Add this Page to Facebook!   Submit to Twitter   Submit to Reddit   Submit to Stumble Upon   Pin It!   Fark It!   Tell A Friend  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite Save As Favorite View Article Stats
1 comment

OpEdNews Op Eds

John Carpenter's Prophetic Visions of the American Police State

By (about the author)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 2 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

Must Read 2   Well Said 2   Interesting 1  
View Ratings | Rate It

Headlined to H4 10/28/13
Become a Fan
  (13 fans)

opednews.com

"I'm disgusted by what we've become in America. I truly believe there is brain death in this country. Everything we see is designed to sell us something. The only thing they want to do is take our money."--John Carpenter

John Carpenter's films, known primarily for their horror themes, inevitably feature pulse-pounding soundtracks, slow-moving camera work and hair-raising jolts to the nervous system as evil pops into the foreground with unexpected intensity. However, while Carpenter's films are also infused with a strong anti-authoritarian, laconic bent, those seeking a good scare tend to overlook the deeper, overarching themes that speak to the filmmaker's concerns about the unraveling of our society, particularly our government.

Carpenter, as author John Muir writes in his insightful book  The Films of John Carpenter , sees the government working against its own citizens. This theme features prominently in the films I explore in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State , which examines how writers and filmmakers have used science fiction to forecast the future, hold up a mirror to the present, and most important of all, engage their audiences in a critical dialogue about what happens when power, technology and militaristic governance converge. Yet even among a pantheon of dystopian films such as Minority Report , Nineteen Eighty-Four , The Matrix , and V for Vendetta , Carpenter's work stands out for its clarity of vision.

Carpenter is a skeptic and critic. But "a close view of Carpenter's work reveals a romantic streak beneath the skepticism," writes Muir, "a belief down deep--far below the anti-establishment hatred--that a single committed and idealistic person can make a difference, even if society does not recognize that person as valuable or good."

In fact, Carpenter's central characters are always out of step with their times. Underneath their machismo, they still believe in the ideals of liberty and equal opportunity. Their beliefs place them in constant opposition with the law and the establishment, but they are nonetheless freedom fighters. When, for example, John Nada destroys the alien hyno-transmitter in  They Live , he restores hope by delivering America a wake-up call for freedom.

This is the theme that runs throughout Carpenter's films--the belief in American ideals and in people. "He believes that man can do better," writes Muir, "and his heroes consistently prove that worthy goals (such as saving the Earth from malevolent shape-shifters) can be accomplished, but only through individuality."

Thus, John Carpenter is more than a filmmaker. He is a cultural analyst. The following are my favorite Carpenter films.

Assault on Precinct 13  (1976): This is a remake of Howard Hawks' 1959 classic western Rio Bravo--much beloved by Carpenter. A street gang and assorted criminals surround and assault a police station. Paranoia abounds as the police are attacked from all sides and can see no way out. Indeed, Carpenter repeatedly has his characters comment, in disbelief, that "This can't happen, not today!" or "We're in the middle of a city " in a police station " someone will drive by eventually!" Or will they?

Halloween  (1978): This low-budget horror masterpiece launched Carpenter's career. Acclaimed as the most successful independent motion picture of all time, the story centers on a deranged youth who returns to his hometown to conduct a murderous rampage after fifteen years in an asylum. This film, which assumes that there is a form of evil so dark that it can't be killed, deconstructs our technological existence while reminding us that in the end, we all may have to experience Orwell's stamping boot on our faces forever.

The Fog  (1980): This is a disturbing ghost story made in the mode of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). Here the menace besieging a small town is not a pack of winged pests but rather a deadly fog bank that cloaks vengeful, faceless, evil spirits from which there may be no escape.


theatrical poster from movie Escape From New York by wikipedia

Escape from New York  (1981): This is the ultimate urban nightmare. A ruined Manhattan of the future is an anarchic prison for America's worst criminals. When the U.S. president is captured as a hostage, the government sends a disgraced, rebellious war hero into Manhattan in what seems to be an impossible rescue mission. In fact, this film sees fascism as the future of America.

The Thing  (1982): Considered by many as one of Carpenter's best films, this is a remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic of the same name. A team of scientists in a remote Antarctic outpost discover a buried spaceship with a ravenous, mutating alien that eventually creates a claustrophobic, paranoid environment within their compound. The social commentary is obvious as the horrible creature literally erupts and bursts out of human flesh. This film presupposes that increasingly we are all becoming dehumanized. Thus, in the end, we are all potential aliens.

Christine  (1983): This film adaptation of Stephen King's novel finds a young man with a classic automobile that is demonically possessed. The car, representing technology with a will and consciousness of its own, goes on a murderous rampage. Do we now face the same possibility with the emergence of artificial intelligence?

Starman  (1984): An alien from an advanced civilization takes on the guise of a young widow's recently deceased husband. The couple then takes off on a long drive to rendezvous with the alien spacecraft so he can return home. Surprisingly, as John Muir recognizes, this film is a Christ allegory with the alien visitor possessing extraordinary powers to heal the sick, resurrect the dead, and perform miracles. The question posed is whether the only hope for humanity is a visitor from another world.

They Live  (1988): This film, which I explore in greater detail in A Government of Wolves, assumes the future has already arrived. John Nada is a homeless person who stumbles across a resistance movement and finds a pair of sunglasses that enables him to see the real world around him. What he discovers is a monochrome reality in a world controlled by ominous beings who bombard the citizens with subliminal messages such as "obey" and "conform." Carpenter makes an effective political point about the underclass (everyone except those in power, that is): we, the prisoners of our devices, are too busy sucking up the entertainment trivia beamed into our brains and attacking each other to start an effective resistance movement.

Next Page  1  |  2

 

John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)
 
Add this Page to Facebook!   Submit to Twitter   Submit to Reddit   Submit to Stumble Upon   Pin It!   Fark It!   Tell A Friend
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles
Related Topic(s): ; ; , Add Tags

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Operation Vigilant Eagle: Is This Really How We Honor Our Nation's Veterans?

Common Core: A Lesson Plan for Raising Up Compliant, Non-Thinking Citizens

Licensed to Kill: The Growing Phenomenon of Police Shooting Unarmed Citizens

The Second Amendment: A Symbol of Freedom or An Invitation to Violence?

Miley Cyrus and the Pornification of America

The Land of the Blind: The Illusion of Freedom in America

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
1 people are discussing this page, with 1 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

Very well said, as usual.Unfortunately, people don... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013 at 12:59:49 PM