Nigerians vs Aliens: Orientalism in District 9

Orientalism is broadly defined as stereotyping other people or cultures in a way that serves specific goals or the construction of power, especially in the context of western views of Asia and the Middle East. The philosophy of orientalism is largely present in daily life, and of course, many of the prevalent examples of orientalism come from media, such as art, literature, and television. 

This week, I watched a movie called District 9. This movie is essentially about the establishment and treatment of a slum populated by bug-like aliens that recently arrived on earth. The movie comments on oppression and racism using this extreme scenario. However, even beyond the stereotyping of the aliens, deeper-rooted orientalism in society is shown. This comes from the depiction of Nigerians, who populate the slums as well. The Nigerians are shown as violent, mystical, and savage, playing on many stereotypes of Africa and Nigeria in Western culture. 

In a way, Nigerians are depicted as the true “other” in the movie, even more than the Aliens. This is because some of the aliens were shown to possess human characteristics such as love and intelligence, because one of the main characters, Christopher, is an alien who fixed a spaceship so he and his son could go save their people. He expresses familial commitment, intelligence, and devotion to his moral beliefs and friends. Alongside a white protagonist, Christopher battles the larger society that seeks to marginalize the aliens. 

On the other hand, the Nigerian gang does not add to the commentary on oppression, and more serves a comedic role and creates more interesting battle scenes. For example, the gang built their empire off illegally selling food to aliens in exchange for alien weaponry they cannot use but believe they can use, and they attack the protagonist because they want to eat his arm for their mystical beliefs. They are not the main villains of the movie, nor do they show complex, admirable characteristics. They are simply a savage part of the slum, clearly enforcing ingrained stereotypes and orientalist viewpoints.

Power, Gender, and Cordelia in King Lear

Out of all the characters in King Lear, Cordelia seems to hold the most consistent power. She is always righteous, speaking the truth to her father and being the only one of her sisters that truly respects and cares for him. She is looked to as the head of the French invasion, as her husband, the King of France, is only represented in the play to a small extent. Others respect her and look up to her, like Kent and the Gentleman. However, her role in the greater story still supports the idea that women play a lesser role in society than men, or are at least not suited to hold real power.

Goneril and Regan, Cordelia’s sisters, directly demonstrate the underlying idea in the play that women should not hold power. They are portrayed as corrupt, evil characters taking over their households. They are emotional and rash, which ends up leading to their demise. And they are still acting as they do in the context of another man, as their obsession with Edmund becomes a central part of their motivations. Furthermore, the specific ways their demonic nature is described relates to their roles as women, making it clear that women cannot hold power because they are not rational enough for it. Yet, the same does not hold true Cordelia. She has power while also being rational and respected. But her portrayal in the play still underscores the powerlessness of women, just in a different way than Goneril and Regan. 

The main reason for this is that she is portrayed as unreal. She is not present for almost all of the play, only appearing at the end with her father. Furthermore, both her actions and how she is described make her seem like a femine goddess. For example, the Gentleman’s description of her in act four focuses on her physical features and her overall otherworldliness. The way she acts only emphasizes this. This makes her power, though she does have it, seem unreal, devaluing any possible message about how women can have any power in society. And it also makes it seem like she has power because she is the perfect femine character, not because she tries to take it or is suited to have it like the male characters.

The end of the play further shows how Cordelia, even with her power, plays a lesser role in society. She tragically dies, killed by Edmund’s orders, which appears to serve as a way to make Lear’s downfall more tragic. This makes it seem like her entire purpose in the play is to tragically die, again devaluing the power she has. Therefore, even though Cordelia does have power, her character does not demonstrate the idea that women can hold power. Instead, it is another example of women being portrayed as lesser compared to men.

Whirl on Silver Wheels

Perriane describes poetry as “something central to existence, something having unique value to the fully realized life, something that we are better off for having and without which we are spiritually impoverished.” However, in society, poetry is often undervalued. People do not read poetry like they read books. Perriane’s description would make much more sense when applied to a different art form — music, for example. In fact, music and poetry have much in common. Both have the ability to use figurative language, tone, and syntax, to together convey complex ideas. Looking at poetry and music in this sense makes the line between the two become blurry. I argue that, in some cases, music is poetry just as much as classic poetry. 

Silver Wheels” by Bruce Cockburn is an outstanding example of true music poetry. In it, Cockburn uses multidimensional language to highlight the exciting monotony and beauty of a long drive throughout the country and into the city in a way that can only be considered poetry. The first verse

High speed drift on a prairie road

Hot tires sing like a string being bowed

Sudden town rears up then explodes

Fragments resolve into white line code

is full of figurative language, all of which create a picture of the world rushing by as you drive across long, repetitive roads. For example, the slow, calm word “drift” in the first line contrasts the use of “high speeds” and later “Sudden town rears up then explodes” which work together demonstrating how the repetitive motion of driving still includes a sense of unique awe and interest, even with something as small as a town. The whole verse also acts as imagery of the scene with its use of language, particularly in the last two lines. They create a clear picture of small communities whirring past and disappearing in the distance behind a car window in a particularly beautiful way. 

After this first verse, the music poem transitions into descriptions of different environments seen on the drive, from nature to construction zones to a busy city, all with the same depth of language displaying unique sights and beauty. Importantly, even though the descriptions are different, the same structure is used in all verses. Each has the same rhyme scheme and cadence, and the general tone is maintained. This preserves the same feeling of the first verse throughout the song, emphasizing how much beauty and interesting change can be seen in the repetitive, lulling drive described. Clearly, through its complex use of language and structure to display a unique experience, “Silver Wheels” is true poetry.

