In Predator We Trust

It’s time to rethink the Predator, people. Warrior-nobility aside, we’ve been casting them as the badguy. And I’m not sure that stands up. Walk with me:

Point the first: They are “drawn to battlegrounds”.

In the first and second films, the predators are drawn to the most dangerous places on earth – in the first film, the drug war in South America, in the second, the drug war in slightly-futuristic Los Angeles. The suggestion is it goes to those places because all the carnage and killing makes it likely they’ll encounter plenty of warriors to make good hunts. But that doesn’t hold up to hunting logic. If you want to get a good challenge from a grizzly bear, you don’t go to the grizzly bear arena where grizzlies are fighting each other to the death, because then your average target will be half-chewed and eaten before you get near him. If you want a challenge, you find a quiet lone grizzly at his full strength, and you kidnap his daughter. You know, like in Commando. You don’t wait for him to come to South America and waste ammo on some drug dealers first.

And this “ultimate hunter” thing runs into trouble with point 2 –

2) They “take trophies”.

Or do they? Yes, they skin their victims and take heads. But they don’t take them home with them. The pick up vessel in Aliens vs Predator doesn’t stop to collect all the skulls the last predator must have been storing somewhere. When Arnie arrives in Predator 1, the predator has skinned his victims, yes, but he’s tens of miles from that site and shows no intention of going back after he kills his victims. So he skins people, but where does he put the skins? In a pouch?

So here’s an alternative idea: he skins his prey to scare the hell out of everyone else in the area.

Now we’re starting to get a new idea of the creatures. They go to the worst warzones on earth. They identify and track down the worst killers in the area, defeat them effortlessly and then leave their mutilated bodies around – as a warning to others.

Now hold that thought as we go through some other points:

– they’re invisible, and move in mysterious ways

– but they can be sensed by voodoo priests (Predator 2) and Native American Shaman types (Predator), so they have some kind of spiritual presence

– they have dredlocks, perhaps indicating a strong sense of spirituality and connection to Rastafarianism.

– they have been visiting earth since before the last ice age (AvP)

You see where I am now.

The Predators are gods, or aliens masquerading as gods, and they are here to HELP US. When humans are swarmed by too much warfare, and look to be consuming ourselves, an invisible force descends, butchers all the best warriors and terrifies everyone else into ceasing fighting. They are trying to save humanity from our own destructive ways. They are HIPPIES. That’s also why they skin corpses, they are probably trying to recycle the carcasses into nice hats or wallets or seat covers or something.

I know what you’re going to say: if that’s true, then why did they bring the Aliens to the South Pole for training exercises? But that’s not the right question. The question is: why did they bury everything at the South Pole under a thousand tons of ice? See, I think they brought the aliens to earth to STUDY them (assuming they didn’t just find them here already – Prometheus may have something to say about where the “jockey” came from – there were giants in the old days, people), then one day they discovered humans. Being gentle creatures and not wanting to kill the alien queen, they froze her and buried her deep under the ice so she couldn’t harm humans until they could find a way to safely extract her. By the time they had done that, they realized that the alien was not only dangerous to humans, but so were the humans themselves. This amazing new species was on the verge of wiping itself out. The solution is to become invisible and watch from the sidelines, and interfere when it became necessary. Sometimes they could be subtle, other times, they needed a nuclear bomb (hence Sodom and Gomorrah).

Some accidents occurred along the way that caused us humans to worship them as gods. Some stories leaked through. This is why all ancient myths have something like the titanomachy, where the monsters/evil serpents are destroyed by the gods, but lurk around, waiting to insert evil into us again. Only the gods can save us – immortal, invisible, dredlocked spirit masters of beyond. Predators? No: PROTECTORS. And every time we run into them, we kill them with a tree of some sort. Or Danny Glover.

And the lord sayeth, this is my blood, shed for you, and Jesse Ventura said, if it bleeds, we can kill it….

Beginning is not the hard part

The world is full of aphorisms.

Pretty much all of them are false.

Not just because they boil down wisdom to a soundbite, but because they’re designed to run on faith. They’re designed to keep you alive when the rockslide buries you. Articles of faith are always lies. And that’s fine, as far as it goes, because they can help. But it’s not fine because it builds false hope. And when you hit the reality, you suffer because nobody told you.

So allow me to disabuse this notion about beginnings.

They say that the journey of a million miles begins with a single step. This is true, technically. But it is then followed by a journey of a million miles, minus one step.

They say beginnings are hard, and they are. Getting from zero to one may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But what they don’t tell you is that every single step after that is just as hard. Comparatively, beginnings aren’t hard. Beginnings are, at most, just as hard as everything else. But usually, they’re easier.

They’re easier than the point ten steps in when the joy of starting wears off. When every new step only confirms the pointlessness of the endeavour. When every line of creation only makes the work more inept and disgraceful. When the exhaustion sets in and every inch burns. Oh, and my personal favourite, when you’re close to the end and thus failure is a million times worse because it will waste everything you’ve done. And when you’re inches from the finish line and the terror of crossing it is slightly more agonizing than crawling on the broken glass in front of it.

