They Live, We Sleep: A Dictatorship Disguised as a Democracy

Ruled by an oligarchy disguised as a democracy on our way towards fascism

You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they’re people just like you. You're wrong. Dead wrong.”—They Live

There’s the world we see (or are made to see) and then there’s the one we sense (and occasionally catch a glimpse of), the latter of which is a far cry from the propaganda-driven reality manufactured by the government and its corporate sponsors, including the media.

Indeed, what most Americans perceive as life in America—privileged, progressive and free—is a far cry from reality, where economic inequality is growing, real agendas and real power are buried beneath layers of Orwellian doublespeak and corporate obfuscation, and “freedom,” such that it is, is meted out in small, legalistic doses by militarized police armed to the teeth.

All is not as it seems.

This is the premise of John Carpenter’s film They Live (1988), in which two migrant workers discover that the world’s population is actually being controlled and exploited by aliens working in partnership with an oligarchic elite. All the while, the populace—blissfully unaware of the real agenda at work in their lives—has been lulled into complacency, indoctrinated into compliance, bombarded with media distractions, and hypnotized by subliminal messages beamed out of television and various electronic devices, billboards and the like.

It is only when homeless drifter John Nada (played to the hilt by the late Roddy Piper) discovers a pair of doctored sunglasses—Hoffman lenses—that Nada sees what lies beneath the elite’s fabricated reality: control and bondage.

When viewed through the lens of truth, the elite, who appear human until stripped of their disguises, are shown to be monsters who have enslaved the citizenry in order to prey on them. Likewise, billboards blare out hidden, authoritative messages: a bikini-clad woman in one ad is actually ordering viewers to “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Magazine racks scream “CONSUME” and “OBEY.” A wad of dollar bills in a vendor’s hand proclaims, “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”

When viewed through Nada’s Hoffman lenses, some of the other hidden messages being drummed into the people’s subconscious include: NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, CONFORM, SUBMIT, STAY ASLEEP, BUY, WATCH TV, NO IMAGINATION, and DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY.

This indoctrination campaign engineered by the elite in They Live is painfully familiar to anyone who has studied the decline of American culture. A citizenry that does not think for themselves, obeys without question, is submissive, does not challenge authority, does not think outside the box, and is content to sit back and be entertained is a citizenry that can be easily controlled.

In this way, the subtle message of They Live provides an apt analogy of our own distorted vision of life in the American police state, what philosopher Slavoj Žižek refers to as dictatorship in democracy, “the invisible order which sustains your apparent freedom.”

We’re being fed a series of carefully contrived fictions that bear no resemblance to reality. The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shooters, bombers). They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being. They want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats. Most of all, they want us to continue to march in lockstep with their dictates.

Tune out the government’s attempts to distract, divert and befuddle us and tune into what’s really going on in this country, and you’ll run headlong into an unmistakable, unpalatable truth: the moneyed elite who rule us view us as expendable resources to be used, abused and discarded.

In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern University concluded that the U.S. government does not represent the majority of American citizens. Instead, the study found that the government is ruled by the rich and powerful, or the so-called “economic elite.” Moreover, the researchers concluded that policies enacted by this governmental elite nearly always favor special interests and lobbying groups.

In other words, we are being ruled by an oligarchy disguised as a democracy, and arguably on our way towards fascism—a form of government where private corporate interests rule, money calls the shots, and the people are seen as mere subjects to be controlled.

Consider this: it is estimated that the 2016 presidential election could cost as much as $5 billion, more than double what was spent getting Obama re-elected in 2012.

Not only do you have to be rich—or beholden to the rich—to get elected these days, but getting elected is also a surefire way to get rich. As CBS News reports, “Once in office, members of Congress enjoy access to connections and information they can use to increase their wealth, in ways that are unparalleled in the private sector. And once politicians leave office, their connections allow them to profit even further.”

In denouncing this blatant corruption of America’s political system, former president Jimmy Carter blasted the process of getting elected—to the White House, governor’s mansion, Congress or state legislatures—as “unlimited political bribery… a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the election is over.”

Rest assured that when and if fascism finally takes hold in America, the basic forms of government will remain. As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, fascism will appear to be friendly. The legislators will be in session. There will be elections, and the news media will continue to cover the entertainment and political trivia. Consent of the governed, however, will no longer apply. Actual control will have finally passed to the oligarchic elite controlling the government behind the scenes.

By creating the illusion that it preserves democratic traditions, fascism creeps slowly until it consumes the political system. And in times of “crisis,” expediency is upheld as the central principle—that is, in order to keep us safe and secure, the government must militarize the police, strip us of basic constitutional rights, criminalize virtually every form of behavior, and build enough private prisons to house all of us nonviolent criminals.

Clearly, we are now ruled by an oligarchic elite of governmental and corporate interests. We have moved into “corporatism” (favored by Benito Mussolini), which is a halfway point on the road to full-blown fascism.

