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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Why I basically hated Guardians of the Galaxy

Gamora: And by the way… Your ship is filthy.

Peter Quill: Filthy? She has no idea. If we had a blacklight, it would look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

And that’s why I hated Guardians of the Galaxy (tweets here and here and here and here). Maybe hate’s the wrong word. I liked the talking tree. I liked Drax. I liked Gamora, though not what the film did with her. I dislike Chris Pratt’s likable face, and I’m angry at the movie, because I expected to like it.

Part of what I hate in the above: painting. As opposed to what? A breakfast? A mousepad? His caul? It’s the double beat of “Jackson Pollock’s paintings look like ejaculate” and “you do know who Jackson Pollock is,” like explaining “proboscis.” It’s a joke that simultaneously flatters and insults the audience’s intelligence. It’s pretentious, and makes anyone who laughs at it pretentious (slight pause from the crowd: “oh, Jackson Pollock, haha!”)

The other hate that quote summons up is for the everyman, likeable Chris Pratt’s character, living in a flying frathouse. Somehow semen’s gotten all over his walls. How? Maybe he lives in a flying bathhouse (if so, much better movie!). Probably, though, it happened the same way it did in a sixth-floor walkup in the Village my wife once lived in: the previous tenant just liked jerking off all over the walls. Just like any everyman. Very cool.

Actually, it was totally gross (just like this, which, if we assume Pratt isn’t playing a character, suggests there’s not a lot of air between Pratt and Quill). And what underlines the grossness here: it’s the she rather than you. He’s not talking to her. He’s talking to us. Freud, you’ll remember, explained that jokes require three parties: the butt of the joke, the repressed jackass telling the joke, and the person the joke’s being told to. Laugh at the joke, and you show your consent, Horkheimer and Adorno tell us (“oh, The Culture Industry, haha!”). Well, that she means Gamora’s not the one being addressed: she’s the butt of the joke, and that butt’s being, in essence, jizzed on (but not in a gay way, dude!), while Quill and his fellow have a chuckle, and while we’re being asked to consent, because, remember, this is a funny movie, as we’ve been told repeatedly.

The thing is, Quill’s a dipshit: as we see in his big speech (“we’re all losers! just like you!“) he’s got nothing but guts, which I guess explains why he’s constantly ejaculating. Gamora’s got more political sense; Drax likes language (and, as straight man, is much, much funnier than Quill); the tree thing’s more emotionally intelligent; and the raccoon is…well, I didn’t like the raccoon either, though at least he knew how to build a bomb (and “what’s a raccoon?” was funny).

Despite all that, or because of all that, Quill gets to be the one the movie wants us to love; he’s the one from earth, kidnapped by space rednecks straight out of a Disneyfied Blood Meridian, a novel by Cormac McCarthy about killer rednecks (“oh, Cormac McCarthy, haha!”), whose dying mom (lead with the cancer scene! that’ll make ’em care!) gave him a mixtape that makes no damned sense at all (where “The Piña Colada Song” shares space with “Moonage Daydream,” which shares space with with “Hooked on a Feeling,” which, ok, does has the happy effect of making  Resevoir Dogs retroactively uncool). And he’s a jerk, who fucks and forgets an uncountable number of girls, and who’s therefore cool and likeable?

Maybe we’re supposed to hate him and the film’s about how a fratboy grows up?

But, c’mon, you’ll remember — SPOILER — that when the purple power stone is blowing Quill apart, Gamora reaches her green hand out to him; he sees her hand, and we get, with it, a flashback to his holding his lil’ boy hand out to his dying mother’s hand. So we get an emotional superimposition of the sexy green girl (count the number of times the camera gives up a Spring Break lingering shot of her tits or ass) with the, uh, sexy dying mother. And, to make this clear, this should be enough to make a feminist barf, because it made me barf, inside my brain: the biggest emotional hook of the film, hung on our audience stand in, is his growing up by realizing that the girl he wants to fuck is also like his dying mother,  because dying women are people too.

Great! Good job, movie. The bro becomes Leader Bro. Fist bump.

My regular guy bona fides: I liked the other super hero movie I saw this summer. And lest I be accused otherwise, I like some silly movies: L’iceberg and everything else by those Belgian geniuses; Zazie dans le Metro; Die Bergkatze; The Happiness of the Katakuris; and, more obviously, Some Like It Hot. All silly; all great.

And I’m sure I could write a nice post on Groot, if it hadn’t been for that sappy bit with the flower and the little white girl.

In response to yet another pitch for a paper on ‘medieval oppression of women in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue’

Remember the Middle Ages covers a LOT of ground. We’re talking about Europe, but not only Europe, from roughly the fall of the Roman Empire to roughly the appearance of Protestantism or the invention of the Printing Press or Columbus landing in America or whatever you like, but it’s about 1000 years of stuff over a VERY wide geographic range. The status of women in that whole place is going to be vary a lot.

Furthermore, where the status of women is bad, there’s often not much that particularly medieval about it. Why? Because, say, in England, women had a lot of trouble inheriting property until the 19th or even early 20th centuries; women were barred from most professions until the 20th century, and really, in practice, until the later part of the previous century; women were barred from most government positions, military roles, and you name it, until very recently. The sad condition of women is not particularly medieval but rather, it seems, the norm, and our own era, here in America for example, may be the actual divergence. We didn’t naturally escape the era of gender oppression just by getting out of the Middle Ages: not even close. Knowing how rare women’s rights have been historically, and how recent they are, means that anyone who believes in women’s rights has to fight hard to defend them.

Also, women in fourteenth-century England were better off than they were, say, in fourteenth-century Italy. See Richard Firth Green, “Griselda in Siena,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 33.1 (2011): 3-38 for one example of how this works. The condition of women in England in fact worsened significantly in the 16th century, about 200 years after Chaucer, though some women—say, the Queens Mary and Elizabeth – did quite well for themselves. So, again, you’ll want to pay attention to what’s PARTICULAR to women in fourteenth-century ENGLAND.