The viewer is welcomed by the following ominous message, describing the socio-political context of Death Race:
The full text reads:
"2012-The United States economy collapses.
Unemployment hits a record high.
Crime rates spiral out of control. The prison system reaches breaking point.
Private Corporations now run all correctional facilities for profit.
Terminal Island Penitentiary streams a series of Cage Fights live on the Internet.
Prisoners fight to the death, creating a ratings sensation.
They are the new Gladiators and Terminal Island is their Coliseum.
But like the mob of ancient Rome, the modern audience soon becomes bored.
They demand more...
Death Race is born."
Regarding predictive programming, those opening lines are quite self-explanatory and need no further explanation. To gauge if the context given by those introductory lines gives a plausible rendition of the nature of a future American society, let's go over them in some detail.
- 2012 - The United States economy collapses.
There's already much to do at present times, October 2008, of a possible financial meltdown that could not only wreck the US economy but of which the shock effects could be felt throughout the world.
It's beyond the scope of this current review to go try to demonstrate that the World is indeed amidst a financial crisis that may sooner rather than later escalate into one big enough to cause the US economy to plunge into a major depression. Therefore for anyone who is at least a bit Google-clever but who, unfortunately, has been living on the moon for the past two months here's a search-query to help convince you that there indeed is such a thing as a global financial crisis currently going on which has the potential of tanking the US economy in the not too distant future.
- Unemployment hits a record high. The prison system reaches breaking point.
These societal developments, if becoming a reality, are trivially premised on item 1, so there need be no further elaboration apart from showing that prison populations are indeed on the uprise:
The excerpts of the next article are also most elucidating:
More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more, according to a report released yesterday.
With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second, according to a study by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.
The growth in prison population is largely because of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been particularly affected: One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group.
Source: New High In U.S. Prison Numbers - Growth Attributed To More Stringent Sentencing Laws
In addition, the female prison population is growing even faster as this excerpt from a short article, dated May 2006, demonstrates:
The number of women in state prisons has grown exponentially in the past three decades, growing at more than twice the rate as the male population, according to a report from the Women's Prison Association.
Most of the increases in female imprisonment can be traced to the war on drugs, the report said. More women are being sent to prison for drug offenses -- notably methamphetamine use -- while convictions for violent crimes have fallen. Experts called for alternative sentencing for female prisoners, including addiction treatment for drug offenders.
Female Prison Population Grew 757 Percent Since 1977, Report Says
Once again, articles such as the one above as well as the Dutch documentary referred to in the reference section reinforce the notion that the so-called War on Drugs, rather than being an effective collective effort to try to bring a halt to the damaging effects of narcotics, is quite contrarily, apart from hopelessly failing in what it pretends to do, an efficient catalyst for increasing the scope of law enforcement and for feeding the Prison Industrial Complex.
- Private Corporations now run all correctional facilities for profit.
The current developments in the prison industry are such that more and more prisons emerge that are neither state- nor federally managed but indeed owned and operated by private corporations; prisons are being privatized.
The prospect of privatized prison is the likely outcome of a rather alarming trend that can already be witnessed today is supported by a documentary already made in 1999 by Dutch Television. It has been placed on Googlevideo, also see the reference area below. I highly recommend it, the spoken language is mostly English with a minimally contributing Dutch voice-over.
Since the goal of any corporation, by its commercial character is to strive to maximize profit, a danger emerges of potentially conflicting interests between the pursuit of profit and ethically acceptable treatments of prisoners. For instance, cutting costs in guard labor may negatively interfere with properly managing the prisoners. As such, riots may break out, or prisoners may end up getting killed by belligerent fellow prisoners. Also the commercial exploitation of prisoners, in the form of slave labor, or, similar to the thematic centerpiece of the movie, as slavish actors in commercially attractive but macabre forms of entertainment.
- Prisoners fight to the death, creating a ratings sensation.
If society indeed is plunged into systemic misery then unfortunately the psychology of a human is of such generally pathological degree that it derives pleasure in the knowledge that there are other people doing worse than he or she is. If one is but a stone's throw away from the gutter, then what better way to gain some sense of perverted satisfaction than to observe another person doing even worse off than you do?
Indeed, the phenomenon of taking pleasure in witnessing other people's suffering is well known all over the world as is reflected by the reality of many languages having unique words to identify it. For instance, the Dutch call it 'leedvermaak', whereas the Germans call it 'Schadenfreude', a word that was even adopted as schadenfreude by the English language. Hence it would come as little surprise that, based on regrettable but basic human psychology, and as macabre as it may be, that there would be enough people willing to support a market based the idea of broadcasting filmed fights of people trying to kill one another.
- They are the new Gladiators and Terminal Island is their Coliseum.
However, the idea of one person trying to bash in the head of another person for the enjoyment of others is hardly new at all and indeed was already quite commonplace no later than the days of the old Roman Empire.
The notion of prisons turning commercial is reflected by the high prices viewers have to pay in order to watch Death Race live, although I ignored taking into account any inflationary corrections. Since the race comes in three stages, at $99 dollars each, or $250 for all three, and taking into account that the bloodthirsty viewing audience consists of millions of viewers at any one go, it doesn't take a rocket-scientist to figure out that this kind of business is simply too lucrative for unscrupulous entrepreneurs to let pass unexploited.
Sad as it is, the unconscientious businessman is of course only partly too blame for the emergence of modern day gladiator games since if there wouldn't have a been a market for it, represented by all the hordes of viewers out for blood, the idea of a Death Race would not have been commercially viable to begin with. It's but a simple consequence of the elementary economic law of demand and supply.
