In 2013 when The Purge debuted, it was a far fetched horror film about a near future America. At this moment in time, a year and a half into the Trump Administration, it doesn’t feel so distant. For those who may not be familiar with the series, The Purge is a series of politically charged horror films that focus on an annual night of mayhem and murder. A right wing third party emerges out of decades of horrific economic and social turmoil. Branding themselves The New Founding Fathers of America, they initiate a “social experiment” that is billed as a solution to the ills of the country. For 12 hours, all crime would be legal, and Americans would “release their anger”
The First Purge is the story of how this experiment began- and it is set in Staten Island. What better place to conduct an experiment than with the most vulnerable?
The most disturbing part of this film is watching- as in real life how quickly a state of affairs can be normalized. Human societies are malleable, and it takes not as much pressure as one would think to adjust us all to deeper oppression.
The First Purge is the second movie this year with the theme of population control. Of course, Avengers: Infinity War was the first, depicting a Thanos who solved the “problem” with a snap of his fingers.
The idea that the population must be controlled is most closely attributed to the work of Thomas Malthus. He was an 18th century scholar who propagated the theory that a growth in population would eventually outstrip the availability of resources for everyone to live adequately. Those who believe that populations must be controlled came to be known as Malthusians.
This theory emerges from a book published in 1798 has a number of problems with it. One, the capacity of everyone on earth to be fed, clothed and housed has increased due to the technological advancements since the 21st century. The main obstacle to increasing the productive forces is that all production is geared towards profit and not human need. There technically is enough for everyone, it’s just being horded and stolen via systemically enforced scarcity. In plain language, the continuing existence of capitalism stands in the way.
Secondly, the population control argument persists due to a Western, white supremacist outlook. The proponents of the population control argument in the 21st century bare watching since to them, material reality dictates that it is not people of European descent that need to be culled… the numbers must be reduced from other parts of the world (read: people of color)
Population control has a racist and genocidal logic to it, and in a desperate attempt to hold on to power, this kind of barbarism has it’s ideological underpinnings.
The First Purge is an indictment of the danger in making Malthusian arguments. That’s a bell that can’t be unring. Evoking the occurrences of Charlottesville, we see Klansmen in hoods brandishing AK-47s. It’s the Turner Diaries in film format.
In a country awash in blood due to gun culture, and racist murders happening every 36 hours, who is to say that saving the mayhem for one 12 hour period a year is any more savage than what we see occurring now?
At a time where we are seeing ICE raids and detainment centers, this film may be a bit too reality adjacent. At this point, the series should probably stop. It shows a few surviving, but considering how dire matters are, this social commentary may have come too late. What’s the point of having a cautionary tale if we’re on the edge of sliding right into the abyss anyway?