I’ve been watching or thinking about the 1987 Schwarzenegger movie Predator, it seems, for most of my life. Of all the action movies I obsessively consumed as a kid–and what a weird, disturbing, and grandly homoerotic genre that was–this is the one that’s stuck the most. I hear it quoted all the time by all sorts of different people. The movie’s one of only two (The Running Man is the other) to feature two future governors, so it maybe matters a little more than we think it does. The film embedded itself deeply into a generation–a generation that’s now living in a world increasingly both obsessed with guns (as the film certainly is) and plagued by gun violence, a cycle that seems likely to keep repeating itself unless something changes. After my congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot a few years ago I watched the film again, frame by frame and shot by shot, and I started writing essays about it trying to figure out the ways that it means. Here are two: one of them’s about the recent comic book series Archie vs. Predator: this actually exists! And it’s great!
Archie vs. Predator: Requiem
Archie, really, why not, sure, throw something really American at the alien. Drop Word’s animated Clippy (née Clippit) into a jungle or send the Ronco Food Dehydrator or Popeil himself, or Archway Windmill Cookies, the Golden Arches, golden showers, or the golden seven-tentacled octopus “sea friend” given by my stepmother to my daughter. I insist on calling it a septapus for accuracy in parenting; otherwise for sure I’ll be punished in the memoir. As far as friends go you could do better, but whatever.
Archie’s still alive, awash in friends, untouched by wine, sunlight, love, its end, or crushing loss. Even atrophied by time, he’s still a trophy for the girls, who are more predatory than anybody in the story. Maybe that’s the joke in here: Are we pulling for the Predator? I guess. With a versus like this the problem is neither’s a protagonist. Whoever wins, we lose is what my AVP t-shirt says, précis for politics or for ghasts vs. pederasts.
If you’ve read the comics or seen the movies you probably agree. The shirt won’t fit you anymore. You’re fatter than you ever were. I admit it doesn’t fit me either but you won’t see that stopping me: not a quality I’m proud of but there you have it. How droll: the thing can see itself, speak of itself, recognize its wrecked hairline in the mirror. Yo big dog, get an MFA already! Joke’s on you: I have two. Or I pretend I do.
Instead of a degree I watch the movies obsessively—even the otherwise unwatchable AVP: Requiem. Let it be requiemed, grandiosified, fitted with a Latin exoskeleton to fight the queen with the airlock open. Like utilize for use, endeavor for try, it’s enough to liquefy your brain as certain viruses will do. But sure, skip the antimalarial pills because you couldn’t swallow them. No need to tell your dad. What could go wrong on your safari watching apex predators work on wildebeest in Kenya? A mosquito could have opened you. A kiss. A curse.
That was then. Now you can swallow anything, it appears: a gunman in an elementary school, as long as it’s not your school, commence outrage cycle & we take this very seriously & maybe we should arm the kids! & somewhere a link is posted on Facebook, a change.org is joined, and we propose legislation to die on the committee vine or if we’re lucky make it to a vote and perish there, picked off at last by the Predator.
You call this thing a culture that we’re living in? It’s a sin, so say the Pet Shop Boys, so say Edward James Olmos: so say we all.
I know: this essay solves no problems either. What good disgust if it does so little to discuss or digest a thing like this? It’s undigestible. It makes us unstable even trying. It’s our ritual, this crying, this calling for the Predator. Our requiem in fact, the Dies Irae in the Mass between the Gospel and the Tract.
Well, Archie, good luck. Watching you is how we choke it down. Will you live or die for us? This is how we call for our annihilation. This is how we demonstrate what passes these days for our wrath.
Versus Versus Versus
We prefer you fight—not for our fair hearts but for our pleasure. To awaken us yes. Because we feel vibration in the burrow somewhere yes. Believe a change comes to us by watching you. Brief vision of our lives reduced to plot. Who got shot or gave another shit and where, how bad, and why? Who eviscerated whom on YouTube for our pleasure?
At best we fight ungrammatical constructions on the listserv or redevelopment in the subdivision: these construction plans are not what we imagined when we voted to close the school: the lots are too small, the homes they’ll build too cheap. We can’t know who will immigrate and find us in our havens watching Libyan cities burn on television.
Our burning isn’t esophageal, fixable with a pill or by going gluten free. Instead it’s 1987: it scarred something into us that’s lived for 30 years, burrowed in the lining of the heart.
Like the loan we took out to pay the interest on our loans, it too accrues without our thought.
The shadow on the lung shows up long enough after Fukushima that makes it hard to prove causation.
Our hearts are landscapes though we don’t often believe in them. Landscapes can be laid to waste by the making of a film. We thinned out a hundred miles of jungle to make the scene believable. Thirty years on you can still tell the location from the air.
In the projector room we switch the reel invisibly. In the electric room our hearts are working hard. We’re getting hard watching light move across our men. We’re bewitched by the action on the screen. Maybe we were always hard but couldn’t tell until you showed us what it meant. I mean means: it still echoes through our lives.
I hear it everywhere in our mouths as we talk to wives or sparring partners, believers, lovers. Hover outside our windows some night after dark and try to decode our fights’ grammar: What happened to the hammer I was using earlier? I certainly didn’t move it or leave it there. It didn’t move itself. The neighbors didn’t take it. Nor the baby. It’s like you never listen to me. It’s like you don’t love me and you don’t know me at all.