They Live, We Sleep: A Dictatorship Disguised as a Democracy
By John Whitehead - August 05, 2015

"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

We’re living in two worlds, you and I.

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.

This article contributed courtesy of The Rutherford Institute.

  • Bruce C.

    The irony is that most people seem to like their lives so the only fear is that it may not last. If “the hammer” means the end of current Western lifestyles then – yeah – that’s pretty scary.

  • Barney Biggs

    I have maintained for many many years that sports is the opiate of the masses and now I have to add entertainment industry to that mix.
    I meet with people and often the subject of conversation is not the economy, and other subjects that should be of importance to most people but rather either sports or the entertainment or TV shows. This seem to be regardless of age.
    I have also maintained for many years that the US NEEDS an enemy and if they do not have one then they will manufacture one.
    Currently we have Putin and they are trying desperately to get the public through their media to buy into this. The fact that the Crimea is a non starter and had an election to join Russia is ignored. If the US did not have an enemy where would the military industrial complex get funding and heaven forbid people should actually start to think. Build Putin into Satan and keep sports and entertainment front and center and all will be well.

    • Bruce C.

      A lot of Americans seem to like – or at least respect – Putin. At least he has balls. Romney, in the 2012 Presidential campaign, was laughed off the stage when he said Russia was our most serious threat. And, as you said, nobody cares about Crimea, etc., and nobody cares about ISIS or the Middle East either.

      The last best choice is China, but it’s going to take a lot to get any attention. Everybody “knows” that China “owns” the US (NOT: the Fed owns 4 times as much US debt), but nobody seems to care. Everybody has heard about the Chinese stealing intellectual property but nobody seems to care. China is building up its military but we’re assured that they have a long way to go, so nobody seems to care. Now we learn that the Chinese like to eat human fetuses in an aphrodisiac soup to gain its “life force” but since nobody seems to care about selling fetal body parts here in the US that doesn’t register either (http://www.barnhardt.biz/).

      It’s going to take something hard-hitting, like getting China to stop making cell phones for the US market, or maybe not making any more cheap shit at all. That would be something to fight about.

      • Barney Biggs

        What will get a segment of the population is that they now have a dog eating festival in China.

        They have hundreds of dogs that they chop up and cook of all kinds. They will eat anything that does not eat them first.

        By the time the sheeple wake up it will be too late as usual.

        • Bruce C.

          I’m not so sure. About an equal number prefer cats, and I think cats are cool in China. Without a majority that’s a non-starter too.

          • Barney Biggs

            Not entirely sure what you are saying but the fact is that they are now in the middle of that dog festival.
            It is raising hell all over with the animal lovers.

          • Bruce C.

            “Raising hell all over…”. All over China or all over the world? I haven’t heard about it. Are you saying dog/animal lovers in the US are upset? If so that’s still not enough upset people to start a war with China. However, if they start a cat eating festival too then that could be the last straw.

          • Barney Biggs

            They are raising dogs to eat.

            The Chinese are making new Islands in the sea there and plan to make military bases on them. Hundreds of ship loads of sand and rock etc. dumped into the sea and they are now above sea level.

            The Chinese are reported to have approx 10,000 tons of gold and as the largest gold producer in the world they can do that without too much trouble.

    • lois

      I agree. I read years ago, that professional sports will be a diversion for the American people. I think the same for TV, “entertainment”. They take up your time, indoctrinate. Whatever happened to God, & time with family and friends?

      When I was young, we didn’t have a TV until I was about 12 years old. My Dad was hesitant, called Hollywood sin city. He said beware of what you see and hear. He was SO right. Before TV, we were always visiting family and friends, and family and friends coming to visit us. We did listen to the radio, but my Dad had control of the radio. We played with our friends, and toys.
      I thank God for my parents! My parents took us to church every Sunday. My Dad taught us to pray, say Grace, thank God for our blessings.

      The Scripture says, in the end times, satan and the serpent seed will use the four dynasties to destroy. Satan will twist, deceive in every way.

      • Diocletian

        Apparently your mind is still willfully in the crib where your parents’ religious indoctrination of you during your naive, impressionable youth is concerned.

        All that a human being requires in order to see past the junk, sophistry, and speciousness proffered in every form (TV, etc.) and in every subject is NOT prayer, but a mind unconditionally committed to reason, i.e. reality-oriented, critical thinking.

        In short: Choose to learn to check your premises, and the premises of NOTthose of all around you.

        • Diocletian

          Correction: In short: choose to learn to check your premises, and the premises of those of all around you.

        • Barney Biggs

          I am not a church goer but have met people with real faith and they have a much better life than most.

        • lois

          I am thankful for the parents I had.

