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.
June 12
1978—Son of Sam Goes to Prison
David Berkowitz, the New York City serial killer known as Son of Sam, is sentenced to 365 years in prison for six killings. Berkowitz had acquired his nickname from letters addressed to the NYPD and columnist Jimmy Breslin. He is eventually caught when a chain of events beginning with a parking ticket leads to his car being searched and police discovering ammunition and maps of crime scenes.
June 11
1963—Buddhist Monk Immolates Himself
In South Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death by dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. He does it to protest the persecution of Buddhists by Ngô Đình Diệm administration, choosing a busy Saigon intersection for his protest. An image of the monk being consumed by flames as he sits crosslegged on the pavement, shot by Malcolm Browne, wins a Pulitzer Prize and becomes one of the most shocking and recognizable photos ever published.
June 10
1935—AA Founded
In New York City, Dr. Robert Smith and William Griffith Wilson, who were both recovering alcoholics, establish the organization Alcoholics Anonymous, which pioneers a 12-step rehabilitation program that is so helpful and popular it eventually spreads to every corner of the globe.
1973—John Paul Getty III Is Kidnapped
John Paul Getty III, grandson of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, is kidnapped in Rome, Italy. The elder Getty ignores a ransom demand for $17 million, thinking it is a joke. When John Paul's ear later arrives in the mail along with a note promising further mutilation, he negotiates the ransom down to $2.9 million, which he pays only on the condition that John Paul repay him at four percent interest. Getty's kidnappers are never caught.
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