Reflection of America’s Social Class Through The Purge
For this week, I would like to share an essay I wrote back in 2016. I feel it is still relevant especially after seeing the latest film in the infamous series, The First Purge. Also, as it is October and we are close to Halloween, I’d like to share thoughts on some horror related topics. The Purge films are intriguing to me as they horrifically reflect on American society. Without further ado, here is my essay focused on the third film, The Purge Election Year.
A holiday is defined as a “festivity or recreation when no work is done.” Examples of holidays are Christmas or Thanksgiving, where individuals spend a day without work and simply spend time with their loved ones. Even Halloween is considered a holiday, which is often portrayed as the scariest holiday in America. Now, imagine a holiday where you can spend time with your family or friends, while having the opportunity to legally kill whomever you please for twelve consecutive hours. Thankfully, a holiday as such is only fiction. The movie that promotes this fiction act of hostility is titled The Purge. Purge, by definition, is a verb that means to “rid someone of an unwanted feeling, memory, or condition, typically giving a sense of cathartic release,” (Dictionary.com, 2016). It is also a noun, defined as an “abrupt or violent removal of a group of people from an organization or place,” (Dictionary.com, 2016). That is exactly how this “holiday” works in James DeMonaco’s film series, The Purge. The purge serves to remove individuals from society. In specific, it works to remove lower class citizens in the United States of America. In this essay, I will focus on the third installment, The Purge Election Year (2016) through the lens of race and social class to show how it reflects our actual society.
Society is defined as “the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.” The Purge: Election Year (2016) appears to reflect how the American society is. James DeMonaco, writer and director of the film in discussion, is best known for The Purge movies. Though this third installment wasn’t given much praise, I personally found it very entertaining. In The Purge Election Year (2016), the senator, Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), is running for president in order to end the purge once and for all. Her motivation to eradicate the purge is witnessing one of her family members murdered during the Purge Night years earlier. Of course, there were many people who did not like the idea of not having a purge, namely the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), who saw Roan as a threat and so decided to kill her during the purge.
The Purge: Election Year (2016) is labeled as a thriller horror, in general, and was rated by critic websites such as IMDb, which gave the film average ratings. Some of those ratings included a review by A.O. Scott labeling the film as, “the best installment so far” (Scott, New York Times. 2016), in which I personally agree with. Out of the three films in the series by James DeMonaco, I enjoyed The Purge: Election Year (2016) the most because of its more political direction, its cast, and revealing more of what the NFFA does, since the main character was running as president. As a sub-genre, this film would fall under the category of action horror and body massacre, as numerous people are killed throughout the movie, which is action packed and filled with violence. It surprised me that for over twenty years, according to the film, the purge existed and Roan is the first to run for president in order to end it. However, she wasn’t the first person to rebel against the NFFA and the horrific holiday. In the film, we have a character known as Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge) who has been in all three of the purge movies (known in the first film The Purge (2013) and The Purge: Anarchy (2014) as “The Stranger”) and was in a anti-purge rebel group. He appeared in the film first during the news discussing how the NFFA made the purge in order to eliminate the lower class population of the U.S.
One important scene is within the first twenty minutes of the film, which is the debate between Senator Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), where they both bicker over the purge. Owens states that thanks to the purge, the U.S. is saved from “economical ruin” and crime rates have decreased. Then, Roan argues that it is at the cost of innocent lives. This is true considering that the majority who purge are the wealthy, while others from lower socioeconomic classes purge just to release anger and hate. In the film, people from other countries travel to the United States just to purge. However, if the purge were to ever be a real holiday, crime rates would actually increase. Though in the film, the purge is an event where “all crime is legal,” no scene portrays individuals committing other crimes such as theft or rape. Only murder is being committed and the majority of individuals who are purged are minorities who live on the poverty line. According to statistics, in the U.S. from 2015, 43.1 million people were in poverty which is 13.5 percent of the U.S. (Hunger Facts & Poverty Statistics, 2015) The film takes place in the year 2025, which is only nine years ahead of 2016. If the purge were to become real, even if that percentage decreases, crime rates will not. As a matter of fact, non-violent crime would increase, as well as violent crimes as the following example states, “the violent rampagers were occupied kicking ten shades of crap out of each other downtown, this is the perfect time to pull of a heist or go on a spending spree online with a stolen credit card,” (Richardson, Movie Pilot. 2016). I personally agree with Richardson’s statements that crimes would increase; meaning the purge in actuality would not decrease crime and violence. The purge would also not keep the U.S. from going into economical ruin. Why not use the twelve hours to hack the government system and steal their money? Not only would murder be committed on this holiday, cyber theft, fraud, money laundering are also possible crimes that can be committed legally. For example, hackers and thieves will be capable of stealing millions from bank accounts. Crimes like this will have a negative impact upon the American economy, which can eventually cause lost money to lead our nation into recession. Although it is just a movie, it is scary to think how much more frightening the purge would be if it was real.
