With the political discourse the way it is, we need works like The Purge: Election Year more than ever.
Who would’ve thought that a trashy horror threequel would be a vital and nuanced political voice in this godforsaken year?
Inarguably, regardless of what side of the political divide you fall down on, we can all agree that this has been an incredibly weird, exasperating, and near-toxic year for any semblance of political discourse. The American presidential race is currently between a flawed woman whose constant attempts to ingratiate herself with younger and minority voters have been more embarrassing than your drunk uncle at a wedding reception stealing the microphone to dedicate a caterwauling rendition of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” to no-one in particular, and the walking embodiment of Capitalism fused with White Male entitlement seasoned with a dash of Total Imbecility and topped off with barely-restrained Penis Envy.
A discourse where things like “nuance” and “policies” and “patience” have been replaced by one presidential candidate implicitly asking for his opponent to be assassinated and openly demanding a foreign power commit espionage on his own country. Anger fuels the conversation, drowns out any rationality, as right-wing parties, regardless of extremity, play to voters’ emotions rather than their sense. Framing racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and especially Islamophobia as acceptable social norms through the narrative of the (predominately) White male middle-class being abandoned by their government, trying to whip up false targets for the public to fear and hate in order for those doing the stoking to cling on to what power they do have.
This is not a solely American practice, either, as we saw throughout the absolute mess that was The Brexit Referendum – a campaign that was inarguably driven by false promises, outright lies, ridiculous publicity stunts, and rampant xenophobia and Othering of our fellow Man. Jo Cox, an MP who openly campaigned for Remain and dedicated herself to helping out Syrian refugees, was shot and killed amid this rhetoric, this implicit urging for those most fanatical to do something, to “take their country back” from some vague boogeymen. But rather than interrogate said culture and hold ourselves accountable, we dismissed her murder as the senseless act of one crazed individual, threw all of the blame onto mental illness, and went back to stoking those base fires.
So, like it or not, our political discourse in 2016 is one of Anger. Except that it’s an anger that seemingly only certain people are permitted to engage in. I don’t mean answering hate-speech with more hate-speech – this is why that Naked Donald Trump statue fails totally, Trump has plenty of ammo for mockery that one shouldn’t need to resort to body-shaming that moves the target of that satire to “fat people are gross.” I mean that there’s this seemingly unspoken rule that those on the Left, or in some kind of oppressed group, should refuse to meet anger with anger. Try responding to a misogynist’s hate-speech on Facebook over, say, female Ghostbusters as a woman with the same anger that misogynist blasts at you and, apparently, you’re the one who’s supposed to feel shame for getting angry, like you’re supposed to be better than that. Being dehumanised, shouted down, crowded out of the conversation? Better take it like Gandhi or else you’re being shrill, unreasonable, a hypocrite who is no better than those you supposedly rail against.
Consequently, the opposition to this kind of devolution of conversation has become spineless and ineffectual, seeming to equate any kind of legitimate offense or defence against this stuff as equivalent to those who claim that all Mexicans are rapists and that the current President is the founder of ISIS. It’s how you get a news media that is entirely focussed on a non-story about whether or not a politician lied about a train devoid of free seats, whilst turning a blind eye to a government literally in the process of repealing The Human Rights Act. What we need is to meet toxic anger with a different kind of anger – one that’s similarly energised but featuring actual nuance and free of hate-speech which subsequently battles against this apparent taboo that getting angry is somehow a failure on our part.
Enter The Purge: Election Year.
No, really. That utterly terrible home invasion horror film from three years back with a golden premise – an explicitly alt-right American government passes a constitutional amendment permitting all crime to be legal for one 12-hour night every year – that it proceeded to squander majorly as nothing more than an excessively complicated reason as to why nobody can call the cops? Yeah, that’s managed to undergo a metamorphosis into a searingly angry and surprisingly vital work of cinema. Election Year, even though its whole production wrapped well before this Election Year began getting truly and scarily surreal, is furious with the modern political discourse and social landscape and proceeds to spend an hour and fifty minutes railing against them via the medium of John Carpenter-esque B-movie mayhem.
