I already am eating from the trashcan all the time. The name of this trashcan is ideology. The material force of ideology makes me not see what I am effectively eating. It’s not only our reality which enslaves us. The tragedy of our predicament when we are within ideology is that when we think that we escape it into our dreams, at that point we are within ideology.
They Live from 1988 is definitely one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Hollywood left. It tells the story of John Nada. Nada, of course, in Spanish means nothing. A pure subject, deprived of all substantial content. A homeless worker in L.A. who, drifting around one day enters into an abandoned Church and finds there a strange box full of sunglasses. And when he put one of them on walking along the L.A. Streets he discovers something weird; that these glasses function like critique of ideology glasses. They allow you to see the real message beneath all the propaganda, publicity, posters and so on. You see a large publicity board telling you have a holiday of a lifetime and when you put the glasses on you see just on the white background; a grey inscription.
We live, so we are told, in a post-ideological society. We are interpolated, that is to say, addressed by social authority not as subjects who should do their duty, sacrifice themselves, but subjects of pleasures. ‘Realise your true potential. Be yourself. Lead a satisfying life.’
When you put the glasses on you see dictatorship in democracy. It’s the invisible order, which sustains your apparent freedom. The explanation for the existence of these strange ideology glasses is the stand-up story of the invasion of the body snatchers. Humanity is already under the control of aliens.
" Hey buddy, you gonna pay for that or what? Look Buddy, I don’t want no hassle today; you either pay for it or put it back."
According to our common sense, we think that ideology is something blurring, confusing our straight view. Ideology should be glasses, which distort our view, and the critique of ideology should be the opposite like you take off the glasses so that you can finally see the way things really are. This precisely and here, the pessimism of the film, of They Live, is well justified, this precisely is the ultimate illusion: ideology is not simply imposed on ourselves. Ideology is our spontaneous relation to our social world, how we perceive each meaning and so on and so on. We, in a way, enjoy our ideology.
To step out of ideology, it hurts. It’s a painful experience. You must force yourself to do it. This is rendered in a wonderful way with a further scene in the film where John Nada tried to force his best friend John Armitage to also put the glasses on.
I don’t wanna fight ya.
I don’t wanna fight ya.
It’s the weirdest scene in the film. The fight is eight, nine minutes…
"Put on the glasses."
…It may appear irrational cause why does this guy reject so violently to put the glasses on? It is as if he is well aware that spontaneously he lives in a lie that the glasses will make him see the truth but that this truth can be painful. It can shatter many of your illusions.
This is a paradox we have to accept.
Put the glasses on! Put em on!
The extreme violence of liberation. You must be forced to be free. If you trust simply your spontaneous sense of well being for whatever you will never get free.