I admit it — the main reason I bought an opening weekend ticket for Mad Max: Fury Road was to, specifically, piss off the various men’s-rights advocates angrily telling me that, as a man, I should boycott it for being feminist propaganda. Continuing my life’s goal of doing pretty much the opposite of whatever the defenders of manliness tell men to do, I of course bought a ticket for an opening weekend 3D showing in order to give as much money to my feminist overlords (ladies?) as possible.
Was it the massive triumph for feminism that would finally break the back of the patriarchy that both its biggest haters and boosters predicted it’d be? Probably not.
But it was, first and foremost and above all else, a Mad Max movie. And the most interesting thing about Fury Road is how it reveals that, contra the wailing of Return of Kings’ “resident economist” Aaron Clarey, the Mad Max franchise has always on some level been a feminist franchise. It’s a franchise about toxic masculinity, and how all of us — including the “good guys” — are infected by it, and how there’s no hope unless we can someday build a world without it, which might mean building a world without ourselves.
One of my own male role models, Kurt Cobain, said, “Women are the only future in rock and roll”; I’d apply that to culture in general. Not that women are genetically or inherently superior, not that there’s nothing wrong with our culture’s idea of femininity — but the most toxic behaviors, the ones that killed the world and continue to kill it? They’re all packaged together in the culturally approved madness we call masculinity. And our best hope might be handing the reins to the half of the population that wasn’t raised to call that madness their birthright.
In Fury Road, Furiosa might be, as her name implies, filled with rage, but she’s not mad the way Max is. She remembers a better way to live, the Green Place, the Land of the Many Mothers; all Max remembers is the screams of the dying. She can be both a hero in war and a leader in peace. A hero is all Max knows how to be.
Far be it for me to compare an armchair Internet warrior like myself to Mad Max (though I’ve already compared myself to the Hulk, so why not). But I’m not the only radical guy I know who instinctively analogizes activism to war, who sees interactions with political opponents as fights, who carries the baggage of toxic masculinity even when trying to fight toxic masculinity, who sees political conflict as a zero-sum Thunderdome where “two men enter, one man leaves.”
And Mad Max, of all places, came out with a message against that nonsense 30 years ago, with Beyond Thunderdome — which is when Clarey should’ve started writing about Miller as a betrayer of manhood, assuming he was old enough to read and write then — when Tina Turner, a strong female leader figure 30 years before Charlize Theron, sang a song that sums up activism, feminism, and the problem with male allies in one line: