The Historical Gadfly: Keeping Pace with “The Running Man”

After a busy and exhilarating two weeks on the East Coast – spent between Boston, Ithaca, NY, Princeton, and northern New Jersey – I’m glad to be back in California. With the sun out, the air clear, and the trails around my house beckoning, moreover, I sense it’s time for a workout, like this one:

Confused? The above clip, featuring Jesse Ventura, comes from one of my favorite films, the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie The Running Man, itself based on an earlier Stephen King novel. In the future America portrayed in the film, most of society lives under totalitarian control. Food shortages – and riots – are common, but with a combination of suppression (helicopter gunships) and, more importantly, compelling reality TV, the media-government complex in the future manages to maintain control of the population. Schwarzenegger’s character, Ben Richards, is a helicopter pilot who, when ordered to fire on unarmed civilian protesters, refuses. He finds himself first thrown into prison for his treason, but later put on to one of the ultra-violent game shows that titillates this dystopian future’s audiences: “The Running Man.” On the show, contestants (runners) have to make their way through a labyrinth (really the ruins of an earthquake-destroyed Los Angeles) while avoiding being killed by “stalkers,” well-armed killers who attempt to kill the runner on live, nationally-broadcast television. It’s fun, silly, and stupid – but also prescient. Maybe. Check out the trailer:

In this episode of The Historical Gadfly, I engage in a discussion of about half an hour with a friend of mine, John, on the film. We cover a number of topics and themes that the film highlights, like the distinction between reality TV and real life, race relations in America, and the film’s uncomfortable treatment of domestic violence and the position of Latina women in America at the time.

Check it out here.


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