Thursday, February 18, 2010

Building Better Bisexual Worlds

In “Monsters from the Id,” Margaret Tarratt argues that science fiction aliens are externalized representations of unconscious drives. This science fiction film adjusts gender representations and identifications. In it, women possess masculine traits. Tarratt quotes Freud stating, “the Id…is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts but has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle” (349). The alien in Aliens represents the fear of human’s bisexual nature. The embodiment is gendered feminine carrying horrific, grotesque, repulsive, and violent qualities. The alien’s visual characteristics and Ripley’s victory over the alien represent the fear of human’s bisexual nature.

The creation of ordered meaning from Freud and Lacan’s ideas of unconscious desires leads to socially constructed gender roles. These ideas structure film and the audience’s reception. The man, as an active spectator, objectifies the woman. Sexual difference positions men in a higher status of the symbolic order and woman largely exists as the Other. The feminine gender representations held on a day-to-day basis are merely a performance. The instance of a bisexual nature would claim there is an oscillation between the masculine and feminine roles. That is to say, they are not fixed. The feminine sex, but bisexual identity, could possess traditionally masculine traits without causing castration anxiety, reason with rationality, not relying largely on the feminine quality of emotion, and perform the maternal function. The masculine sex, but bisexual gender identity, could ideally possess traditionally feminine traits without castration anxiety. In a sense, the blending of both gender identities would be a complimentary desire and a type of accepted “incorporation.” As the boundaries between aliens and human are consumed, humans then feel something is lost because their human body is treated as a host. Currently, under a capitalist patriarchal society, a man may feel the same way. From the masculine gender, being feminized is consuming. If masculinity has been breeched, men are feminized, and die. Their ever important masculinity would be lost if a bisexual nature were identified.

The alien in Aliens (1986) has the place of the absolute other. In an evolutionary sense, she is hyper-reproductive. Examining the nature of the beast before it is known, one crew member insinuates, “Maybe...there’s one female that runs the whole show. She’s badass.” He is right. She is the ultimate other, creating tons of babies, which live for the process of incorporation. Ripley refers to the alien’s baby as, “A dangerous organism.” The organism is dangerous because of the fear of incorporation. It presents the fear of men being feminine, or of women being masculine. She is not attractive, but here, the body of woman is rather grotesque.

The female character, Vasquez, appears to be very masculine. She is a muscular Marine. When she first sees Ripley, she criticizes her, calling her “Snow White.” When the squad enters, they send her in first, but she must carry a huge phallic gun. In the beginning of the film, Ripley is initially characterized as the emotional mad woman. In addition, she dreams of incorporation pleading, “Kill me!” We later learn she is the cool, rational, woman who can have it both ways. She can drive the loader, play the mom role, wear short hair, and keep the symbolic nuclear family together. The human females are allowed a degree of oscillation.

When an alien attacks Ripley and Newt, the evil Burke, a capitalist patriarchal symbol, turns off the monitor that could help save them. Ripley exposes the darker side of masculinity of Burke in opposition to the alien’s hyper femininity. She asks, “Which species is worse?” He is the villain, and we are glad to see him die through incorporation.

The alien is represented as a killing machine, so we are repulsed. The birth imagery plays out often. When the crew is in the womb, everything is chaotic. When her babies come in through the tunnel, or long corridor, only phallic guns can destroy them. They eventually retreat because the aliens are apparently intelligent. The alien’s babies, visually bisexual, are the embodiment of castration anxiety. The method of reproduction represents female repressed sexual desires. Like the abyss, the alien’s womb symbolizes Lacan’s male castration anxiety. There is an obsessive focus on the female body. The squad escapes through a small red corridor. The child, Newt, knows the way because technically, she has been the last one out of the womb. Nevertheless, the womb also sucks her back in.

Ripley’s victory over the alien represents the fear of humans' bisexual nature. Ripley carries a huge fire-launching gun. As a mucous alien-baby begins to emerge, threatening Newt, the child screams. The feminine speaks. Ripley removes Newt from the gross embryo. There is a still silent moment when Ripley and Newt realize they are witnessing, firsthand, the alien reproduction process. They stand among the eggs, the thing responsible for possible incorporation, or bisexuality. The camera pans across her long birth canal. The alien is shown in all her menacing glory. The alien breathes an intimidating breath at Ripley and Newt. Ripley fires her weapon, then points it at an egg. Looking at the alien, it understands for a moment, “I won't hurt your babies, if you do not hurt mine.” Then one egg begins to hatch. The bargain is off and Ripley fires at all the eggs. Ripley carries Newt away, but the elevator is broken, and the alien returns. Both get on the plane, driven by Bishop. Maternal motivation drives the action and the symbolic nuclear family holds strong throughout the film.

When the alien threatens the family institution, Ripley yells, “Get away from her you bitch!” She must incorporate with a robot before she can win the mom-to-mom battle. The alien’s phallic tail whips around injuring Ripley. Both fall into the abyss of castration. Ripley’s eye is bleeding. Ripley climbs out of they abyss, but is caught. Bishop, torn in half, who we now sympathize with as he is almost blown away, saves Newt. Ripley closes the door to the great unknown, and all is right with the world. Newt calls her “Mom!” Bishop claims, “Not bad for a human.” They are placed back in their womb-like pods. “Sleep tight” Ripley says. In a robotic tone, Newt says, “Affirmative.” Alien reproduction, bisexuality, and the unconscious converge. The Id is polymorphous- it is inevitably bi and hypersexual.

**Author's note: this was written under extreme sleep deprivation, but I still dig it**

Tarratt, Margaret. “Monsters from the Id.” Film Genre Reader III. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. 346-365. Print.


  1. This is very interesting stuff, and it's very well written too--especially if it was written under extreme sleep deprivation.

    Carl Jung also believed that we were all bisexual by nature and that if we were to fully integrate ourselves we would accept (meaning: act upon) our bisexual nature.

    "A part of our persona is the role of male or female we must play. For most people that role is determined by their physical gender. But Jung, like Freud and Adler and others, felt that we are all really bisexual in nature. When we begin our lives as fetuses, we have undifferentiated sex organs that only gradually, under the influence of hormones, become male or female. Likewise, when we begin our social lives as infants, we are neither male nor female in the social sense. Almost immediately -- as soon as those pink or blue booties go on -- we come under the influence of society, which gradually molds us into men and women."

  2. Thanks so much! Interesting quote too. Love the "pink and blue booties" part.. so true!