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Dangerous Districts

2/13/2010 by Gary Phillips - 1 comment

 

As mentioned in my previous post – back to the future of dystopia – with an emphasis on re-zoning sci-fi style.

 

walled city of Kowloon

 

I can’t cite the direct literary root (or route), though this idea of a walled-off or secret city separate from hostile environs has threaded its way through various science fiction and fantasy novels and films over the years. Tarzan searched for and protected the Lost City of Opar in a few of his adventures. In Robert Heinlein’s novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, an entire planetoid, our moon, is populated with underground colonies containing, among others, criminals and political exiles.

 

Pissed off with their lot, some of these disparate forces band together for freedom against Earth rule and stage a revolt. Marvel Comics’ Black Panther is the super-hero, warrior king of the scientifically advanced hidden African kingdom of Wakanda. For centuries the one who wears the mantle of the panther has led the people to fight off everything from European colonizers to Dr. Doom.

 

The notion of the jewel of a city protected from the predatory outsiders is turned on its head in John Carpenter’s 1981 film Escape from New York. In this flick, due to runaway crime in the near future, Manhattan Island has been walled off and turned into a maximum security prison. Black helicopters patrol from the air, making sure no scofflaw climbs out.

 

Inside a kind of Lord of the Flies meets Clockwork Orange tableau has played out as various sub-cultures exist bumping up against each other amid the trash, crumbling buildings and warring gangs and tribes. It’s World War III between us, the Soviet Union and China, and the President of the United States’ plane is hijacked by revolutionaries, and crash lands in the prison-city. Ex-hero soldier turned bank robber Snake Plissken is sent in and has 24 hours to find the prez. The Duke of New York, leader of the latest gang, the Gypsies, is also on the hunt for the world leader. But the Duke lacks vision, he’s not out to unite the prisoners and fight for their freedom and sovereignty, he merely wants to use the president as a shield for an escape across one of the mined bridges.

 

The 2004 French film District 13 or B13 for banlieue (borough in English), is set in 2010, and taking its cue from Escape, is about a crime-ridden ghetto walled off from polite French society. Naturally, also like in Escape, a Mad Maxish societal de-evolving has taken place and warring gangs control the streets. One dude, of Algerian descent named Leito, is a protector of his apartment complex against the gangs – which of course causes complications.

 

Quick and agile like T’challa, the Black Panther, Leito uses parkour, this acrobatic skill of jumping, climbing, leaping and all manner of athleticism to use your physical environment to evade obstacles. It’s not an attack art, like say kung fu, but looks really cool on camera. David Belle who plays Leito, is one of the founders of parkour. The practice also figures as part of the plot of a recent episode of TV’s The Forgotten.

 

Anyway, Leito has this cop pursuing him all over B13. But they eventually team up to disarm a stolen neutron bomb hidden inside the district. Only it’s a ruse by the bouge-wa-zee and the disarming code the heroes have been given actually sets the bomb off. Neutrons, as any gamer can tell you, destroys people via radiation pulses, but not property. Mass murder equals mass urban development. The B13 sequel, out now in theaters so this is a spoiler alert, seems to be on the armed insurgency tip as the gangs unite against the government.

 

District 9 on the other hand, is oddly racist while it comments on racism. A massive space ship appears over South African 28 years ago. Like an old car, this ship stalls out in hover position but doesn’t crash. Inside are these aliens the humans nickname prawns because of their lobster crossed with insect-like appearance. Now these aliens have high tech weapons attuned to their DNA, but don’t use them nor seem to know how to pilot their ship. It’s postulated by one of the characters in the film that these aliens are a worker class, with the higher functioning ones bumped off by a virus. Set in our time period, the aliens have long since been relocated and populating in a huge dysfunctional shantytown outside Joburg, Johannesburg. A place so squalid it makes the joints in Escape from New York and B13 look like tony suburbs.

 

Except for a scientist character and his little boy, none of the prawns, and we don’t learn how do they refer to themselves, have any individuality. Even if they were uneducated workers, they’d form gangs or cliques, some rising to power by sheer dint of Darwinism. They’d have also have used their weapons for big time robberies or you’d see them engaged in some sort of cultural activities, setting up night clubs, sports venues and so forth. If the analogy is supposed to be black folk under apartheid (or Jim Crow for that matter), why not play that out as it did in reality? You would have entrepreneurs, strivers, racketeers and so on. And how funky is it the aliens go nuts for cat food? What’s that about?

 

Instead of a neutron bomb, District 9 has forced relocation of the aliens happening by the Multi-National United, backed by Blackwater-type goons. One of the uncaring bureaucrats delivering the eviction notices, Wilkus van der Merwe, is exposed to the mysterious ‘Blue Stuff’ (kind of like the ‘Black Stuff’ in X-Files) This liquid slowly and irrevocably turns him into a prawn. The blue stuff is also the go-juice for the space craft the scientist called Christopher Johnson (like in slavery, the prawns are given “slave” names bestowed by the overseers) and his son, aided by the now metamorphosized Wilkus (physically and mentally), eventually escape in the mother ship back to their world.

 

Maybe in the sequel, we’ll see some mad as hell, parkour executing, big gun bearing, prawns come back to kick some ass, re-zoning alien style.

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Comments

  1. Robin says:

    G,
    Very nice! Just dark enough for me . Sounds a lot like the U.S. Congress. (“…the U.S. has no distinct criminal class except for congress”, Mark Twain.)
    Love and regards to you .
    Robin

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