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“Mad Max” as Criticism of Car Culture…

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“Mad Max” as Criticism of Car Culture

By Ryver H.

Warning: spoilers ahead for pretty much the entire Mad Max series, including Fury Road.

Cinema, as with most forms of media, has a long and storied history of social commentary. This isn’t really all that surprising, if a creator feels strongly about something, it will often come across in their work, whether intentional or not. Those views tend to be reflected throughout the narrative, though they aren’t always apparent at first viewing. This brings me to Mad Max. While, on it’s face, this franchise (now consisting of 4 movies, 2 video games, and a couple of comic tie-ins) seems to be very much steeped in car culture. Both pre and post apocalypse settings in the series seem to revolve around automobiles and car culture, with plenty of chrome, leather and burnt rubber to go around. Despite this, George Miller (the director and writer for all four movies) seems to put a healthy vein of criticism for the same automobile culture that becomes increasingly apparent as the series goes on.

Starting from the beginning, the original Mad Max follows Max Rockatansky, a member of the Main Force Police, an organization specially charged with policing the extremely dangerous highways of a near-future society on the brink of collapse due to oil shortages. The world that Max inhabits is a harsh one, where violent crime is so prevalent as to be almost unenforceable, and road rage can and does escalate to the point of vehicular murder. While definitely comparable with many of the other “car” movies of the 1960’s and ‘70’s in terms of lengthy chase scenes, spectacular stunt work, and a focus on the vehicles almost as much as the characters, the criticism already starts to show. The movies villains (the Acolytes) are shown to steal gas and attack others, putting their own rides and thrill seeking before the lives of others. They are shown as over the top examples of many stereotypes revolving around “petrol heads” of the time, a picture of unchecked violence and fanaticism in a civilization on the decline. It is also hinted at that the Acolytes aren’t the only violent gang in the area and that the increasing scarcity of oil is driving these “mad” gangs into more and more dangerous behavior to get their thrills/ stay on the road.

In the second installment, The Road Warrior, some of the concepts present in the original are cranked up to 11. Taking place five years after the first movie, the world Max lives in has all but come to an end. Wars sparked over resources have ended in nuclear apocalypse, crumbling civilization and leaving the few humans remaining to squabble among themselves over increasingly scarce supplies. After Max is attacked by raiders attempting to steal his car and the “guzzoline” contained within it, he ends up teaming with a group of survivors and defending one of (if not the) last oil pumps left in the wasteland from the warlord Humunngus and his gang of marauders, hoping of fill his own gas tanks and keep his rig rolling. With the stylized design of the bandits and the main conflict of the story revolving around the oil derrick, the criticism feels a lot more apparent in Road Warrior than the original. Much of the design for the bandits seems to be a twisted take on many themes in car culture, with a lot of leather and chrome in their costuming as well as heavily customized cars and motorcycles to better terrorize the wasteland. The central conflict of the story seems to indicate that despite much of the world going to hell over oil, there are many in the wasteland, Max included, that are more comfortable killing and dying to fuel their engines than there are willing help rebuild others survive and rebuild what little they have left. They would rather die trying to get or keep the gas than be left with an empty tank.

Beyond Thunderdome was the next follow up, taking place 15 or so years after Road Warrior. It follows Max once more as he continues to try and survive in a world gone mad. This time he finds himself embroiled in the politics of Bartertown, a city in the middle of the desert that is caught between Auntie Entity (the leader and head of all the above ground commerce in Bartertown) and Master Blaster (who runs the methane processing plant below the city that helps power the place). It’s probably the weakest of the series, honestly, but the commentary is still there. Methane (a gaseous fuel that can be harvested from animal waste, as opposed to crude oil) is the main export of Bartertown and is traded for all manner of supplies and other goods, showing us once more that humans, Max included (who strikes a deal with Auntie to help fuel his car and have it returned to him), haven’t entirely shook the gas habit that ended their world, though many are shown using old cars as wagons drawn now by beasts of burden for lack of fuel.

