“Birdland Reconsidered”: Part Three (of Five)

Posted by on December 3rd, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Previously: http://www.tcj.com/?p=469

The Aliens

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It wasn’t until A Book of Dreams was released that people realized the extent of Wilhelm Reich’s paranoid delusions in his later years.  Among his many outrageous theories, Reich believed that aliens were depleting the orgone energy in the atmosphere which was causing famines, droughts and strange weather patterns, as well as all kinds of psychological and health problems for people on earth, and that he had to fight them off to protect humanity.  In his memoir, Peter, who was only 12 years old when his father died, described how his father made him “a sergeant in the Corps of cosmic engineers” that protected the earth from UFO attacks.

We are really engaged in a cosmic war.  Peeps, you must be very brave and very proud, for we are the first human beings to engage in a battle to the death with spaceships.  We know now that they are destroying our atmosphere, perhaps by drawing off orgone energy as fuel or by emitting DaR as exhaust.

(In a couple of scenes, Inez refers to Bang using the nickname “Weeps,” another subtle example of Gilbert’s satirical intentions.) Although Hernandez doesn’t go into much depth regarding the “cosmic war” which Peter Reich described, the notion of aliens siphoning off orgone energy is central to the plot of Birdland.  In the beginning of the book, the aliens seem harmless and relatively benign, silently observing the spectacular feats of sexuality like cosmic voyeurs, remaining out of sight and uninvolved.  But by the end of the first section, it’s clear that they are interested in these particular characters because they’ve achieved the highest degrees of “orgiastic potency” and therefore, according to Reich’s theories, release the most orgone energy.

The full extent of the aliens’ plan is finally revealed near the end of the first section, when all the main characters are taken into “the belly of the ship.”  While everyone is caught up in the sexual frenzy on the UFO, two subtle captions meant to represent the aliens’ thoughts hover over the scene: “no secrets” and “no material possessions.”  These two simple phrases imply that a full break from human civilization is needed in order to maximize their sexual potency.

But there is one small problem — Fritz.  While all the other characters surrender completely to the orgy, Fritz’s emotional resistance poses a threat to the aliens’ plans.  On page 63, the aliens’ thoughts reveal their dilemma.  “One still resists … Her will is strong; she enjoys the physical pleasure, but her mind, her soul holds fast …”  These thoughts reinforce the notion that the aliens need their human captives to surrender completely to the cycle of endless sexuality so they can purify the resultant orgone energy.

All of these over-the-top situations — the intergalactic orgy, the plan to use human sexual energy as fuel, the aliens’ need for humans to relinquish all emotions — are ridiculous scenarios established to illustrate the ideal world according to Reich, while at the same time, making a mockery of his theories.  But as the book progresses, Gilbert delves deeper into his own metaphor.  After realizing the risk Fritz’s resistance poses to their master plan, the aliens try to force her to succumb by bringing her and Mark together (again their thoughts echo this plan: “She must let go…and only one may convince her”) while simultaneously attempting to destroy her golden heart pendant.

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One Response to ““Birdland Reconsidered”: Part Three (of Five)”

  1. […] Marc Sobel presents the third installment of his five-part examination of Gilbert Hernandez’s Birdland. […]