Can 'The Purge' happen in real life too? Experts uncover the dark truth
'The Purge' is based on the tradition of sanctioned criminal play in an altered America for a specific period of time with minimal restrictions.
What happens when there is no law, no governing body to enforce the rules and regulations, and most importantly when criminal activities are not considered illegal? Society goes rogue? In the times we live in, it's almost impossible to imagine such an establishment, outside the realms of cinematic productions that is, where anarchy and bedlam are not looked down upon and are rather treated as a means of restoration.
Restoration of a society riddled with poverty, crime, and national debt with the aid of chaos. Sounds like an oxymoron but such is the premise of USA Network's latest TV series, 'The Purge,' which is based on the idea of allowing sanctioned criminal play in an altered America for a specific period of time with minimal restrictions.
Other than certain government and army officials (and of course the affluent members of the New Founding Fathers of America - NFFA) no one is immune to the purge night, where for a period of 12 hours all hell breaks loose.
With the premise established, last week's episode, in a stark departure from James DeMonaco's style of Purge movies, introduced viewers to a slow-burning narrative only to take the drama a notch higher in this week's 'Take What's Yours'. If the premiere, 'What is America', was an initiation into the dystopian reality and its various key players - Rick, Jenna, Lila, Miguel, Penelope, and Jane - episode 2 was all about putting each character under the scanner, analyzing their motivation for supporting/opposing the Purge.
Despite the lack of action and bloodshed - a trademark of movies - the Purge TV series has so far managed to retain interest, thanks to its series of flashbacks and a complicated pattern of Purge-inspired thinking. Even those characters in the scheme of the plot, who appear to be repulsed by the idea of purging, are in one way or another actively involved in the narrative. So much so, that at some point, beyond all logic and rationale, we as spectators get equally engrossed in the happenings.
Dabbling in a storyline essentially laced with aggression, 'The Purge' raises some quintessential questions - one of them being, how does this '12-hour lawless lockdown' translate into the real world? According to Veena Paul, a counseling psychologist, and psychotherapist, it doesn't.
"I don't think it makes sense at all because the need for aggression is not a natural one that requires a release," she tells Meaww, explaining "it's an acquired coping mechanism." Paul's understanding of this cinematic concept of 'The Purge' opens a different can of worms altogether, one that certainly questions the reality and practicality associated with this so-called purging.
Even before the series had kicked off, sending our imagination wild, producer Jason Blum had shared some teasers about the potential of stories in this altered reality.
"We're working on kind of exploring what it's like to live the rest of the year in a world where you can kill someone on a certain day of the year... So we're definitely thinking about different things that might happen in a society where killing was legal 12 hours a year," he said adding, "There are a lot of things that you don't think about. You could commit a murder, and then somehow make it seem like it happened on Purge Night and get away with it."
While all of this undoubtedly makes for engaging television drama, it has little or no relation to pragmatism whatsoever. For instance, the USA Network series offers ample reasons behind the need for a purge but no explanation on the repercussion. In the real world, heinous acts of crimes cannot take place without any consequence or even without affecting the one who purges/or who is purged upon. Keeping all this in mind, purge at its best works as a hypothetical idea, far from the real.
"So, if this is asking whether a purge would work in the real world? Short answer: No. The purge is functionally a binge, a crime, and violence binge that allows the cathartic release of all such urges once a year. In terms of a binge, there are numerous examples of such socially sanctioned events, such as carnival. However, while the carnival is about excess and upturning social norms and rules, it does not intentionally enable destruction and violence. The structure of the binge in the carnival is also balanced with lent that follows it, a religious observation that emphasizes self-denial, penance, and abstinence," says Dillan Newman, PhD student, Cinema Studies, University of Toronto.
He further explains, "The purge, of course, does not contain along with it a balancing function. As such, the binge of the purge is without a course correct, as the stable functioning of the society in the rest of the year is incapable of acting as such. Also, it would fail in a real-world scenario because it would simply be too destructive."
"The violence of the purge brings along all of the worst features of destabilization and social unrest, without any of the benefits that could be had with an intentional attack on a social order that seeks to reorder and restructure it, since it is mobilized specifically with the goal of maintenance," he tells us.
An obvious impact of the purge seems to be the desensitization of the purger. Indulging in everything illegal with the long-term aim of curbing crime is a fantastical dream, to say the least. What is the assurance that a person who has already become an offender won't fall off track and pursue violence again? Also there is no means to ensure that such an act only happens within the specified time period, as normalized by the government in the altered universe of Purge. If anything, 12-hours of unchecked aggression is only going to breed further violence and anarchy.
At times though, the reality is stranger than fiction. And that is exactly the thin line, which the Gabriel Chavarria, Hannah Anderson, Jessica Garza, Lili Simmons, Amanda Warren, Colin Woodell and, Lee Tergesen-starring USA Network thriller is treading. When the Purge-worshipping cult member, Melissa is grabbed by a bunch of hooligans donning masks of US presidents, there is no lack of suggestions.
Indeed, the storyline, in one way or another, seems to be evoked by elements of the socio-political climate. That said, the plot of the thriller shouldn't have any bearing on the quality or appropriateness of the content for fans of serious television thriller/horror. As Newman puts it, " Judgments on the appropriateness of shows or content should not be made based on hypothetical viewers who are naive and easily influenced by what they watch or hear."