Fury Road is the newest film in the series coming out after a nearly 30 year hiatus of the film. I takes place after the fall of society but it is unknown when in relation to the other films. Once more we join Max as he teams up with Furiosa, another driver who is trying to save a cadre of women from their captor and take them to the semi-mythical “green place”, a region untouched by the nuclear fallout that turned their world into the arid wasteland they have come to know. While oil consumption is less of a theme here, as an in narrative explanation shows that “guzzoline” is prevalent in the area, the topic of car culture and the society around that is back in force, certainly making up for what Beyond Thunderdome lacked. If Road Warrior cranked things to 11, Fury Road goes to 12. The central villain of the movie hasn’t just embraced car culture, he has made it into a religious experience for his followers, supped up rigs becoming holy relics, chariots for his followers (the War Boys) to ride into battle, promising a chromed out, muscle-carred valhalla to all those who die in his name. The main baddie himself, Immortan Joe, drives an ultra stylized monster of a rig (named The Gigahorse) powered by two “holy” V-8 engines. Joe’s cult is the ultimate conclusion of over-done car culture. His followers scream “Witness me!” before going (usually) to their death trying to perform some insane stunt along the lines of an extreme “He y’all, watch this!” They drive like mad and dance with death because ultimately they want their leader, whom they worship as a god, to find them worthy of his praise. Miller goes so over the top as to almost parody many of the aspects of car culture (fast cars, big engines, cool looking rides, insane stunts) and yet, in a way, some of it almost seems believable. There tends to be a lot of one-upmanship with people and cars, who is the fastest, who can do the craziest stunts, etc. that the war boys almost seem like the ultimate end to that.

While I think that while, on the whole, the Mad Max movies are a bunch of fun and crazy car action films, there is definitely a criticism to be had of car culture and the warning of going too far with something that runs throughout the franchise. In the real world there have been many cases of motorist violence and accidents caused by thrill seekers that, even as outlandish as the characters seems in the Mad Max universe, maybe they aren’t too far off. Things tend to get weird in places where society breaks down even a little. Who’s to say that as we start running lower on oil, and people get more desperate to keep their own ride, or for that matter their way of life going, thing don’t go a little crazy on the roads? Hopefully our attempts as a society to move away from combustion and toward cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy will also steer us away from “The fastest, the biggest, the meanest” cars in favor of more efficient, cleaner, and economic vehicles. Eventually moving us away from a world where Mad Max would be even possible. Because, really, can you see a smart car putting along in a wasteland at the end of the world?

Ep 7: Batman And the Overman; Can a hero “Rise” above?

Today’s show focuses on the intersection of Nietzsche’s philosophy and Batman. To be specific Christopher Nolan‘s “The Dark Knight” Trilogy, the last of which was released in 2012 and, Allan Moore’s “The Killing Joke”. As such there will be spoilers in this episode so be warned if you haven’t had a chance to catch up on your Batman or your Nietzsche (neurosyphilis in the hospital, hold the candlestick). Also the terms Overman and Übermensch are used interchangeably during the episode if that kind of thing bothers you.

Professor Metal starts us out with his definition of the Overman.

Sean explains a little about Nietzsche’s “Doctrine of hardship” as he is calling it.

Ryver gives us some background on Batman.

Ryver and Bruce propose that batman may be a candidate for Overman status.

Sean lays out a first test for any candidate, specifically, that they have overcome hardship and the first proposal that Bruce Wayne (Spoiler alert: that’s Batman’s secret identity) losing his parents represents his seminal hardship.

Ryver rebuffs this by pointing out that Bruce never seems to really overcome this, but instead lets it consume him and shape his life.

Bruce and Sean point out the link to obsession and the dynamics of power between Batman and Alfred.

Sean suggests that Bruce Wayne’s physical and mental training to “Peak Human” levels constitutes a series of hardships which are overcome.

Bruce points Bruce Wayne’s chiroptophobia and his subsequent defeat and embrace of that which he had been terrorized by as significant over-comings for our purposes.

Sean Points to the struggles that Bruce Wayne has to overcome in the social, political, technical, and personal arenas.

These constitute the best evidence for Batman as Overman according to Sean.

But then the cons come in, specifically, his wealth and privilege.

Bruce points out that given his advantages he may not be using these gifts to the greatest advantage for the goal of making Gotham better.

Sean points out that the kinds of crime Batman wants to fight is violent street crime and not white collar crimes and that this is the kind of crime he sees himself as a victim of.

Sean and Bruce tackle the criteria of the Overman creating social standards and derive that Batman’s standard would be a kind of Justice.

Professor Metal tells the philosophers that batman can’t be the Overman because he’s “the Good guy”!

The Professor suggests that Batman just wants to preserve what is already in place and has no interest in changing the system.

Ryver points out that Batman isn’t the “Hero” as far as many of Gotham’s residents are concerned.

Sean counters by pointing out that we the audience are always shown that these opinions are wrong or based on spurious premises.

