Saturday, June 8, 2013

Kill the "47 Percent": The New Movie "The Purge" is a Republican Party Fantasy Come True

Members of which political party have recently made the following suggestions?

The poor in America have it too easy because they have refrigerators and televisions. Poor black and brown children should be given mops and brooms and put in veritable work houses like Dickensian street urchins. Food stamps should be cut because the Bible tells us that, “for even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” 

America is a country of “takers” and “makers” where “productive” citizens, the “53 percent”, are being exploited by the "47 percent" of the public who are social and economic parasites.

Electric fences should be used to kill “illegal” immigrants.

Discussions of wealth and income inequality are “un-American” because they encourage “class warfare” against the rich.

Liberals, the poor, people of color, “illegal” immigrants, and any arbitrarily decided “Other” are not “real” Americans. As such they should be marginalized in—if not wholly eliminated from—American society.

They cheer death at their national meetings.

If you guessed that prominent members of the Republican Party have said (and done) such things then you would be correct.

The new movie The Purge takes this Right-wing fantasy one step further and depicts an America where for one night each year it is legal to kill anyone with impunity.

In all, The Purge is both a nightmare and a dream pulled straight out of the political imagination of the Tea Party GOP and the Right-wing political entertainment complex. 

They did not create the evil genius mix of neoliberal/hyper-conservatism mated with Austerity, and a philosophy that privileges profit over people. It was created in think tanks and universities over the course of several decades. However, the Tea Party GOP has made such policies central to its name brand and public policy positions.

The Purge is far from a perfect movie; nevertheless, it is a crystal clear depiction of the politics of cruelty and Austerity that are the beating heart of Ayn Rand conservatism in the Age of Obama.

As depicted in The Purge, a night of cathartic violence has invigorated and reinvented a failing country. This evening has also somehow magically solved the budget deficit and raised America’s levels of self-esteem and patriotism--the country is even led by a single party called "The New Founders of America." Ultimately, and through processes mentioned but not fully explained in the movie, The Purge has created a very Ronald Reagan-like “new day in America.”

In this world, the poor and others who cannot afford private security, to live in gated communities, and arm themselves with all variety of weapons are “liquidated” wholesale on that night. The social contract that ought to promise safety and security between citizens and the State is broken with the agreement of the mass public. Consequently, the financial pressures on the social safety net are lessened precisely because “unproductive” citizens can be culled from the herd

The rich are safe—free or not at their own whim—to decide if they will participate in the country’s national bloodletting.

The plot of The Purge revolves around Ethan Hawke's character named James Sandin, a salesman who leverages the anxiety and fear of his neighbors for his own personal profit and gain. Predictably, his son, played by Max Burkholder, in a moment of mercy and sensitivity for a stranger in peril, disarms the home security system during that year’s night of wanton violence. This act of charity allows a nameless and homeless black man who is fleeing for his life from a white lynch mob to enter their residence.

While The Purge is a high concept movie that in its later acts devolves into typical action fare, there are powerful moments where its writers took real chances, daring to explore provocative and potent questions of race, class, justice, and community.

For example, the homeless man seeking refuge in Sandin’s home could have easily been played by a white actor. By choosing to make him a Black American, The Purge brings to the forefront how questions of race and belonging intersect with fundamental matters of safety and security for people of color in the United States.

The black and brown poor would likely be killed in overwhelming numbers during the movie’s grizzly macabre evening celebration of national reunion and belonging. Our First Nations brothers and sisters would also be easy targets. The white poor in rural America would be killed too.

To their credit, the creators of The Purge did not shy away from how certain people are marked as being marginal and disposable. This fact is true both in the movie’s imagined reality and our own present.

From the spectacular lynchings of Jim and Jane Crow America to the Trayvon Martin case, the black body (while an object of fascination, desire, and simultaneous fear and loathing) is viewed as something foreign, an invader in the White community, assumed to be a risk as well as a threat until proven otherwise--and to the satisfaction of the White Gaze.

Here, the process of “niggerization” works through the creation of a type of contingent citizenship where rights are not protected or absolute for certain types of people. Thus, human rights can be violated at anytime by those identified with White authority and White power.

For more than one hundred years, white lynch mobs burned their black victims alive by the thousands, cut them up into pieces, made their victims eat their own genitals, shot black people dozens or even hundreds of times, posed with and photographed the bodies, and then sent those images around the country as postcards because such acts of racial terrorism helped to cement the bonds of Whiteness across lines of class in the United States.

As has often been seen with genocidal violence, historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen notes how if the primary goal is just to kill a person with maximum efficiency, then no ceremony is necessary to accomplish said goal. By contrast, "overkill" and the spectacle are important—as we see in The Purge—because the ritual has spiritual elements that feed the collective soul of the attackers. Ultimately, the body of the Other represents a pollutant that must be expelled from the body politic.