Vast sectors of the economy, government and politics are managed by private business concerns, otherwise referred to as “privatization” by various government politicians. Just study modern government policies. “Every industry is regulated. Every profession is classified and organized,” writes economic analyst Jeffrey Tucker. “Every good or service is taxed. Endless debt accumulation is preserved. Immense doesn’t begin to describe the bureaucracy. Military preparedness never stops, and war with some evil foreign foe, remains a daily prospect.”

In other words, the government in America today does whatever it wants.

Corporatism is where the few moneyed interests—not elected by the citizenry—rule over the many. In this way, it is not a democracy or a republican form of government, which is what the American government was established to be. It is a top-down form of government and one which has a terrifying history typified by the developments that occurred in totalitarian regimes of the past: police states where everyone is watched and spied on, rounded up for minor infractions by government agents, placed under police control, and placed in detention (a.k.a. concentration) camps.

For the final hammer of fascism to fall, it will require the most crucial ingredient: the majority of the people will have to agree that it’s not only expedient but necessary. But why would a people agree to such an oppressive regime? The answer is the same in every age: fear.

Fear makes people stupid.

Fear is the method most often used by politicians to increase the power of government. And, as most social commentators recognize, an atmosphere of fear permeates modern America: fear of terrorism, fear of the police, fear of our neighbors and so on.

The propaganda of fear has been used quite effectively by those who want to gain control, and it is working on the American populace.

Despite the fact that we are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack; 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane; 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack, and 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist, we have handed over control of our lives to government officials who treat us as a means to an end—the source of money and power.

We have allowed ourselves to become fearful, controlled, pacified zombies.

In this regard, we’re not so different from the oppressed citizens in They Live. Most everyone keeps their heads down these days while staring zombie-like into an electronic screen, even when they’re crossing the street. Families sit in restaurants with their heads down, separated by their screen devices and unaware of what’s going on around them. Young people especially seem dominated by the devices they hold in their hands, oblivious to the fact that they can simply push a button, turn the thing off and walk away.

Indeed, there is no larger group activity than that connected with those who watch screens—that is, television, lap tops, personal computers, cell phones and so on. In fact, a Nielsen study reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month.

The question, of course, is what effect does such screen consumption have on one’s mind?

Psychologically it is similar to drug addiction. Researchers found that “almost immediately after turning on the TV, subjects reported feeling more relaxed, and because this occurs so quickly and the tension returns so rapidly after the TV is turned off, people are conditioned to associate TV viewing with a lack of tension.” Research also shows that regardless of the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them into a more passive, nonresistant state.

Historically, television has been used by those in authority to quiet discontent and pacify disruptive people. “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek.

Given that the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by six mega corporations, what we watch is now controlled by a corporate elite and, if that elite needs to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers, it can do so on a large scale.

If we’re watching, we’re not doing.

The powers-that-be understand this. As television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a 1958 speech:

We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

This brings me back to They Live, in which the real zombies are not the aliens calling the shots but the populace who are content to remain controlled.

When all is said and done, the world of They Live is not so different from our own. As one of the characters points out, “The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society and we are their unwitting accomplices. Their intention to rule rests with the annihilation of consciousness. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain.”

We, too, are focused only on our own pleasures, prejudices and gains. Our poor and underclasses are also growing. Racial injustice is growing. Human rights is nearly nonexistent. We too have been lulled into a trance, indifferent to others.

Oblivious to what lies ahead, we’ve been manipulated into believing that if we continue to consume, obey, and have faith, things will work out. But that’s never been true of emerging regimes. And by the time we feel the hammer coming down upon us, it will be too late.

# # # #

John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. He is the president and spokesperson of the Rutherford Institute. Mr. Whitehead is the author of numerous books on a variety of legal and social issues, including A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law, and served as an officer in the United States Army from 1969 to 1971.

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  1. Corporatism being only “halfway to Fascism”, Mr. Whitehead?I submit that Fascism is already here. I offer the following quote from Mussolini himself, the founder of modern Fascism, to buttress my point.

    “The ESSENCE of Fascism IS Corporatism. The Convergence of Governmental and Corporate Power.”

  2. Actually, it is not even who has the most money that is in control, but who has the most potent data. On that note, who really controls the intelligence apparati (is that a word?) of this world? Whoever that is is who is in co trol.

    • I have to claim Balloney there Namsake…the data that is ……vs the data that was….. if you get my drift!
      I mean there is some sort of spunge or pillow, or slack where the ”hard data” is sort of… well ….?
      How about the pictures of J Edna… well how about the stuff about the whole bunch of …. ”THem” and U and me…. Pardner?

  3. “This indoctrination campaign engineered by the elite in They Live is painfully familiar to anyone who has studied the decline of American culture.”