Types of Migration in Exit West

  1. Doors

Doors are the clearest form of migration in Exit West, as they are quite literally how Saeed, Nadia, and the other migrants are able to travel from one place to another. They connect the world, causing new cities, homes, and cultures to be born, speeding up the process of migration as we experience it now. 

  1. Technology

There is a clear focus on the connective power of technology in Exit West. Though one cannot physically move with a phone or a TV, technology still serves as a way in which citizens of Hamid’s world connect with and become a part of larger communities. This is how technology acts as a secondary form of migration — it allows people to travel, experience, and become a part of worlds outside their own. 

  1. Relationships

The relationships in Exit West change throughout the book. Nadia and Saeed leave their families, grow apart, and meet new people. Other families come together, like at the orphanage in Tijuana, or the two old men connected by doors. Such change in personal relationships can be seen as migration in how people are consistently forming new homes and communities with new people. 

  1. Time

In the era of constant global change seen in Exit West, physical locations everywhere undergo dramatic shifts over time. Nadia and Saeed’s hometown changed since their parents were young, became a place of turmoil, and calmed down. Cities break and form again because of rapid migration. Even natives are not immune to migration, as the world is changing through time. 

  1. Stars

Stars are a recurring motif in Exit West. Stars migrate through the sky, and eventually return to the same place, over a world changed. This is analogous to Saeed and Nadia’s experience. They moved throughout the world, together and then apart, and eventually returned to their hometown, different people in a different yet familiar community. 

How to Live a Happy Life as an Existentialist

If you are an existentialist, the central idea of your existence is that life is absurd. The structures of life that we blindly follow, such as family, wealth, power, or love, are nothing but illusions. At its core, life is a meaningless drift towards death. An existentialist will believe that holding this depressing view will free them to be true to themselves, allowing them to live as a complete individual and achieve authentic happiness. 

But how can one be truly happy from essentially accepting that life has no greater meaning other than life itself? It seems that an existentialist, if they wholeheartedly believe in these ideas, would always have a dark cloud around them from living a life only for themselves. No one, nothing in life, can give them any meaning. It is a lonely existence. They must create happiness from within themselves, letting nothing from the outside world be a source of their happiness. Then, and only then, can an existentialist be happy, by reaching a point where they are satisfied by themselves and are in full acceptance of the world.  

A great obstacle to an existentialist is reaching that point, as they need to give themselves over to those ideas with not an ounce of disbelief. All sources of happiness from any “illusions” must be completely forgotten. This can only be achieved if they have an experience that convinces them of the world’s absurdity, likely some sort of trauma, and separate themselves from all other sources of happiness, like human connections. At first, it will be hard, like Meursault’s first days in prison or Sisyphus’ initial attempts rolling the rock up the hill. Then they will adjust to their conditions, and reach a point where they can accept them. And finally, they will be able to create their own happiness from within themselves. 

This process is long and difficult and full of suffering, even though it can lead to a point of happiness. A life that is more happy might be better achieved by giving yourself over to the apparent illusions of life, becoming a part of a constructed society. If life is absurd, there is no difference between fake and authentic happiness. 

Is Meursault a Bad Person?

Meursault clearly sees the world analytically — he is highly observational, he doesn’t express high emotional attachment, and he makes decisions based on what little wants and what he thinks makes sense. This does not mean that he is selfish, in fact, he often acts unselfishly, agreeing to others’ requests even if he gains nothing from completing those requests.

Even though as readers we may judge the lack of attachment, ambition, or emotional understanding expressed by Meursault, this itself does not make him a bad person. It is simply a different view of life. Where this becomes tricky is how Meursault’s incapability to emotionally connect with others affect his decision making and relationships with others. 

For example, Meursault seems to be emotionally abusive to Marie. When she asks him if he loves her, he bluntly responds, “It didn’t mean anything but I probably didn’t love her” (41). Such a harsh answer seems like a horrible thing to say, and it is evident that he doesn’t really care for her on a deep level, even though she expresses a desire to be cared about. But, even though he can treat Marie poorly like this, he still respects her decision making in the sense that he won’t consciously try to hurt her, and if she left him for being hurtful then he would let her. Therefore, if Marie is hurt, it is partly her fault too, for allowing herself to be hurt. This definitely does not make Meursault’s treatment of Marie okay, but the complexity behind it means that it does not make him a fully bad person, just a flawed one.

Similar logic can be applied to many other of Meursault’s actions, such as agreeing to help Raymond abuse his girlfriend, turning a blind eye to his neighbor’s treatment of the dog, and even when he killed the man on the beach. Not one of these times did he do these things in an attempt to be hurtful, which would theoretically make him a flawed person. However, this argument must be used carefully. The difference in these situations and Marie is the agency of the other person involved. Unlike Marie, the girlfriend could not choose not to be abused. The dog cannot freely escape his owner. The man could not decide not to be shot. It is here where Meursault’s inability to empathize becomes not just a flaw but something that makes him a bad person. 

I conclude that Meursault is a bad person in the sense that he is the sole contributor of harm caused to other people. Of course, the definition of “bad person” can be slippery, depending on one’s own interpretation of the meaning. It follows that this would change the nature of the conclusion on whether Meursault is or is not a bad person.