The lower class, those living in the poverty line, is at a disadvantage in the film, and unfortunately, in our society as well. In the movie, it is shown that the majority of people being killed or “purged,” are blacks and Hispanics. By portraying this, the movie may also imply that those in the upper class are to be feared. Astonishingly, there was a series of studies by psychologists from Berkeley, University of California and University of Toronto in Canada, which portrayed that individuals, who lived in the higher class of society, would demonstrate increased corrupt behavior. Psychologist, Paul Piff of UC Berkeley, states, “Our studies suggest that more positive attitudes toward greed and the pursuit of self-interest among upper-class individuals, in part, drive their tendencies toward increased unethical behavior,” (Science Daily. 2012). Although none of the studies included crimes such as homicide, the results included taking valued goods from others, as well as cheating in order to increase their chances of winning something. The Purge: Election Year (2016) shows that the monsters of the action horror film are the wealthy and upper class white Americans. The killing of innocent and helpless individuals of the lower class in DeMonaco’s film can be portrayed as a direct method the NFFA used to gain more money and power in America. Cheating is seen often in the film. For example, in order to ensure that the NFFA wins the election, they as well as Minister Edwidge, mainly targets Senator Roan during Purge night. In targeting Roan, it is obvious that the upper class wants to cheat their way through the election by killing the opposing candidate.
Moreover, Piff and his team of psychologists showed how the upper class was more likely to break the law, possibly because of the quality of greed that upper class individuals often possess. Greed is having very high selfish desire for something, usually money and power. Thus, greed can make a person commit actions if the result means becoming wealthier than others. Piff states, “Plato and Aristotle deemed greed to be at the root of personal immorality, arguing that greed drives desires for material gain at the expense of ethical standards.” (Piff, Science Daily. 2012) These individuals become obsessed with wanting more and at the same time, they become afraid of losing it all. This fear of losing it all is seen in the film, as the NFFA becomes afraid of Senator Roan winning the election. Money is the only benefit the NFFA gets from the purge. The freedom to kill off the lower class population of America for twelve hours straight once a year, just for profits, has be the greediest course of action a government could take.
By examining Roan and Edwidge in the film, we can label Roan as a Democrat and Edwidge, as well as the NFFA, as Republicans. The Democratic Party, which Roan clearly demonstrates, is more about the people. As we see in the scene of the film, during the debate, Roan discussed how innocent lives are at stake every year. Of course, because of her haunting experience of having her family killed in front of her during Purge night, Roan was against the purge and thus made it her goal to run for president, as it was the only ethical way to end the purge. In the climax of the film, we see the anti-purge rebel group planning to assassinate Minister Edwidge in a church during the annual purge mass in which the supposed Christian group, all made up of white upper classmen, would perform sacrifices by killing; or “purging,” random persons from the middle or lower class. Roan became one of those people, as she was kidnapped and nearly would have had her throat slit if it were not for the rebel group, including Dante Bishop and Sergeant Leo, who make their entrance by shooting everyone in the church. Minister Edwidge was spared as Roan convinces Dante to not kill him by stating, “We are not like them.” She was trying to portray that killing should not be the way to get what they want. They are not like the NFFA because the NFFA kills with the excuse of “saving the country from economical ruin.” I am positive that republicans do not actually want to kill off the lower class of America, however, there is an obvious reason why the NFFA and Minister Edwidge would be labeled as Republicans; they believe in harsh penalties for crimes. During the purge mass, we see a victim being stabbed as a punishment for using of drugs. Democrats, on the other hand, believe that people should not be punished so harshly for non-violent crimes. We also see that the people who clearly support Roan are blacks and those of Hispanic communities. Throughout the film you have a black man, Joe Dixon (Myketti Willamson), a black woman, Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel), and a Hispanic man, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) protecting Roan during purge night as well as her bodyguard, Leo as they were hunted down by the militia, of whom the NFFA funded. Those in the poor population cannot afford to get security for the horrific annual event. As stated by Miles Surrey, “the poor generally don’t have resources to protect themselves on Purge night, so they suffer the most causalities,” (Mic Daily. 2016).
