They Live (1988)

They Live, John Carpenter. Sci-fi horror schlockmeister Carpenter’s cult sensation is a total failure as coherent narrative yet lives on as a classic B-movie. How to parse this? Start with media impact: a ludicrous six-minute fight sequence was parodied perfectly (and nearly shot for shot) in the South Park episode “Cripple Fight.” The hero’s tagline, “I’m here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I’m all out of bubble gum,” later became the catch phrase of the videogame Duke Nuke’em. The omnipresent OBEY logo would merge with an image of Andre the Giant to proliferate around the world. The wrestling connection is no accident: the hero of TL is played by wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The message of non-conformity and rejection of the corporate/media/political system still chimes with a certain militia/conspiracy theorist vibe…yet…the theory that rampant consumerism is morally wrong is enacted by a plaid-shirt wearing, mullet-headed, Aryan-faced pro wrestler who in one sequence blows away a mixed race crowd in downtown LA. That’s not very rainbow coalition. Toss in the oddness that corporate consumerism is controlled by skull-faced aliens who are only visible with magic Ray-Bans and I don’t know if I’m swinging left or right anymore. Do I like this? Watch it for the visuals if nothing else. Keep in mind the movie made some people rich. The consumerist aliens are US. WE LIVE!

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