Social Implications Topics How does Alien relate to topics covered in class ?
Freedom of Speech
The employees of Weyland-Yutani are often frank about their feelings for the company. Given that they receive no direct retribution for this, nor show fear of any, it can be concluded that the company does not censor its employees.
"Hey, Ripley, I want to ask you a question. If they find what they're looking for, do we get full shares?"
"Don't worry, Parker. You'll get whatever's coming to you."
"I'm not gonna do any more work until we get this straightened out."
"Brett, you're guaranteed by law to get a share."
All employees of Weyland-Yutani are guaranteed by law to receive a share of anything they discover or invent while employed by the company. This implies that the actual intellectual property rights are owned by the company. Under US copyright law, it is common practice for company employees and hired consultants to sign a contract agreeing that their employer retains the rights to all new IP they are paid to create. If this is not done, ownership of new IP is difficult to determine, often resulting in co-ownership.
Weyland-Yutani seeks ownership of the Alien to use as a powerful bio-weapon. It seems strange to consider that an entire species could be owned and shares of its discovery distributed, but many companies today take out patents on specific DNA sequences and genetic strains of crops
Throughout the film, the crew of the Nostromo is completely isolated - cut off and unable to communicate with anyone outside the ship. As such, the topic of information privacy does not feature heavily in the movie.
Government and Privacy
As far as the characters in Alien are concerned, the company is the government and its policies are law. As Weyland-Yutani is a technology conglomerate, this leads to the interesting situation of having all available computing and information technology be directly controlled by the government. Throughout the film, this power is exercised in the form of information censorship, with very malicious ends.
The Nostromo's main computing technology - Mother - is used to navigate (to the extent of taking direct control and altering their destination), to maintain their life support and wake them from stasis, to analyze data, and to search for and retrieve information. Even its name is an indication of the extent of the crew's trust in Mother. Ash, the android placed on board the Nostromo to ensure the success of the Alien retrieval mission, was also trusted by the crew, who saw him as a human - and their medical doctor, no less. However, they are, of course, products of Weyland-Yutani - and neither the company nor the ship's AI presence have the crew's best interests at heart. Mother and Ash withheld information the company deemed classified - concealing the true mission objective of recovering the Alien, and the true value the company placed on the lives of the crew.
The only things stated to be crimes in Alien are violations of company law. Weyland-Yutani's arguably murderous actions are certainly unethical, but as they function as the government for the purposes of the movie, we have to presume that nothing they do is criminal.
Errors / Failures / Risks
"There is a clause which states 'Any systematized transmission indicating intelligent origin must be investigated ... on penalty of total forfeiture of shares.''
"If we let it in, the ship could be infected. You know the quarantine procedure - 24 hours for decontamination.'"
"He could die. Open the hatch.'
"We break quarantine, we could all die.'"
Technology is seen by the crew as a source of safety - Ripley often asks questions of Mother (whose name is another indication of this perceived trust), and climbs into a space suit to confront the Alien in the final scene of the movie. But, throughout the film, technology betrays them, or is breached by the Alien. This failure is illustrated in an early scene, where the Alien’s acidic blood nearly breaches the hull of the Nostromo, and does manage to eat through a space suit - the very structures built to protect the crew cannot stand up to the primal, organic force of the Alien.
The communication technology used in the film is shown to fail - the crew members sent to investigate the signal lose contact with the Nostromo when they approach the Alien’s eggs. Long range communication technology is also shown to be weak in comparison to the vastness of space - if you become stranded, all you can do is send out a distress signal and hope someone will come within close enough range to detect it and pick you up. Weylan Yutani has implemented a policy concerning this - if your ship picks up a distress signal, failure to investigate it is a serious crime - but if nobody detects your signal, you remain isolated and lost.
Another failsafe that is shown to fail is the 24 hour quarantine period that all crew members who leave the ship are required to undergo in order to prevent contamination. Like most modern security breaches, the weak link was internal, and this policy is ignored. The android Ash violates this procedure with malicious motivations, but it is easy to imagine a human ignoring it in similar circumstances out of compassion, especially as it seems there is no way to administer basic medical aid or life support without breaching quarantine.
The consistent failure of technology to protect the lives of the crew highlights the social climate of the late 70s during which the movie was filmed. The overwhelming technological and corporate presence instilled paranoia in all those who felt it, as they wondered what would happen when things went wrong.
Work and Wealth
Despite living in a world filled with AIs and robots so advanced they are indistinguishable from humans, the world of Alien still has a need for humans to be employed in blue collar jobs.
Though they retain their employability, the characters of movie certainly do not trust their employers. Their dialogue early in the film illustrates that - before the Alien is introduced and they begin fighting for their lives - their greatest concern is fighting for their paychecks. Despite the fact that - as Ripley assures the crew members - they are guaranteed by law to get fair compensation for their work, they clearly remain distrustful of Weyland Yutani.