Anarchy, According To “The Purge”

A trailer for the sequel to last year’s low-budget dystopian thriller, “The Purge,” was released on Thursday,  February 13, to fanfare about as modest as for the first film.

If this trailer is any indication, the plot for “The Purge 2: Anarchy” looks almost note-for-note the same as its predecessor.

The setting for both films is a future America, Norman-Rockwell-idyllic in almost every way: Poverty  cured, crime abolished. Government is big and invasive, but one really gets the sense that people care … except for one night a year, when all laws go unenforced and emergency services shut down. All crime is legal. Everyone can do whatever they want.

This 12-hour period is called “the Purge.” In the first film it was the setting for a rather bland and kind of problematic home invasion flick. Upper-class white protagonists, somewhat lower-class white antagonists, and  a black man on the run from the antagonists serving as maguffin.

The second movie seems to set up a similar dynamic: Nice white couple on a little drive (an hour before the Purge is scheduled to begin) find themselves stranded in The Bad Part Of Town when their car breaks down on the freeway. They’ll have to pit their wits against chaos and survive until sunrise against evil (probably Hispanic, were I to venture a guess) people on dirt bikes in this, the ultimate neoliberal argument against anarchism.

We live in the age of progressive co-option of radical politics. Occupy Wall Street, whatever else one might say about it, was initially a space for anti-authoritarians to emulate protests around the world: The Day of Rage, Tunisia, Egypt’s Tahrir Square. It became more of a networking and platform space for liberals like Michael Moore as time went on, but despite that, it still arguably influenced the public dialogue.

“The Purge: Anarchy” is the latest in a fairly new line of movies aimed at chastising liberals who marched and participated in Occupy alongside anarchists. It’s meant to reinforce the cultural narrative that anarchism is synonymous with chaos, and that those who dare call themselves anarchists want to assassinate people and throw bombs at mailboxes.

The movie will ignore entirely the reams of data sociologists have collected over the years, not to mention the example set by Occupy, suggesting that a stateless society, or even just a stateless pocket within society, will not devolve into chaos. A recent study performed by  Auckland University of Technology and Otago University in New Zealand discovered that when playground rules were abolished and children left essentially unsupervised during lunch and recess, chaos did not ensue. Surely grown adults can be trusted to behave as well as young children in a situation of statelessness?

This ignorance is deliberate. The message: The state’s existence is not only necessary for certain functions, it’s vital for your survival. Does it matter that what “The Purge” depicts bears no resemblance to anarchism? No. All that matters is that moviegoers are scared enough for two hours into believing it.

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