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In its simplest definition, ideology is the science of belief. In today’s world, this often takes the form of political or religious movements, with designated groups of people aligning themselves with the ideology that best suits their beliefs. The concept itself is ingrained in human existence as this need to conform to higher ideals is one that has driven progress as long as humanity has been the world’s leading species. Problems arise among the masses, the need for order is brought to the fore, and we get a new ideology. A tried-and-true pattern of civilization that has seen many iterations, only to ultimately achieve the same goal: order.

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What exactly did order look like in the late 20th century? The period of conspiracy, individualism and free thought of the late 1980s proved to be an era in which conventional ideology had more or less fallen by the wayside. In a post-“free love” world that valued authenticity almost too highly, this burgeoning moment in Western culture placed value on the individual several levels above the well-being of the whole body. Where would institutions then play a role in ensuring that the people they believe are so badly needed have some sort of control? Well, in the eyes of John Zimmerman (behind sunglasses cloaked in skepticism) that obligation falls into the hands of the representative of “comfort” in the modern world: capitalism.


John Carpenter sees the world differently in They Live

John Carpenters you live First released in theaters in 1988, to an audience perhaps too early to appreciate its relevance. The film follows George Nada (a last name that literally means “nothing,” played by wrestler Roddy Piper), a homeless drifter who has found his way to Los Angeles, where he befriends a group of hikers and acquires a pair of sunglasses, that helps him clear vision far more than just blocking excess UV rays. When Nada puts on the glasses, it quickly becomes clear to him that the free world he was promised is just a mirage of freedom, which turns out to be oppression as he gets closer.

Related: Could a They Live sequel actually work?

The glasses not only replace the color with a muted landscape, they also add a not-so-subliminal message to signs, billboards and other advertisements promoting consumption. Even those around him are transformed under these lenses into something morbid and unrecognizable, replaced by aliens with horrific humanoid features. It is revealed that these creatures have placed humanity in a trance-like state, unable to break free from the shackles unknowingly placed upon them by these alien visitors. That is, until the rules of an ’80s action movie are implemented.


For Carpenter and his protagonist, these glasses reveal ideology as a facade to the true nature of social structures. We spend the first 20 minutes of you live in quasi-ignorant bliss overshadowed by an inexplicable tension before Nada dons the glasses, laying the groundwork for a film that ultimately rests on dissatisfaction and that “off” feeling that it drives throughout. When she finally dons the fateful glasses, Nada’s tension is explained, but getting into the minds of others proves difficult.

Naturally, as the film progresses and those in charge begin to realize that one of their subordinates is now aware of the grand plan, Nada becomes more desperate that his burden of realization be shared, but encounters increasing dislike. This is the main problem of ideology you live attacks: blind loyalty.


They live the guide to ideology

In many cases, the ideology is taken so seriously by the participants that speaking out against the supposed natural order can lead to immense persecution. In the American example, this can still ring true despite the alleged promotion of freedom of expression. In the case of Nada, his belief system is compromised by newfound knowledge that those around him don’t even want to acknowledge or listen to. In a way, that allegory flowed into real life, not only through commentary, but also through the reception this film had upon its release.

Many critics spoke of the film in a negative light, saying that its cultural criticism was muddled in poor acting and lackluster writing. Much like Piper’s Nada, director John Carpenter was dismissed as nonsensical in his own terms. Carpenter’s allegorical horror film, reminiscent of the blind commitment to ideology and lack of recognition of its criticism and analysis until the end of time, only found its true affirmation in the zeitgeist many years later, either as a cult classic of the ’80s or as a philosophical and political masterpiece ( something that the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek explored in his film The Pervert’s Ideology Guide).


Of course, this delayed reception fits you live; Being ostracized for differences of opinion, Carpenter welcomes the second blow to ideology, at least in the modern western sense: individualism in capitalism.

They Live shoots down the illusions of capitalism and Reaganomics

As noted, the release of this film coincided with the height of individualistic thinking in 20th-century America. The hippie movement was a counterculture that extolled genuine personal expression at the expense of community, and the post-hippie ’80s exacerbated that with a dangerously uncontrolled capitalism and the kind of “Greed is Good” motto of Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Streetrendering all positive ideals of community and selfless utilitarianism meaningless.

on top of that, you live was published in 1988, just before the end of a Reagan administration that had a stranglehold on Greater America. This would devolve to his vice president, who would continue a White House campaign that placed great importance on the value of money and granted freedoms to corporations hitherto unseen. In Carpenter’s eyes, these companies are using ideologies to infiltrate their consumers’ brains under the guise of individual expression, which is reflected in our initial exposure to this fractured reality.

Related: Best John Carpenter Movies, RankedWhen Nada first puts on the glasses in busy Los Angeles, his surroundings transform into a subdued and oppressive version of her former self. The people appear almost demonic as he now sees the hosts occupying mankind; Ads switch from light-hearted encouragement to calls for submission. A beautiful illusion painted to distract the masses from the misdeeds of those more powerful who are milking the earth of all its resources in the name of profit and personal gain.

The Violent Cycle of Ideology in They Live

Carpenter’s cheesy sci-fi thriller manages to say a lot in its short 94 minutes. While not the most eloquent demonstration, it perfectly encapsulates contempt for changes that ideological beliefs do not accept. Even in the dark side of the resistance, progress is rarely made due to a lack of patience, and the majority resort to even more ostracism.

Thus the cycle of ideological dominance of the individual continues, while ultimately leading to the decline of the community. As uncomfortable as the deconstruction of ideology is, Carpenter sees it as a necessity to achieve true sanctity among the masses. As long as there are ideologies, there will always be those who take advantage of their believers.

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