When one watches the very first episode of Invader Zim, one is greeted with an entire sequence featuring the gathering of the Irken Elite on the planet Conventia, whereby the Almighty Tallest are featured, awarding the very best of the Irken Invaders. As we listen to the Irken Army March Theme, the tens of thousands of Invaders march to the central Hall of Conventia, and the Almighty Tallest waving to the hosts belows as their podium is being lowered.
This sequence was one of the most remembered in the whole of the series. Also, throughout the rest of Invader Zim, snippets and glimpses of the Irken Empire can be seen, once in a while.
However, it’d shock some people to think that an equivalent to the Irken would be today’s American civilisation, let alone a capitalistic empire (which’s seem more probable). But, in an essence, it is tempting to see the allusions.
The idea for the Irken Empire for IZ came way before Jhonen Vasquez started on Invader Zim. In one of his comics, “Squee!”, one could find numerous examples of aliens in the comic. The prototype irkens were derivatives of the alien humanoid we’ve seen so many times over in today‘s pop culture, known as the “greys” with a few differences (antennae, green hue, etc.). Also, a careful study of a typical Irken, would show similarities with the aliens seen so many times, the only difference, as pointed out, is that the Irken has a more insectoid feel to it. The antennae is also a left over from the original aliens of very old science fiction.
Noting the pop culture reference, it’d be another thing to add that alienation is rampant in today’s society. It’s in so many forms: teenage angst, communication barriers wherever they may be, poor relationship structures within today’s nuclear families, the rejection by the masses to all people ‘odd”, and, as such, their feelings of depression, the list goes on. The typical irken represents a typical American: an alien in his own right. Note that, despite this alienation, Americans can still congregrate in masses and cheer in large crowds, and work together in mass hordes. If this seems trivial, bear in mind the mighty cheer the Irkens can give, especially when one heard their battle cry during the first few seconds of the IZ intro.
The Irken race depends mainly on the use of it’s main organ in it’s torso for the digestion of snacks. While this is an exaggeration, the average American, until recently (and perhaps even till now), exists on no more than mere junk food. Studies have shown that most Americans lead unhealthy lifestyles, some because they don’t have money for food, others because they have money but, instead of enjoying a wholesome, normal meal, they spend it on snacks and food from fast food joints. Fast food, the result of the proliferation of a franchise of companies that serve processed food is being consumed at an alarming rate, and countries like France and India are facing the end of the traditional restaurant, with service in the way of instant results. The same goes for snacks, which is fast food, not sold from a joint, but also by large companies, this time, in large centres, owned also by large ventures. The best thing about snacks, like potato crisps, is that, unlike a common McDonalds or Burger King, one can receive the same load of a salt on a thinner piece of potato quicker and sooner. Freedom fries (French fries, but, this is just to remain politically correct) have more potato, but, take a longer time to obtain than the instant chip.
So far, we’ve only looked at food. To look at drinks would be looking at another large slice of the food industry. No one knows the formula for Coca-cola (unless it’s been secretly revealed on the web), but everyone knows it success. It’s everywhere: Americans consume it regularly, a few bottles within the month (though this figure is bound to be MUCH larger). And, not only can it be bottled, or canned, it can also be served in cups at fast food joints. Even certain old style restaurants serve cola drinks as an accompaniment to it’s usual menu of fine dining.
While we haven’t seen the Irken fast food joint yet (though Tak’s gargantuan hotdog stand does not raise a few eyebrows) , the fact that Irkens consume only junk food shows an interesting comparism. They eat all manners of chips and chocolates, and Irken cola is the sole drink of the average Irken (we have seen this in Zim’s case).
In fact, water is one of the few things that Americas hardly touch. After all, people are more used to enjoying a sweet drink than something as bland as plain, wholesome water: they’d rather take orange juice (which also has been over popularised by large corporate ventures) . Water, even if bottled for certain properties, is still redundant, unless it has a certain sugar ('mineral') factor. Many young children in this day and age are averse to drinking water. Interestingly, Irkens are allergic to water: they start to smoke in it’s presence, and cry out in pain, though they do gain a resistance to it after a while.
But, as it can be plainly seen, the American empire is the leading edge when it comes to technology: a fact clearly seen in IZ. The Irkens boast an entire technological arsenal of gadgetry used by the common irken, and we hardly have an inkling as to how powerful it’s military may be. This reflects the state of military technology today: we do not even know how advanced it is, though we can roughly guess that it’s at least twenty years more advanced that current everyday technology.
After all, the Internet was used by the U.S Military 20 years before it became a public phenomena.
It is a bit tempting to look at the Tallest, and to think of them as being the Irken version of the American presidents. After all, American Presidents, as pointed out by Andy Rooney “sign contracts, make speeches, and go hunt for Easter Bunny Eggs” Though the Tallest run the Empire as it is, they hardly look that responsible, and that charismatic. One can remember how they described the best invaders as being “ better than you all, but not as good as us”. Since their empire is advanced, they’re less bothered with the successes of their subordinates than whether they can amuse them or not (key to “Walk for your Lives” when the Tallest demanded more puppet shows, instead of just mere reports)
Zim’s place, from the mighty Irken Empire, in the backward, stale rock of Earth, gives a rough idea of American presence in Third World Countries. The Irken Empire is far reaching, and has invaded many world, bringing about it’s franchise of cola and nachos: earth, so far, is still a mysterious world unaffected by it, despite Zim’s attempt to conquer it. Perhaps it is an example of how capitalism can hardly work in third world countries, where people don’t have the money to even buy such things. The presence is there, but, hardly anything happens. Ultimately, it takes the real paranoid xenophobes, their heads swollen with pride and ego for their traditional ways, to oust such dangerous foreign influence.
In this short essay, I have attempted to portray the Irken Empire as being an exaggeration of the American Empire, showing that invader Zim, all the more, is an animation that can offer something to a matured audience. In it, Jhonen Vasquez satirized the American Capitalistic Empire, into an awesome alien empire that has become slightly lax from within: an irony, considering that Jhonen did IZ for a large corporate venture.
Tak: The great thing about your people, Dib, is that most of them don't notice. All they see is another faceless corporate venture, not a plan for world conquest.
Dib: Wait, is there really a difference?
-From “Tak: the Hideous New Girl”, the Final Episode of Invader Zim showed in Singapore