Sean points to the notion of Batman as “The Dark Knight” as proof. Batman is the dark knight because he’s willing to do the wrong things for the greater good of preserving society. And since society can’t embrace its own destruction in order to be rebuilt the “Good” guy cant really be the Overman.

Sean paraphrases a quote from “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (Here’s the full quote)

“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, §3, trans. Walter Kaufmann

Sean goes on to suggest the Joker as a candidate for the Overman and points to Joker’s monologue in “The Killing Joke” as evidence of his hardships. (full quote here)

“So… I see you received the free ticket I sent you. I’m glad. I did so want you to be here. You see it doesn’t matter if you catch me and send me back to the asylum… Gordon’s been driven mad. I’ve proved my point. I’ve demonstrated there’s no difference between me and everyone else! All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once, am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed. Why else would you dress up as a flying rat? You had a bad day, and it drove you as crazy as everybody else… Only you won’t admit it! You have to keep pretending that life makes sense, that there’s some point to all this struggling! God you make me want to puke. I mean, what is it with you? What made you what you are? Girlfriend killed by the mob, maybe? Brother carved up by some mugger? Something like that, I bet. Something like that… Something like that happened to me, you know. I… I’m not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha ha ha! But my point is… My point is, I went crazy. When I saw what a black, awful joke the world was, I went crazy as a coot! I admit it! Why can’t you? I mean, you’re not unintelligent! You must see the reality of the situation. Do you know how many times we’ve come close to world war three over a flock of geese on a computer screen? Do you know what triggered the last world war? An argument over how many telegraph poles Germany owed its war debt creditors! Telegraph poles! Ha ha ha ha HA! It’s all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for… it’s all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can’t you see the funny side? Why aren’t you laughing?

Joker “Batman: The Killing Joke”

Sean suggests that the inability to understand joker as a hero is rooted in our social framework. And that his value is Radical freedom by way of ontological anarchy.

Bruce asks if the Joker isn’t just democratizing the will to power by forcing us all to decide what is most important.

Ryver suggests that joke isn’t really giving the victims a choice.

Sean counters that he is giving Batman a choice and that even the victims have opportunities to escape even if it couldn’t be called a fair chance.

Bruce points out that in some sense Joker seems to be trying to teach something to the people of Gotham by forcing them to embrace their own destructive power. Moreover he seems to feel that its not his place to tell people what to rebuild but only to show them that they can.

Sean points out that Joker is not concerned with “Good” or “Evil” and thus has another mark of an Overman. And that a project of chaos fits with Nietzsche’s philosophy

“”I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.”

from Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra, p.3 Walter Kaufmann transl.

Sean points out that Batman is a rule follower in many ways and that his singular purpose is based in morality which Nietzsche felt we needed to abandon.

Ryver talks about a crossover comic where Joker and Red Skull work together briefly before joker realizes hes working with a Nazi. Joker quickly decides he cant work with Red Skull any more and battle ensues. This suggests that Joker is anti Athouritarian and supports the idea that he values radical freedom. (Link to the book on amazon here)

Ryver points out that this supports the thesis of Joker as Overman because (Despite the inaccurate portrayal of Nietzsche as proto-Nazi in some popular sources) Nazi authoritarianism and perpetual dominance are antithetical to the Overman’s project.

Bruce questions whether the Joker is even really insane due to his high function and general capability level.

Sean points out that even the notion of sanity is a socially derived standard and as such being outside the system might just be a mark of being free from that system.

Sean wonders if Bane may be another candidate for Overman status.

Ryver supports the idea with Bane’s intellectual and physical superiority.

Bruce points out that if tearing down the system is part of being the Overman then Bane is significantly more efficient at it than Joker is.

Sean points out that all of Bane’s advantages are hard won by overcoming hardships.

Bruce points out that even the venom serum that bane uses only alleviates his suffering not extends his ability beyond himself.

Sean suggests that Bane’s very process of selecting henchmen reflects Overman thinking.

Bruce points out that Bane systematically eliminates Bruce Wayne’s many advantages and forces him to fight through the hardship that it leaves to make his return.

Sean Points out that in terms of “metaphor writ large” the Pit is a perfect analogy tot he struggle of overcoming and becoming better for it that Nietzsche describes in the doctrine of hardship.

Ryver points out that Bane falls short of Overman status because he has chosen to be subservient to the will of another, Talia al Ghul who, in Dark Knight Rises, is the true mastermind of the films events.

Professor Metal take the Last Word to discuss what it means to be a villain, his own personal philosophy, and the influence of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

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