).

However hard they may be to stick to though, resolutions are at least under your own control – as long as you have the necessary willpower.  You might not be able to ensure you drop two dress sizes, but you can stick to the diet; running every day is possible, but you won’t necessarily make the four-minute mile; and filling in job applications will certainly increase your chances of (but not guarantee) getting one, but chance is the operative word.  Determinations and goals are different.  Whilst God certainly helps those who help themselves, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, and writing 5,000 words a day won’t necessarily get me my own comedy show.  Alternatively, the reverse is also true.  To spout another cliché: if you don’t know where you want to go, how can you work out how to get there?

So have I made resolutions or determinations for 2013?  Both.  Resolutions because I believe in myself, and determinations because I believe in the universe.  My resolutions include regular yoga, certain dietary modifications, and climbing Croagh Patrick.  And my determinations?  To make all my dreams come true.

The Law of Attraction versus “I’m not bothered!”

I remember one lunchtime in infant school being by the door to the playground where a dinner lady was on duty.  A classmate of mine offered her a sweet from a well-filled bag.  I asked if I could have one.  I was immediately told by the adult that “it’s rude to ask for things.  You should wait to be offered.”  My friend was too embarrassed to give me a sweet until we were around the corner and out of sight, when she happily did so without any further prompting.  Ironically, the reason I was in the corridor in the first place was that I was late out from lunch due to being punished for not eating my dessert (a common occurrence – cue a lifetime’s unhealthy relationship with food, but that’s another story).  The moral of the story?  Don’t ask for what you want, but take what you are given and be grateful for it.

I grew up believing that the only way to get something was not to really want it.  And I wasn’t the only one.  I was reminded of this the other day when reading Germaine Greer’s “The Whole Woman,” in which she says (on page 320): “The things you want don’t tend to turn up until you have given up looking for them.”  As we grow into adolescence and adulthood this belief develops into such behaviours as “not wearing out your welcome” “playing hard to get,” and “don’t appear desperate” – basically, pretending not to care.  This applies not only to our dealings with prospective romantic partners, but with friends, possible employers, or potential clients, in all sorts of situations ranging from discussing marriage or interviewing for your dream job to something as simple as a Saturday night out.  This can be a delicate balance for many people, for example, as an actor you are expected to promote yourself to casting directors, producers and directors, but at the same time must appear happy to be passed over or ignored, when everyone knows the truth is you would probably gnaw off your own leg for that one-line part on The Bill.

And often it really does seem that you are more likely to get things when you’re not looking for them:  you accept one job and are offered several others, you start a relationship and everyone seems interested in you, you spend months looking for the ideal flat or house without finding it, but as soon as you sign the lease on something less than ideal, the market seems to be flooded with perfect properties.  To paraphrase an old saying: “Make the gods laugh.  Tell them your plans.”

All this, I believe, goes somewhere to explaining my problem with implementing the Law of Attraction and its various related mental laws.  One of the basic tenets is “Think about what you want, not what you don’t want,” which seems to make sense, however it totally contradicts the theory of only getting what you want when you stop wanting it (for want of a better name, let’s call this the Law of “I’m not bothered.”)

And yet …  I consider myself a scientific person.  I have a BSc and have studied both mathematical logic and cosmology at third level.  I can program computers, and I read hard science fiction and books about physics for fun.  The Law of Attraction seems to make sense.  The Law of “I’m not bothered,” despite the apparent statistical evidence in its favour, doesn’t seem to have any logical theory behind it.  So why have I (so far) failed in applying the former?

I believe the answer lies in depth, and balance.  We need to appear not bothered to a certain extent: neediness is very unattractive and nobody wants to employ or go out with someone like that.  However, “appear” is the operative word here.  We should continue inside to want the job up until we haven’t got it, and then we should move on.  What we certainly shouldn’t do is take being “not bothered” to the extreme that so many of us do whereby we turn our back on our dreams, be it through being afraid to follow the career we always wanted or not having the courage to tell someone how we feel about them.

So not being bothered is a surface behaviour which can be useful socially if not taken to extremes.  Unfortunately so many of us from an early age internalise the message that we can’t have what we want (simply because we want it, it seems).  This is, in a sense, the very opposite of the law of attraction.  And in order to put the law of attraction into practice it also needs to be internalised, but when we try to do so, it comes up against the law of “I’m not bothered” and it comes down to a battle between the new and the deeply entrenched.

May the best law win!

Mary Tynan