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2365Aliens The Ultimate Outsiders?

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  • Stig Agermose
    Oct 1, 1999
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      Source: The Arizona Daily Star,

      http://www.azstarnet.com/public/dnews/133-7502.html

      Stig

      ***

      Thursday, 30 September 1999

      Alien concepts

      UA class sees life through sci-fi

      [Image:
      A. E. Araiza,
      The Arizona Daily Star)

      UA media arts professor Daniel Bernardi teaches a class called 'Signs of
      Aliens'

      By Kristen Cook
      The Arizona Daily Star

      Aliens take on many forms.


      There are aliens as:

      Illegal and unwanted...

      Weird, unsettling...

      Overtly sexy...

      Goofy, harmless...

      Invader, menacing, monstrous...

      Wise, all-knowing



      Daniel Bernardi doesn't look like the type who would know every single
      episode of "Star Trek" by heart.

      He seems pretty preppy, dressing in button-down Oxford shirts and Dockers
      pants. His ears? Not the least bit pointy.

      But Bernardi can rattle off the name of each "Star Trek" episode. More
      importantly, he can dissect its sociological impact, and he's teaching
      University of Arizona students to do the same.

      Bernardi, an assistant professor, teaches a new media arts class called
      "Signs of Aliens." Contrary to its title, the course isn't devoted to
      searching for little green men.

      "The class is really about equipping students to think more critically
      about pop culture," explained Bernardi, a screenwriter who holds a Ph.D. in
      film and TV studies from UCLA.

      A longtime sci-fi lover, Bernardi first taught the class at the University
      of California at Riverside. The idea was to show students how to analyze
      topics such as race and religion but do so in a fun way - through science
      fiction.

      People might dismiss shows like "Star Trek" as mere entertainment, but
      Bernardi maintains that "popular culture is very powerful."

      "More young people watch 'Star Trek' than read the Bible, and look at the
      powerful impact the Bible has had on us," he said. "How much do you have to
      watch before it starts seeping into your perception?"

      "Signs of Aliens" - which has its own Web site at
      www.arts.arizona.edu/mar335-02/ - looks at the many forms aliens assume in
      literature, on the radio, on television and in the movies. It examines the
      sociological impact of aliens, not just considering them beings from other
      planets but as the ultimate outsiders.

      The class explores such subjects as science, conspiracy theories, sexuality
      and xenophobia.

      Students watch films such as "Alien Autopsy," "Barbarella: Queen of the
      Galaxy" and even "Born in East L.A.," featuring Cheech Marin, because the
      class touches on illegal aliens, too.

      Assigned readings include Genesis from the Bible. One of Bernardi's early
      lectures proposes that based on the definition of extraterrestrial - not of
      this earth - God is an extraterrestrial. So Jesus is one of the first alien
      hybrids.

      That little revelation usually blows students away, Bernardi said.

      "It makes sense, but it also makes clear the social implications," he said.

      Bernardi also concludes that a lot of science fiction is racist and sexist.
      And "Star Trek" is one of the worst offenders.

      Even though the original series debuted in the '60s and embraced civil
      rights, Bernardi says the show was inconsistent. It featured people of
      color but generally kept them in the background. Women were portrayed as
      sexual objects - usually for Capt. Kirk.

      "(The show) is offensive at the level of gender representation, but campy,"
      Bernardi said.

      A more recent example of racism he contends is the goofy alien Jar Jar
      Binks from "The Phantom Menace," the latest of the "Star Wars" flicks. Many
      scholars, including Bernardi, blasted the bumbling, Caribbean-accented
      character as an obnoxious black stereotype.

      In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this summer, Bernardi
      called the character "the science fiction version of a character in
      blackface."

      Pretty serious stuff. Not at all what Sara Webster envisioned when she
      signed up for the class.

      The media arts junior said she wasn't sure what to expect, even after
      reading the syllabus. But she wanted something different, and this fit the
      bill.

      "It's interesting to see how you can relate (this class) to different parts
      of life," said Webster, who wants to be a screenwriter. "It's just really
      cool how it relates back to religion and history."

      Despite the heady subject matter, even Bernardi himself can't resist poking
      a little fun.

      In the class syllabus, he explains that overdue assignments must be
      accompanied by "an exceedingly reasonable excuse" such as alien invasion or
      alien abduction.

      Bernardi, who's Puerto Rican and Italian, became interested in science
      fiction and how race is portrayed while he was a grad student "looking for
      an ax to grind."

      His dissertation evolved into the book "Star Trek and History: Race-ing
      Toward a White Future," which was published last year.

      Surprisingly, his office isn't filled with Martian memorabilia. There's
      just a framed copy of his book cover and an autographed picture of actor
      Pat Harrington Jr., who played maintenance man Schneider on the alien-free
      TV show "One Day at a Time," whichran from the mid-1970s to the '80s.

      Bernardi admits he attended a "Star Trek" convention once - as research for
      his book. Never again.

      "I got hit on by a woman dressed in Klingon clothes, and she was growling
      at me," he recalled, with a laugh.

      He hasn't been to Roswell, N.M., either, a tourist attraction where some
      believe aliens crash-landed more than 50 years ago. But Bernardi would love
      to go on a field trip.

      "I'd go to see how other people interact, how and why they construct aliens
      the way they do," he said.

      Even though Bernardi's class doesn't explore the idea of whether aliens
      exist, we just have to know: Does he believe?

      "I think it is arrogant of us to believe we are alone," Bernardi said.
      "Now, whether or not there are aliens coming to visit us, I'm skeptical."


      �1999