To get into the Halloween spirit, I have taken it upon myself to go through with my made-up tradition of watching as many scary films as I can before the actual Halloween day, despite it being midterm season. As usual, I fell into the temptation of procrastination last night, this time by watching The Purge. Directed by James DeMonaco, the film was released in 2013 and tells a story of a society in which there is one day every year when the rules of government are voided and people are free to do whatever they want without legal repercussions. The reasoning behind the creation of this holiday, despite its sounding absurdity, was to lower the rates of crime that happen throughout each year. This, in turn, is supported by the drastically low rates of crime that have resulted since the holiday’s inception. Many choose to use this day to kill others, steal, and engage in other violent activities. Others choose to sit quietly and safely in their homes, waiting for the day to pass so that they could get back to their peaceful and “normal” lives.
Throughout the film, we follow the Sandin family as they go through the annual Purge. They are a white family of noticeable wealth, as drawn from the high-tech security system that barricades their house from “outside threats.” At one point in the film, a black man is seen wounded outside the Sandins’ household, crying and screaming for help. Charlie, the youngest of the Sandin family, watches the security cameras outside their home and sees the man, eventually responding to his cries by unlocking the barriers to his house and calling to the man to come inside. Consequently, a group of people who are masked, but all of whom seem to be white based on the skin color of their arms, as well as the fact that their masks are also of white people, show up to the Sandin household to kill not only the black man, but also the Sandin family for helping him.
As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help but read it as an interpretation of actual living laboratories that we have encountered both in and out of class. As we have learned, living laboratories thrive off the idea of an “inferior” race needing to be expelled in order to preserve the purity of a “superior” race. In our reality, this self-proclaimed “superior” race is white people, whereas the supposed “inferior” race is people of color. In the second unit of our class, we learned how race and disease have been historically conflated in order to expel or sanitize bodies that were deemed “other” in the standards of white supremacy. In The Purge, it seems pretty non-coincidental that the man that the people are after and that “infects” the Sandins and their household is black. Instead, it seems to be a very deliberate reinterpretation of living laboratories that have existed and that continue to exist. It seems to reflect eugenic philosophies, that there is a race worthy of preserving over others due to contrived beliefs around superiority and inferiority of traits based on race.
Perhaps I’m being too analytical here, and my literary backings and love for films are coming up too strongly, but I was wondering if there is any validity behind the reading of The Purge as a living laboratory, as well as the reflection of living laboratories in films and other forms of art. If so, what makes these media important, and how should we go about engaging with and sharing them?