3 Brief Points on Mad Max: Fury Road

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Three brief points on Mad Max: Fury Road:

    • Joss Whedon, I understand, has something of a reputation as a feminist, but, never having watched Buffy or Firefly or Serenity, I know him primarily as one of several directors of superhero films: and whatever feminist reputation he has, he’s been coasting on itAvengers 2 has two major emotional beats to make the characters — gods, supergeniuses, and professional killers — “relatable” to an audience not comprising same – the perfect house in the country with the perfect kids and the perfect wife, waiting Dorigen-like, while her husband adventures, and, then, the grand reveal of Black Widow, which is that upon her graduation from Assassin U, she was sterilized (for other opinions, see here for starters; edit, and then see this for more readings that I don’t agree with). This Focus on the Family, on its preservation and its loss, would fit neatly into any “real man, real family, do it all for your children and your wife” story. It’s garbage.

      Mad Max, BY CONTRAST (just in case you didn’t see this coming), focuses on the particular violence that women face, namely, a violence focused on their bodies and on the control of the future. Immortal Joe is immortal — he thinks, he hopes — because he controls his genetic line, his property, his self; and when the Imperator Furiosa1 runs off with his brides, one of whom is visibly pregnant, Joe shouts something about RETURNING HIS PROPERTY. His wife; his child; his future; his property, “stolen” from him by an avenging woman. Here’s a film where the man who wants his kidnapped family back is the ENEMY. The great enemy of Mad Max is, then, the enemy of reproductive rights: now that, I’d say, is a feminist narrative.

      But also, as Nicole also observed last night, what about the Milk Maids? Why weren’t they rescued too?

    • Each of the male heads of each citadel has his own infernal branding: the head of Bullettown wears a judge’s wig constructed from a packed bandolier, while the head of Gastown wears a black business suit, and complains quantitatively, like a capitalist, about the waste of resources in the hunt for Joe’s brood and breeders. If the capitalist master in Snowpiercer is sleek, a gadget-head, well-fed, cosmopolitan, and the head of a conspiracy, with everything arranged well in advance, the capitalist in Mad Max is a properly horrifying figure of the erotic core of capitalism, and of the corporeal excesses of biopolitics rather than the neatness of the sovereign: his suit has been cut out to expose his nipples, which he rubs often as he grouses about the hunt. Like the Wife of Bath, he knows that the trade in money and the trade in bodies is also a trade in desire. There’s nothing attractive here; it’s just attraction itself.
    • Last point: on this (late) morning’s run, I suggested to Alison that Mad Max is a far superior film to Snowpiercer, and she pointed out the “I would have thought this was obvious” (her words) point, which is that Snowpiercer is at least organized around the rescue of a black child. Among the set of White Action Films, here we have one, at least, which argues that Black Lives Matter.

For further thoughts on feminism and Mad Max, see David Perry’s review here. And, edit, now also see Samuel Delany’s essential fb quick review.


1. (whose mixed-gender name may deserve its own unpacking [a point inspired by a comment on the need for Imperatrix Furiosa somewhere in this comment thread)

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On the coming “feudal” wealth gap

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — a pro-establishment, rock-ribbed bastion of pro-market thinking — has released a report predicting a collapse in global economic growth rates, a rise in feudal wealth disparity, collapsing tax revenue and huge, migrating bands of migrant laborers roaming from country to country, seeking crumbs of work. They proscribe “flexible” workforces, austerity, and mass privatization. (from Boing Boing, “OECD predicts collapse of capitalism,” emphasis mine)

“Feudal” comes from Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing; the paper itself happily doesn’t use the word. Briefly, one of the problems with this medieval metaphor is that medieval rulers of the “feudal era” (whenever that was, if it even was) didn’t have the technological advantages of our current plutocrats.

