The Purge

One of the story lines coming out of Baltimore yesterday and today is that some of the teenagers involved in or simply watching the violence thought of themselves as acting out scenes from the 2013 movie The Purge, about a future America in which anarchy is formally declared for 12 hours once a year. Here’s the explainer from the New York Times‘ Damien Cave:

Police Commissioner, Anthony W. Batts, said the violence on Monday began with word of a “purge” set to take place at Mondawmin Mall, led by local high school students. Those students confronted about 200 police officers and attacked the police with rocks and cinderblocks after school let out.

But Commissioner Batts failed to explain a key detail: What is a “purge”?

In this case, the word refers to a science-fiction film from 2013. The film, “The Purge” is set in 2022, during an annual 12-hour national holiday in which Americans are legally absolved from every crime, including robbery and homicide.

Critics generally described the movie as a heavy-handed dystopian satire filled with blood and gore. It was a hit with young audiences who adopted the term, though, and in a few cases, young people have been accused of threatening to mimic the film’s anarchic premise.

I don’t know if this explanation is legitimate, irrelevant, or the contemporary equivalent of people blaming rap music for everything they don’t understand. But then I had never even heard of the movie until last night.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.