The Purge is explicitly stated to be a means for The New Founding Fathers to rid America of the poor, the homeless, Latinos, Blacks, minorities of all kinds in order for them to be able to continue to deny those it targets power at every turn and consolidate their own. They spread propaganda far and wide about how great The Purge is, utilising phrases like “it’s your God-given Constitutional right as an American” in order to normalise such behaviour and foster a sense of duty and entitlement in its angry White male target audience. This constant rhetoric drowns out saner voices, appealing as it does to base emotions and consequently creating legitimate fanatics – one mask seller gleefully yells “It’s Halloween for adults!” when trying to drum up business two days The Purge commences. The NFFA utilise Purge Night to send around vans filled with commandoes to kidnap and sell victims for the richest in order to boost Purge numbers and make it look like more of a success than it is, and this time they repeal the rule protecting government officials specifically so they can off Presidential Candidate Charlie Roan, who is running (and currently winning) on a promise of ending The Purge once and for all by appealing to the minority vote.
This is about as subtle as you’re expecting it to be; the opening Present Day scene features an NFFA member calling Roan a “cunt” twice within about 45 seconds. But not only is that par for the course with a nasty-as-hell B-movie, it feels genuinely refreshing and invigorating for something so brazenly furious yet hate-free to come bursting out of nowhere in this year of all years. An antidote of equal potency but less hateful. More importantly, that anger comes from more than just the heart. This is a deceptively smart film which couples its cartoonishly-evil villains with actual political insight.
The hit squad after Roan is made up of heavily-armed Neo-Nazis, a group given the resources, carte-blanche, and motive to indulge their talk with action. Our secondary leads are an ex-Crip, a Mexican immigrant, and a Black woman who run or patronise a deli whose Purge Insurance Premiums skyrocket the night before, necessitating them being out on Purge Night defending their store from looters – specifically, a group of spoiled, affluent Black teenage girls who have internalised the rigged, racist system that targets them and subsequently turn on their own kind out of an explicit desire of entitlement.
Meanwhile, the resistance movement, which is almost solely made up of minorities, utilise Purge Night as an opportunity to thin the ranks of The New Founding Fathers, even planning on targeting Roan’s opponent in the election under the desperate end goal of speeding up the removal of The Purge by any means necessary. It’s a viewpoint that the film understands – this is a B-movie, after all, so what good would it be without some incredibly cathartic bloodshed – recognising the desperation that comes from the oppressed, but ultimately correctly shoots it down as misguided, recognising the pragmatic reason of minorities responding with violence (however justified) just giving those in power a reason to tar them all as threats or extremists, and the ideological reason of the fact that answering hate with hate just fails to solve anything. The film even manages to end on a note of hope, albeit one tinged with a dose of reality.
Watching Election Year was the definition of cathartic for me. Having had to spend an entire year bearing witness to the insanity of the election cycle, the slow legitimising and mainstreaming of xenophobia and near-fascism in Europe, and the endless refusal to interrogate our culture whenever a mass shooting occurs instead writing them off as isolated incidents, has been excruciating. What’s been worse than that is the total passivity that common sense and Progressivism has exhibited whilst this has been going on. In a time that’s been crying out for something like The Thick of It or Jon Stewart’s blistering take-no-prisoners Daily Show – with only the phenomenal Full Frontal with Samantha Bee filling that void – we’ve instead been regarding dangerous shifts in discourse with nothing but bemused distance or feeble protestations to our own echo chamber or, worst of all, memes.
To watch something that aims for the same fury that powered works like Stewart’s Daily Show, even if they’re not comparable in terms of quality, feels like a long overdue and vital release. A purging, if you will. We need more works like The Purge: Election Year, willing to stand up and be political with heartfelt anger and an active desire to try and counterbalance that toxic discourse and hate speech with nuance bellowed via the intensity of a thousand Brian Blessed-s with megaphones for voice boxes. Niceties and civility in this landscape are overrated. It’s time to meet anger with anger.
Callie Petch will smother the rest in greed.