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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
This has meaning to me pic.twitter.com/I1d541n0N7
— claire "🤡" napier (@illusClaire) May 21, 2015