Back in 1993 the world bore witness to the majesty of Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes trading barbs and beating the shit out of each other. Demolition Man was mostly just a fun popcorn movie, but at its core, there was an interesting look at society as a whole. Now, I won’t delve into the details of the movie – it’s readily available and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re not likely to see it now. And that’s okay; it’s not a movie for everyone, even if Snipes does a wonderful job of playing an overpowered psychopath and Stallone does a surprisingly good job at playing someone who’s completely at sea in a world he doesn’t understand.
Interestingly, the basic story of a bad guy and a good guy frozen and reawoken to find violence purged from society was lifted (uncredited, I might add) straight out of István Nemere’s 1986 novel Fight of the Dead. From what I’ve heard, this wasn’t the first time Hollywood filched a plot out of some Eastern European author’s work (Nemere is Hungarian) and used it as their own, nor would it be the last. I’ll let the courts handle that one, although it’s probably only a matter of time before Hollywood writers turn their greedy eyes toward the indie authors knowing full well we don’t have the economic resources to fight them in court.
But that’s neither here nor there and, since to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t happened yet, it’s a waste of time to fret about it. I would like to point out to Hollywood that there are a wealth of stories out there that could be bought on the cheap from authors who’d love the exposure. Or they can keep cranking out sub-par remakes of existing properties. Also, my email address is in the contact link. Let’s talk.
No, the reason I bring up Demolition Man today is because I just watched it again recently and something about it tugged at me. Deep inside its funny, black heart lies an interesting question: at what point can we say that a society that is functional for most needs to go? This is a question I’ve been grappling with in a book I’ve been writing off and on for a couple years now (dysRUPT, if you must know). The general gist of the story is society has become so enamored with safety, that it’s now illegal to do anything unsafe. There are rippling effects of this philosophy through the fabric of society: consumerism keeps people happy, even though they’re just buying slight variations on a theme, and it’s impossible to buy fried foods. As a result, some college kids start doing little things to shake up the world and soon it all blows up in their faces.
But Demolition Man got there first, even if its message was masked in explosions and shots at Taco Bell. That’s the subtle brilliance of the movie. Most of the action movies of the 80s and 90s didn’t even bother with a pretext of having a serious message underneath the big guys beating the snot out of each other, Total Recall notwithstanding. Demolition Man hinted at the idea that society should have some sort of balance between the safe and the unsafe, the good and the bad, and that even dangerous things can be okay (rat burgers). And yet, at the same time, it also asked an important question: If a society, no matter how lame it is, works, what right does the individual have to change that because it doesn’t work for him or her?
And that’s an important question to ask even in our real world. Theoretically, we should stick to a society that’s best for most people and it’s unlikely we’d ever create something that works well for everyone. So, for instance, if the plurality doesn’t give a rat’s ass what bathroom you use or if you’re doing a little wake and bake, what right do we have to create laws regulating those things? If a small handful of people get weirded out when someone says, “Fuck!”, should we fine people one credit for violation of the Verbal Morality statute? Or, should we tell people to shove it?
I’m not a fan of going out of my way to be a jerk toward people I don’t agree with or making fun of their feelings, but at the same time, I don’t feel that lying down and taking it is the best answer, either.
What are your thoughts on this? Outlaw everything you don’t like or learn to live with the things that skeeve you out? I’m on the learn to live with it side, personally.
2 thoughts on “Demolition Man”
Probably the most thoughtful analysis of Demolition Man I’ve ever read! Nice job, Eric!
Thank you, sir.