When I was a kid,
Michael Bay Roland Emmerich made a movie out of explosions, aliens and Bill Pullman that he called Independence Day. There is a greater chance of you being a lizard person than of you not having seen it, so I'll skip the plot recap. As far as big-budget, mindless action spectacles go, it is one of the best, certainly worth stopping to watch on a channel surf. Plus, it inspired a really kick-ass Star Fox level, so bonus points there.
However, there are problems with the flick that a little analysis brings out. That dog would never have survived, no government would ever be desperate enough to give America's Treasure, Randy Quaid, a jet with missiles, and do you really expect a society that can't handle server overload on Diablo III to be able to create a computer virus capable of taking out a system that handles interstellar travel?
Also, why the hell is this film called Independence Day?
Yes, I know. The penultimate battles take place on the Fourth of July, so okay, that's as good a reason as any to call the film that. Friday the 13th has been coasting on the same logic for more than 30 years, and the only time they dared change the name of a film to something without Friday in the title was a weird space adventure that no one likes except me (because the rest of you hate art). I could let the name slide if it weren't for this scene.
Good speech, right? Pullman goes on and on about how the Fourth will go on to be celebrated worldwide as the day mankind stood up to declare that they would, hold on, "Not go quietly into the night." It was to be a declaration of our right to live, our freedom to exist, and would thus be Earth's Independence Day.
There are some issues I take with Pullman's 'Merica! Fuck Yeahing here. First, I get the allusion to the Declaration of Independence and our inalienable rights when he states that we're fighting for the first of the famous three, life. I'd like to quote Robert A. Heinlein in Starship Troopers on this...
Life? What 'right' to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What 'right' to life has a man who must die to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of 'right'? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man's right is 'unalienable'? And is it 'right'?
Jefferson was off his trolley. When the colonies seceded from the crown, they weren't fighting for their lives. They were fighting either for democratic representation or to not pay the taxes they'd earned from getting England involved in the French and Indian War, depending on how cynical a person you are. The colonies dissolved their relationship with King George so they could conduct business and government their own way, not to escape physical annihilation. Even during the war, the goal of the British wasn't to exterminate Americans like 18th-century Daleks, it was to bring the profitable land back under control, citizens included.
And they wouldn't necessarily have had that big a problem winning back the hearts and minds of the populace, either. Despite Pullman's rosy nostalgia, America in 1776 was nowhere near united in the cause against tyranny. Only about a third of the colonists were for secession. The rest were evenly divided between apathy and hostility to the idea. Ben Franklin's own son denounced his father over the issue.
Of course, the idea of a globe standing as one against a threat is a nice idea, and if Alan Moore can use it as a plot device in Watchmen, then hell, it's good enough for me. Pullman's president apparently forgot, however, that one of the best ways the Sons of Liberty got the Tea Party really started was by using raging bigotry to stir up hatred against Britain.
That was 1774's Quebec Act, which gifted some of Ohio to Canada (Because of the aforementioned war) and also guaranteed protection to Catholics. Here's a cartoon by none other than Paul Revere showing how the act was totally going to make the continent a hotbed of non-Protestantism that would ruin the region forever with, I don't know, stinky Pope cheese or something.
I don't really understand bigotry because my mom didn't drink when she was pregnant. Still, Alexander Hamilton and others used good old racist propaganda to convince the colonists to join the mob. Not really the one world united that Pullman envisions.
Let's talk about Ohio some more...Why did we start the French and Indian War? Well, it's because Ohio was awesomely fertile and full of fur. The French had claimed the land, and yes, there was some dispute over it between them and England, but the two big boy countries were willing to work it out until the colonists ran in and decided to start taking what they wanted and killing anything that got in their way.
Now what does that remind us of? Oh, yeah, the bad guys in Independence Day. That was, in fact, their whole plan: claim Earth, kill the opposition and take the resources until they manifested destiny all over the cosmos. And why shouldn't they? Didn't they have a "right" to life as well?
Look, this isn't an anti-America rant. I love this place, but I'm more proud of how far we've come from our less than idealized beginnings than I am of the beginnings themselves. I'll quote another man of wisdom here, Joe Pesci in the film With Honors...
Our "founding parents" were pompous, white, middle-aged farmers, but they were also great men. Because they knew one thing that all great men should know: that they didn't know everything. Sure, they'd make mistakes, but they made sure to leave a way to correct them.
That's why I can look back at the founding of the country with pride, even though it's full of deceit, smuggling, racism, greed and stupidity...because it was also filled with ideas like freedom, personal sovereignty, justice and fairness. Those are the tenets that echo down the centuries all the way to 1996 when
Michael Bay Roland Emmerich made a stupid, glorious movie.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Maybe that's why it's called Independence Day. Not because of hair-splitting over the meaning of the word "independence" or how well the setting of the Revolution matches up with the battle against the alien hordes, but because a fictional president played by the male lead in Ellen DeGeneres's Mr. Wrong took what was important from the founding fathers and one-upped them.
ID4 America didn't hoard the secret to combating the alien menace, or hold it for ransom to claim complete control over the world, even though they totally could have. Under the gun or not, America alone held the greatest prize on the planet in the form of tactical advantage and they shared it freely in the name of all people...Even the ones we didn't like. Rereading history, I'm not sure you could expect that from some of the folks on our money, but now it seems fairly probable.
That idealism is what makes Independence Day better than Independence Day itself...now watch drunk Bill Pullman do a hilarious alternate version about St. Patrick's Day.