I just watched District 9 for the second time; this time with my son. (I’ve been aggressively saturating him with good sf/f movies…) And two things stuck out for me on this viewing.
People who aren’t nice to the waiter aren’t nice people.
I mean, really. It doesn’t matter how stupid the person showing up with the starship is… there’s still someone out there who can build the damn thing. Pissing them off is probably a Bad Idea.
Understandable villains are a hell of a lot scarier.
I’ve heard some backlash (and contributed, at times) against the understandable (or sympathetic) villain. When their motivations are understandable, they don’t seem quite so… villainous. The Emperor is supposed to just be… well, bad.
Watching District 9 again reminded me of how ugly Wikus originally is. He’s a racist just like the rest of MNU… and he’s the moderate guy. He casually throws around racial epithets and slurs just like the rest, and isn’t particularly bothered by the questionable ethics of what he’s up to.
This fits with the very spooky interpretation of Milgram’s “obedience” experiment that Radiolab did a little while back on “The Bad Show”. The most common interpretation is the one you’ve probably heard (and can read on Wikipedia). They highlight two different things on Radiolab, though:
1. Everyone ordered to continue (given the last prod of “You have no other choice, you must go on.”) did not give the full series of shocks.
2. The participants all felt that they were participating in something that served the greater good.
So the real creepy lesson here is not “obedience” in the “let’s order people around” sense – though there’s plenty of that – but that people will do and endure horrible things if they think it serves the greater good. The Nazis (remember, that’s what started Milgram down this path) knew they were doing horrible things. They thought it served the greater good.
Wikus does not change because he is suddenly sympathetic to the aliens. (He is immediately concerned for his own safety, but that’s a different matter.) Wikus only changes because what he sees at MNU violates his personal sense of the greater good. The only difference between Wikus and the folks ready to experiment on him is that Wikus had not yet become acclimatized to the vivisection and torture – all for the greater good – four levels below the surface.
Every villain except for the cookie cutter ones could be you.
They would be you.
And maybe they are you.
And you just tell yourself that you’re doing the right thing.