In The Purge, Sandin's family is offered a bargain: will they surrender a black body to the white lynch mob where the former will be killed for sport, and as a cathartic sacrifice that heals and brings peace to the (White) American political psyche?  Does Sandin's family’s safety matter more than protecting an innocent black man?

As we think through those questions, one cannot forget how The Purge is a product of the sensibilities of post racial America and the Age of Obama.

Consequently, while American history suggests that Ethan Hawke's character would readily sacrifice a black homeless man in order to protect his family, in The Purge the main character chooses to take up arms and fight off a lynch mob in defense of a black man. The White Racial Frame, and the companion lie that is “color blind” post civil rights America, imagines itself as benign: in this fantasy, “good white folks”,  more often than not, do the right thing when faced with racism and other types of discrimination.

As the movie concludes, The Purge offers up two transparent moments that exemplify its dualism as a stinging critique of Right-wing ideology while also channeling some of the Tea Party GOP’s anxieties and fears in post racial America.

First, the leader of the white lynch mob is a hybrid preppy, yuppie, country club, preacher, Christian Nationalist evangelical who would find his natural home as president of the College Republicans.

His rhetoric, rage, and channeling of American exceptionalism as reimagined through The Purge is a mix of Right-wing talk points and religious zealotry.

Second, the Sandins' neighbors betray them in the final act of the movie. They are jealous of his financial success: murdering the Sandin family is their act of cathartic violence during the annual Purge event

Class envy has resulted in violence and chaos. In The Purge (and in contemporary Right-wing American politics more generally) the rich and other elites are "victims" who are to be pitied and empathized with.

While this is of course absurd, it resonates for those addicted to the mix of White identity politics, racial resentment, and identification with the banksters and plutocrats, who form the base of the Tea Party GOP. And of course, guns save us all in The Purge. They empower women, fight off attackers, and help a family return to a normal state of safety and security.

One does not need to have read authors such as Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler, Stuart Hall, or Naomi Klein to understand and “read” the politics of The Purge. The movie rewards deep viewing and looking beyond the foreground to the subtext, symbolism, story-telling choices made by its creators, as well as the radio and TV broadcasts in the background, that add richness and context to the film's setting.

Movies such as Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, The East, and Now You See Me, demonstrate how the public and the elite classes’ anxieties about the Great Recession and the future of the United States’ economy are being negotiated and resolved on screen. The Purge captures “the spirit of the age” quite well.

It is a work that reflects the neoliberal national security state, a politics of meanness and cruelty where budgets are balanced on the backs of the poor, and the ways in which certain segments of the American people are marked as disposable human refuse.

Films talk to us, each other, and as such, reflect a society’s worries, fears, and insecurities. The Purge, while not a perfect film, is wonderfully ambitious in its efforts at being socially relevant and politically provocative. 

On those merits, The Purge is a scathing indictment of contemporary American politics, the mass media, and Right-wing politics in the Age of Obama.


CNu said...

one of the nastiest flies in this increasingly pathetic ointment of yours chauncey, is your uncritical conflation of dysgenic fertility with "common good".

Wavenstein said...

Self hatred is indeed one hell of a drug Chauncey. There were clowns in my theater that were effectively rooting for the lynch mob by whispering "get his ass out the house" and then groaning when the family decided to fight off the lynch mob. I wanted to throw food at them, but they ain't worth it.

chauncey devega said...

The movie was very uneven. But, there were moments where what it was suggesting was so transgressive and provocative in a way that was shocked. The writers clearly knew what was up. I would love to see a director's cut.

Joyce M said...

Hitler started his liquidation with the disabled and families on welfare. One lady stated that when she was a child, her family was on welfare. As her family was being pushed into the ovens, she began to sing her alphabets. The guards pulled her from the crowd and saved her because she seemed to be intelligent. I knew someone who lived in Hitler's Germany and she told me that the authorities would even come around to people's homes to make sure they were listening to the Nazi radio broadcasts. Also, neighbor was informing on neighbor. The Nazi regime publicly executed her brother's fiance while her brother was serving in the Third Reich's military. A black soldier who served during WWII stated that as they arrived to liberate the death camps, they were warned by the Jewish people to work for political power or they could find themselves in the same situation. The Jewish people had financial wealth, but without political power , they were powerless at the hands of the state. This had been a problem in Germany for centuries. Most genocides were used to rob the Jewish people of their wealth and to wipe clean debts owed to them.

On the homeless black guy thing. Most of the people I see homeless are white. I see them all the time. They are constantly on the streets begging. I admit I have given them food, refreshments and money because some of them look to be ravaged by drug abuse. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but in this area, black people who are more fortunate will help their less fortunate friends and relatives or the poor will share and take turns helping each other.

OaktownGirl said...