We’re living in an era of unprecedented wealth, although perhaps not an unprecedented era of wealth concentration. What distinguishes 2014 from, say, 1014, is that the plutocrats couldn’t have fed everyone well even if they chose to try; lord knows they couldn’t have provided quality medical care and top-notch education to all of the poor, because they couldn’t even provide it to themselves; they couldn’t have extended the life of all the poor by decades, because even the rich back then, whenever that was, tended to top out at 40 years.

The rich now? They could do all this. This choice isn’t “feudal.” This choice is a particular evil of modernity: to have the power to save nearly everyone, and to chose not to.

One of what’s likely to be a continuing series: here.

Refuse Baron Rejected

As recycling kingpin Chen Guangbiao toured the neighborhood around Tribeca’s New York City Rescue Mission, he whipped out a $100 bill and tried to hand it out to a man on Canal Street.

But, like any New Yorker approached by a clueless smiling tourist, the man just put his head down and kept walking.

The snub didn’t ruin Chen’s good mood, which got a boost as he crooned the sappy goodwill anthem “We Are The World” with a hobo….

The refuse baron — who is worth $740 million, according to Forbes — wants to lavish his largesse on New York’s poor to show Americans that wealthy Chinese aren’t just greedy robber barons.

Chen Guangbiao stalks New York City, failing to give away $100 bills, and planning, today, to hold a meal for 250 poor people in Central Park, who will each walk away with a cool $300 for having attended this theater of charity.

To put this medieval charity in context:

(300*250)/740,000,000=0.0000001013513514 of his net worth.

To put this in a more human context, calculating from my salary rather than my, haha, net worth, it would be the equivalent to me donating $0.000007, or of CUNY’s new chancellor (salary: $670,000) donating $0.000067. That’s somewhat shy of a penny.

To make this perfectly clear, Mark 12:41-44  and Luke 21:1-4:

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

and

1 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Jesus’s mistake, of course, is focusing on the widow’s piety rather than on what’s actually, practically needed. If this story, like so many others, aims to scour away hypocrisy and a good conscience, Jesus might have gone on to demand that the rich give it all away, or perhaps, at least, that they give up something slightly more than 0.0000001013513514 of their estate. And he might have continued, had he been as wise as he purported to be, by explaining the causal relationship between the wealth of the rich and the widow’s poverty. Then, maybe, the widow would have left the temple with something more substantial than a clean spirit.

Practically speaking, Chen Guangbiao is giving away nothing. Rather, he’s doing what he does, professionally, ensuring that the “trash” of capitalism, its refuse(d), its excess, and its outside, is caught up in the closed loop of recycling. If our trash is his profit–and, in comparison to $740,000,000, we’re all trash–then there’s no way out except, maybe, something a bit more substantial.

This point, which I borrow from from Nicole Shukin, is what I’ll leave you with:

Yet rendering convincingly poses as an ecological service that atones for carnivorous capital. It is through timagehe idea that recycling offers an antidote to the unbridled greed of industrial culture…that the even more total capitalization of nature promised by rendering evades notice….More than just mopping up after capital has made a killing, the rendering industry promises the possibility of an infinite resubjection (“return”) of nature to capital. The “industrial ecology” metaphor of the closed loop valorizes the ecological soundness of waste recovery and recycling just as the rendering industry effectively opens up a renewable resource frontier for capitalism.

The conclusion to this story is far, far stranger than even I, a prophet, could have predicted. An excerpt from the Times piece, on the whimsy of sovereignty and the sickness of charity:

The bad news had finally reached the last few tables: Their host, a Chinese millionaire, would not be handing out any cash.Only moments before, the host, Chen Guangbiao, had made a speech promising everyone $300 in cash. It was a particularly huge deal for this crowd: All the guests were homeless men and women.

There was grumbling, a few shouts of anger. But most — at least at first — were in a state of stunned despair.

“Are you serious?” said Tom Cargill, 52, staring into his dessert. “I feel so disappointed right now I’m going to throw up.” It was a pivotal moment in a bizarre event orchestrated by Mr. Chen, a 46-year-old recycling magnate who said he was seeking to help New York’s poor and inspire a culture of philanthropy around the world.