The Philosophy of The Purge (With Rick and Morty!) – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this special Wisecrack Edition on The Philosophy of The Purge, diving into the political and socio-economic implications of purging – including brilliant references from Rick & Morty! In this episode, we’ll geek out on the movies while also exploring how an event like The Purge seems to amplify the many issues and conditions of various social classes.
Written by: Matt Reichle
Narrated and Directed by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
The Philosophy of The Purge
Hey Wisecrack, Jared here and today we’re talking about Future America’s favorite pastime: purging. At first glance The Purge seems like your typical horror film- a decent concept, questionable acting, and all the violent carnage you could ask for. But perhaps the scariest thing about The Purge isn’t the creepy masks and rapists with bad teeth, but the way it highlights the dehumanizing policies of our current social landscape. With a closer look the purge can be considered a commentary on our socio-political existence: a thinly veiled allegory for America’s corrupt politics, rigged economic systems, and culture of violence.
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Philosophy of the Purge. The Purge isn’t entirely unlike other ritualistic festivals like Mardi Gras, Carnival, or even Halloween. Sure, the Purge is more murder and theft and less dancing and feasting before Lent- but they’re essentially the same concept- designated times where people can violate social norms.
It may seem like these events are a way to undermine the power law and religion have over people. But it’s actually the opposite. They re-affirm these social structures. The NFFA- or the leaders that sanction the ritual- aren’t actually challenged by The Purge. On the contrary, the chaos of the night leaves people longing for the return of the law the next day – It’s kinda like a purge hangover.
If a ritual like Carnival exists to make people accept the tenants of Christianity— the Purge exists to make people accept the tenants of the ruling social ideology. This societal order can best be described in one word: neoliberalism. The basic idea of neoliberalism is that government should hop off the market’s nuts and only craft policies that promote the free flow of goods and protect corporate interests.
The purge takes the idea of a limited government to an extreme—for the sake of the economy everything goes… literally… everything. Each movie reflects a different facet of the neoliberal economy. The way characters deal with the purge brings to focus the conditions of their respective economic class. The original Purge is about the impact of the event on an upper middle class suburban family. The Sandins have Burb problems. A sketchy looking homeless guy infiltrates their gated community. Their neighbors can’t “keep up with the Sandins” so they try to kill them out of jealousy. Their daughter is hooking up with an older dude that tries to kill Daddy Sandin—and their son is creepy as hell.
The Purge Anarchy focuses on the economic problems of a working class family- Eva Sanchez can barely make ends meet, can’t afford medicine for her father and desperately needs a raise. The inner city is full of purge traps, gangs roaming around in taco trucks, dirt bikers kidnapping people, every apartment shown involves either attempted rape or domestic violence, government officials round people up in eighteen wheelers, and people are abducted for some sort of remake of the running man. Y’know. Detroit on a Tuesday.
When you compare the settings of the first two films, they can be understood as a metaphor for white flight: the retreat of upper class white folks from cities to the sheltered, poverty-free suburbs. This abandonment exposes those left in the inner city to disproportionate amounts of crime, homelessness, and poverty- or in the case of the films, PURGING. For the Sandins the idea that they even have to deal with violence against the poor is unacceptable because “things like this aren’t supposed to happen in our neighborhood.” The purge election year is about the consequences of the holiday on small business owners. Joe finds out that the premiums for his purge insurance are going up for no reason- something common when there are no government checks to stop insurance companies from doing you like that.
Taken as a whole, these examples not only illustrate the injustices of the Purge, but of our economic system in general. People who prosper under neoliberalism benefit from the purge, and those who get fucked by neoliberalism also get fucked by the purge. The upper middle class largely benefits from murder night— the Sandins gaudy home remodel is paid for by home security systems sold to people based on the fear manifested by the purge… Since Eva Sanchez’s boss won’t give her a raise, they can only protect themselves with a couple flimsy 2x4s. Now that Joe can’t afford Purge insurance, he has to spend purge night guarding his Deli with little more than a shoddy rolling steel door, and eventually loses his life because of it.
ut another way, the purge exposes how neoliberal economics breed a politics of disposability, something explained by thinkers Henry Giroux and Brad Evans. In the original purge, suburbanites view entire groups of people as superfluous, disposable. It’s the reason the bloody stranger is referred to as swine and filth by his foil: the polite stranger. It’s how James Sandin justifies incapacitating and torturing his houseguest. He is merely a means to saving his family—it isn’t until the bloody stranger volunteers to give himself up that James finally sees him as fully human and decides not to turn him over to the freaks.
In The Purge Anarchy, The unchecked price of medication forces papa Sanchez to sell his life to the rich so his family can be eased of economic hardship. As a disposable object his life is more valuable to his family than as an actual person. Giroux and Evans argue that people become disposable under a neoliberal economic system that is characterized by privatization of things like health care, the deregulation of banks, and the erosion of government safety nets like social security and welfare.
If the purge stands as a one-night reference point for the terrors of such policies, then shutting down medical and police services makes sense: cuz government policy can’t possibly be more lax than that. all of this is justified under the banner of economic growth. The elderly, infirmed, poor and so-called non-contributors are sacrificed so the economy can grow unhindered. This elimination of the population is actually paralleled in the real neoliberal economy: people unable to afford AIDS medication (thanks Martin Shkreli), people stuck eating ramen and the dollar menu for twenty years (thanks McDonalds), or people exposed to contaminated drinking water, pollution from coal factory plants, and nuclear waste.
Neoliberalism exposes those same populations to slow death—instead of actively purging them—it just sort of lets them die. This justification for the purge isn’t based on some fancy new economic idea—it goes all the way back to 1798 and a book titled: Essay on the Principle of Population by Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus—AKA Reverend Run. Malthus argued that because production would be unable to keep up with demand, a growing population would create massive food shortages. His solution: employ laws that keep birthrates low and death rates high- things like famine, disease, and wars.
This is echoed in the purge election year by Caleb Warrens, head of the NFFA:
But does this logic hold up? For Friedrich Engels of the hip-hop duo: “commie much beard,” Malthus had it all wrong. The issue isn’t increasing population—it’s an economic system that doesn’t value workers. Malthus was putting economics above people. Essentially, Engels argued that Malthus’s model was nothing more than an excuse to be a dick to poor people. Similarly, the films often make the argument that economics is a phony justification for the existence of Purge. The real reason for its existence is it allows the rich to exert violent superiority over the poor and keep them in their place.
Neoliberal policies are confusing in the abstract—there’s a bunch of economic theory and political jargon you’re supposed to know. But the genius of the purge is the way that it uses murder night to viscerally expose how this kind of economy generates profit in a predatory manner. The privileged make money hand over fist on weapons sales, insurance, private bodyguards, and home security systems, while the poor have to fight to simply survive.
The purge movies may present an opportunity to peak into the not so distant dystopia. Except most of the main characters don’t enjoy purging much. The Rick and Morty episode about purging provides an interesting counterpoint. Rick’s sick enjoyment of brutal violence says more about the audience than the films. The show’s comic take on the purge exposes the gratuitous nature of the violence of the films.
Sitting in front of any of the Purge movies puts us in Rick’s position… perhaps the reality is we’re the murder tourist—perusing through each sequel excitingly waiting for a titillating peek at something shocking and new. After all, does anybody actually remember any of the characters of these movies? Do we all go see the next Purge movie because we can’t wait to see what happens next with the New Founding Fathers?
Or perhaps the success of the purge films reveals what most of us already know: people like watching violent shit because, well… sometimes it just feels good. Thanks for watching.