Intl. Notebook Mar 14 2021
POLICE PRESENCE
There's never a RoboCop when you need one.


The city of Detroit recently rejected a statue of the main character from 1987's RoboCop, made by a local artist group and meant to be displayed at the city's Michigan Science Center. Seizing the opportunity, the mayor of Stevens Point, Wisconsin—which is where RoboCop star Peter Weller was born—has offered a place for the statue in the town of 26,000. Mayor Mike Wiza called the artists, as well as Peter Weller's family. in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to secure the figure. The story amused us because, though on the surface the statue seems like a fitting public monument for Weller's hometown, we wonder if Mayor Wiza knows that RoboCop, aside from being a very good movie, is director Paul Verhoeven's dark satire of the U.S.

The movie hits on several areas, including policing and television culture, but most particularly it's a cautionary epic about the power of corporations. It made the prediction, also made by others, that all life would soon be controlled by corporations, and by extension the unelected, megarich heads of those entities. Those who doubt we've reached this point should read up on private prisons, or Citizen's United v. FEC, or Facebook's recent attempt to punish the entire country of Australia by slapping it with a news ban.

RoboCop goes on to posit that corporations allowed to grow and spread unchecked inevitably make the business decision to place profit above human lives. It didn't mean lives in some distant corner of the globe, or some urban niche of Detroit, where the movie was set. That was already clear. The movie's incisive subtext was that the lives of middle Americans—the very people who live in Stevens Point—would soon be deemed expendable too.

When movies like this pop up they create a paradox: people generally won't watch social critique films unless they're violent and/or funny, but when they're violent and/or funny the majority of people don't get the critiques, even when those are obvious. Examples: Starship Troopers (also a Verhoeven film), Being There (which starred Dr. Strangelove's Peter Sellers), 2019's Us (whose unspoken but glaringly obvious alternative title is, “U.S.”), and, to cite a particularly clear-cut example of blunt satire, They Live, which a substantial minority of filmgoers still managed to think of as merely a strange and slow-moving sci-fi invasion flick.

It's possible Mayor Wiza knows exactly what RoboCop is about, but simply can't pass up the chance to plant something in the town square that will bring gawkers and Instagramers to local restaurants and add warm bodies to the yearly artwalk. If he succeeds, in public he'll hail his coup as an economic victory for his administration (though mainly for the town, always the town first). But later he'll stand at a window in city hall, looking down at RoboCop, nodding thoughtfully as he explains to some nearby aide, “The ironic part of turning that statue into a public monument is that RoboCop, aside from being a very good movie, is director Paul Verhoeven's dark satire of the U.S.”

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Modern Pulp Jan 28 2020
THEY STILL LIVE
And at this rate it looks like they'll outlast us all.


Is it one of the greatest allegorical science fiction films ever made? Well, sci-fi is conducive to metaphor, so the list of contenders is long, but certainly John Carpenter's They Live is somewhere in the mix. You see its Japanese poster above. The film invaded Japan today in 1989, after premiering in the U.S. during November of the previous year. We suspect this one falls into the category of movies many have been told they should see, but few have bothered to make the time for. We're here to suggest that you make the time. The premise is ingenious—Earth's ruling class are actually aliens in human form. What do these offworld one-percenters want? Mainly for humans to obliviously embrace behavior that is beneficial to the maintenance of elite power. To that end the everyday world people see is a mere curtain over a deeper reality totally geared toward making humans obey, consume, conform, and reproduce.

Carpenter said about the film, which is based on the 1963 short story, “Eight O'Clock in the Morning,” by Ray Nelson, “The picture's premise is that [our current economic system] is run by aliens from another galaxy. Free enterprisers from outer space have taken over the world, and are exploiting Earth as if it's a third world planet. And as soon as they exhaust all our resources, they'll move on to another world.” The idea is certainly poignant in this age of inequality, low wage employment, population explosion, environmental ruin, and all-powerful international corporate overlords that somehow are regarded by U.S. courts as “people.”
 
The aliens of They Live, not unlike corporations, want to go unchallenged while they suck the planet dry. But Roddy Piper, playing a drifter passing through Los Angeles, happens upon a small resistance who have made special sunglasses that penetrate the disguise laid over the world. When he dons these glasses his mind is simply blown by what they reveal. Even the money people work so hard for is nothing more than plain white paper bearing the message: “This is your god.” Carpenter builds the drama of They Live slowly, and plays it for laughs on multiple occasions, but the sense of dread mounts as Piper and co-star Keith David realize the illusions that maintain order are broadcast from a massive fleet of hovering drones, and if they don't expose the truth perhaps nobody will.

We've seen They Live several times, and loved it more on each occasion. Generally, people who don't like it find it too slow, which is ironic considering it's a film that suggests people are deliberately being prevented from taking the crucial time needed to see what's real and what isn't. They Live makes us imagine what would happen if aliens really did arrive on Earth. Most likely they would be sifting through the ruins of what was once here, and they'd say, “This strange species had diverse art that often discussed hostile alien invasions, but it appears they didn't realize the thing that would destroy them was already here—it was their own economics.”

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
November 29
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
November 28
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
November 27
1934—Baby Face Nelson Killed
In the U.S., killer and bank robber Baby Face Nelson, aka Lester Joseph Gillis, dies in a shoot-out with the FBI in Barrington, Illinois. Nelson is shot nine times, but by walking directly into a barrage of gunfire manages to kill both of his FBI pursuers before dying himself.
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