I was immediately intrigued to read The Medium is the Massage when I recognized the cover art had been redone by activist/street artist and founder of OBEY Propaganda, Shepard Fairey. Fairey has been known for creating art that often makes re
ference to the way propaganda is used by the powerful to control the masses into obeying. In fact, Fairey’s famous “OBEY” graphic is a reference to John Carpenter’s brilliant 1988 film about consumer culture, They Live. It’s a cheesy movie about a working-class hero struggling to find work in a harshly class-riven Los Angeles. The protagonist discovers, after slipping on a pair of special sunglasses, that the city’s abundant population of yuppies are aliens. With the help of the sunglasses he is capable of seeing the world the way it truly is, the world that McLuhan was trying to get us to see. Billboards become bold-text messages, a bikini-clad woman is replaced by “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Magazine racks exhort us to “CONSUME” and “OBEY.” A wad of bills in a vendor’s hand says “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”
Even more subversive, They Live is a thriller movie — a mass-consumable entertainment — which tries to reprogram its audience into anti-consumers. Everything we watch in a theater asks us, to some degree, to see the world as it does. But They Live literalizes that idea, forcing the shades on us to display a wholly different perspective. It’s hard to leave They Live or The Medium is the Massage without rethinking what controls you and why, and how loud of a voice you are in your own head. Because society is so fragmented, we live by individual, ‘hand picked’ beliefs rather than collective ones. However, we are limited to get an education, get married, and have kids; pushing us towards a monotonous unhappy life, because society has made this template for us to follow.The more victimized you feel by this rigidity, the more They Live will resonate.