Thanks for the review. I wonder if this movie will actually reach anyone and make them think in (positive) ways they hadn't before, or if it will only appeal to the basest of viewers and reinforce their already established cruel core beliefs about humanity?

Speaking of movie reviews, Dennis Hartley over at Digby's place has what looks like a very interesting one you might like called "The Prey" (French, from 2011 if you IMDB it). Safe to read (no spoilers):

Continue reading past that review and you'll read this:

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (my review) is now on Pay-Per-View, as is "A Band Called Death", a rockumentary about an African-American proto-punk band from Detroit
who released one album in 1975, sunk into obscurity and then was "rediscovered" and acclaimed 30 years on.

chauncey devega said...

i want to see The Prey. I think it will reinforce base impulses because the masses have long been socialized into being asses. I doubt that more than a few people in the theater will grasp what is unfolding before their eyes. I include people of color--black folks especially--among that group.

chauncey devega said...

Any cites on Black Germans in Nazi Germany to share?

Joyce M said...

I saw a documentary where the blacks said that they were safer in Hitler's Germany than they were in the America, because they were not seen as a threat and went about their business unmolested. Also, on one of the military channels, it was said that General Eisenhower used non-infantry blacks and a few whites to lure the last of the major portions of Germany's army into a trap to finish them off. I saw video of the German soldiers treating the black American soldiers as pets. They were taking photos with them, giving them treats, laughing, joking, etc. Then General Eisenhower sprung the trap. Josephine Baker aided the French resistance and again, the Nazis felt they had to reason to suspect her. Before the war, Dr. Percy Julian was unable to finish his doctorate at Harvard and had to go to Vienna, Austria to finish his PhD in 1931. Dr. Julian was later forced to resign from his position at Howard University because of letters he had sent from Vienna, detailing his affairs with white Austrian women. My father was stationed in Germany in the 50's. He never complained about it.

Anonymous said...

Having read this I thought it was very enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and
energy to put this short article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and posting comments.
But so what, it was still worth it!

My site: bob hairstyles ()

Domino59 said...

If past is prologue, the producers of this film will suffer from "Norman Lear Syndrom". That is to say their attempt to expose the cruel underbelly of the America will be seen as an endorsement of the very cruelty they (perhaps?) seek to expose and render harmless. Too many will view this film as a training manual rather than as a prolific warning.

I say this based on my experience as an African American Baby Boomer coming of age and entering the work force in America when Lear's "All in the Family", "Good Times" and "The Jefferson's" were leading the ratings on television. The stereotypes Lear sought to expose and render harmless were all to often viewed by my white coworkers, who either by willful ignorance or cruel intent, overlooked Lear's (subtle?) message and bought into "Archie Bunkerism" to reinforce the very stereotypes that Lear clearly disdained.

I hold out exacty "zero" hope that the underlying message of "The Purge" will serve as anything more than a training movie for white supremists.

Furthermore, fully armed with the knowledge that "Hollywood" is run by white supremist wolves dressed in liberal sheep costumes only reinforces my position that conservative hate-speech can be disguised as liberal free speech when profit, not art, is the untimate motivation.

And, who exatly are the "zombies and vampires" that have become so popular in movies today? What exactly is the message being sent by having empathy for white "millineal yuppie" vampires and a complete lack of empathy for the oft portrayed "average joe" zombie hoards?

If the ultimate message from "Hollywood" hasn't changed since "Birth of a Nation" then how can we honor "The Hunger Games" as anything more than a future vision firmly rooted in the same overarching theme? This is underscored by the 'sacrifice" of Rue as a character following the long tradition of minority characters killed off for the "greater good" of the noble white central character.
In the end, did the "The Hunger Game" central character lead a revolt seeking social justice for all or was her goal just to survive and prosper from her new found fame within the all powerful plutocracy? In that sense, what exactly was noble about Rue's death? Would Rue have been better served by goin' all "Nat Turner"? Uhhhhhh? YES...!!!

Jus Sayin

rosiecat said...

I agree with you about Rue and the significance of her role in the book as a PoC, and thank you for stating that, but in the next two books of the trilogy the Katniss character does indeed become a figurehead of and active participant in the overthrow of the plutocratic-totalitarian government (and also of the corrupt upper echelon of the resistance).

Sorry to derail!

Buddy H said...

I agree about the "Norman Lear" syndrome. My "mixed race" sons (half black) talked me into taking them and their friends to a Kevin Smith movie a few years ago. One of his characters launches a filthy racist tirade. I'm sure Smith thought he was making fun of the racist character, but the racists in the audience were yukking it up at the dirty humor. The "liberal" point was lost on them. Uncomfortable silence from my sons and their friends.

pjwhite said...

