Some people think Sinbad was a genie in a movie he never made. Some think a family pizza parlor is a front for a pedophilic underground railroad, while others are absolutely convinced climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Pick your conspiracy pleasure!
Millions of people have taken to social media to try to sway their comrades’ false opinions to no avail, and now we can mark Wednesday, Jan. 4, as the day the legendary John Carpenter (@TheHorrorMaster) had to state explicitly on Twitter that his 1988 Rowdy Roddy Piper–starring classic They Live is not about exposing a Jewish conspiracy.
“THEY LIVE is about yuppies and unrestrained capitalism. It has nothing to do with Jewish control of the world, which is slander and a lie,” Carpenter typed with his thumbs into the nothingness that repeatedly destroys lives, i.e. Twitter.
After watching neo-Nazi, alt-right trolls then try to argue with the creator of the Reagan-era, anti-consumerist classic, my face melted like one of Carpenter’s skeletal overlords. In the film, Piper plays a guy who gets his hands on a pair of special sunglasses, which help him see that the world has actually been taken over by aliens bent on distracting the public with consumerist messages. It’s the ’80s, God is dead and money is the new master.
Now, idiot Nazis who’ve long believed that Jews somehow control all money in the world — they absolutely do not, and it’s ridiculous I even have to state this — then decided that the film was actually about uncovering some kind of Jewish conspiracy. It’s an idea conceived upon a bed of lies so deeply ingrained in the neo-Nazi POV that there’s no digging us out of this conspiracy hole.
Carpenter, who has long set many of his horror films, such as Prince of Darkness and Escape From L.A., in Los Angeles to expose the city’s social problems, especially homelessness and poverty, is the last person who should have to defend his movies’ pretty blatant meanings. There’s no other filmmaker who can so seamlessly weave social criticism into genre cinema, and to think that anyone could ever interpret Nazi themes into one of his movies signals to me that people have a lot of time on their hands. So I called up Carpenter at home in L.A. to ask what he thought.
“It’s all really simple,” Carpenter says, his dog barking in the background around dinnertime. “There was somebody on my Twitter feed who was talking about They Live being about the Jews trying to control the world, and I thought, ‘You know what? No, that’s bullshit. And I’m not going to allow that.’”
Carpenter tweets occasionally but rarely gets anywhere near politics, usually talking about his albums, tours, screenings or gear. Anyone who’s ever met him attests to his mellowness. But this seems to have riled him up enough to post. Immediately, trolls linked to articles and, of course, memes of Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author” theory, which is a postmodern idea that loosely means an author of a work has no ownership over how others should interpret it once it’s presented to the public. It’s like every pompous ass in my Philosophy 101 class rat-kinged together to form my absolute nightmare on the internet. Looks like postmodern college courses are about to get straight-up annoyingly relevant in the years ahead!
“It’s a brave new world, and I don’t understand it,” Carpenter sighs. This isn’t the first time his work has been dragged into the Trumpist fray, though. “There was one issue back during the primaries. There was a parody of They Live with Donald Trump, and people got upset at that, I guess.”
He’s speaking of artist Mitch O’Connell’s depiction of Trump as one of the alien overlords, which quickly made rounds and pissed off Trump lackeys who also tried to blame Carpenter for the art on Twitter. Carpenter’s clearly annoyed by it all. He wants it to go away. But, God help us, the internet is here to stay.
“What can you do?” he sighs, resigned. “It’s absolutely foolish.”
Still, for the millions of fans who live in reality — those who’ve put on the special sunglasses and see that neo-Nazis and alt-right trolls on the internet are just attention-hungry fools with unfocused energy — They Live remains a heartening film about the good guys striving to bring reason and thought to a cold, remorseless world. There’s a moral to the story, and Nazis aren’t the good guys. Let’s hope that Carpenter is penning an allegorical film script about a hero who abolishes malevolent trolls right now. It’s certainly his territory.