John Carpenter’s dystopian science fiction film They Live has risen to cult status since its 1988 release. Its simple premise (the world has been taken over by aliens who use mass media and advertising to lull the humans into submission) allowed it to deliver a wide-ranging cultural critique that has since, one might argue, only become more relevant. No wonder then that both genre enthusiasts and the likes of philosopher Slavoj Žižek have latched onto Carpenter’s societal satire. Novelist Jonathan Lethem even devoted a monograph to the film that is well worth your reading time.
This video essay by Daniel Clarkson Fisher cleverly combines direct quotes about the film (from its actors, director and Žižek) with excerpts from news and other media to illustrate just how pertinent the movie’s concerns still are today. Eschewing the use of (his own) voice over, Fisher uses an amalgam of other voices instead, yet manages to deliver a point that feels distinctly his own.
One of the key characteristics of the essayistic mode is the personal take it allows the maker to posit on a given subject; essays blend objectively stated facts with subjective enthusiasm or personal peeves. This video finds a personal voice in the statements of others, and constructs its own rationale using other outlets’ footage. Instead of just appropriating imagery, this effort appropriates thoughts and remarks, and fashions them into a freestanding argumentation.