We are Drive-In mutants
We are not like other people
We are sick
We are disgusting
We believe in blood
If life had a vomit meter
We’d be off the scale
As long as one Drive-In remains
On the planet earth
We will party like jungle animals
We will boogey till we puke
The Drive-In will never die
Society: A Shunt by Any Other Name*
Joe Bob learns us some shunting. Well not exactly. But he gets us to contemplate the subject. His authoritative tone makes all of his rambling definitions and descriptions at once believable and outrageous. Even the mundane railway references take on an air of lore and hidden wisdom. And this ambiguity only lends to the dramatic tension for the uninitiated, because when we do finally encounter shunting in the film, well, it’s a doozy.
But Society is so much more than a brilliant body-gore fest, it’s biting social commentary about American neoliberal capitalist society itself. A critique that is as relevant now as it was in the late 80s. Maybe even more so. Since the Occupy movement of recent memory, the socio-economic ideas that trace the joint fates of the 99% and 1% around the world have become part of a broader pop-cultural consciousness. That’s you and me. These concepts have been integrated into our everyday vocabulary. So, if anything, our collective brain-pumps are more optimally primed today, at least in the States, than when this movie was first shown in theaters.
Like Joe Bob mentions in one of the breaks, back in 1989 Brian Yuzna had definite ideas regarding class that he tried to explore in Society, but in later interviews commented that he felt these concepts resonated differently depending on the geo-political location of the audience, “I think Europeans are more willing to accept the ideas that are in a movie. That’s why for example Society did really well in Europe and in the US did nothing, where it was a big joke. And I think it’s because they responded to the ideas in there. I was totally having fun with them, but they are there nonetheless.” Society, with its “melange of Beverly Hills teen drama, Fifties body-snatcher paranoia, and gore suggesting Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession set among the One Percent” was better received in Europe in 1989, while DOA at the box office when it was later released here in the States in 1992. People just weren’t having it. And maybe that wasn’t so much a direct criticism, or protesting of the film, as just indicative that generally we were so mired in the whole kind of grand dream of American excess that we just plain didn’t get it. We’re a naive if not simple lot, in the collective sense, even at the best of times. But “do we ever” get it today. It’s not even subtle.
But that’s not why we come to see this movie. We come for the slick, and I do mean slick, gore. And for the hair, and the bodies, and the richesse. It’s the American dream. And exactly because it’s the American dream we know there’s something not quite right about it, that things are just a bit off. Just like our young lead, the Marty McFly meets Hasselhoff hybrid, Bill played by Billy Warlock. Society takes us full circle, from paranoia to prognostication, as its slimy, slippery underbelly is revealed. Like Heironymous Bosch directed a Robert Palmer music video. But in a less appealing fashion, with everyone’s bits oddly arranged in a whack pastiche of 80s underwear ads.
As much as we might want to identify with Bill in Society, I can’t escape the notion that we are more complicit in the savagery perpetrated by the non-human species elite. We’re the life sucking hedonist baddies. When it comes to status on the global scene the good ol’ US of A is tops due in no small way to a worldwide supply chain, ‘shunting’ resources, that help to maintain the veneer and posture so rightly associated with the States and so-called American culture. I might be reading too much into it. I do that a lot. But this film has sparked a number of critics to cite thinkers like Freud, Veblen, Burroughs, and, of course, Marx himself. So I can’t be too off the mark here. But all that aside, it’s the audacity of this film that makes it so fun. That and a bunch of pretty ladies, and some not so pretty older dudes, and a whole bunch of goop and fluid, making for a writhing mound of entertainment.
(*This article is excerpted from a longer piece, which will appear in the upcoming sixth issue of The Joe Bob Briggs Fanzine.)
Written by Jason Manriquez
Staff Writer & Social Media Manager, Joe Bob Briggs Fanzine, Last Fanzine on the Left, published by Paddy Jack Press.