(By Matt Konopka) Today is Election Day. It marks one of the most important elections in America’s history. With the country so divided, tonight will show us one of two directions America is going. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, most of us feel the pull to make a mark on our country today, and we are turning out in record numbers. Looking back, I began to wonder, did John Carpenter’s They Live predict the current political climate in America?...
…Directed/written by Carpenter (Halloween) and based on a short story by Ray Nelson entitled “Eight O’ Clock in the Morning”, They Live released thirty years ago as of November 4th. For those of you that have somehow missed this classic sci-fi horror gem, They Live stars Roddy Piper as a drifter named Nada who discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have token over the world, and are controlling us with subliminal brain-washing. If you’ve ever seen X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, it’s like that, but with politics. They Live wasn’t exactly a box-office smash when it released, filmed for around four million with a gross of thirteen million (for comparison’s sake, the new Halloween was shot on a budget of ten million and has already grossed over one-hundred and fifty domestically). But, like many of Carpenter’s films, it has gained a massive cult following since then. Many fans appreciate it for its spot-on view on politics in America. They Live has always reflected the way a lot of voters feel about politics, but under the current state of things, it seems the film may have actually been more of a pre-cursor to what is happening in the world, and perhaps what is yet to come.
(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)
Take Piper’s character, Nada, for instance. Everything about him screams Republican. He’s a blue-collar American. Down on his luck, he can’t seem to hold onto a job, because they’re all drying up, as he says. And though it isn’t said, there is a subtle hint that Nada partially blames illegal immigrants, as there is a shot when asking for a job early on where Nada is at first denied work because there isn’t any “available”, and he glances over at a group of immigrants sitting around and laughing. This could mean nothing, but it could also show us that Nada shares a view that most current Republicans have, which is that illegal immigrants are taking jobs and/or destroying America. Like most Republicans, Nada also seems to think highly of God and the church. His character isn’t nearly to the extent of your average devout Christian, but again, early on, Nada sees a preacher (Raymond St. Jacques) shouting in the streets about how they are doomed and “They are taking over”. Whoever “They” may be, Nada pays close attention to the preacher’s words, and is quick to believe them once he finds some evidence of what the preacher is describing. Nada strikes me as an America First kind of guy. His character makes it clear that he “believes in America”, and despite all of the chaos, he has hope for a better future despite the way things are going.
Nada’s attitude strikes me as different then many Democratic voters, including myself. At this point, because Democratic views are so far opposite of the Trump organization, many of those voters don’t believe in America, or have, at least to some extent, lost their faith in the system. There isn’t as much hope for a better future, not unless things change. Where Nada is different than your average Republican white male, is that by the film’s midpoint, he has become lost in his beliefs. Everything he believes in as an American is crumbling around him. The people in charge are not the leaders he thought they were, but hideous aliens that look like they were scraped out of a barrel of toxic sludge. The police force which he trusted has turned against him, and he now sees the police state which his country has become. And while Nada never displays an opinion one way or another towards gay marriages, it is interesting that there is a shot when he first discovers the glasses which focuses on a likely gay couple which is successful, and, most importantly, some of the only people he sees initially that are NOT aliens. Carpenter is smart to make They Live a film which does not demonize either party, as it applies to government in general, but if compared to today’s America, it genuinely feels as if Nada is a member of the old Republican party which stood for one thing, and has now transformed into this evil entity which aims to control us all, and Nada does not know how to come to terms with it.
And who can blame him? It’s one thing to be disgusted with Bill Clinton saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” or Bush juniors costly Iraq war, but it’s another thing to see your leaders as monsters which are sending subliminal messages to keep you “asleep” and in a trance like state. Agree with it or not, that’s now how many voters see Trump. Obviously not to the extent that he is an actual, sinister alien (though one could argue the origin of that thing that sits on his head), but the numbers don’t lie. As of today, more than HALF of the country disapproves of Trump and the direction the country is going. But, as They do in They Live, politicians, Republican and Democrat, prefer to either distract or keep their audiences, the American people, at bay with lies and propaganda.
