For conservatives, every expansion of government power pushes the country closer to Big Brother’s surveillance state in “1984,” while for liberals even the slightest restriction on abortion means that the theocracy depicted in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is poised to take power. Truly, comparing America’s current political climate to some dystopian work of fiction has been a favorite among commentators.
But few pundits draw attention to John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic “They Live” — perhaps because the message of the film hits a little too close to home.
In the movie, a drifter finds a unique pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the real world. Disgusting, skeleton-looking aliens have disguised themselves as humans and taken control of the media, the financial system and politics. Without the sunglasses, billboards, magazines, books, TV shows and other media seem normal, but the glasses reveal that those flashy ads actually display messages like “OBEY,” “CONSUME” and “NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT” to keep the human population docile and unaware of of the aliens’ control.
Carpenter, an avowed leftist, intended for the movie to act as a critique of Reagan-era corporate greed and consumer culture. Though it’s an adequate commentary on the excesses of the ’80s, “They Live” is actually a more accurate prediction of the socio-cultural climate we’re seeing in the 2020s.