’sode 5: “They Live” in Trumplandia


Don’t worry, fans—the World Famous Defenders are alive and well. We’re back to “fight the fade” after an unintended hiatus caused by a series of scheduling conflicts, an automobile accident and concussion, and heart surgery.

But finally we got our shit together enough to have a chat with David Schmid, crime fiction critic and professor of English at the University at Buffalo.


bubblegumWe wanted to get David’s thoughts about John Carpenter’s 1988 cult film They Live and how we might read the film in the Trump era. It’s a classic of paranoid political science fiction and genre-blending B-movie masterpiece.

In addition to our own readings of the movie, we draw quite a bit on Jonathan Lethem’s They Live (Soft Skull Press, 2010), Slavoj Žižek’s The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012), graphic artist Shepard Fairey, Marxist critic and theorist Fredric Jameson, and even H. P. Lovecraft.

nada-comic-ray-nelson-bill-wray-page-1We also discuss the inspiration for the movie. While the film’s credits cite Ray Nelson’s story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” published in Fantasy & Science Fiction in November 1963, we argue that it’s truly based on “Nada,” the comic book version of the story by Nelson and artist Bill Wray, published in Alien Encounters #6 in April 1986 (only two years before the film was released).

(You can find the story and the comic conveniently in one place here on Sanjin Đumišić’s blog.)

While They Live seems at times to be riddled with plot holes and ideological incoherence, we suspect that this is at least partly intentional. Whether it is or not, the film is definitely worth returning to in the Trump era—where prevarication is the coin of the land, where conspiracy theories are propagated by the president himself, and where discovering that we’re all being controlled by a cabal of greedy ghoulish alien (or maybe robot?) overlords would come as as a surprise to absolutely no one.



Definitely check out the books and movies cited above, as well as Carpenter’s other movies, particularly his 1982 remake of The Thing (perhaps the greatest SF/horror film of all time).

And check out David Schmid’s books and lecture series. You can find a list of them on his University at Buffalo professor page. David also tipped us off on where to buy limited edition Donald Trump They Live masks.


Eric: In this episode, Eric gives a shoutro to Jeremy Saulnier’s taut 2013 thriller, Blue Ruin. The film is a realistically grounded revenge story about a loser who is, as Eric puts it, “not very good at revenge.”

Jono has been watching the Netflix original Abstract: The Art of Design, which he calls a cool look into the work of several designers in a variety of industries, from shoes to cars.

Brandon: As always, one shoutro isn’t enough for Brandon.

First, he urges listeners to check out John Malkovich’s audiobook reading of Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. The book itself has some new resonance in the Trump era, and Malkovich’s reading is inspired and hilarious.

Second, he gives a shoutro to Hugo Wilcken’s book on David Bowie’s 1977 album Low. The book is part of 33⅓, Bloomsbury’s series on iconic albums.

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