They Live: A Metaphor for Modern Reality

“They Live,” a 1988 science fiction film directed by John Carpenter, is more than just a cult classic; it’s a prescient allegory warning us about the realities of modern-day life. The film, which combines elements of science fiction, horror, and black comedy, follows the journey of its protagonist, Nada, who discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveal the world as it truly is: controlled by a race of aliens manipulating human society for their own benefit.

At its core, “They Live” is a critique of unchecked capitalism and the mass media’s role in perpetuating consumer culture. The aliens in the film represent a ruling elite who use mass media to subdue the population, keeping them distracted, compliant, and unaware of their subjugation. This metaphor is strikingly relevant today, as we navigate a world dominated by digital media, where misinformation and consumerism are rampant.

The film’s most iconic element, the sunglasses that reveal hidden messages like “OBEY”, “CONSUME” and “CONFORM” symbolise the need for critical thinking and awareness. In our modern context, this translates to understanding how media can be used to manipulate public opinion and perpetuate a consumerist culture. Social media, for instance, has become a tool for influencing thought and behavior, often driven by algorithms designed to maximise engagement rather than inform.
The Illusion of Choice

“They Live” also addresses the illusion of choice in a capitalist society. While the film shows literal aliens controlling human choices, the parallel today is seen in how a small number of corporations dominate major industries, from media to food, limiting real choice and controlling public perception.

Another theme in “They Live” is surveillance, a concern that has only grown with modern technology. The film’s aliens monitor humans constantly, a chilling parallel to today’s concerns about privacy, data mining, and the surveillance capabilities of governments and corporations.

The film’s protagonist, Nada, is a drifter and construction worker, representing the marginalised and economically disadvantaged. “They Live” highlights the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, a problem that has intensified in recent years. The film criticises the systemic barriers that keep people like Nada in poverty while a hidden elite (or in today’s world, the ultra-wealthy) manipulate society for their own gain.

The heart of “They Live” is in its message of resistance and awakening. Nada’s discovery of the glasses and his subsequent actions symbolise the awakening to societal truths and the need for action. This theme resonates today as we see various movements and activists striving to expose and challenge systemic injustices and manipulations.

“They Live” was ahead of its time in its critique of capitalism, media manipulation, and societal control. Its relevance has only grown over the years, serving as a cautionary tale about the dangers of complacency in the face of manipulative forces in society. The film encourages viewers to question their reality, seek truth, and resist manipulation – messages that are perhaps more vital now than they were over three decades ago.

In essence, “They Live” is not just a film; it’s a wake-up call, urging us to look beneath the surface of our modern world and challenge the status quo. Its enduring legacy is a testament to its powerful message and its continued relevance in today’s increasingly complex and controlled social landscape.