Before this week, those of us familiar with John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) simply knew the film as a cult classic of the ‘80s and as the best film to star wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper—which isn’t saying much on its own, when the rest of his career is best represented by Hell Comes to Frogtown. But who knew that the film had also been co-opted by anti-semites and Neo-Nazis? Apparently not Carpenter himself, who was none too pleased when he found out this week that the film was being misinterpreted as having an anti-Jewish message.
Carpenter, who I love for his films, his music (I interviewed him for Paste), and his awesome Twitter handle of @TheHorrorMaster, quickly set about setting the record straight. For those who don’t know: They Live is a clever sci-fi action film that imagines a modern world taken over by a secret alien invasion that has replaced world leaders and the upper class of society. The rest of us are kept in line via subliminal messaging and entertainment, which can only be seen for what it truly is with a special pair of sunglasses discovered by Roddy Piper’s character. Unrelated: It also has the greatest bare-knuckle brawl in the history of cinema.
As Carpenter pointed out, the film is a satire against consumerist culture, “yuppies” and popular entertainment as a tool to blind the masses from how they’re being exploited. The neo-nazis simply applied their own twisted logic to the proceedings, reasoning that if Jews secretly control all world affairs, then the aliens of They Live must obviously represent the Jews.
Naturally, given the type of people we’re talking about, though, this didn’t stop the anti-semites from arguing with Carpenter that NO, he obviously doesn’t know the meaning of his own film. It’s a frighteningly clear illustration of how an artist’s work can be misunderstood, praised and re-purposed toward any means, including sinister ones, even when the artist specifically disagrees with that interpretation of his art. Imagine how frustrating it must be for Carpenter, when you’ve clearly explained your intention, but you still have to deal with these people who are citing your work as their inspiration while telling you that you “serve the Jew.”
Just in case you were hoping that humanity might somehow, magically be a little bit less hateful in 2017 than it was in 2016, sorry to disappoint you.