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Invader Zim only gets darker with time

By Dany Roth
invader zim

Invader Zim, the Nickelodeon animated series about a kid alien set on total human annihilation by Jhonen Vasquez, began airing all the way back in 2001. Chances are, if you watched it as it first aired, you were young! At the very least you were 18 years younger than you are now. Have you watched it recently? It's absolutely going to mess you up more today than it did back then if you do.

Personal experience: I was 21 when Invader Zim debuted, which means I wasn't a kid, but I was still built like a tank. I had a lot of get up and go. I was still in college and I still got away with smoking cigarettes at diners at 3 in the god damn morning. 

At the time, watching Invader Zim was a delight because I could focus on how it didn't shy away from how morally bankrupt society is. Schools are like prisons. Advertisements manipulate children into buying things they don't really want or need. Children, in general, are awful. The world is random. Everything is bad. Laugh at it! It's a very emo approach to the show, but one I think was pretty common at the time.

But, also personal experience: I am 39 now, and rewatching Invader Zim is infinitely more disturbing for me today. I'm middle-aged, my lungs are wrecked so cigarettes are right out and if I ate chicken fingers in the late night/early morning hours I'm pretty sure my Crohn's disease would guarantee a severe gastrointestinal punishment. I'm worn, I'm weak, and I've seen the infrastructure of my community atrophy in ways I couldn't have fathomed in my twenties.

Sure, all the yucks about how crappy childhood and the media geared towards that phase of life are still readily apparent, but you wanna know what really stands out for me watching Invader Zim now? The body horror. Good GOD, the body horror.

The stuff that stands out in Invader Zim now, for the middle-aged set, is how it's constantly talking about the constant state of disintegration the meat sacks our consciousnesses call home are. There's an episode called "Bolognius Maximus" where Zim slowly turns his nemesis, Dib, into bologna. Sentient bologna. It sounds funny, but the fact is that, in a way, we're all slowly turning into bologna. Or, put more literally, the meat that we are made of is all in a constant state of becoming less cohesive and more.. stinky. It's a story about mortality and the limitations of the human body over time. Spoiler alert: that episode doesn't end happily!

Invader Zim is rife with stories like that. There's episodes about objects and places of safety suddenly turning against you, episodes about how you can't trust your own eyes or instincts, episodes about severe allergic reactions, and ones that are just about your organs. So many organs.

On this episode of Every Day Animation, creator of the Nyx Nightmares YouTube Channel, May Leitz, joins the podcast to talk about the wondrous fever dream that is Invader Zim. We talk about how being trans and active medical transition can impact the perception of ones own consciousness inside a body both for good and for ill. I also literally had a fever while we recorded this episode! It definitely comes across! Enjoy!

On the next (and penultimate) episode of Every Day Animation, we're taking it down about 60 notches where writer Paste Movies writer, Kyle Turner, will be joining the program to talk about Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. We're talking about music and its impact on animation! Nice and peaceful. No body horror, hooray! We'll see you there.

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