“It’s Out There, Somewhere…”

Posted by Stuart Lindsay on June 24, 2010 in Blog tagged with

Racial camouflage, transparency and selection in Predator and Predator 2

As an industry that has become a global influence on issues of race and culture, Hollywood’s stratifying of power relations between American national, immigrant and other through film is significant. The Predator series of action/horror films offer a unique insight into American film’s fixation, fixing and ultimately, its destruction of hybrid national identity. In each Predator film, the titular creature’s hunted prey, usually a group of ethnically diverse targets, is one of emulation: a chameleon act through combat of on-screen racial stereotypes present both in film, and doubled through the Predator’s own perspective and performance. As each Hollywood minority group is preyed upon and killed in turn: the Native American, the African American, the Mexican American, a legitimization of the remaining standard is created: the image of the ultimately victorious white male (played ironically, by actors with their own immigrant history: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Glover).

In the first Predator film, the setting mirrors a well-worn pockmark of American political and popular culture: the Vietnam War. Being fired upon from the unseen enemy, Arnie’s team of commandos fill up the fear of absence with their own imaginings of what their hunter looks and acts like. Some are filled with their memories of service fighting the Vietcong, where one is transformed by rage, brutally stabbing a wild boar to death in animalistic fury. Another, in recognising that there is method and intelligence to the killings, brings his own Native American experience to the field of combat. In a blood ritual of sorts, he marks himself with his knife, standing poised on a fallen tree, at one with nature and its inhabitants. Searching for the creature on perhaps a spiritual level, he becomes in an image the recycled representations of Native American identity present in Hollywood film of the era: the noble savage throwing off Western tools and knowledge, Rambo-style, to revert to his more effective own. He too however, is slain by the Predator, a creature which through its technological and social camouflage, can be both a modern or ancient enemy. To each commando it is a stage for the scene-setting of racial transformation and performance, as in confrontation with the creature, one by one they revert to the non-military, ethnic identities that Hollywood assigns them. It takes Arnie himself to defeat the Predator, but he too undergoes a telling change. Cast as the culturally invisible White male and the only survivor, he reverts to a primal state, a man without race or culture. Standing in the darkness holding his makeshift torch: a burning branch, he screams without language, calling his enemy, a beast challenging a beast. As the creature responds, it reveals itself in a final duel, removing its mask to show a face beneath, a final, fixed, alien other. Just as throughout the film, marginal or othered identities are destroyed, and the Predator is itself killed, before Schwarzenegger returns to base in the chopper, his White male humanity magically restored, and his place as Hollywood’s power victor assured.

In Predator 2, the scene shifts to modern-day L.A. As a city with its own racial tensions between gangs and the police, the creature becomes a catalyst for the escalation of physical violence and selective ethnic categorisation between humans. In a drug war between Columbian and Jamaican gangs, the Predator comes to the city, seeking to prey on the conflict. Once again, the horror of confronting it acts as a stage for each combatant to display the recycled racial identity which Hollywood assigns to the race they represent. Here, the leader of the Jamaican gang, King Willie, sees the Predator as a demon from the spirit world, claiming its technology as an act of voodoo magic. While bearing some of the visual markers assigned to the gang through its dreadlocked hair, it seems that any attempt to identify with the creature ends in destruction, as it teases then evades all forms of analysis. After mistaking it for one of the gang members in the drug war, the L.A authorities send soldiers to capture the Predator in order to study its alien technology, but they too are outwitted by their assumptions of its power, and are killed off one by one.

In both of these films, the Predator acts as a floating simulation of miscegenation, a creature transparent of its own racial and cultural origins. As with the creature’s cloaking device, the warping of perception which surrounds it allows, in each film and for each character within each film, the creature to be refashioned into the various pop-culture markers of racial identity. Like the Predator itself, the identity of the prey it stalks is artificially hybrid, part alien, with each individual employing some cultural knowledge in their defence against said creature, which equally others them alongside it. In the late nineteen eighties and early nineties, at a time when Hollywood cinema was just beginning to invoke the use of immigrant identities in starring and co-staring roles, its performance of race became all the more prominent than when these identities were previously put to use in displaying antagonistic characters. For Hollywood, the Predator represents the half-integrated, incomplete racial identity that haunts and hunts the fringes of American nationality. It is the thing that is continually mistaken and misunderstood, and yet always held in fascination, bringing to attention on the one hand, the film industry’s willingness to confront the country’s multi-racial reality and on the other, its reservations about the peaceful completeness of such a reality.

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