Mad Max and The Tribe: Who Killed the Patriarchy? Men Who Love in a World Gone Wrong

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Post-Apocalyptica is easily mistakable for a genre designed to uphold and deify patriarchy. Looking at the classics of the genre, your Mad Maxes, your Hokuto No Kens, Double Dragons, even your Tripods, it’s plain that a man with a downturned mouth is the icon we’ve made most obvious. And the MRAs grumbling about Furiosa’s imagined emasculation of Max in Fury Road are only the pus at the top of that pimple. It’s easy to look at these stories, men travelling, punches being thrown, shaved heads and chopped-back vehicles, and think: this is a story about a badass. The future is for the baddest dudes. It’s a place that forms and welcomes people like Immortan Joe.

Mad Max poster, 1979, George Miller

This is both fine and false, in my opinion. It’s fine in an abortive sort of way because we all know how to relate to a man in a story. We look at Max or Ken or Billy Lee and think: “I get it.” And sure, that’s bad, if that’s given as the reason or excuse for a fictional horizon full of the same grim man–but it’s not. Because the post-apocalyptic hero who stands the test of time is not a man of men, or, not a machismo machine. Post-Apocalyptica is about survival through the worst of life, and survival means nothing without suffering. These men, Max, Ken, are made to live when dying would be a salve to their battered hearts, because that is what we must all do.

Hokuto No Ken, Seikimatsu Kyūseishu Densetsu: Hokuto no Ken, 世紀末救世主伝説 北斗の拳, Toei, 1984, from Buronson & Hara Tetsuo

Nevertheless, it would be easy to miss that, from the outside. A hardline misogynist might boycott a film perceived to renege on this Bros Only deal, and a tired, no-patience feminist might find that a glance offers nothing worth bothering for. But I never did, because when I was twelve and just beginning to value hardness, survivalism, and responsive aggression, and to feel the violent existentialism for which these stories serve catharsis, there was a story made for me that put emotionalism, and a varied lineup of girls, front and centre. It was called The Tribe.

The Tribe debuted two weeks after my birthday, in 1999, and it ran every week for five straight years. It was a teen/pre-teen drama predicated on the lives of a group of teenagers who survived the viral plague that wiped out every adult and most of the children; in the first season, the oldest character is fifteen. Subverting the One Man Walks aesthetic, its ensemble cast banded together as an unsteady community within a shopping mall, hiding from the violent and frightening Locos—leader Zoot and long-running triumph character Ebony, his superbly complex second in command—who roamed the city bullying everyone without somewhere to belong and looking cool as fuck in their graffiti’d and chopped-back Police fleet. The Tribe watched teenagers cut adrift try to navigate the usual social worries and troubles whilst also attempting to rebuild society, their butting ideologies and freewheeling ethical templates making just as much mess as how intense these sweet, scared, brave brave kids got, when they wanted to kiss and touch.

It was welcoming (in every way, for me, at the time). It made leather clad desperation indisputably accessible. When the end of the world as we know it comes, and some of us are left, that’s gonna be awful! It’s going to be HARD to deal with. You can’t tell a good story in a murdered environment without letting your characters feel it—you can’t express pain properly if you don’t evoke a sense of emotional wholeness. Maybe your character has expressly lost it (“Mad” Max), or warped it (Lex, of the Tribe), but it has to be on the table. What did you cry at in Fury Road? I cried, first, at the WarBoys.

Witness me!

Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller, 2015

We witness you!

The thing about patriarchy is it’s a big ugly lie. Not that it doesn’t exist, but it’s untenable and a false aspiration. A human can’t live to its rules; you become a lawbreaker (a woman, non-binary, gay, a sissy; not man enough, somehow) or you suffer reaching for something that harms you (did Immortan Joe have a good life? A nice life? Did he get what he wanted, or was he endured and fled from?). Either way, you end up punished, and then you’re dead. Nux and the WarBoys love each other, if they wouldn’t call it that; they strive for joy and tenderness and a sense of meaning, they co-encourage, they’re a community full of sweetness and a desire for continuity (you could call that family, or culture) that’s been manipulated into pointing at a joyride straight to destruction. Slit, Nux’s lancer, repeatedly attempted to get one over on his brother-driver—but not for the sake of petty victory. He wanted to live sharply and soar high, he wanted Joe to notice him quite as much as Nux did. Slit never sabotaged his fellow WarBoy, he never acted in spite. He acted in need, over and again. “Is there a space for me here? Can I reach for Daddy’s hand? Is it my time to be validated?”

Ken & Bat, Hokuto No Ken, Seikimatsu Kyūseishu Densetsu: Hokuto no Ken, 世紀末救世主伝説 北斗の拳, Toei, 1984, from Buronson & Hara Tetsuo

Hokuto No Ken: As a grown man, Bat acknowledges the short, brutal life he would have had without Ken’s intervention and dogged insistence on compassion

Nux’s face turn is fast, and almost unbelievably reasonable (one minute he’ll die for Joe, the next he’s no compunction in sitting nicely with the girls?), but the allegory in it smooths over the technical no-no. Boys, even those who have been raised to hate feminism, can be taught by it. Boys possess the potential for all the emotional depth that people raised to be girls know how to recognise. Boys can learn. Effectively, it’s saying boys WANT to learn, even if they don’t know it; being a whole person is fulfilling in ways that gender policing can’t offer.

There is a human in a boy, and if encouraged, it can flourish. We can reach boys, and they can reach back.

