Posts Tagged 'They Live'

They Live

The Christmas glut manifested itself in many ways. There was the understandable excess of food and drink – practically inevitable at that time of year – but also a surfeit of hard-sell advertising. The moon-based John Lewis advert (scroll down for Christopher Hooton’s critique) was the epitome of schmaltz, and with a sentimental Sci-Fi slant to boot. So it seems only fitting that we respond, in a slightly more barbed manner, with a deeper look at the Don Drapers of tomorrow’s world.

Adverts have always added credence to fantastical worlds – from the promotions for Soylent Green as a product, to the “I’d buy that for a dollar” ads of Robocop. But Sci-Fi writers have also used the sales medium to convey deeper meanings from ‘elsewhere’.

The roadside billboard/hoarding was famously used as a motif in J.G. Ballard’s The Subliminal Man, where adverts carry hidden messages to create consumer dissatisfaction with existing household products. The premise was then taken to an even more sinister level where advertisements were effectively obscuring the reality of a world already infiltrated by aliens in John Carpenter’s They Live (1988). Then, finally sanitised and made benevolent, although still a message from the ‘other’, in Mike Jackson’s satire L.A. Story (1991).

The final example, while twee in execution, dovetails nicely with a more Philip K Dickian approach to advertising. A Ubik level of deeper messaging, if you will, being conveyed through everyday objects – much like the crossword revelation scenes in M Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water (2006). There’s a tension here as well though, registered by both Ridley Scott in Blade Runner (1982) and Terry Gilliam in Zero Theorem (2013). The idea that this esoteric truth can sometimes be buried so deeply beneath the falsehoods of the overt advertising message that it belies comprehension. It’s a trope the author William Gibson has been engaged with on several occasions as well, from the Joseph Cornell styled boxes in Count Zero to Cayce Pollard’s brand allergy in Pattern Recognition. The hidden meaning is there to be interpolated but, in identifying the new data points, the characters are forced into new and uncomfortable comprehension. As philosopher Slavoj Žižek says in his analysis of They Live, freedom hurts.

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