    I didn’t study the decline of American culture but what is “painfully clear” to me is that the problem is not with “they” but with this society, the people, and “American culture.” Just watching this artless film is sufficient to see the problem. Its “American” characters are so empty of any human interest, ideals, values, and thought that I find it difficult to sympathize with them. One way or another, Carpenter must have felt that one huge black hole in homo Americanus his film was supposed to defend because and he could not find anything better but to fill it with Nada and Frank beating the hell out of each other which made the longest sequence of the film. This apparently was intended as a metaphor of how hard it was to make the American people open their eyes on the reality of their lives. In fact, Carpenter’s film is one of many similar phony cinematic commodities which only strengthen the system they supposedly expose. Do the American viewers learn from this film about the social-economic causes of the “decline of American culture”? Do they learn how to organize to reclaim their country (if it ever was theirs…). Do they learn at least what makes them “Americans” besides living in “America”? What is the purpose of their existence? The film is also reactionary in using all master swindles of Hollywood: The Individual as Savior and Violence for Good’s Sake. And just to make sure he’s not misunderstood by Hollywood bosses, Carpenter gives one of the “revolutionary” leaders that key phrase to say : “they think we’re commies or somethin'” implying ‘we are good Americans.’ And this brings me to this piece by John Whitehead. What is its purpose? Is it really that different *politically* and *intellectually* from Carpenter’s film?

  4. “…in early times, it was easier to control a million people, literally it was easier to control a million people than physically to kill a million people. Today, it is infinitely easier to kill a million people than to control a million people. It is easier to kill than to control….”

    That’s by Zbigniew Brzezinski.

    That is probably their new game plan against the populace. WW III would be the most likely proxy for it. Probably accompanied by various consumables.

    • Zbigniew has a very pretty daughter!
      But when I look at ZB, I see a devil lookin’ type, the hooked nose, the droll… bearing, he is creepy!
      Now scince I hear he wrote some book about how to take over the world, by making caos, and the US simply picks up the pieces… and Eurotrash Ass Holes like him are at the main table!!!!

  5. I should have added, the only solutions are escape, or complete awkening of the masses. And neither seem to be within reach.

    • I agree Namesake… I think the same, no way will these idiots wake up.
      No way is there any way that the stupid humans can come to terms with the monsters.
      It is just like the movie, where the dumb bastards don’t even have sense enoulgh to go get a gun and shoot the fucker!

      • of course I only mean in the sense like in the movies…gee. what is a piece?
        gee wiz mommy what is that thing daddy always puts in his belt?
        Oh we don’t know nuthi’n bout that sort of stuff.
        The day is comming pardner, and you will be left behnd if you ain’t ready, the fuckersbythe millionswill be stormingus… well you see a little taste of it there in Europe, but that is just for starters,

  6. ed nelson says:

    good guy Jimmy Carter! some how these good people get cancer

    go figure

    go figure MFR

    But I mean… if this world is going don like this… it really ain’t the world we wanted…

    I took acid in 1966 I sawr the world and the future and the past all in 4 hours…… I did a real big trtip
    I also sawr what will be the horrible …. Just leave it there, I saw it, you don’t want to see what I saw! Well I must tell you a little bit.. they muredered us… they used machine techknologie… like they made hamburgure out of us humans I saw it in full perfect collor… I was there, I saw it Nd I felt it… it was too scarry.

    .3there is a reason that LSD is more disallowed than many other opeates etc. LSD is a chemical thoat opens the mind… check ot Aldous Huxley… “” Doors of perception” Aldous took an LSD trip at the end of his life

  7. ed nelson says:

    I guess what I want to say is: that the funny thing is it seems too funny, but is juat as simple thatt….. a drug or a chemical… could provide the opening of the… “”doors of Perception” that chemical literally opens the minf snf you see through to another dimension.. You check it out I saw through to another dimension… It is really weird but it is true

    We wil die… but as we live, we shoould see what we can see… and we can see this… we can see this other world stuffl… it is available.. we can see it it may be in dreams or what ever

  8. “Body Snatchers” with the young Kevin McCarthy, was an eye opener for Sci Fi in my day, which somehow, is a genre that has… sort of vanished….
    Too much reality via metaphore?
    too much reality!!… that the real culprits, those who are depicted, via artistic metaphoric allusion in the movie (“Body Snatchers”… /… elite,) May find objectionable?

    You Bet!

  9. Is anyone ever going to do something about this ed nelson?

    • Not sure Namesake, not too sure of your question namesake…
      I could take your question as a threat: INO’s is anybody ever going to do something about EN!!
      But no, I don’t take that way Namesake, I don’t give a fuck, I am 70 and I give on hoot!
      YOu Namsake have made a really good point there I think, whcih is: “Is anybody goint do any thing?
      I tell you one thing now, in my cupps… I am almost obsessedwith this, and that is th\is: What could I have done to make the world better in my little life?
      What could I have done to help save the damned planet and stop the shit that the apes are doing?
      Yeah ‘Apes’ that is what humans are, pathetic monstrous apes!

      God is really pissed off by the way… (I think… )

    • Yes. Time for a direct e-mail with ‘warning’ …

  10. I dont think his posts are genuine. They’re just meant as harrassment and mocking mechanisms.

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