          Of course, in today’s world, people who have been indoctrinated through education, with the intention of turning away from God’s Word. Turn away from Scripture. This is why there is such turmoil, division today.

          Taking care of my teen granddaughter about 10 years ago, I got a real whiff of the indoctrinating school system. The principal at the high school began to know me well. I didn’t like what I saw. On one of my visits to the school, after an assignment and a crude drama play, the principal told me the school likes to teach the students “critical thinking”. He also told me in the same visit, he knew the Academia leans to the LEFT. I met a couple teachers, talked to another. I could see socialist/communist leaning teachers.

          With the Bible, learning God’s Word, there are no if’s, and’s or but’s. The Bible is a book of instructions on how to learn to live while on earth. There is no confusion.

          I feel such sorrow for those generations of the last 60 years, they’ve been hijacked big time. Satan causes confusion.

        • Barney Biggs

          It was my understanding of your country that you were allow to worship as you pleased, be that God, Sports, Booze, drugs or whatever. I also understood that your beliefs were tolerated without abuse. I must be thinking of some other country. Sorry.

      • Barney Biggs

        Probably true but sports and entertainment are much more than a diversion. I know a lot of folks who’s whole life revolves around the sports team and they can name most every actor going. It is their life believe it or not.

        It really is the opiate of many many people.

        • lois

          I agree with you. It’s a shame that people look at sports figures, actors, show people as idols.

          • Barney Biggs

            The main problem is Lois that they do this to the exclusion of the important things in life like family, neighbors and working for the future of the community and country.

            Sad state of affairs.

          • lois

            Barney, I agree with you!

            God, family, and friends are the keys to true happiness!

  • “Piñata Planet Syndrome”….a satire on the games the oligarchs play….posted at CanadaFreePress, PJMedia, and many more….

    “el Sindrome del Planeta Pinata”….at FauxScienceSlayer for the English impaired….find and share Truth….

  • Laird Minor

    My only quibble with this article is that he apparently doesn’t know what “fascism” is. It’s nominal private ownership of the means of production but under the control of government, not the other way around.

    • Centurian

      In his book, he describes fascism exactly as you have.

      However, an additional dimension is the current corporatist control of the government. Regulations are written to favor certain interests over others and to give advantage to cronies using public funds. The Ex-Im Bank, EPA, IRS and other agencies specifically favor certain competitors and industries to the disadvantage of others. When the Pols get their cut, they are “captured” or influenced to control entire industries for the sake of the few companies.

      This creates control over the companies, since, if they pull their support for the Pols, they will be on the receiving end of some disadvantageous new regulations.

      Whitehead contends that we are on a spectrum somewhere between Corporatism (arguably corporate control of government) and Fascism (government control of nominally private corporations). At the moment, depending which corporations you look at, we have some of both and appear to be moving closer to Fascism.

      I’ll give one example of how some of this will likely work. The insurance and healthcare industries lobbied heavily for the creation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). They poured money and influence into making it law.

      So, far, they have used it to raise a lot of money in new premiums and higher healthcare prices to more people with some form of insurance. But, they are also experiencing blowback over costs and limitations on services such as in plan providers, formularies, etc. To increase the cashflow to the Pols, Congress continually threatens to end the program, then demurs when the industry pays up.

      The government is now using this “unexpected” set of problems to increase regulation of the industries. Just yesterday, Obama encouraged the states to not allow the insurers to increase premiums. Eventually, access will decline, policies and care will become more costly and ‘we the sheeple’ will beg the government to do something about it. That’s when the nationalization of healthcare will take place. But most people won’t really notice. We will probably all be sorted into Medicare Advantage policies or Medicaid if not affluent enough to fleece.

      There will still be private and religious hospitals in name, but a single government payer, probably, like Medicare, managed through nominally private carriers and intermediaries like BCBS, Aetna, Well Point, etc. will call the shots on care and costs.

      What problem was Obamacare supposed to fix? It was rising healthcare costs and access to health insurance. Why did those problems exist? It was due to government interference in the market through Medicare and Medicaid.

      Medicare drove the itemized cost per service payment arrangement. If you paid at McDonalds the same way you pay for healthcare, You would pay a fee for the beef patty, another for the bun, another for the condiments, one for the paper wrapper, another for the staff to serve you, another for the burger flipper, another for the cost of the facility and some overhead to cover the 40 guys in the back room trying to figure out how to maximize your bill without going to jail. Based on your nutritional insurance plan or the government plan, you would see an invoice for your burger in 45 days. Since the restaurant would be required to provide free burgers to the homeless and others claiming no ability to pay and those with SNAP cards would only pay half of the restaurant’s cost of burgers with their benefits, your Big Mac might cost something like $50 or $60.

