Over thinking Demolition Man,
or ‘The worrying/accurate future of Demolition Man, after analysing the film until reaching a ridiculous conclusion’,
Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone, Sandra Bullock and Wesley Snipes, is a science fiction/action movie released in 1993. It tells the story of police sergeant John Spartan (Stallone) cryogenically frozen as a punishment, after he led an unauthorised Special Forces operation to rescue hostages from the criminal Simon Phoenix (Snipes). After Phoenix is captured by Spartan it appears that collateral damage during the fracas caused the deaths of hostages. As punishment, both Spartan and Phoenix are detained and frozen in the California Cryo-Penitentiary’.
Cut to the year 2032, where upon being unfrozen for a parole hearing, Phoenix escapes (Why are parole hearing even happening , he doesn’t have any concept of time served whilst frozen, so why not just release him after time spent or keep him frozen indefinitely? Answer; plot progression). Phoenix’s escape leads to Spartan being unfrozen in an attempt to capture the now fugitive criminal. Spartan is accompanied during his difficult adjustment to the future by Lieutenant Lenina Huxley (Bullock), whom admires Spartan and 1990’s culture.
A cat and mouse game of 90’s action cinema thus occurs, with Phoenix causing all sorts of issues (attempting to kill politicians, general violence and erm, visiting a museum…obviously), for transpires that whilst Phoenix was in dreamland, someone had been uploading new skills and abilities in to his brain, kind of totally not like The Matrix, and seriously not in any way like Inception either! This means he now has the ability to hack in to computer systems and fight like Neo, or Blade, probably more like Blade, because y’know, he’s Blade.
On the other hand, Spartan is really not adjusting to life in 2032, he doesn’t understand the sea shells in the toilet that people press to clean their bum, much to the amusement of others that haven’t been asleep for forty years in a frozen prison of disenfranchisement, and he just can’t get on with this ‘healthy food’, relishing the opportunity to eat a ‘rat burger’ at one point in the film.
It appears there is no crime in San Angeles; therefore Phoenix is free to be a bad’un untill his heart’s content, as future police are as inept with violence as they are adept with seashells.
This is all popcorn fodder to drive the narrative and amuse audiences, and in itself the film is a completely acceptable piece of action cinema, with the inevitable finale being that (spoiler alert) Spartan and Phoenix have a big fight, ending with Spartan defeating Phoenix by kicking his liquid nitrogen frozen body in to lots and lots of criminal pieces.
Except it’s not, delving deeper in to the society presented in Demolition Man you being to see how areas in the film imply some strange and disturbing wider issues, making Demolition Man a darkly subjective portrayal of future society, and in certain respects, a worryingly accurate one.
As previously mentioned, the film takes place in 2032, 22 years after what the films describes as the “Great Earthquake”. This means that in 2010, a literal earth shattering event happened that has had long standing implications for this society. This is initially presented to us with the amalgamation of Los Angles, San Diego and Santa Barbara in to the super city of ‘San Angeles’.
The development of new cities is nothing new; the 1960’s gave us Telford, created in 1963 from a number of smaller towns which were joined together, and Redditch in 1964 (did you know that 90% of the world’s needles were manufactured in Redditch at one point? Ha, point, go me). So San Angeles is nothing unusual, but when you delve deeper in to the infrastructure of this new city, its police service and consumerism, then things start looking a little weirder.
San Angeles is like some sort of future Monaco, or the Vatican, it is a city state enjoying a high degree of autonomy. What marks it out from the rest of the USA (which we shall assume in 2032, has the same laws as today’s America) is how San Angeles appears to have become fanatically capitalist, an extreme version of modern America, and as such the general populace are subdued in to a passive malaise of consumerist dependency, at the expense of their rights.
“But where is the evidence?” You ask, take for example what happens when John Spartan swears in public, he is issued with a fine from an automated machine. This implies a society no longer respecting the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech”. San Angeles doesn’t allow freedom of speech, implying that this city doesn’t adhere to the American Constitution. Spartan swears, and the machine bleeps and tells him, “You are fined five credits for repeated violations of the verbal morality statute”. Do you know what kind of place is allowed to make its own rules? A City State.
When Spartan and Huxley go for a meal one evening, they drive to the restaurant in their police car (more on that meal later). Police officers do not drive their vehicles off, people with a company car do that, thus implying that the San Angeles police force are a private security firm, and the employees of this firm can use company vehicles as they would their own car. If the police are a private firm then that is further proof of a society content to allow the privatisation and capitalisation of every sector of governance. America already has a private health care system, it’s not too far of a jump for a city to become independent of its host nation and privatise the running of law enforcement.
This might explain why there are no guns in San Angeles at this period, as a means of pacifying its citizens, those in power have deemed guns to be illegal in San Angeles, and ensures gun violence is not possible. Indeed, the museum that Phoenix visits states the ‘Magnetic Accelerator’ gun is the last hand gun produced in the Millennium, so this city continues to control its citizens by denying them the ‘right to bear arms’, otherwise known and the second amendment. Again this supports the suggestion that San Angeles is an independent city state outside of The America’s jurisdiction.
It gets worse, as it appears that San Angeles ‘pseudo-pacifist’ society is actually a totalitarian state that is stricter than even George Orwell’s 1984, as Huxley reels off a list of things no longer allowed, informing Spartan that “it’s been deemed that anything not good for you is bad; hence, illegal. Alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, meat…”. Let’s break it down and down and consider the ramifications.
Alcohol, gone. Well we all know what happened during Prohibition in 1920’s America.
Caffeine, gone. Fancy waking up every morning without the benefits of coffee?
Contact Sports, gone. It’s not like team sports help a person’s mental health, as well as their physical health.
