Episode 258: Superman during The Purge

The Overthinkers tackle fictional surveillance states, PRISM, and The Purge.

Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather discuss fictional dystopian surveillance states, recourse to works of fiction in political discourse, PRISM, and The Purge.

Spoilers for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.


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Further Reading

Alternative Titltes for This Episode

  • It’s Watchmen All The Way Down
  • TCP/IP Werewolf Communications
  • The Surveillance State that Makes Us Buy Cereal
  • Big Wrather is Watching
  • In The 24th Century, Nobody Hates Each Other Because Everybody Hates Each Other
  • I Just Purged All Over Myself

17 Comments on “Episode 258: Superman during The Purge”

  1. Chris Morgan #

    Um, I’m PRETTY SURE “Big Brother is watching you” is from The O.C. you guys. I hate myself.

    I eat two bowls of Cheerios a day. I am a real American, fight for what’s right for every man.

    I also use an ad blocker, so you’re welcome. Sorry, but I try and limit my exposure to things that make me angry and/or sad, which includes many ads, and they never served a positive purpose to me anyway.


  2. phizzled #

    Copyright violation during the purge seems like the way to go. Or, if yiu could manufacture and sell a patented product during the twelve hours, you’d have committed an act proscribed by law and normally carrying the police power of the federal government such that you gain the benefits without continuing criminal action outside of the 12 hours.
    Sorty if this double posts. Weak cell signal.


  3. madiq #

    One thing that the movie doesn’t say explicitly but alludes to is a pretty omnipresent repressive government which presumably “deals with” dissent and criminality quite harshly. In an America where there are “New Founding Fathers” that push a mantra on the populace at large, we can assume a shadow government for whom a 12-hour cathartic event of violence and mayhem can both placate the masses and make them complicit in eliminating the undesirables. A better version of this movie would explore the dystopia more deeply, but sadly, it was not to be.


  4. Pasteur #

    Well actually, in Twilight, the werewolves’ packmind-thoughtspeak only applies when they are in their wolf form. While they are, the alpha (who is not jacob) can command other werewolves to act or share their secrets, even against the individual pack-member’s will. This causes Jacob to stay in human-shape for several extended periods, to keep a variety of Bella’s secrets safe from the other packmembers, and to eventually splinter off into his own micropack with Leah and Seth Clearwater (where he *is* the alpha and also debatably abuses his power [which the book does at least confront]). Seth is basically the only werewolf you actually like, or put another way, the Jessica Stanley of the supernatural side of the Twilight universe.

    Matt is of course right (as I think he has explained in greater detail before) that they are not canonically “werewolves” but “shape-shifters”.


  5. Tim Peever #

    Double-plus good podcast, guys.

    I work at a print shop where people frequently walk in expecting their email to have magical powers–like, just because they have a file in their email, it will be a simple process to print that out, and haven’t really thought about what that’s going to involve. That got me thinking about how sci-fi typically shows us futuristic, magical technology that people treat as being commonplace. I think a more plausible scenario is one where people don’t have any idea how their futuristic technology works or how to use it. “Just send the file to the chip in my brain.” “Hold on, I can’t get this to work.” “That’s the wrong file.” “Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m trying… shit, don’t look at that file.” “It’s in my brain. I don’t have much of a choice here.”


    • madiq #

      You raise a good point. It would be tremendously fun to see depictions of the beta or 1.0 versions of the tech we treat as commonplace in futuristic sci-fi, as well as the banal infrastructural management underlying the widespread adoption of each invention.


  6. BastionofLight #

    Are there works of science fiction dealing with the origins of dystopias?


  7. Brimstone #

    I only know Lena Heady from Dredd, which is probably a surveillance state.


  8. Ben Adams OTI Staff #

    To me, the biggest problem with the Purge is the effect it would have on contracts. Even contracts made the other 364.5 days a year would be impossible to rely on – any kind of long-term relationship or obligation could just be voided by some sort of criminal action during the Purge.

    Homeowners insurance? Burn down your house during the purge. Personal loan? Kill your lender during the purge. Don’t want to fulfill your contract to deliver widgets to a factory? Blow up the factory.

    Even aside from that, you could get out of any debt – tender the payment 5 seconds before the Purge begins (thus fulfilling your obligation), then rob the guy you just paid the money to.

    The Purge would, however, be great for large corporations that are frequently subject to large civil lawsuits – send mercenaries to kill all the potential plaintiffs during the Purge.


    • madiq #

      I think that savvy lawyers would just insert “Purge clauses” that cover acts that while ordinarily illegal, would be legal during the Purge. I guess, in addition to crime being legal, some kind of blanket immunity for intentional torts arising out of criminal acts would also apply, but there’s no reason that the rules of liability would need to be suspended — the “reasonable person” standard would just have to take into account Purge conditions. After all, I think we could all assume that a security system purchased pre-Purge, were it to malfunction during the Purge, would be the kind of thing a company would be liable for damages against.

      As for the debt issue, anyone collecting a debt in cash immediately before the Purge would likely hire private security to accompany him/her from the site to his/her home, and while the risk of being doublecrossed would obviously be there, one suspects that any security agent who turns on his/her client would be blacklisted out of the industry (if not murdered in the next year’s Purge).

      There are quite a few cottage industries that would rise up around the time of the Purge, one of which being Personal Risk Assessment, where someone would study your interactions over the last year, and determine how many and how dire the threats to your person might be. That individual could analyze the patterns of behavior of your spouse to see if he/she might try to murder you because of an affair, or if a business partner might want to take over the company, or any other potential murder motives. Again, given the likely extensive surveillance state, these Risk Assessors likely have contacts in the government to draw upon to get the data the reports would be based on. It would be a good way for former civil servants to move into the private sector.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      I can imagine contracts that have some kind of “morning after” clause, where the parties establish some mechanism to assess damages arising from breach of the agreement during The Purge and collect them from one another. As long as the agreement doesn’t end during the purge, you’d have at least some kind of insurance against the other party doing something nasty.

      But this whole line of reasoning gets at what Pete was talking about during the podcast, which is the fundamental weakness in The Purge’s conception. Even the name “The Purge” implies getting rid of unwanted or unneeded people/things, and that’s not really the smart way to go in a purge scenario.

      My first instinct was counterfeiting, but Ben’s suggestion of insurance fraud might have more bang for the buck.

      Good question: What is the economically rational course of action during a 12-hour period where civil and criminal laws are suspended?


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