2013’s The Purge is set in the United States of America in the year 2022. The USA has been “reborn” under the leadership of the New Founding Fathers of America. This new regime has lowered crime and unemployment rates to record lows by creating “the Purge”. The Purge is a 12 hour period from 7pm to 7am during which all previously criminal activity is now legal. The emergency services (police, EMTs, etc.) are suspended. The only exceptions are that government officials of “rank 10 or higher” cannot be harmed and you can only use weapons below “Class 4”. This rules out WMD. People who don’t follow the rules of the Purge are executed. The Purge is supposed to be a cathartic experience for the citizens of the USA, allowing them to vent any aggression and frustration they might have on that one night. As a result, the rest of the year they would be relatively calm.
The movie follows one family that chooses to hide in their secure house, but becomes the target of a gang of murderous young adults when it rescues a man the gang was going to kill. The family has to fight off the invading gang as it forces its way into their fortified home. The family members also wrestle with the decision of whether or not to turn the man over to the gang for execution to save their own lives.
Problems: (They’re all with the setting)
New Founding Fathers?
Sorry, I’m not buying it. Who are these people? The political history of the USA has been dominated by a two party system for over a century. While one party has gained momentary control over the various branches of government, neither Republicans nor Democrats have ever been close to eradicating its opponent. The other option is that the New Founding Fathers are neither, which is even less likely. There have been 30 Senators, 111 Representatives, and zero Presidents elected from a third party since the end of the Civil War. The two party system is beyond entrenched in the United States. Yet somehow, in nine years there will be an entirely new set of leaders who are instituting drastic changes. In October of 2013 Congress shut down the government for 17 days because one part of it didn’t want to pass a budget until the rest of it repealed a law it HAD ALREADY PASSED! We’re supposed to believe that these New Founding Fathers managed to win enough elections to either restructure the entire Federal Government, or pass legislation to that effect?
There is also an historic and pervasive religiosity to the USA. I don’t know of any major religions that would accept the lack of consequences for actions that the Purge condones. For the New Founding Fathers to have instituted this change, they’d have to have reduced the religious influence in the USA to almost nothing or create a pervasive new religion that differs greatly from the current major faiths of the USA.
Additionally, the story takes place in the United States of America. The operative word is “states”. The USA is not one homogenous country with only federal laws and national police. In order for the Purge to work, the New Founding Fathers would be telling the individual states that the federal government is somehow suspending their state and municipal laws. There is a really strong trend towards states’ rights in the USA and I can’t imagine states surrendering their local sovereignty.
What are officials of rank 10 or higher? Does that include police, judges, prosecutors, inspectors, or just elected figures? How are these figures denoted? Do they have special badges they wear to prevent them from being attacked during the Purge? Could one of these officials walk down the street, indiscriminately killing and raping while protected from reprisals? Wouldn’t everyone try to act as if he or she was such an official? Are there just so few of them that they are all known to most everyone in the USA? If the members of the legal system aren’t protected like “rank 10 or higher” officials then you’d think they’d be targeted heavily during the Purge. Take out all the police, district attorneys, and judges, and it’s a Purge all year round.
The bottom line is that the primary role of government is to protect its citizens. The Purge is the exact opposite of this, and there is no way a government that encourages crime could stay in power. I’m very excited to see the prequel.
There Are a Lot of Crimes
With the film focusing on just one family, the crimes depicted are ones that cause fear in the average movie goer. These are crimes against people. However, there are a lot more crimes on the books that just murder, rape, and theft. Unless the New Founding Fathers completely rewrote the legal code for the federal government, as well as the state and local governments, there are some serious questions raised about this suspension of law. Here are a few crimes off the top of my head the movie forgets
- All white collar crime (embezzlement, fraud, cyber theft, etc.)
- Terrorism: Could terrorists poison the water supply and not be guilty of a crime? Does a plane count as a weapon of mass destruction?
- Killing endangered animals, poaching.
- Espionage by foreign powers.
