by way of explanation

Posted: August 18, 2011 in Film, Post-apocalyptic fiction
Tags: , , , , , ,

Some old friends are probably laughing at me for this because I once (many times) swore I would never succumb to blogging again because I feel it is too often a solipsistic mode of expression based in notions of self-importance. However, I honestly need a jump-start for writing and an archive for things not fit for the big project I am trying to complete (like a goddamn idiot).

Before moving forward, I feel the need to explain the silly title and something about intent.  For the clever and worldy, or pathetic and mired in the 80s, the title of this is a quite obvious reference to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.  This probably makes the typical idiot online assume the writer subscribes to the logic of such deathmatches and simplistic, brutal conflict resolution.  But recall the actual context, scene, and text if you will:


This is the truth of it . . . Fighting leads to killing,
and killing gets to warring.
And that was damn near
the death of us all.
Look at us now, busted up
and everyone talking about hard rain.
But we've learned by the dust
of them all. Bartertown's learned.
Now when men get to fighting,
it happens here.
And it finishes here.
Two men enter, one man leaves."

Despite my overall love for the film, and past arguments I’ve made about how it is criminally disregarded and outright dismissed in the post-apocalyptic genre, the set-up here is reductive and cliched in that the endured apocalypse (“pox-eclipse” for the children in the crack in the earth) was initiated by, and identical to, a dispute between the “two men,” which is patently untrue even given the limited background.  This cold war era film clearly references competing ideologies and, dare I say, STATES fighting and warring and destroying everything.  The lesson from this in this scene is that the source of wide scale violence, genocide, ecocide, apocalypse, etc. is human nature (especially male human nature, underwritten here by the quasi-masculinized, female figure of power that I might discuss later), which is inherently acquisitive and willing to risk annihilation for the sake of control, property (Max is unhappy about his truck and camels being taken), or . . .  something.

There are a ton of problems in this logic from any reasonable anthropological perspective, but most evident issue to me is the jump from fighting to warring to mutually assured destruction as if this is an ingrained pattern in human behavior.  Sure, humans will fight one another for various things, and this is likely ingrained, but nuking millions is a product of something beyond self-interest or mere power on the social level that speaks to specifics about so-called “modern” society and technological developments at an industrial, mass-society level.  An overly simple, Hobbesian position is slipped in as fact.

Which brings up the second point.  Thunderdome is not a two-partied, socially agreed upon meeting place (like the flagpole afterschool, despite the structural implications there) to settle disputes.  It is a “state” sponsored deathmatch endorsed by Aunty and Bartertown (it’s the circus part of “bread and circuses” in this world) with a hardlined set of rules: no capitulation or deals, only that “one man leaves” upon the murder of the other.

This underlying logic is undercut in the film when Max realizes that Blaster isn’t the mere brute giant with a fatal weakness he seemed to be, and it also points at a more widespread assumption that makes Max “good” rather than typical.

So, the reasoning behind this title is to leave out the end result assumed by the hierarchy/state/powers-that-be in such a scenario and open the question, central to my other project, of how we could/might really interact if the technological/industrial state government’s progress (“the economy”!) weren’t our reason for decision making.  Sure, we have disputes among ourselves.  Violence is part of our nature, if only in self-preservation, as some have argued (though I will disagree with this as a widespread generlization for various reasons I won’t develop here).  However, the assumptions about mass-scale violent tendencies are too often unquestioned (we don’t merely push buttons to annihilate those unlike us because we want a whopper they have, there’s far more to it) and the possibilities and realities of our own interactions (and our less-fucked futures?) are drowned in a sea of weakly argued truisms based aphorisms from shitty, old, white-male philosophers.

So, the general question implied is, when two men (or women) are in dispute, and there isn’t an economic/governmental assured ending, isn’t what happens a question of our possibilities for social interaction?  Can’t we all get along . . . even if someone looses a tooth here and there?

  1. Whitney Phillips says:

    Another implied question –or perhaps the same question restated– seems to be “what happens when we get outside.” But outside of what? Economic/governmental systems are, at last seem to be, somewhat demarcated (though not entirely of course, what with hegemonic etc shit) — something we can imagine ourselves without, even hypothetically, maybe. But there are more factors than just Institutions (i.e. that which could be contained within an office building, and issue paychecks) that dictate, or at the very least, strongly influence the outcomes of various disputes. Even something basic like the actual bodies we inhabit, and all the baggage that goes along with our limbs. Is there “human nature” under there somewhere, from which (starting?) point we can explore in an unencumbered way various possibilities for social interaction, or does the very conception of “human nature” lose all meaning once removed from the actual nature in which humans live? I guess my question is, what would escape even look like?

  2. nightwork says:

    Yes. Exactly. And the question of escape and/or radically alternative systems is one posed by utopian/dystopian narratives. This is especially true of the related post-apocalyptic genre, which obviously wipes the slate clean (partly, anyhow) and asks us about human nature and social organization and inherent violence and all that. Thunderdome does this in an interesting way by contrasting the civilization of the adults who are stuck in the past and were socialized under global capitalism with a group of children with little memory or knowledge of the past civilization (beyond stories and a viewmaster), who live in a tribal, subsistence society (which is also a cargo cult).

    Thing about these post-apocalyptic scenarios is, they almost always end up one of two ways (showing a lack of artistic originality that is linked in my mind to a poverty of ideas about politics and philosophy): 1. the new civilization that grows out of the remnants of the past is in some way a highly controlled and enclosed system, with apparatuses of control to prevent whatever excesses happened in the past (you might call these dystopias), Or, 2. You get a survival in the wasteland story about someone or someones who have lost everything and are just trying to get by, which often then end up following Campbell’s hero storyline to some extent (arguably like our friend Mad Max).

    It is the texts and moments in texts that flout these genre norms that most interest me, and the children’s society in Thunderdome is one of those moments.

  3. Whitney Phillips says:

    lol’d at your “about” section what I just read, last night (this morning? I don’t even know what day it is) I was going to say something about abandoning all hope, ye who enter here. But then didn’t want to be the asshole quoting Dante.

    This reminds me of several irritating fights I accidentally started in that political economy class (through journalism dept) — people all day wailing about capitalism, especially in relation to the internet, with the idea that somehow we could topple everything tomorrow just by lobbing spitballs from the top floors of PLC. And/or by writing strongly-worded blog posts during class taught by the endowed Knight Chair, on our iPads. There was always this sense that these kings and queens of resistance had stepped outside the system and were able to see it for what it was — unlike we cultural studies freaks who…well they lost me at that point, something about how culture is bad because there’s money involved. The point is, everything we know about ourselves, as academics, as subjects, as bodies affixed with a certain set of genitals, is influenced, if not outright determined, by the ideological systems we might like to think we’ve escaped just by recognizing, but which actually give our world meaning from our pronouns on up. So your point here is interesting because it reminds me that I wouldn’t know how to imagine myself imagining myself without the powers that be calling nearly all the shots, even the ones where I think I’m cleverer than power, which of course isn’t possible.

  4. […] state of humans without civilization/government as a war of all against all, which was the topic of my first post here.  Few examples I can think of deviate from this acceptance of the Hobbesian view of human […]