The election of Donald Trump to the presidency has lead to a cottage industry of think pieces evaluating science fiction and horror films anew for “the Trump era.” It’s the gift that keeps on giving, as the ideological lines and power structures people have been noting and satirizing for decades proceeded apace to create the monster that is a Trump presidency, so there is a seemingly bottomless pit of these pop culture artifacts to reevaluate. There’s something comforting about thinking the clues to our current clusterfuck all laid dormant in our pop culture for so long. If only we’d heeded the warnings of 1984, all of this could’ve been avoided!
Still, John Carpenter’s They Live is a uniquely resonant political statement today, as blunt and powerful as an atomic drop from star Rowdy Roddy Piper. A new video essay combines clips from the movies, archival interviews with Carpenter, analysis from philosopher Slavoj Žižek, and clips of news broadcasts from the intervening years to show how the economic forces that inspired the movie have only gathered strength, reinforcing the film’s power.
It’s hard not to look at the gathering of champagne-clinking global elites in the movie as today’s TED Talk-attending “thinkfluencers” and Bilderberg Group decision makers. The cartoonishness of Carpenter’s vision lends it an evergreen relevance, as applicable to flat-earth truthers as it is to, well, anyone who doesn’t eagerly kowtow to the American economic system. The essay even sets up a framework to justify that massive, brutal fight scene in the middle of the film, aside from the fact that watching Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David kick the shit out of each other for 10 minutes is inherently awesome.