Fans of the first two Alien movies have a lot to be excited about this month. Their acid-blooded xenomorphs are getting their very own day on April 26 in what Fox’s marketing geniuses have branded “Alien Day” after LV-426, the desolate moon where Sigourney Weaver’s deep space truckers first come upon the extraterrestrial in the 1978 original and its 1986 follow-up directed by James Cameron.
The announcement seemingly came out of nowhere, just as most internet things usually do. Instantly, fans collectively freaked out over Reebok sneaker replicas, an all new audio drama titled Alien: Out of the Shadows, and a whole mess of toys and collectibles that you probably don’t really need. It’s great to have fandoms literally have their day — but the weird part? All of the hubbub is some kind of obvious corporate shilling for director Ridley Scott’s upcoming Alien: Covenant sequel. Alien Day doesn’t even take place on the 30th anniversary of Aliens on July 18. Alien Day is kind of just a blatant disregard for why fandom is important in the first place.
It’s like that sad, old lonely complaint that Valentine’s Day was created by Hallmark and other greeting card companies just to make money. The same goes for Alien Day. Until it was announced by a PR company, it wasn’t a real thing. It’s a slightly suspicious, but still awesome move by 20th Century Fox to capitalize on other similar celebrations. But how legitimate is the day if it didn’t gain support from the ground up?
There’s nothing wrong with honoring particularly well-loved movies, especially if the fan base is large enough — to warrant an entire off-screen day dedicated to the on-screen adventures of beloved characters. It’s what made Back to the Future Day (October 21, 2015) such a major deal last year, and what makes fans mark their calendars for Star Wars Day (May 4) every year. The Alien saga has fans, but are they as voracious as the fanbases of these constant classics? Sure there’s xenomorph cosplay at Comic-Con all the time and you can find Etsy stores selling Nostromo gear, but it never seemed like it had the level of collective appreciative fandom as something like Star Wars or Back to the Future. What’s worse, the problem with Alien Day is that it’s missing the honest point of these kinds of celebrations entirely.
The awesomely geeky grassroots campaigns that shepherded Back to the Future and Star Wars days actually made sense. May 4th is a play on “May the fourth be with you,” and it wasn’t until Disney bought Lucasfilm that the day was corporatized to some degree. It made the social media groundswell part of the promotion machine for the endless numbers of its Star Wars movies on the horizon. It was a genius marketing move, but the tenuous sanctity of Star Wars fan appreciation didn’t seem violated somehow. The corporate overlords weren’t taking advantage of fans about it (even though they still kind of are).
Back to the Future Day was literally the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future in the second film, and was born out of an internet meme. But it eventually allowed the stars of pop culture and real life to align for a similar, but one-time day that saw the release of everything from limited edition sneakers, Pepsi, fake movie trailers, cars, books, and a newfound interest in a World Series run by the perennially downtrodden Chicago Cubs. It was justified because it sprang from the movie, and fans latched on to it before Nike had a chance to surprise everyone with self-lacing sneakers. Simply put, Back to the Future Day was justified.
Alien Day isn’t the same because it wasn’t built on an idea to celebrate the movie itself. Thankfully outlets like the Alamo Drafthouse are putting the movies and the stars first in a series of double features that stress their importance above everything else. So what’s the justification? 4/26 just happens to be a date, and there just happens to be a planet in Alien with those numbers and voila: a brand new fake fan holiday.
The idea here is that movies can live on through toys and other licensing options, so why couldn’t they persist through actual holidays, too? The unfortunate thing about pioneering fan holidays like Alien Day is that they risk being a cynical subversion that dilutes fandom. Ultimately it’s using our love of Ripley’s sneakers or throwback toys against us. In space, no one can hear you scream; in marketing, everyone can hear you pay cash or credit.