The Coneheads and American Immigration
By Zayna Marjieh |
A lot has changed in America since 1993. We’ve elected three different presidents, have gone through over two decades worth of technological advances, and have evolved quite dramatically as a society. However, despite all of the unquestionable change that has occurred, there are a few things that have remained constant, and we find this notion of consistency expressed in an unlikely place, the movie The Coneheads. Now you might be asking yourself, “What on earth does that movie have to do with American society?” Well, for one thing, the movie clearly examines issues of immigration, Americanization, and assimilation that were present in 1993, and are still very present today. While the comedic aspects of the film distract from the underlying depth of the subject matter at hand, the realistic and ever-present societal issues that are represented in the film are strikingly obvious and will always remain relevant.
The 1993 film version of The Coneheads was an adaptation of a Saturday Night Live sketch done in 1977, and that only goes to show that the inspiration behind the film has been present in American society for quite some time. America was founded by immigrants, and has made a name for itself as the “Land Of The Free” and the “Land Of Opportunity,” which is why people have migrated to this “Promised Land” from the very beginning. When America was still the new frontier, immigration wasn’t an issue—at least from the perspective of the settlers—because there was still land to claim and establish, but as the years went by and there was no longer an American frontier, immigration became a “problem” that required a myriad of legal affairs before one could be deemed an official American. Those who forwent the legal process were dubbed “Illegal Aliens.”
In The Coneheads, Beldar and his life-mate Prymaat are actual illegal aliens from planet Remulak, who become stranded on Earth after the National Guard shoots down their UFO into the Atlantic. Unfortunately for them, a rescue ship from their planet won’t be able to reach Earth for seven “Zurls,” which is apparently a long time. Prymaat learns that she is pregnant, and both she and Beldar know that they have to make the most of their time on Earth in order to provide for their child. Beldar gets a job as an appliance repairman, a blue-collar job that many undocumented immigrants have, or are offered upon their arrival to America. When Beldar’s employer, Otto, learns that Beldar is undocumented, he arranges to get Beldar a fake identity and this raises the suspicions of an INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) worker named Gorman Seedling. Besides some very unusual behavior, like smoking a whole pack of cigarettes at once, “consuming mass quantities” of food, and the conical shape of their heads, Beldar and Prymaat do a great job fitting in and just tell people they are from France whenever their eccentric nature is questioned. Beldar eventually becomes a respected cab driver, which is such a stereotypical immigrant job, but it helps the family climb the social ladder and move in to a nice suburban home. Once Prymaat gives birth to her baby girl, they even give her an American name, Connie, which is so completely normal compared to their own bizarre names.
The Conehead family seems to evolve in a way that mirrors the typical immigrant family in America: clueless and scared at first, then motivated by the reality of having to provide for a family, taking a couple of blue-collar jobs to eventually climb the socioeconomic ladder, then becoming more Americanized and giving their children American names, and eventually diluting their native culture. I’m sure we’ve all seen this exact scenario play out either in our own lives, the lives of our friends, or even in the lives of acquaintances. Both Beldar and Prymaat worked toward having the typical All-American dream-life of the middle class suburban family with a white picket fence because they realized that is what they were expected to want, and that it was the “norm.” Although Beldar and Prymaat retain their eccentricities, their daughter Connie is a first-generation American girl who simply does not see eye to eye with her parents. When Connie gets a temporary tattoo on her cone, her father immediately disapproves, which results in a tiff between the two. Just as any first-generation teenager would, Connie rebels because of her parent’s lack of understanding about what it’s like to be an American teenager. Even in matters of relationships, Connie’s boyfriend, Ronnie, is not too well received by her parents because they don’t understand human love, let alone the American teenage version of it. As if teenagers didn’t already feel misunderstood, with immigrant parents there is not only an age barrier but also a cultural barrier that can significantly hinder healthy communication.
Eventually, the INS agents get all the information they need to detain Beldar and Prymaat, but just as the Coneheads are about to get arrested, the rescue ship from Remulak comes and takes them back to their home planet despite Connie’s displeasure. The INS agent’s persistence causes him also to be taken back to Remulak along with the Coneheads. Beldar’s success on Earth gets him accused of treason from the Highmaster of Remulak, and for that he is sentenced to fight the vicious “Garthrok.” Beldar uses skills he acquired on Earth through golfing to defeat the Garthrok and is granted a request from the Highmaster, in which he asks to return to Earth in order to “oversee” its conquest. In reality, Beldar just wants to go back to Earth and continue the American life that he and his family have established and become accustomed to. Beldar spares Gorman’s life, and Gorman gives him a green card to show his gratitude. The fact that Beldar wants to return to Earth really portrays something that happens to a lot of immigrants who move to America. Most immigrants are able to have a better life in America than they could in their native countries, and have assimilated so well that their native countries become more foreign to them than America.
Overall, the humor in this film makes for an entertaining way to watch the process of assimilation for immigrants coming into the United States. You can watch it for sheer entertainment if you wish, but there is no avoiding the stark reality embedded within the film. In many ways, this movie will remain relatable to the great majority of people living in the United States today. Just like the Coneheads, immigrants do have their quirks and their customs, and despite the fact that they may seem strange, they are a functioning part of society who have a lot to contribute to the “melting pot” we call America.
Zayna Marjieh is an English Literature major at Lehman College and a future educator. She enjoys exploring coffee shops all over New York, usually with a bag full of books.