Intergalactic Botanists Will Swallow Your Soul

To rid myself of that Murray Head song “One Night In Bangkok”, I decided that I would do a little bit of TV watchin’. I was in a kind-of 1980s, Cold War-era flicks mood, so I started the night by watching a little bit of Red Dawn. I breezed through Wargames, and was lamenting the fact that I didn’t have Gotcha! on DVD. I was listening to “99 Luft Balloons” and was trying to remember which 80s compilation CD had “Der Kommissar” on it, when I glanced over at my DVD shelf and spotted ET. ET: the Extra-Terrestrial is perhaps the film of my generation. Who could not like the story of the lovable, non-threatening little alien from a billion light years away? And given the fact that the year ET was released, 1982, saw the release of a decidedly un-friendly alien movie, John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, it’s easy to see why people flocked to see the cuddlier alien movie. For what it’s worth, I like The Thing. I’m assuming that everyone with eyes that see and ears that hear has either seen or heard about this movie. But, if you haven’t: a well-meaning, adorable, intergalactic horticulturist gets so caught up in looking at the local earth fauna that his ride home ditches him. The newly homeless fellow stumbles upon a nice suburban family (who are neither afraid of falling victim to a face-hugger nor worried about their new alien friend subjecting them to the time-honored alien tradition of probing), he squats for awhile with the middle child of the family, a boy named Elliott. Eventually the celestial traveler and his young companion jimmy up a subspace communication device and ET’s peeps swing back ’round to pick him up. All’s well that ends well. Some people see a heart-warming tale of the power of love and friendship. Others see a parable (or is it allegory?) of the story of Christ. Me, I see one of the worst moral offenders in film history. Assuming that the ethics of 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant apply to visiting aliens, this little bundle of interstellar joy has some explaining to do about his behavior. Kant’s moral philosophy is primarily concerned with two objectives: 1) moral principles that have universal applicability, and 2) our acts are performed from obligation — no matter the consequences. The first formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative states that we undertake no act that cannot at the same time be made universal law (or something like that). The way I see it, this one isn’t really a problem. Well, not yet. It’s Kant’s second formulation that has my finger pointing at this so-called friend to all children. Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative holds that we are to treat others as ends in themselves, that is, we are not to use others are a mere means to our own ends. So, say I want to rob a bank. I don’t have a car, but you do. I ask you to drive me over to the bank while I step in to go take care of some “things”. While I’m in the bank, I knock over the joint. I didn’t tell you why I was going or what I was going to do once I got there. I merely used you for your car. So, according to Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative, I have used you as a mere means to my ends. And that’s morally wrong. And that, using Elliott as a mere means to his ends, is precisely what that alien did. A test for whether we are being used as someone else’s means to their ends is whether we have entered into an agreement with that person freely and knowingly (meaning we weren’t coerced or forced). Now I know, you say that it was Elliott who pursued ET. This is true. He did lure ET into his house with Reece’s Pieces. And Elliott did assume responsibility for the alien. But, I think that Elliott did this unaware of what assuming responsibility for ET fully meant. What ET did, was not allowing Elliott to take care of him — he literally bonded his life to Elliott’s! Maybe there’s another version of the movie where ET sits Elliott down and explains what “taking responsibility” means where he comes from; but I doubt that, in Elliott’s mind, that “responsibility” meant feeling hunger when ET was hungry, or feeling sleepy when ET was sleepy. Nor do I think that Elliott signed on to experience drunkenness when ET decided to go on a bender, or to sexually assault a female classmate under ET’s mind control. Worse yet, ET’s life bonding nearly killed Elliott when ET decided that I was better to die than to live in earth (real subtle, Spielberg!). Not to mention, that Elliott was, what? Twelve at the most? Could a child of that age really have made a competent decision to endanger the lives of himself and his family and have his house ransacked by the feds all in an effort to make a phone call?!? I think not! I think that even Kant had a point where a kid is too young to make decisions that no only affect him, but the universe as a whole. And while we’re at it, I don’t think that back on ET’s planet that they would have welcomed such an interruption of their lives. I don’t think that almost getting a kid shot by an FBI guy (yes, I’m using the original theatrical release) is something that we want to say is universalable. Some people watch ET and see a movie that they want to share with their childern and their grandchildren. I see a movie I’d only show to a kid that I didn’t like (which reminds me, I think that I’ll invite that Dante over for popcorn and some DVDs).

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