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Invaders R Us

September 1st, 2003

BY GENE RYDER

You’re an eight-year-old boy. People are disappearing in the field out behind your house, only to return next day with a red scar on their neck and a cold stare in their eyes. First your father gets it, then two of his friends that go searching for him, and then your mother, too. Even the sheriff will go out to the sand pit to investigate and come back with the red mark and the cold stare.

At first, you try to tell others about this, to warn them, only every one of them gives you a look like it’s all in your head. As for your parents (what’s left of them anyway) they give you half a glass of milk, then tell you to go to bed and quit worrying about it, that everything will be better soon. In their mouths, “soon” sounds like an evil adverb.

“But I really did see a white ball of light fall into the field behind the house,” you tell them as you climb the stairs. “Maybe even a spaceship. I swear, it landed out near the sandpit, just beyond the back fence.”

They smile knowingly, but there’s a wicked conspiracy behind the smile, and you begin to suspect that adults have just been one big conspiracy from the start, spaceship or no spaceship.

The last thing you hear before you go to sleep is a cow bellowing out near the sandpit. And then it stops suddenly, and you know its ass is now grass, too.

At this juncture, we’re about fifteen minutes into Invaders From Mars, and minute by minute, more and more people start showing up with the red scars, until the entire town is full of suspicious men and women with hard stares. Like those photographs of Depression-era people, with their skin stretched tight over their skulls and their lips all chewed up.

The child, meanwhile, doesn’t dare speak to any of the red scar people, for fear they will drag him to the sandpit in the middle of the night. Only after inspecting the backs of their necks will he say anything, and even then he’s cautious, only tells them that there’s something terribly wrong with his mother and father, that they’re not his mother and father anymore, and that he thinks it’s because of the sandpit and the spaceship underground that is sucking people down and spitting them out like the wasted byproducts of electroshock therapy.

But because it’s coming out of the mouth of an eight-year-old boy, they dismiss him as having an overactive imagination. Of course, shortly thereafter, as if in punishment for this, they too end up with the scar, which fucking serves them right. Stupid grown-ups.
Just look at them. They go to work, they come home, they plop down and read the paper without saying a word, they eat without saying a word, they watch TV, then they go to bed. The next day, they wake up and do the same thing all over again.

The boy never asks why, but you can see the questions everywhere in his eyes, hundreds of them spilling out, an avalanche of anxious, fearful, and tearful questions, all leading to the central question of why do they let the alien overlord treat them so, without raising even one voice of dissent?

Is there anything he can do about it?

It’s not the aliens themselves that are most disturbing about Invaders from Mars but the collapse of the adult world all around him, as if nothing but a thin veil and a few sticks had been keeping their convictions and beliefs alive. This seizes the child by the throat, because as a child, you have come to count on adults to be fully present, to protect you, to make choices on your behalf, whether the choice be what’s for dinner or who’s qualified to run the government. And it is painfully obvious that not only are they no longer making good choices, they’re not making any choices at all. Lights on, nobody home. Even worse, they’ve been branded with the red scar. Just like feedlot cattle.
And how terribly easy it was. All the aliens had to do was lure them to the sandpit with a sound: the white-noise hum of the spaceship. It’s odd, but I swear that this is the same sound you hear when you walk into a Walmart.

The people look the same, too. The styles have changed since 1953, but that vacant look of the folks in the booths at the lunch counter, beneath the bus-depot lighting, eating their curly fries and drinking their blue coke, is unmistakable.

What the aliens don’t know, though, is that they needn’t have gone to all the trouble with the white-noise-hum-and-sucking-people-down thing. They could’ve just stuck a sign in the sand that said, “Two-for-One Sale.”

But these Martians are offering far more than a two-for-one sale here, and that’s where the terror really starts, when you read the fine print, when you ask what asparatame sodium phuphate is, when you realize that no one’s really running the show at all, it’s a loose conglomeration of queer folk and people who would rather leave the world rich than leave it a better place, and most of all, who really don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.

Of course, if you didn’t already know this, then it’s already too late, just like if you didn’t know that false prophets, dictators, telemarketers, despot rulers, and general evil doers are all waiting for Americans — the fattest people in the history of the universe — to get fat enough to where they can swoop in and take us over with nothing but the white-noise hum of a two-for-one sale.

The aliens know this in Invader’s From Mars because they’ve been studying our society and have seized on our weakness, which is not so much the need for cheap goods made in China (another continent with its own slave issues) but our need for relief. From the day-to-day. From the pain of being human. From the shame of psoriasis. From progress progress progress. From everything happening at once. From the reality of… us.

One could make a case that the boy should’ve been thanking those Martians for coming, instead of trying to expose them. I would’ve. I don’t want to think about my job one more day. I don’t want to think about how I’m going to survive without any retirement money laid aside, and whether I might end up having to work at Walmart when I’m seventy-three. I’m almost fifty now, my face is looking more and more like Neil Young’s every day, and someone once said that Neil Young looks like everybody’s burned out Uncle.

So, welcome Martians everywhere, and thank you for the idea for this piece, too. Also, thank you Jim Jones, thank you L. Ron Hubbard (for a religion actually based on the return of aliens to save us from ourselves!) as well as all of the Mugabes and Falwells and Sam Waltons of the world. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget to thank good ol’ boy George Bush, for deciding all by himself whom we should enslave.

In the end, the only truly reliable thing in Invaders From Mars turns out to be the Army, and they eventually swoop in and kick some serious alien ass, which is just fine with me, if for no other reason than that the aliens, ten-foot-tall men in rubber suits with seams showing, were not that scary to begin with. It was the big people that scared me, the vacant look, the same look I get myself sometimes when I pull into a Walmart, a look that says, “Why did I come here? What evil power lurks just beneath the surface that compels me like an industrial drone with no will of my own to speak of?”

As I pass the smiling Walmart concierge, who has a Clutch Cargo mouth that moves well enough but a face that is stone cold, I look to see if there is a red welt on her neck. Is there one on mine? •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Movie Issue, Ryder | Link to this Entry

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