Friday, October 22, 2010

The Politics of Invader Zim

Invader Zim was a short-lived children's television show. It was a wonderful and delightful story following Zim, an Irken invader of Earth, and his sidekick Gir, who were getting thwarted by Dib, the one human who sees who they are.
I've never heard anyone mention the politics or political view of the show, but it occurred to me that the show does have a certain subtle commentary on American life.
For example, the Irken empire represents a version of America that is invading Earth. Irken's are not only colonizers, but they're materialistic and deeply interested in commercialism, like when they take over an entire planet and name it 1-800-Call Nowia, where products are shipped all over the galaxy. Like the most imperialistic forces in America, their leaders are inept, as anyone who has watched the Tallest, who themselves simply direct generally more capable invaders, who destroy a planet and enslave the planet's people to serve the Irken Empire. Zim is also inept at conquering, though not from a lack of trying. Given that this show was produced in the early years of the War on Terror, it's hard not to see this as a commentary on the Bush administration's policies, which mirror much of Irken policy, though obviously in a less comical way.
What's more, Earthlings seem completely ignorant of the invasion at hand. Most of the characters find Zim annoying, not threatening. Most of them aren't the least bit scared of him. Even though he comes from a society bent on destruction and exploitation, no one, save Dib, is the least bit aware. Since the story clearly takes place in Western society (almost certainly somewhere in the U.S., where it was created), this is a commentary on how ignorant and clueless the majority of Westerners/Americans seem to be over the invasion of Irken culture (imperialism, commercialism, etc.)
But then Zim, as an alien, could easily represent the outsider coming into Western/American society. As the first episode shows, he clearly hides some of the signs of his alien nature, such as his antenna and his red eyes. He's passing as one of them, though it seems he never quite pulls passing off, as his skin is still green, different from all the other human characters.
And he struggles to understand "human" culture, as he frequently misuses terms ("human-lava") and upsets himself over otherwise mundane situations. It's this ignorance that probably holds off a full invasion, and given the coded-race of Zim ("Other," as many people of color are seen as), this also seems problematic. The creator of the show, Jhonen Vasquez, identified himself on his Twitter as "brown," which means that he is not white either. Do immigrants/people of color/others want to invade Western/American society? Are they simply too stupid to do so, according to this show? Is that invasion bad? And why is the invasion of Others combined with the markers of the Western world (like imperialism)? And what does that mean that a person of color is saying these things?
It's also interesting to note that Dib, the one human who is actively fighting against Zim, is also portrayed comically, and not as a hero. Dib may be read as a defender of Western society/white people within the larger context. And although he has some success thwarting Zim, a lot of this is Zim's own inability to properly invade. And since no one else on Earth believes Dib is correct, does this mean that the rest of his community isn't as racist?
This is a complicated political viewpoint, one that I want to further investigate.

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