- Economic sanctions
- Breaches of Contract
- Could a real estate developer level someone’s house in order to convince that person to sell, so the developer could start construction on a new project?
- You can’t harm government officials, but can you bribe them? Can they accept bribes?
You can probably come up with some others, and please feel free to do so in the comments section. The point is that US legal code is expansive, for a reason, and protects against more than just one-on- one crimes against persons.
A very thorny issue that also isn’t addressed is the question of embassies. Embassies are considered sovereign territory of the country, even though they exist within the borders of different nation. Can anyone inside the US Embassy in a foreign country commit any crime with impunity? Also, what are the hours for the Purge at an embassy? Are they local time or something like Central Standard Time?
The other problem is there are plenty of crimes that have multiples parts. For example, if you steal a widget during the Purge, are you still breaking the law by being in possession of stolen goods? Are you allowed to keep something after you steal it? If you steal a car and someone reports it and the police stop you in the car, you have to give it back, right? If you print counterfeit bills on the Purge, are you then guilty the next morning when you try to use them? If you assault someone during the Purge, and that person later dies, are you innocent of the attack but guilty of the murder? If you take PCP on the purge, but are still high the next day, are you still breaking the law? If you kidnap someone but hold him or her past the Purge, are you committing a crime?
The enforcement of crimes against property is going to be made much more difficult by the Purge. No one is going to report a theft that took place during the purge. Anyone who has something stolen from him or her is going to report it two days after the Purge, claiming it happened on a day when crime is illegal. The same would happen for assaults, rapes, and murders. In addition, all thieves, murderers, and rapists will claim that they performed these acts during the Purge. The only way to solve this is for the perpetrators of these acts to provide proof that they committed the crime, on a particular date and at a particular time. How does the judicial system handle this?
The Purge Starts at 7pm Sharp?
What happens if there is a crime or crime scene that is taking place at 6:55pm? Do the police just leave the scene and head for safety? Again, are they level 10 officials? If not then they’re probably going to change out of their uniforms and run home to protect their families against retaliation from anyone they might have arrested in the past. Do hospitals close promptly at 7pm? Or, do they close early to provide time for their personnel to get off the street? Wouldn’t that mean the Purge starts before 7pm since all of the emergency services have to hide?
Also, the emergency services aren’t going to start at 7am either. Unless every emergency responder is responding from home, or wherever he or she is holed up, it will take a while for those services to be operating fully. The real question is, how do they decide where to deploy their resources? The number of dispatchers needed to take in all the calls of wounded people would be impossible to reach. There would be queues at every hospital, with sick and wounded waiting for the clock to strike seven so they could receive medical care.
The Purge Would Not Reduce Crime
There are many ways to divide particular crimes, violent vs. non-violent, crimes against people vs. crimes against property, etc. One of oldest dividers is crimes of opportunity vs premeditated crimes. The Purge is not going to stop crimes of opportunity or crimes of passion. These are going to continue unabated because they don’t involve planning and thus the perpetrators aren’t going to wait until the next Purge to commit such a crime. If someone sees an easy target for theft, he or she won’t wait 8 months for the Purge to take the item. In actuality, the opportunities for crimes would be much fewer during the Purge, so people would be incentivized to commit such crimes during the normal year. A man who finds his spouse in bed with someone else is probably going to commit a crime of passion right then and there, when the emotions are running high, as opposed to waiting. Bar fights, violence fueled by drugs, and other spontaneous crimes will continue as always.
Another sort of crime that won’t drop is Crime of Need. Drug addicts are not going to wait until the Purge to get high. A person who is starving is not going to wait weeks or months to take food or money to buy food.
What the Purge really does to lower crime statistics is cook the books. It attempts to move all the premeditated crimes to one 12 hour period, and then does not categorize them as crimes. You could lower the murder rate in the US to zero if you made killing people legal. The rate of people dying wouldn’t go down – it would most likely increase – but the murder rate would be nil. It’s a statistical trick that does nothing to help society. We might as well brag about how few 21 year olds have been arrested for underage drinking. The Purge would probably create more “crimes” per year than pre-Purge eras, it just wouldn’t record them.