      I know healthcare providers who now count 70% of their patients as being covered by these two programs. In both programs, costs are “controlled” by paying less and making it illegal to make the patient pay the difference. In many cases, both programs pay below the provider’s cost of providing the service, driving the retail cost to the insured patients higher to cover the loss. Since only a fraction of patients and insurers will pay for the increased rates, it is usually necessary to raise rate by as much as 500% of the amount the provider seeks to recover.

      This particular frog has been slowly coming to a boil since the 60’s. It will likely be in a rolling boil within 5 years or so. The insurance and healthcare companies pushed for a corporatist solution that is rapidly developing into full blown Fascism.

      Everything is going accordion to plan!

      • Laird

        No argument with any of that. It’s just not “fascism” as classically defined.
        Perhaps it’s an Hegelian synthesis of fascism and corporatism: corporate interests don’t really dominate government, but neither does government really dominate corporate interests. They combine in a sort of synergistic duality in which each helps the other.* It just needs a new name, because “fascism” doesn’t cut it. That has simply become a fashionable code word for “something I don’t like”. Articles like this which so misuse the term don’t help impart clarity.
        * Fundamentally, the true control agents of both might be the same. I’m not a proponent of “Bilderberg” and “Trilateral Commission” conspiracy theories, but when you consider the reach of such as George Soros and Goldman Sachs you do have to wonder. Maybe there really are reptilian overlords!

        • MichaelLust

          I should have read further before I posted the reply above. Now I see that you had already anticipated and addressed the point of discussion I meant to raise. I like your description… a synergistic duality… suggests a step beyond mere symbiosis. I don’t quite agree that fascism isn’t an adequate term to describe it, though, or that it is really essential to distinguish between corporatism and fascism in public discussion (especially since I think that, in practice, they become indistinguishable anyway). I do agree that the term has baggage in popular parlance, but I have an unhealthy disinclination to abandon a useful word, simply because some people misunderstand it. I know its a conceit on my part. That is far from my only flaw.

    • MichaelLust

      It ends up coming to the same thing, Laird… in both an expressly, overtly fascist state, and in ours, with pretense of republican and democratic organization thinly veiling government for sale to the highest bidder, all lines between wealthy business interests and government quickly blur. It is almost pointless to ask which of them is at which end of the leash…which is the master, and which is the dog… because the same set of people comprise both allegedly-distinct groups. The rulers are rich, and the rich are rulers (THAT, of course, is a generalization… there will always be some who have achieved wealth on their own, but have not been invited to join, or have declined to participate in the activities of the ruling elite…unless and until the rulers manage to destroy them). In both cases, the fact is that private ownership is nominal… even if particular property is not seized, taxed, prohibited or subject to fee and licensure, government asserts the right to regulate, or even seize it, with the wave of a legislative or magisterial wand.

  • John Liozeris

    That’s a good review of the movie by the same name. I recommend all to see the movie. I’m going to buy it to pass along to 20 year olds in the family. I’m 68.

  • Gil G

    How many doom & gloomers such as Whitehead have a one-way ticket out of the country if things are going from bad to worse? History shows when society is taking a turn for the dangerous the smart solution is get out of there while you can. If such people decide to stay either they think society’s not that bad (surprise, surprise) or woefully underestimate how bad society can get.

    • Whitehead talked about this and why he stays in our February interview with him.

      And it’s absurd to limit to these two reasons why people stay.

    • MichaelLust

      Probably many DO underestimate how bad it can get… but people are naturally reluctant to leave their own country, family and what is familiar, even if they DO anticipate terrible events… and there are the matters of (1) having someplace to go; (2) where the perceived impending catastrophe will be at least less severe; and (3) having the resources to get there and survive. Your question isn’t really much of a challenge to the author’s assertions (which you decline to address, in favor of an oblique ad hom).

    • James Clander

      Please explain why he is a Doom & Gloomer ? I think he’s just telling it as it really is -no more.
      Trouble is there are apparently too many brain dead,fat ,lazy Americans who prefer to not think for themselves. If they did the whole World would be a better place. Your country needs a make over.

  • Jim Kluttz

    I don’t know why anybody is surprised by any of this. it is all perfectly natural. The human race is wildly successful in carrying out its mandate. In case we forget, our mandate is to make more DNA. We also have a few biological instructions built in to make sure we do just that. There are no built in instructions for civilization, peace and prosperity, etc. What we see is what we get.

  • fjr

    Ephesians 6:12for we wrestle not against flesh and blood,but against principalities,against powers,against the rulers of the darkness of this world,against spiritual wickedness in high places…..

  • Our current political system is not “dictatorship disguised as democracy”, but democracy as undisguised dictatorship. https://anenemyofthestate.wordpress.com/quotations-from-chairman-zhu/