Meat, gone. Not just high cholesterol meats, like bacon and ham (sorry pigs), but ALL meats, including healthier options like Ostrich, Roast Beef and Bison.
Huxley goes even further, explaining that not only is diet and recreation now controlled and monitored in San Angeles, she says that “Abortion is also illegal, but then again so is pregnancy if you don’t have a licence”.
So not only are people denied an abortion if the pregnancy is unwanted, but you may well be declared a criminal for being pregnant without a licence! Presumably this is a society using the transceivers it implants in to its citizens as a means of checking for any hereditary illnesses or disorders, like actual companies such as www.23andme.com, who provide a ‘personal genome service’ for the public, only constantly and with not option for the public to opt out.
No wonder this is a ‘pseudo-pacifist’ society, the citizens of the city aren’t allowed to drink or eat what they want, play the sports that want; they’re constantly being checked bio-metrically for disease, alcohol and caffeine. They’re not allowed to do the unprotected sexing with whom they wish because it’s illegal, and transceivers likely know when you’re doing it! I’d be in a passive malaise if all I was allowed to do was eat soya, drink lemon water and feel tired every single day, never mind having to go to some sort of council office to obtain a licence to have a baby.
And speaking of having babies, as previously mentioned the citizens may not even be allowed to make them the old fashioned way in this city. Spartan and Huxley inevitably have a romantic subplot, which leads her to suggest they have sex, at which point Spartan assumes they’re about to head to the bedroom, when lo and behold, Huxley gets out her two flashing helmets (stop giggling) and they proceed to have as IMDB describes it “[futuristic, contact-free “sex”]”. I’m not describing it; you can watch the video below.
It’s not sexy, but it’s not gross. It’s not even sexy in a morbidly curious way, it’s just kind of trippy, like they’re watching Disney’s Black Hole but there’s lots of ‘mmmm’ and ‘uuhhh’ thrown in for good measure. Imagine, you’re not drunk after a date where you didn’t have any meat and you think, well maybe I can get some from this sexy guy or girl (let’s not automatically assume this is from the male gaze, please) and instead of doing the rumpy pumpy, you essentially end up watching a crappy video for a prog-rock band, but you’re not even high, because presumably marijuana is just as illegal in this bloody city as having a baby is, or playing basketball, because yeah, they’re all the same.
Yes, I’m being facetious for the sake of entertainment, but how far from the truth of today’s society is this? People sext each other and there are webcam websites where you can watch people do things to their bodybits, long distance sex toys are even a thing now, how far is this from what’s shown in Demolition Man?
The sad part though is how the younger generations in San Angeles, like Bullock’s Huxley, who clearly grew up after the earthquake, have been indoctrinated to think a world of non-contact not just equals a lack of violence, but is also the norm (which completely negates the importance of physical intimacy and touch in any relationship, let alone a society), as Huxley reacts in disgust to Spartan’s suggestion of them having actual sex, “Eeewww, disgusting! You mean… *fluid transfer*?”
“Fluid transfer”, eeeewww yourself Huxley! I’d hate to think what you refer to pooping as.
Speaking of shit, Taco Bell (Pizza Hut in regional variances) is the only restaurant in the whole of San Angeles that exists after the so called ‘franchise wars’, (anyone feel this was a nod to ‘A New Hope’s throwaway mensh of ‘Clone Wars’?). Again, this supports the idea that some form of extreme capitalism occurred following the great earthquake of 2010. With the amount of property damage following the quake, it’s a real possibility that many insurance companies went bankrupt, allowing giant businesses the opportunity to buy up land and create monopolies of ownership in the city? Again, look at the issues surrounding private businesses buying up land and building in major cities like London, and this is a film worryingly accurate in its predictions. It’d certainly support the idea of the police being a private company, and the biometric transceivers embedded in every resident could be used to provide direct marketing to citizens, much like cookies are used during web browsing today.
It also explains why the favourite radio station in the film, ‘Golden Oldies’ only plays advert jingles, as younger generations who grew up in such an overtly, hyper capitalist society wouldn’t think twice about these ‘songs’ directly telling you to buy products (much like product placement in music, film, tv, etc) and as with all capitalist culture, keeping the audience’s attention is paramount, therefore thirty second jingles wouldn’t be seen as abnormal. Consider commercial radio now, with all the adverts that come before and after the music, how far is it from a station that *only* plays adverts?
They say science fiction is a mirror, a metaphor for society as a whole. It is an opportunity for people to express society’s deepest fears, harshest truths, its brightest accomplishments and darkest regrets. In Demolition Man’s case, it’s there to show us how in the future we’ll be passive consumers of abject average-ness, with anything bad for us made illegal, regardless of how they make us feel physically, emotionally or psychologically. Is this too far from the truth now? The highest grossing film of 2014, Transformers: Age of Extinction, had over fifty product placements, Governments insist on food companies informing us of the nutritional value (or lack) of the food we consume, and fast food chains continue an unstoppable expansion across the UK.
Cryogenically frozen criminals might still be in the realms of science fiction, but a hyper capitalist society that claims to be pacifist, as well as passive in nature as businesses creep further in to a person’s private life, that doesn’t sound too fictional. Who knows, maybe in the future we will all have kinky virtual reality sex and eat at Taco Bell? Don’t dismiss such an idea too quickly, how often do you get an annoying advert jingle stuck in your head? Plus the UN has recently appointed an expert in regards to internet privacy, and admit it; you’ve sexted in the past.
No less worrying, two Taco Bells have recently opened up in Sheffield!
All we need now is for Arnold Schwarzenegger go to in to politics for this film to be the Nostradamus of 90’s science fiction…what do you mean that’s already happened?
Words: Fuzz Caminski