Besides being the next generation of the gladiator games, the fictional but potentially real phenomenon of Death Race is akin to the existing phenomenon of the snuff film, by virtue of people getting filmed while they are getting killed for none other reason than commercial exploitation. However, contrary to a snuff movie, in Death Race family members do not get paid a single dime for the sacrificial acts of the actors. For all practical purposes, the participants in Death Race are acting out their part as mere slave laborers since all a racer can look towards is the exceedingly unlikely prospect of merely leaving prison and returning to society. Therefore, in essence, Death Race embodies the ethically questionable entertainment amalgamation of the gladiator game combined with the snuff movie, although without the bad script and with an utterly expendable and cheap acting cast. As such, the creative minds behind neo-gladiator prison games save themselves both the effort for procuring inferior movie-scripts as well as saving expenditures on acting.
As the movie shows quite clearly, the idea of the inclusion of women into pits of death is, is not an altogether new but nonetheless quite exotic phenomenon. But with the rise of female inmates this may not be an entirely fictional and far-fetched prediction. Movies such as Death Race, in which women function as racing navigators, serve to help prepare the public for such a (similar) development becoming reality in the future. Given the abhorrent nature of those games, a rightful remark would be, "emancipation is a b!tch", meant quite literally.
The movie features prisoners being tracked by a global positioning system (GPS). It is a known fact of today's society that the familiarity and ubiquitousness of the GPS is on the rise all over the world. In some cases, such as sex offenders, the reason for doing so, in the light of preventing recidivism, seems to be quite justified. However, in spite of all the convenient practical benefits, if and when people are tagged like sheep for all the wrong reasons then this is cause for grave concern and invokes questions of ethics regarding privacy and the potentiality for authoritative abuse by whoever is responsible for doing the tracking. Combine a dictatorial regime with mandatory tracking of its citizens, through implanted RFID chips for instance, and basic civil rights now will be decided by the despot to respect or not.
For instance, on a prima facie level it may be justified to tag and track felons, on the basis of the virtue of protecting society against recidivism. However, what if the laws of the country are such that not all felons are in actual fact a danger to society? For instance, some American states may regard the smoking of marijuana a major offense and convict all those who get caught as felons. As such, otherwise law abiding and productive members of society may find themselves being treated, by law enforcement officials as well as the rest of society, as dangerous criminals for the rest of their natural life. From a purely humane point of view alone such a profoundly discriminatory punishment surely is too much to bear and in violation of any decent standard of civil rights.
At any rate, be that as it may, regarding predictive programming, the movie normalizes the mandatory provisioning of prisoners with GPS.
The antagonist, prison warden Hennesey, firmly asserts herself as director of Death Race.
In the movie the role of antagonist is fulfilled by the organizer of Death Race, the prison warden of Terminal Island Correctional Facilities, a female by the name of Hennesey. At the end of the movie, the protagonist, a former career racer named Ames who was framed and jailed by Hennesey and thus coerced into participating in Death Race, together with another imprisoned racer miraculously manage to break out of prison and escape to certain freedom. As an appetizing bonus, the evil prison warden gets blown up to kingdom come, and they all, minus the warden and a few dead racers, live happily ever after.
The protagonist meeting the antagonist.
The happy ending of the movie suggests to the following scenario. Here you have one convicted felon, even though he is innocent and therefore wrongfully incarcerated, together with another convicted felon manage to break out of prison and subsequently stay out of prison without being haunted by the law which normally should work hard to put the escaped convicts behind bars again. Hmmmm.... does this end scenario sound likely to be possible to happen in real life too? And yet, the happy ending suggests that it is.
Again it is this theme of hope that gives the gullible viewer some sort of false sense of security that, if such modern day Gladiator games ever should be revived, there is this chance of getting around its final outcome, and escape certain death. That is, apart from winning a sufficient number of races to qualify for release into the public, if you are cunning, daring and lucky enough you might just be able to escape into freedom and live a peaceful life afterwards. Should these kind of sadistic and essentially inhumane games ever become a reality I would not bet my two cents on the possibility that whoever are the creative minds behind them leave open any systemic glitches ready to be exploited by the exploited (i.e. the incarcerated).
- World Prison Population List (fourth edition) (2003)
- Prison Privatization: Recent Developments in the United States (2000)
- 'How far can you bounce?': The extraordinary taunts of sick ghouls who jeered as a teenager leapt to his death (2008)
- Americans starting to implant RFID chips in humans (2006)
Death Race 2000 (the original of 1975)
In the year 2000 the United States has been destroyed by a financial crisis and a military coup. Political parties have collapsed into a single Bipartisan Party, which also fulfills the religious functions of a unified church and state. The resulting fascist police state, the United Provinces, is headed by the cult figure "Mr President" (Sandy McCallum). The people are kept satisfied through a stream of gory gladiatorial entertainment, which includes the bloody spectacle the Transcontinental Road Race, depicted as a symbol of American values and way of life.
The race is held in three segments from east coast to west, and scored both by traditional methods of timed checkpoints, and also by the fatalities ("scores") achieved by the drivers, including spectators, drivers and race crew. Scoring is 10 points for women of child-bearing age, 40 for teenagers, 70 for children under twelve and 100 for folks over 75. The winner of the race is the one who runs over the most pedestrians rather than the first to cross the finish line. The cars are equipped to kill, bearing anti-personnel weaponry ranging from blades to rockets, and the drivers and their cars are themed in a manner reminiscent of the Hanna-Barbera animated series Wacky Races of the late 1960s.