The premise that crimes would be reduced is based on the assumption that we all have urges that are only held in check by civilization and society, and which need to be ‘released’ at regular intervals so that we can all get along. I am wading into deep philosophical waters here and I admit I am not qualified to engage in a long discussion of this, but it seems the movie is making some comment on man in what philosophers call the “State of Nature”. This is man before civilization and society, and there are many differing views of how man acted or would act in such a situation. The concept behind The Purge seems to be somewhat of a thought experiment with this concept where society is essentially suspended for 12 hours and humans are left to become the terrible, savage beings we all are at our cores – with the exception of the heroic family protagonists. They are able to maintain their humanity.
However, the movie does not imply that everyone devolves into this state during the Purge. Humankind is not necessarily relegated to a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” life in the absence of society, as Hobbes suggests. The heroic protagonists are able to maintain their humanity; they counter the more barbaric gang. This shows that people are not all savages at heart. The overwhelming majority of the population would presumably think and act as the protagonists do, which raises the question of how the Purge ever came to be implemented.
Law enforcement in the US works on a system of deterrence, where the threat of being caught keeps people who might commit a crime from doing so. People who are caught and found guilty of crimes are publicly convicted and punished. There is almost nothing physical in place to prevent a crime from being committed in the first place – except other people who might be around. The low incidence of crime is due in part to the threat of punishment but also in large part to the fact every member of the society has no desire to harm his or her fellow man.
But the threat of being caught is really just a threat. The clearance rates for crimes (i.e. Police consider a case solved, usually with an arrest) fluctuate between jurisdictions, but they are below 50% for most crimes. Encouragingly, the national average for homicide clearances is above 50%, and sadly the clearance rate for rape and sexual assaults is well below that. The clearance rate for theft is below 20%. The data show that as a society, we are not really physically stopping criminal behavior, and are we not cleaning the streets of criminals. People are just not committing crimes, even though they have a very good chance of getting away with it. There is no reason to believe people that don’t commit crimes normally, which is the overwhelming majority of the population, will suddenly become bloodthirsty misanthropes when the Purge arrives. They don’t need a cathartic purge of their pent up rage and frustration; the Purge is addressing a non-existent problem.
The Purge Will Actually Increase the Number of Normally Criminal Acts
In an ideal world, EVERY member of society would not feel the urge to harm one another or other’s property, and crime would be non-existent. This is what happens, for the most part, in our society. However, the sad fact is that some people have tendencies that lead us to need laws and enforcers for those laws. The Purge temporarily removes the threat of punishment and the result is going to be more crime from that small segment of the population. It won’t be non-stop rioting in the street, but there will be more violence and crime.
Anyone who has a problem that can be solved be someone dying will be tempted to make that person die on the Purge. Violence in the home is going to sky rocket. Abused spouses and children will have no recourse as they will be trapped in a home with the abuser. They will be unable to call for help at that moment, and unable to file charges afterwards. Unwanted pregnancies and children will be lost in droves as infanticide is unchecked. There’s no need to pay child support when you can just kill the child, or the pregnant mother. The same goes for alimony. Probate lawyers’ phones will be ringing off the hook the day after the Purge.
Hate crimes will increase. Burning crosses, burning churches, burning synagogues, burning mosques, will all light the Purge night.
Businesses will be destroyed, ruining the livelihoods people everywhere. Car theft rings will make a killing, stealing cars and moving them to be sold overseas. Criminal organizations might engage in open warfare; drug dealers fighting over turf, attacking suppliers, engaging in assassinations, etc. Big box stores won’t need to lower prices to squeeze out small businesses. They could hire goons to burn them to the ground.
