Representing Pre-Millennial Tensions: Hollywood's Gendered Invasion Narratives

Article excerpt

As we approach our own millennium, the epidemics of hysterical disorders, imaginary illnesses, and hypnotically induced pseudomemories that have flooded the media seem to be reaching a high-water mark. These hystories are merging with the more generalized paranoias, religious revivals, and conspiracy theories that have always characterized American life, and the apocalyptic anxieties that always accompany the end of a century.

Elaine Showalter(1)

I was dreamin' when I wrote this Forgive me if it goes astray But when I woke up this mornin' Coulda sworn it was judgment day The sky was all purple, there were people runnin' everywhere Tryin' 2 run from the destruction, U know I didn't even care. 'Cuz they say two thousand zero zero party over, Oops, out of time So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999.

Prince, "1999"(2)

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince released his album 1999 via Warner Bros. Records in 1982. Whether or not he anticipated in 1982 what would be the album's refound popularity during 1999, he and Warner Bros. have benefitted (and during 2000 will probably continue to benefit) from the title song's numerous re-mixes, radio playback and club usage. The song effectively and repeatedly speaks about and to what is frequently referred to as a postmodern age. Some of the song's poignant lines include:

"War is all around us, my mind says prepare 2 fight

So if I gotta die I'm gonna listen 2 my body tonight"

"everybody's got a bomb,

we could all die any day

But before I'll let that happen,

I'll dance my life away,"

"Mommy--why does everybody have a bomb?"(3)

The Artist, his "real" name an un-name, his alternate name a multi-gendered symbol, is a paradigm for the current postmodern, post-structuralist contention that identity is a performance always under construction. Some say we must "party" in these uncertain times, while others busy themselves, perhaps anguished and worried about the non-cohesive underpinnings of this fin de siecle.

I observe a trend in recent Hollywood-produced science fiction films that comments upon North Americans' supposed pre-millennial tensions. While we continue to have the opportunity to gaze upon demonized and/or exoticized alien life forms, since 1995 a spate of science fiction films have depicted allegedly empowered, human female protagonists who, side by side with their male counterparts, fight to protect the United States and/or the world from intra-and extraterrestrial alien intrusion. I term these films Hollywood's invasion narratives, a genre that includes three thematic types: viral infection (e.g. 12 Monkeys [1995], Outbreak [1995]), alien takeover and relationships (e.g. Mars Attacks! [1996], Contact [1997]) and killer asteroids, comets or meteors (e.g. Deep Impact [1998], Armageddon [1998]).(4)

Deep Impact depicts late twentieth century worries about a comet whose path is destined to collide with the Earth. Shelters are erected, emergency protocols put in place, and these "secrets" are successfully kept from the American people until a young, troublemaking female news reporter gets her first scoop. The plotline, led by racialized and gendered family dramas, does not maintain primary focus upon the reporter, Jenny Lerner/Tea Leoni, but instead becomes obsessed with male power and media subplots beyond Lerner's control.

Armageddon is concerned with "an asteroid the size of Texas" which, like Deep Impact's comet, is headed straight for Earth. Harry S. Stamper/Bruce Willis leads "the world's best deep core drilling team ... sent to nuke the rock from the inside."(5) His mouthy daughter Grace/Liv Tyler metaphorically holds the American nation's hands with gendered finesse as it watches ongoing, televised images of Daddy and the crew trying to save the world (at the expense of many lost lives, including Dad Stamper's).

Outbreak begins with genius scholar and scientist Robby Keough/Rene Russo's impressive initiation of methods and mechanisms to "contain an epidemic of a deadly airborne virus. …