Beginnings? Beginnings are hard, yes. Beginnings are all the fear and none of the knowledge, all the pressure and none of the distance. Beginnings are hard.

And then it gets much, much worse.


Nothing About Gaming: Mankind Splits the Atom, And Puts It On The Moon

“Since Mankind Split the Atom, And Put It On The Moon”, or Why My Mum Is Awesome

My mum’s a worrier. It’s just her nature. She worries about what to cook for dinner and how many potatoes to peel. She also worries about stranger stuff. Heavier stuff.

Like, she wonders about if I was interviewed or something and asked about what I learnt from my mother, what I would say. Or if there was one thing she would be remembered for saying, what would it be. One time, while watching a spy movie with some identity switcheroo nonsense in it, she wondered what things she would be able to say to convince or remind us who she was, if she looked totally different. Strange, and it gets stranger.

One time, she told us that as a little girl, she was terrified of being stabbed in her sleep because she’d seen that in a movie once. To prevent this, she twisted under the covers constantly, so the descending knife would miss her undulating body. An odd thing to do and an odder thing to admit to your kids, but I’ve never forgotten it because as a worrier and a child, it was one of the most important things I’ve ever heard. Because I had my own night terrors, and thought it was just something I had, that there was something wrong with me that sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night for the terrible things I could imagine. Suddenly I knew it was okay to have weird neurotic fears, which is an important skill in a terrifying universe.

I’ll also never forget my mother telling me her pen name. She has yet to write a book. I’m not sure she ever wants to or ever wanted to write a book. But as a child, she did what I think many of us have done, and came up with a very clever spin on her own name, perfect for adorning her many works of literature. Again, it was a small thing but it was something I’d done as well by the time she told the tale, and I’d never told anyone I had, because it was silly to think of such things. With the story above, she gave me permission to be afraid; with her pen name, she gave me permission to dream.

Regarding the spy identity switcheroo, my instinctive answer was “Eat Fruit!” and “Have Something Substantial”. Not great wisdom, but they were two oft-repeated orders that spoke not just to a concern for good nutrition but a wily deflection of any childish attempt to subvert the natural order and feast upon sweets or snacks. That we were hungry was no justification – there was always something better to eat to solve that problem.

That same kind of shrewdness populates a lot of things I remember my mother teaching me. I remember her taking time after we’d seen an advertisement on TV about “natural goodness” and explaining carefully that all those things about “natural” products not having any “chemicals” in them was a gigantic manipulative lie, because everything was a chemical. Which was a science lesson and a lesson in scepticism. Scepticism was a lesson I learnt all the time from my mother, particularly about the media. That’s a skill that has served me well as a political animal, and indeed, is the whole reason I am one in the first place – because my mother taught me to see where I’m being lied to, and care about it.

The grandest example of her scepticism however, comes from the time mankind split the atom, and put it on the moon. That’s going to take a bit of explanation.

First, let me set the scene. It is the early nineteen eighties. Although extinct now, packs of mad, blood-thirsty encyclopaedia salesmen stalk the earth, and their primary prey is stay-at-home mothers. My mother is just that, and even bought a few over the years, but what the unwitting salesmen don’t know is she is a science teacher when not at home.

The difficulty of selling encyclopaedias is it was a crowded marketplace, and nobody needs more than one. So you need to explain to the customer why your encyclopaedias are the best. This may require pretty diagrams and charts, glossy pamphlets or, the biggest gun of all, snappy patter. It is the last that concerns us here, because the particular encyclopaedias my mother was being shown on this particular day, were the “first true scientific collection for the scientific new age, since mankind split the atom, and put it on the moon.”

You need to understand that my mother is an unassuming woman, quiet, polite and kind. She doesn’t like upsetting people. So she was serious when she handed the salesman a shovel and asked him to dig upwards by explaining that particularly insane sentence. What did that mean, she asks, about splitting the atom and putting it on the moon? The salesman stops, startled but not prepared to show weakness, and repeats the phrase, only more dramatically.

My mother is unassuming, quiet, polite, but she also has her mother’s spark of mischief, her father’s terrier-like tenacity, and when her blood is up she loves the thrill of the chase like a great white shark.

Which atom did they split? And where did they put it on the moon? And how did they put it there? Using more atoms? The questions continued, until beleaguered and finally aware how out of his depth he was, the salesman fled, and my mother triumphant again over ignorance and banality. Or so the story goes in my head, anyway. It is a lot more heroic the way I see it, and probably a lot funnier too, now the story has been passed down.

In reality, it was a very small moment that meant probably little more than a chuckle to her to remember – and she may have even forgotten it now. But there are times when we need to borrow other people’s strength or positivity to fill our own, and that’s what stories are for. So sometimes, when I get tired of fighting idiots, I think of my mother, and a small but total victory that warms my heart.

I think of splitting the atom, and putting it on the moon.