The Purge will also to create an enormous amount of vengeance. While most people are calm, law abiding citizens, being attacked or slighted can make them less so. Road rage is a good example. Being cut off in traffic is a very frustrating experience, but it usually ends by the time you are home, watching the evening news. Imagine if the person who cut you off, then pulled you out of your car, beat you with a pipe, and stole your car. That rage would take a lot longer to subside, if it ever did. Revenge attacks would increase and create a medieval Italy level of vendettas.
Once the Purge is established and well-known, the streets will be populated by only the worst segments of society for those 12 hours. Most everyone will be locked inside some safe place, prepared to fight off intruders. There will be no victims readily available in public spaces. The USA would be turned into a Grand Theft Auto player vs. player match. They’d have to turn on each other, or risk home invasions. Why would the law-abiding citizens put up with this?
Organized crime is going to have a field day with the Purge. There will be jobs that these organization could do normally but don’t because of the attention it would bring. However, during the Purge, they could act with impunity. They would have the organization, manpower, and resources to pull of blatant and audacious crimes that they wouldn’t in the absence of the Purge.
The entire point of having laws and enforcing them is to prevent, or at least deter, people from committing certain acts that the members of that society deem inappropriate, dangerous, or undesirable. Creating the Purge just gives license to the few people who wish to engage in those actions. If the majority of a society wanted to engage in those actions, they’d make them legal, and there wouldn’t be a need for the laws against them, and thus the catharsis of the Purge. The Purge is creating more of the very behavior that the society is trying to curb.
The Purge Will Ruin the Economy
I agree with one part of what the Purge purports to be able to do – it will lower unemployment. The number of deaths of people who are unemployed and disaffected with society will increase. The homeless will be hunted to extinction as they have no weapons and nowhere to hide. The desperate that are killed by a shopkeeper’s shotgun will surge initially, and then plummet. These new corpses won’t be counted in the ranks of the unemployed. Plus, all the other people who were killed for promotions, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or just died of medical emergencies because emergency services were suspended, will create job openings.
The downside is that businesses will be unable to function in a world with the Purge. Brick and mortar shops will have to install Fort Knox-level security systems to protect themselves against being looted once a year. Black Friday will be a thing of the past. Why bother with door-buster deals when you can actually bust down a door, and just take anything? Everything is on a five finger discount. The other option is that stores would be able to store things in fortified central locations, which would require them to move all merchandise the day before and after. That’s a tremendous loss of profit. It’s also going to prevent ALL foreign businesses from engaging in the US Economy. Corporate secrets are going to be stolen, embezzlement will run rampant, and patents will be broken. There’s just no way US Chamber of Commerce would allow this to happen.
Insurance would be overwhelmed every Purge. There would have to be Purge Insurance, and it would have a serious premium. Otherwise, people would just damage their own property and blame it on someone else to collect. That also raises the question of civil liability. If someone rams your car, which is technically legal, does that person’s insurance have to pay for it? Is it all covered under “Uninsured Motorist”? Regardless, every year after the Purge, would be a nightmare of Hurricane Katrina-portions for insurance carriers all over the country.
You would think that there would be a boom in Blackwater-style private security firms. The wealthy would hire off-duty police, ex-military personnel, or other toughs to protect them and their wealth. The problem is that there would be no way to meet the demand for such protection. Also, there’s no way to guarantee the hired guns would discharge their duties faithfully. If they break the contract and rob you instead of protecting you, they haven’t broken the law because breach of contract is now legal. If you let an armed stranger into your house, you had better trust him or her.
Basically, the entire premise behind the Purge shows an uninformed and juvenile grasp of politics, economics, sociology, and human psychology. The film falls back on the trite movie conceit that humans will become demons when there is no society to curb their savagery, even though the very same humans created society in the first place. Certainly there are locations and situations where the norms of human society break down. Natural disasters, war, overcrowding, etc. can create competition for resources that will make people focus on the more basic parts of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. However no nation with years of peace and prosperity, ample resources, and a strong, stable government is going to accept this perilous, irresponsible, imbecilic social policy that wouldn’t even work.