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Dystopian Science Fiction and Anti-Government Freedom Fighters
by Curtis Marez `

The year is 2017, the global economy has collapsed and oil and food are scarce. A police state controls the mass of people both through military force and with state-controlled TV, especially “the most popular program in history,” a game show called The Running Man, where state prisoners fight to the death against “high-tech gladiators” in an effort to win their freedom. Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a police officer who refuses to fire on a food riot in Bakersfield. Government forces ultimately massacre the crowd but the state TV network blames the former policeman. Once in prison he escapes with a group of rebels but he is caught again by the police and forced to participate in the deadly state prison reality show. By the third act of the film the protagonist has transformed from police officer to freedom fighter, becoming the leader of the “People’s Network,” a rebel group devoted to destroying the state’s media monopoly. Indeed, in this clip Richards, surrounded by beret wearing, gun totting rebels of color, smokes a large cigar, recalling iconic images of Latin American revolutionaries like Fidel Castro. Ironically, the future Governor of California began his career starring in dystopian sf films like The Running Man and Total Recall (1990) where evil government forces represent the enemy his character ultimately triumphs over. What are the assumptions or implications of dystopias based in what sf critic Tom Moylan calls “nightmare states“? Why does The Running Man focus solely on the state as the cause of social problems, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of its implied analysis? Do such anti-government dystopias undermine support for state institutions like public education? 

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Anti-Government Freedom Fighters: The Running Man by Paul Michael Glaser (1987) A former policeman and escaped convict becomes the leader of a popular rebellion against state run TV.