Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Modern Society and Pessimism

“For what is a world without pods but a world committed resolutely to macho principles – dangerously narrow, only half-human, a world devoid of rest, receptivity, growth, and an empathetic acceptance of otherness?”

So Nancy Steffen-Fluhr states in the pessimistic conclusion of her article. In this post, I’d like to show how the Invasion of the Body Snatchers suggests an outlook not quite as bleak as the one she indicates.

Steffen-Fluhr suggests that a world without pods is “devoid of rest”, implying that this restlessness is somehow intrinsically bad. Certainly, it seems that Becky's succumbing to sleep after struggling to stay awake for nearly two days suggests that such a condition is inherently unsustainable. But it is only because of the threat of being assimilated by the pod people in their sleep that Becky and Miles are forced to stay awake for an unsustainably long period of time, so the condition of being devoid of rest is not one naturally present in our world. Moreover, even if such a condition were present, is it necessarily undesirable in and of itself? Miles certainly would not have escaped from the pod people if he had chosen to rest instead of flee, and more generally, progress and change have only ever occurred in dynamic, restless societies such as ours, not the restful, stagnating one of the pod people.

Next, the suggestion that a world without pods lacks “acceptance of otherness” conversely implies that the pod people do exhibit such an acceptance. But is this really the case? If the pod people were indeed empathetically accepting of otherness, then they would not want to assimilate Becky and Miles, or for that matter the rest of Earth's population, for they would empathize with their fears about the loss of personality and individuality. Yet Kaufman and Jack continually urge to Becky and Miles to give in and join the pod people, and the pods are intent on spreading their influence across America and presumably the rest of the world as well. Such colonialist ambitions certainly do not reflect acceptance or even tolerance of otherness. Granted, Steffen-Fluhr’s claim that a "world without pods" can be xenophobic and unaccepting is borne out by the initial reactions of horror, fear and revulsion which Miles, Becky, Jack and Teddy display when discovering the truth about the bodies growing from the pods, but given that the pod people are hardly any more accepting than we are, it seems somewhat unfair to level such a criticism at our society.

In relation to the acceptance of otherness, the article also suggests that our society is an unreceptive one, unsympathetic and unresponsive to views unlike our own. However, the ending of the film provides us with some evidence otherwise, as although Miles’ account of what has happened in Santa Mira is initially met with skepticism, his interviewers are quickly convinced once another policeman corroborates Miles’ story, and they agree with Miles that the pod people do pose a threat to national security. Thus their initial lack of receptiveness is overcome once presented with appropriate evidence and convinced of the urgency of the matter, suggesting that even if we aren’t quite as accepting of unusual, different opinions as the ideally receptive society might be, we aren’t entirely unreceptive and unresponsive either. For this and the other reasons I’ve outlined above, I find that Invasion of the Body Snatchers suggests a worldview not quite as pessimistic Steffen-Fluhr makes it out to be.


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