Feminism is not a simple matter of, “can we get a woman as high as a man?” Intersectionality is vital. Asking men to remove themselves from the fast-tracks of their privilege, and examine life outside of the old values—staying here, where the women’s traditions live, and learning to relate and live vulnerably and serve compassion to those around you—will be a boon to them, as well as us, and everyone else. In its strongest form, feminism should be the idea that if we all adjust our projections, discard these gendered iron maidens of requirement and supposed natural ability, and just let people perform the behaviour that suits them, we can live in harmony and peace. Furiosa drives and commands and cares and fights; Max does that too, and that works. Nux wants connection and personal intimacy, and Capable has that to give, so it works. The Vuvalini fight and ride and preserve seeds; Joe’s Citadel had green vegetables, and survivalist agriculture, and that’s the product of somebody’s individual aptitude too. The Tribe showed me that when women need to lead, they lead, and when men need to cry, they cry, and vice versa forever beyond history. Mad Max: Fury Road retains the integrity of what I learnt after my very first apocalypse: humanity shows in all people. Catch it before it dies.

McKenzie Wark, talking about Fury Road, says “This is not feminist cinema but a new kind of masculinist cinema.” I agree, but I think that Feminism can contain this masculinism. I think that it must, if we’re going to keep gender at all. Finding the description that suits us, without losing the opportunity to live that label however feels natural: It’s paradoxical, but that’s human, don’t you think?

It tickles me to know that Jacob Tomuri, a series three Tribe regular, took the titular stunt role in Fury Road. That’s him strapped to the front of that car, when there’s no close-up on Hardy. You deserved it, bro! You rode with the colours to the wellspring of the subgenre. Your Tribe character (hateful, awful, martyr-complex Luke) was a turd, but he was a complex turd, and that’s all anyone can ask.

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About Author

The rock that drops on your head. WWAC Features & Opinions Ed. Find me at claire.napier@wwacomics.com

2 Comments

  1. Lanny Demour on

    While I don’t know about any “patriarchy” that you are talking about (even in interviews, when asked Miller and Theron said it had nothing to do “patriarchy”) I do believe there is plenty of literally content to this movie that many may have missed.

    The movie treats the viewer far smarter than most action films of today do, thus it may have been difficult to pick as we are so used to transformers and Ninja Turtles ruling the screens.

    Subtext is key here, this isn’t a movie that’s about spoon-feeding themes an ideas, aside from the very obvious survival and desperation thematic elements. Looking at this simply as an action movie is doing it a total disservice. Yes of course the action is front an center, yet, a lot more is happening going on in the background than many give it credit for.

    I find it interesting how it was mentioned that this movie is a cultural throwback, but I don’t necessarily agree. If you look to places in central Africa and some areas in the Middle East, this isn’t too far off from being reality. (different locations, yet lets think thematically here) George Miller has discussed in great detail, things such as how many different cultures are able to make beauty from certain situations, referencing impoverished areas in India and Pakistan. Even in extreme poverty or extreme deprived circumstances, people create, people find deities, people create hierarchies, all of this is there, yet never especially told to the audience.

    We are left to come to our own conclusions. There are a number of interesting religious parallels going on here, where the radiated wastelanders view Imortan Joe of somewhat a God figure or redeemer of their “Sin.” (He gives them life though water and must maintain his image [plastic armor] to keep the people in check) The illusion continues. . . About the cars, the are particularly worshiped as they are seen as these artifacts of a prior age that somehow survived the apocalypse. Once again with subtext, this is never outright stated, but we infer this from the way they are viewed and a single line about “almighty V8” which is very poetic in nature. Yes the cars are over the top. But you know what else could be considered “over the top” from an Alien Cultural Perspective? The Pyramids, The Statue of Liberty, the 8 wonders of the world, the crucifix or any other number of cultural artifacts. It’s fairly shallow minded to write this off.

    The awesome looking Guitar player and the drummers are all also part of the culture and have a very real basis in reality. Just look as recently as the American civil war, army’s would carry instruments such as flutes and drums into war. Go back further and this is seen everywhere. In a cultural that worships kinetic energy and must survive the heat of ruthlessness of the desert, people need things equally as ruthless and heat bearing to to keep spirits high.

    And I’m not totally sure that biker culture is a product of the 1980’s. Yeah it was more prevalent in American media then, but by all accounts biker gangs have grown over the past few decades, the mainstream media no longer focuses on them. Heck just a few days ago there was a massive biker shootout in Texas which has only served to show just how ruthless they can be. Calling this a product of the 80’s just sounds fairly uniformed.

    I find the “characters being too thin” excuse to be totally missing the point here. We are informed about these characters by what we known about them, but also by what we don’t know. Mad Max is a myth, with keeping in the tradition of the last 2 films, the movie is told though a different characters perspective, in this case Furious who is seeking redemption, by which Max is able to find it as well and reclaim some of his humanity. The story is one of learning to trust, how to respect and gender unity is far more powerful than division and “destroying the patriarchy” (which is a silly and outdated notion at this point) as obviously about sacrifice.

    Now this isn’t to say that I think this movie is some literal interpretation of what a future might be like. But view it as such is basically missing the point, don’t look at the movie you want about a literal interpretation of the future, but the one we are given, which is more a fable. This is compounded by every shot in the movie looking absolutely stunning. I could take screen and hang on my wall and call it art.

    Interestingly George Miller had this to sum up Mad Max. A few years back, there were Gasoline shortage in his native Australia. People were restricted to filling up once a week and normal gasoline (guzoline as it’s called in Mad Max) was could only to be used regularly for emergency vehicles. It took just ten days for the first shot to be fired. He wondered what the world would look like if that had continued 10 years, 30 years, 50 years and so on. He wondered how would society react? how aggressive would we become> What would happened? etc. . .