Of course, Roan would have been safe in her home during the first half of the film, however, those she was with including Leo along with Chief Couper (Ethan Phillips) and Eric Busmalis (Adam Cantor) turned out to be traitors on Purge night, as they signaled a Neo-Nazi paramilitary force to secretly enter Roan’s house. This is the only “home invasion” scene we get to witness in The Purge Election Year (2016) as the rest of the film turns into a wild violent game of cat and mouse. Therefore, the film mostly falls under the sub-genre of body massacre. According to Susan Hayward, “the massacre movies (also known as slasher movies) reveal albeit in very different ways, a particularly vicious normalizing of misogyny,” (211-212). We see this in The Purge Election Year (2016) as the NFFA showed an enormous amount of hate and anger towards Roan, a woman running for office mainly to end the purge. We also see how the film falls into the sub-genre of massacre as countless people were killed in numerous ways throughout the movie. The number casualties is extremely large, just counting the state of Washington alone without visualizing the amount of deaths in the entire country of America within the twelve straight hours.
DeMonaco’s The Purge Election Year (2016) reflects aspects of American society, through the lens of social class, as well as race and politics. This action-packed massacre horror may scare the audience with its violent tone. The film may advertise the fear of having all crime legalized for a specific amount of time in order to portray how society would act. The majority that were purging were the white and wealthy upper classmen, who justified their killing of lower classmen by stating that this massacre of the poor population would help the U.S. economy. The real fear is the power and wealth of the higher class of society. The real monsters are not just those who wear masks and kill everyone in sight, but are also the wealthy and the NFFA. They possess the ability to do as they please with the U.S. and its citizens as long as their Republican Party takes majority control of the country, especially with having a republican as president. The NFFA and Republican supporters showed anger and fear of having a democrat become president mainly because they did not want to lose their best strategy for preventing the country from going into “economical ruin.” The Purge Election Year (2016) really stands out from the series as being more political than its predecessors and for having a female lead that attempts to stop the Purge. We see how the film ends, as thankfully; Roan survives Purge night and takes the lead in the elections. However, we were left unsure if Roan officially won the election overall and becomes president of the United States. As the credits began to roll, we hear from a news broadcast that rioters began causing havoc over the election. We can assume that those were obviously supporters of the NFFA and the Purge. The thought of this taking place in the near future is frightening. Hopefully, we will not have such a holiday, as it would truly be horrific.
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Hayward, Susan. “Horror Blacklist.” Cinema Studies: the Key Concepts, Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, 2013, pp. 206–213
National Science Foundation. “Upper class people more likely to behave unethically.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2012. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120307145432.htm
Piff, Paul K. et al. “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109.11 (2012): 4086–4091. PMC. Web. 9 Dec. 2016.
Richardson, Jancy. “5 Brutal Things That Would Happen If The Purge Was Real.” Movie Pilot. N.p., 11 Aug. 2016. Web. http://moviepilot.com/posts/2226094
Scott, A. O. “Review: ‘The Purge: Election Year’ Offers a Campaign Platform of Blood Lust.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 June 2016. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/01/movies/the-purge-election-year-review.html?_r=0
Surrey, Miles. “‘The Purge: Election Year’ Shows the Real Horror Isn’t the Purge – It’s the Wealthy Elite.” Mic. N.p., 06 July 2016. Web.
The Purge Election Year. Directed by James DeMonaco, Universal Pictures, 2016.
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