Life and art: "The Purge"

Life and art: "The Purge"

I am not a huge fan of dystopian fiction / films. I used to be; but as I have grown older, those books and movies tend to stress me out and get me depressed.

But one film series which has always been on my radar is "The Purge". The backstory posits a neo-fascist, fundamentalist organization seizing power in the United States after a period of anarchy. As part of its program, it institutes something called The Purge, where for 12 hours on one night of the year, most crime is legal. The stated idea is that citizens will be able to purge their systems of violence by reveling in it for those twelve hours.

While the series has been on my radar, I've never watched it, until last night. Thanks to Wikipedia, I know the basic storylines of all three movies. But the one which always intrigued me the most was the third in the series, The Purge: Election Day. I found myself home early yesterday, it was on, and I decided to watch it.

Now, let me be upfront: It's not a cinematic masterpiece. There are plot holes through which I could drive a Mack truck. For example: there are still elections. The premise of the movie is that an anti-Purge senator is running for president on a promise to end The Purge. It seems very inefficient for the fascist group, the New Founding Fathers of America, to continue to allow open elections. And, furthermore, The Purge is not just some policy, but the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. So the anti-Purge senator wouldn't be able to abolish it by executive order. Like I said, plot holes and lapses of logic galore.

But what interests me about the movie is what happens at the end.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

The anti-Purge senator wins election. The news commentator indicates that her first action will be to end The Purge via executive action. (Again, she can't do that, but that's neither here nor there.) But, as the movie winds down, reports start coming in about NFFA supporters rioting over the election results.

Many people have ventured that Trump voters will likewise revolt should their messiah come to a bad end. We are already seeing spasms of violence against groups which Trump hates. We are seeing it in the campaigns of Trumpian candidates who unashamedly put forth an authoritarian appeal.

In that last bit of film, The Purge makes a point which justifies the entire series. There are huge swathes of this country which are open to an outright, fascist appeal. That's no longer fiction. We saw it in 2016. We see it this year. Authoritarianism and conformity have always been undercurrents in the American experiment. Targeting of the Other has been one as well. (In the series it's eventually made clear that the NFFA uses the Purge as a means of population control of "undesirables".) It's a very silly film series, but its analysis of how a country could vote to inflict this on itself is rather cogent.

Art illuminates reality, and sometimes prophesies it. From The Hunger Games to The Purge, art is positing that there is a grave threat to this Republic from those who don't share its values of openness and pluralism. It's up to us to head off its dire warnings.



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