The Hunger Games would have been a much better and braver movie had Katniss been black. But do you remember the racist outcry when a black girl was cast as Rue? (even though Rue was black in the book, racist readers had clearly blocked this out). It would have been more honest had Katniss been black, because the movie is about class warfare, and black people have been at the forefront of defending the rights of the poor in this country, while poor whites have been busily sawing at their own throats. Katniss did go all "Nat Turner" which may be why she had to be "safely" written as a white girl.

Joyce M said...

In my city, there is now a free gun give-away program. I noticed the first neighborhood to receive free guns is a mostly white neighborhood close to downtown. Just when the murder rate was starting to be below 300 per year... .... We have the most insane castle laws here. You can shoot someone that you think is doing a B&E at a neighbors house or you can kill someone trying to steal your hubcaps. Meanwhile, blacks are encouraged to disarm.

CNu said...

Jiggaboo jones (aka chauncey devega) would have genuinely respectable negroes disarm quick, fast, and in a hurry. (Because dysgenic breeders are still killing each other at a record clip)

OaktownGirl said...

Tonight "Crooks and Liars" has a post (including a YouTube) with more info about the Detroit Punk band I mentioned above:

Anonymous said...

biz member, Ed Bankos' personal invitation, I invite you to check out the site. This article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entirety in any ezine, newsletter, blog or website. There are many different reasons that could lead to the development of these tags on the skin.

Review my homepage remedy for skin tags

rosiecat said...

Yes, I do remember that, and actually, it absolutely bears mentioning that in the book Katniss is described as having olive skin with a similarly toned father and white mother and sister. Just as the book elides any significance of Katniss's status as a PoC and the racial dynamics/oppression in the society overall, Katniss is whitewashed in the movie's casting (even as charismatic and compelling as J. Lawrence might be). Lots can and should be said; here's one piece I saved. In the face of what uproar Rue's race precipitated, the evergreen colorblindness of the novel is inevitably ignored in demotic commentary. Thank you both for expressing that.

"....Black people have been at the forefront of defending the rights of the poor in this country, while poor whites have been busily sawing at their own throats."
Right. Like how marginalized people are portrayed as "anti-citizens," as Prof. DeVega has discussed, even though they've/you've had to recently fight for rights and continue to do so and in so embody the ideals supposed to serve as the bedrock of our nation.

"Katniss did go all "Nat Turner" which may be why she had to be "safely" written as a white girl."
As a white person I don't think I'm able to fathom the real-life experiences and antecedents that have led to this insight, which is to say I think it's profound and resoundingly true....

Your comments reminds me--Carlos Acosta performed as a guest principle with the Bolshoi Ballet in their Spartacus a few years ago. Either the liner notes of the DVD or a review mentioned in passing the significance of Mr. Acosta as a brown person playing the leader of a slave revolt--he may be the only non-white person to star in the ballet ever--which indubitably raised the hackles of at least commenter (despite however admittedly oppressed slavic people may have been). (As an aside, ballets with the exception of maybe a few modern ones are more or less very problematic in numerous aspects, and so far save for maybe one thread or two on forums I have not been able to find any interrogation or analysis of blatant repellent racism, colonialism, white privilege, etc. in ballet....)

[I'm extremely, pathologically avoidant, and, for instance, despite what time I spend reading blogs I only comment 2x or 3x a year. For some reason I'm excited rather than anxious to post here! Thanks!]

Ben Grim said...


Anonymous said...

This design is steller! You definitely know how to keep a
reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to
start my own blog (well, almost...HaHa!) Great job.
I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.

Too cool!

My weblog ... sex

Lee Viola said...

Anonymous said...

Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess
I'll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog.
I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I'm still new to everything. Do you have any recommendations for beginner blog writers? I'd definitely appreciate it.

Feel free to visit my site :: strona www

Mac McComas said...

Reminds me of an op-ed article I read in The Atlantic today(, where the author seems to suggest that if gangs were simply stomped out then there would be no crime or poverty. Like these problems to not regenerate when opportunity is scarce. He referred to the liberal viewpoint on this idea as "overly sentimentalized". I guess we should stop caring about people and start crushing them under the heel of our jackboots the second they take a wrong step.

anonymous said...

There is a book written by a bi-racial man who grew up in Germany during that time. Unfortunately, don't remember the title.

Anonymous said...

Regarding All-Clad Birdwatcher , all the burning occur often is s / s, like every with the many other
All-Clad furrows. Keep in mind that making
a meal, be sure to able to in just a few occasions.
The extreme sunrrrs heat enables people to enable their precious
lasagna brittle. About the other hand, piece of content will give you
typical process in choosing best option toaster oven for your own home.
Have to favor an plan then you may will be curious about the electricity status.
You can easily often times perform the sauteing whilst pot can be preheating.
Prepare in a really extremely stove for about 1 hour.

My web site hamilton beach countertop oven with convection and rotisserie

Josh said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that whites would not be the only ones committing crimes during a "purge". I know, shocking theory right?