Upon re-watching the film, I was struck by how eerily similar the news is run in They Live compared to now. Historians will tell you, the path to dictatorships have always rested on the shoulders of convincing voters that opposing news is “fake”. Hitler was a master at this. One of the main goals of a dictatorship is to control the news, because once you control the news, you control the beliefs of the average voter. News is information, and when you control the information, you control everything. In They Live, the aliens have their hands so deep into the news, it’s filmed in a secret underground lair which they run, shot with their own “people” as newscasters. They run it all. It’s eerily similar to the way the Trump presidency has partnered with Fox news. It would be one thing for Fox news to simply take the side of Trump on varying issues, but it’s another to have Sean Hannity getting up on stage with President Trump and campaigning against Democrats. That shows us more clearly than ever that Trump and Fox have a partnership. What Trump wants, Fox will do, in exchange for, well, power, as we’ve already seen many from the Fox news team hired onto Trump’s staff. It has gotten to the point where it’s hard to argue that Fox news isn’t a mouthpiece for Trump, and, like in They Live, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fox news also had a fancy dish sending out brainwashing signals through all of America, (I wonder where can I get one of those).
In the world of They Live, the aliens have formed an alliance with not just the news, but with the “elites” in general. This is often a word you will hear Republicans use to describe Democrats now, specifically those leaders in California, or, as Republicans like to call it, “Hollywood”, (as if all Democrats live in Hollywood). In essence, every American in power has aligned with the aliens for, what else, more power. A bum (George Flower) shows up late in the film, now one of the “elites”, to tell Nada that there are “no countries anymore…no good guys”. It’s a frightening proclamation, but one that seems to have played a role in the way Americans think now. Republican or Democrat, both sides firmly believe that the other side is run by everything from foreign countries to secret cults. But the theme is the same: there is an “elite” or “evil” side which is threatening to destroy America. I’ve been alive thirty-plus years, and I’ve never seen anything in politics the way it is now.
Most frightening of all, is the way in which Americans have reacted to the divisive politics created by our leaders, which is profoundly portrayed in They Live. Look at the fight between Nada and Frank (Keith David). When trying to get Frank to “wake up” to the world which the aliens have created, Frank refuses. He is so determined to remain blind, that instead of just humoring Nada and trying on the sunglasses, he engages in a brutal, dirty fight with him. These guys slam each other into the wall, break noses, bruise ribs, go for the nuts repeatedly. It’s ugly, and it goes on to an extent where we as the audience have to go oh man, make it stop, they’re gonna kill each other! I know, I know, a lot of that brutality is because, as Carpenter has stated, he just wanted to create one of the longest film fights in history, but it’s pretty damn relatable to the way Americans fight with each other now. It isn’t about “right and wrong”, the Right and Left have gotten to the point where we simply refuse to listen to each other. Period. People don’t react well to fear. Trump and the Republicans have filled the Right with fears of immigrants, and the Left has been fed fears of Trump. I’m not debating whether any of this is valid, but simply pointing out that it’s exactly what those in power want. The more Americans block out the noise and shut their ears, the more likely it becomes that things will get a lot worse before they get any better. Frank at one point says, “maybe they love seeing us fight”, and he’s right. Fighting Americans are unfocused Americans. It’s like sedation, because you’re not focused on the ones causing the fighting, “They”.
On the surface, They Live is a fun, cheesy action flick that made audiences everywhere run out of bubblegum and just want to kick some ass. At its core though, the film is a chilling reminder of how important it is to “stay woke”, lest we all become mindless drones letting our government control the way we think. Remember, the main theme of the film is that the aliens survival depends on keeping us sedated. It’s the same in politics. Not voting means remaining complacent. Not voting means sedation. Not voting means letting divisive leaders take over and rip a country apart. They Live teaches us an important lesson with a simple message: “we are the cause”. Without action, human beings are responsible for the alien creatures which take over, because they did nothing. So do something. Pay attention to politics, don’t let others decide your future for you.
They Live may end with Nada resorting to violence and sacrificing himself in order to shatter the mirage which the aliens have created, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Nada’s death signifies the extinction of the once blind American. This ending and everything else I’ve discussed is just a warning to how close Americans have become to being the sedated sheep populating They Live, and why it’s important that Americans not remain so content with not voting as we have before. But eyes have finally begun to open. They Live reminds us that it’s up to all of us to stay awake and help others snap out of it as well. Normally I don't write political pieces, but thought it was best today to encourage you all to engage in your rights as human beings. Republican or Democrat, go out and vote. Its what Nada would’ve wanted, and what “They” wouldn’t want.
By Matt Konopka