In the America seen in The Purge movies, all crime is legal for one night of the year. Emergency services are canceled, and the American people are free to act out their most violent fantasies, killing, raping and maiming at will. It's violent, but in Purge world, unemployment is at 1% and the American economy is strong. Sounds pretty good... if you're on the right side of it, and you can live with yourself knowing that your life came at the cost of your neighbors' lives.
It's a fascinating premise for a movie, but a horrifying concept for real life. Is The Purge realistic, or simply an overwrought idea for an excitingly violent movie? Despite a few pranksters advertising a 'real Purge', it has not happened in recent times. History, however, offers a number of real life parallels.
Historically, many instances of political killings have been referred to as 'purges', such as the Shanghai massacre (1927) and the Night of the Long Knives (1934). The idea of one part of society turning on another is not a new one, with societal purging based on religious, ethnic or political hatred happening many times in different cultures. The closest example of an actual, state-legitimized 'Purge' in real life happened in Ancient Sparta.
The Crypteia was a system in which every year, young Spartan warriors were legally allowed to kill the subjugated helot population without punishment. The ruling class were given permission to kill with impunity, and although The Purge is a right given to everyone within the movie, in practice, it is the callous, rich ruling class who are more able to abuse their power, killing the poor and vulnerable. This helped to keep the Spartans in power. Great for Spartans, pretty terrible for the helots, and let's face it, in this world of extreme rich and extreme poverty, most of us would be the helots in this scenario!
So The Purge does have a firm basis in history, but is it a viable option in modern times? Sociologist Lester Andrist disagrees:
The film doesn't really support good sociological theory: that we're pent up with frustration and rage, and that if we were all allowed to commit a crime one night out of the year, that we would somehow hold onto that, let it carry to that night and unleash all of the violence that we wanted. It's an interesting and provocative idea and I like it as a device to tell a story. But in point and fact it's just not how it works.
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Would The Purge really result in a low unemployment rate and a strong economy?
Unlikely. The '1% unemployment' figure and the benefits of The Purge are made up for the movie, but there's no evidence to show that allowing the public to kill, rape and commit lesser crimes once a year would actually improve society.
The emergency services are put on hold during the 12 hours of The Purge, but continue as per normal the next morning. The medical costs of healing the injured, building costs of repairing property damage, and the knock-on effect of a traumatized population would be astronomical. The moral cost is even greater...
The Purge: Fantasy V Reality
Many people who think The Purge would be a good idea in real life have an unrealistic view of what would happen. They assume their own personal safety, for one, forgetting that any amount of protection, security and skill with firearms cannot ever guarantee your safety. Many Purge supporters have fantasies about going vigilante and beating up child molesters, when really the violent chaos would more likely ensure the opposite would happen, ie. predators preying upon the weak and/or innocent.
Those unable or less able to protect themselves in a Purge scenario are some of the most valued or innocent people in our society:
- The Elderly
- People who prefer to help rather than hurt others
- People with disabilities
Group 2, the people who would actively enjoy The Purge, are a less savory bunch:
- Gangs / groups of disaffected youths
- Violent and aggressive people
- People with bizarre beliefs / ideological hatred
- Extreme antisocial people / psychopaths
I think I know which group I'd rather hang out with, and I definitely know which group I'd prefer the laws of my country to protect. Many of the very worst elements in society would actually be protected in the event of The Purge, locked up in remote high security prisons and kept safe from the wrath of would-be vigilantes. Unless the guards turned on them, or made them fight each other to death... Whoah, call Blumhouse, I think I've had an idea for The Purge 4!
Do you think that 'The Purge' is a good idea?
Can you think of any historical examples of Purge-like situations, and do you think that The Purge is a realistic prospect for modern society?