They Live in The Mass Deception of The Culture Industry


“Film, radio, and magazines form a system,” (Adorno, Horkheimer 1016) a system that infects everything with sameness according to the essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. Film and media are no longer a medium of art but a medium for business, advertisements, and feeding the capitalist consumerist machine. Humans believe they have free-will and choice in the matter but are unfortunately victims of this deception.  In this analysis paper I apply the Marxist theories in Adorno and Horkheimer’s essay to John Carpenters film, They Live, and argue how this film perfectly illustrates this theory in a multitude of ways.  In this analysis paper I came here to chew bubble-gum…and support my argument. And I’m all out of bubble-gum.
John Carpenters film, They Live(1988), came out at the tail-end of the Reagan ‘80s era.  The economic and political climate is illustrated in the film as it follows our Working-Class homeless Hero, Nada, drift into the city looking for work.  He finds a job with a construction company where he meets Frank, a black man that becomes his friend who takes him to a homeless haven for other down-on-their-luck folks.  In the beginning of the film, Nada walks past a blind preacher-man warning everyone about how “They” have us all under control.  At the homeless haven, Nada runs into the blind preacher-man again and one of the televisions at the settlement gets hacked into where another man is warning everyone that “They” control everything in the frequencies of media.  Eventually, our hero finds a pair of sunglasses in an alleyway and when he puts them on everything is revealed.
According to Adorno and Horkheimer, “All mass culture under monopoly is identical, and the contours of its skeleton, the conceptual armature fabricated by monopoly, are beginning to stand out,”(1017). When Nada puts on the glasses and looks at billboards he sees messages in black-and-white Twilight-Zone-esque fashion that say, “Conform” and “Obey” and “Stay Asleep.” The true messages in the media freely stand out when Nada has the glasses on.  The messages come from the super-elite whose “basis on which technology is gaining power over society is the power of those whose economic position in society is the strongest,” (1017).  These super-elite of wealthy bourgeois are actually aliens hidden amongst the populace that can be seen in their true form when Nada wears the glasses.  Through mass culture and the entertainment industry, the humans are completely oblivious that it’s happening, and the “spectator must need no thoughts of his own: the product prescribes each reaction, not through any actual coherence—which collapses once exposed to thought—but through signals,”(1022).  The alien beings had set up a system that gives the illusion of choice, “freedom to choose an ideology, which always reflects economic coercion, everywhere proves to be freedom to be the same,”(1031).
The Live is a film about the working class waking up to the propaganda around them and rise up against the Elite class that happens to be aliens.  The surprise of it all is how even some humans choose to side with the aliens, because, “Everyone wants to make some money. What’s wrong with making a little money?”  The film came out towards the end of the Reagan ‘80s which saw the rise of Wall-Street billionaires and yuppies, and films where a wealthy a main character played by Michael Douglas announces that, “Greed is good!”  They Live is a film whose main characters are the struggling American working-class of the ‘80s and critiques that the culture of greed is inhuman because the wealthy-elite in the film are seen as horrifying aliens with no regard to human life.   That perfectly illustrates Adrono and Horkheimer theories about the culture industry and how the wealthy elite benefit from the proletariats staying asleep through the use of entertainment and advertisements encouraging endless consumerism.


Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor, and Max Horkheimer. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” Critical Visions in Film Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Ed. Timothy Corrigan, Patricia White, and Meta Mazaj. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 1015-031. Print.


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