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They Live and The Impact of Media on Society

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They Live is dominantly a film about how media is being used to control society and it is only benefiting the creators. The plot of the film is based around this idea. It’s easy for the general audience to agree with Nada and feel suspicious of the media after watching They Live. However, I would argue that Nada is actually the antagonist of the film and the aliens are the victims. He represents discrimination and They Live is about racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.

There’s plenty of evidence for They Live being about the corruptness of media. Media is seen everywhere in the film as simple, controlling messages. People are often mindlessly watching television. The media is only seen to be helping the rich get richer. There is a sense of not being free because the media is manipulating people. The machine on the news station prevents the people from seeing what’s really in front of them. But there’s also plenty of evidence for the film being about racism. From the beginning there is a black man preaching about the aliens trying to control humans, more evidence for corrupt media. But he also says they are “our owners” and “they are our masters.” The decision to use these nouns and the race of the person saying them can be connected to slavery. Later, several images are shown on a television screen. There is an eagle, representing America, the land of the free. Then Native Americans are shown, and America has a history with Native Americans that completely contrasts the idea of freedom. Finally, a happy white family is shown as if to distract the viewers from thinking about injustices towards Native Americans. The remainder of the film is focused on modern racism.

In They Live, Nada sees media as manipulative and evil through his sunglasses. The sunglasses makes him see the true meanings, such as consume and obey. He can only see these messages in black and white, otherwise seeing things for what they are, stripped of all their make-up. He sees the aliens, who are supposedly trying to control humans, through the same means. But there is little evidence in the film that these aliens are trying to hurt the human race. When Nada first puts on the glasses, he is intrigued by the messages he sees. He only becomes concerned when he sees the aliens and immediately blames these messages on them, creating a reason to fear them. This thought process is similar to how foreigners become scapegoats for issues such as an ailing economy. The black and white images means that Nada can only see things as good or bad. In his view, true American born citizens are good and the aliens are bad. Nada is not having an eye opening experience. He puts on sunglasses, representing the clouding of his vision and his failure to see the aliens as good people.

The aliens are depicted as a threat to Nada because they pursue him and try to kill him after he sees the truth. Their depiction as skinless bodies make them look unattractive and frightening to the audience. Nada can also now see machines that follow him. For these reasons, the passive audience will see the aliens as the bad guys. However, these are also ideas that lead to racist and anti-immigrant sentiment. People classify others as foreigners based on their appearances. Foreigners were feared and treated poorly because they look different and practice a different culture. They are also accused of being spies for other countries, like the machines spying on Nada. Recall that Nada was the first to become hostile towards the aliens. Although some of the aliens were rude to him, it doesn’t justify his hatred toward them. He started to attack them based on their looks, causing a huge commotion. Authorities are called to destroy Nada, the source of discrimination. Later Nada enters a bank with a gun and starts shooting aliens. His actions so far have been more harmful than anything the aliens have done, which justifies the aliens’ pursuit of him. When talking to Frank, Frank asks, “How many people did you kill?” And Nada simply replies, “Not people,” as if it is a justification for murdering sentient beings.

The people that Nada talks to reject his beliefs. Nada is extremely persistent and even resorts to threatening actions in attempt to get his message through. One scene has him desperately digging through trash to get his sunglasses. Nada’s beliefs are garbage, as well as any evidence he has; they are not wanted in society. The use of the 30 degree rule during the fight between Frank and Nada avoids jump cuts, making the already lengthy scene feel even longer. This fight scene could represent how trying to fight the media is much more difficult than succumbing to it. It’s up to the viewer to see whether the struggle is worth it. This scene could also represent how gradual and difficult the fight against racism is and it affirms that racism is still very present in society. It’s a fight between Nada, discrimination, and Frank, anti-discrimination. Nada tells Frank, “I’m trying to save you and your family’s life.” But, as stated before, Nada has no evidence that the aliens are harming humans, except for the fact that they only want to kill him, and for justifiable reasons. This is like how media, especially the news, will play up crimes committed by a small group of non-whites as acts terrorism, making people wary of other races. By the end of the fight, Frank sees the way Nada does, showing that racism still exists and grows in subtler ways, such as news coverage of crimes. In the film there exists an underground community who also share the same beliefs as Nada, but it’s small. They have a large array of weapons to perform their hate crimes against the aliens. One man says, “they are turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere.” More anti-immigrant sentiment. They fear that immigrants are ruining America. Interestingly, when the police arrive to stop their plans of attack, the audience can’t tell whether they are human or aliens. At this point, they have so much fear of the aliens that they don’t distinguish between the two. Anyone who looks dangerous will be attacked.

By the end of They Live, the viewers finally get to see the ways in which the aliens have benefitted the world. At the banquet the viewer learns that not only America, but the whole planet will be under protection through their alliance with the aliens. The aliens are using Earth’s resources to expand and people are becoming richer. Nada and Frank still fail to see these advantages, even though other humans have sided with the aliens because of these benefits. Countries tend to do better economically when they can communicate well with other countries which is why tolerance towards other races is beneficial.

They Live was produced during a time when immigration increased as well as the acceptance of many refugees from other countries. America was going through a recession around this time as well. Americans began blaming their struggle on foreigners, saying that their jobs are being stolen and that they are spies. Watching They Live with this historical context in mind strengthens the idea that the film is about discrimination.

By adding subtle details to the film, They Live becomes more than just a film about media. A few seconds of images, usage of certain words over others, and costume choice contribute to another, less obvious message. Taking into account a historical context completely changes the meaning of the film and suddenly a single scene can have multiple meanings. Ultimately interpretations of a film are in the hands of the viewer, but the it is the director who will manipulate the film to provide a basis for these

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They Live and the Impact of Media on Society. (2019, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from
“They Live and the Impact of Media on Society.” GradesFixer, 10 Apr. 2019,
They Live and the Impact of Media on Society. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 May 2022].
They Live and the Impact of Media on Society [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Apr 10 [cited 2022 May 17]. Available from:
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