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Fake holidays like Alien Day turn our fandom against us

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Yesterday, suddenly and practically all at once, the internet was bombarded by stories about Alien Day. "Fox Releasing Ripley’s ‘Aliens’ Reebok Sneakers as Part of ‘Alien Day’ Celebration" wrote ScreenCrush. Android Central tweeted, "Aliens vs Pinball game from Zen Studios will be hugging your face soon." In my inbox I found an invite from the Alamo Drafthouse to attend an "Alien + Aliens double feature." While I, a pop culture junky and citizen of the internet, had never heard of Alien Day, apparently every marketing firm on the planet had.

I hadn’t heard of Alien Day because, until yesterday, Alien Day wasn’t a real thing. The new holiday was created by Alien franchise owner 20th Century Fox, who seeks to capitalize on the popularity of its brand by tracing a path drawn by two other new, fake holidays, Back to the Future Day (October 21st) and Star Wars Day (May 4th).

Star Wars Day — a play on the phrase "May the fourth be with you" — began in 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema as a fan-inspired celebration of George Lucas’s sci-fi films. It only took Disney two years — only one year after its acquisition of Lucasfilms — to corporatize the holiday, transforming it into a day of free promotion via the press and social media.

Everybody knows LV-426, right?

Back to the Future Day followed suit on October 21st, 2015. In the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly travels to the future — 10/21/2015. The quirky alignment of pop culture and reality was leveraged to market cars, a new book, shoes, and a what would ultimately be a failed run at the World Series by the Chicago Cubs.

Alien Day’s justification for turning April 26th into a holiday is unquestionably less joyful or original than either of its inspirations. The logic goes as such: LV-426 is the name of a fictional moon on which a colony of Xenomorphs live. Aliens, the second film in the franchise, takes place on LV-246’s surface. 426 can also be written as 4/26, which stands for April 26th. Long walk, small water.

There’s nothing inherently wrong about a fan spun annual celebration of a beloved franchise. Disney has been careful to encourage and promote, in the words of the Star Wars Day wikipedia, "grassroots" celebrations. They were given a gift in the humble origins, which manages to give a day of live streams, which fizzle with the energy of a QVC marathon, the spice of sincerity and authenticity. Even Back to the Future Day can pin its inspiration to social media’s obsession with that image — often photoshopped — of the clock in Doc Brown’s time traveling car.

Alien Day, though? Nobody asked for that. Birthed from the neck of an executive, it was polished in the meeting rooms of video game developers, sneaker makers, and movie distribution companies. It was built not explicitly as a celebration, but as a tool to grease the hype machine for 2017 film Alien: Covenant, while collecting a few bucks in the process. This is the cynical weaponization of fandom, in which studios use our love of something against us.

Which is to say, maybe Alien Day is the closest a brand has come to real holidays like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. The greeting card holidays of the past will now be usurped by the genre film holidays of the present. If that’s the case, I suppose I have no other choice than to play along. This Alien Day I’ll be serving spaghetti.

Update March 20th, 12:15PM ET: A twist! Reader Alaric Hahn writes that he's been pushing for an Aliens Day for sometime, operating @aliensday426 on Twitter since March 2015. The tag was recently adjusted by Hahn to @AlienDay426 to align with Fox's branding. Hahn writes, "It's funny, because in your paragraph where you break down the date, you sound just like me explaining to my friends why I chose that date - usually to puzzled expressions.  I stuck to it regardless and clearly it resonated with some fans." Hopefully Fox collaborates with Hahn and other fans on the festivities.