I finally watched Mad Max; Fury Road yesterday, and it was awesome of course. (Why did it take so long? Welcome to parenthood, folks.)

The parallels between Immortan Joe with his War Boys and fascists like 45 and the alt-right was pretty on the nose, at least looking at it now. And of course, that between him and the leaders of Gasoline Town and the Bullet Farm, we get the “ones who killed the world”: Capitalism, war, and patriarchy. (The War Boys are totally toxic masculinity embodied.)

But I also kept thinking about how this whole genre — post-apoc — is incredibly libertarian/capitalist, which is probably obvious. I mean, of course we know that faced with those conditions humanity will naturally devolve into might-makes-right, everyone armed to the teeth and out for themselves, right? Never mind that history generally has shown that humans almost never do that, hence the reason we’re all still here.

Is the genre a mix of worrying about the end state of the military-industrial complex and reinforcing that mindset, since it always resurfaces in the dystopias?

Is there post-apoc fiction where everyone bands together and rebuilds, all kumbaya-style?

74 thoughts on “I finally watched Mad Max; Fury Road yesterday, and it was awesome of course. (Why did it take so long? Welcome to…

  1. I really think there’s just a lot of macho dude empowerment fantasy baked in, at least in the PA movies. I kind of assume the same empowerment fantasies are at the root of the burn-it-all-down cryptolibertarian anarchists in the real world too.

    The RPG we’re playing right now, Legacy, is very much of a rebuilding mind. You’re basically guiding your society toward the endgame which is assumed to be some kind of functional structure.

  2. < ![CDATA[I really think there's just a lot of macho dude empowerment fantasy baked in, at least in the PA movies. I kind of assume the same empowerment fantasies are at the root of the burn-it-all-down cryptolibertarian anarchists in the real world too. The RPG we're playing right now, Legacy, is very much of a rebuilding mind. You’re basically guiding your society toward the endgame which is assumed to be some kind of functional structure.]]>

  3. Given that the radioactive desert post-apoc we all know and “love” came to be in the late Cold War and Reagan-Era (and then froze, for reasons I haven’t quite figured out, but I’m guessing are related to the tremendously effective imagery of the 80s blockbusters and B-movies), the idea that an apocalypse would be full of predatory capitalism just made sense.

    Though it’s pretty fantastical, Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is set in a world that periodically undergoes small apocalypses, and the social order that emerged as a result — and its serious flaws, despite not being arch-capitalist in the Mad Max vein — is a major focal point of the story.

  4. < ![CDATA[Given that the radioactive desert post-apoc we all know and "love" came to be in the late Cold War and Reagan-Era (and then froze, for reasons I haven't quite figured out, but I'm guessing are related to the tremendously effective imagery of the 80s blockbusters and B-movies), the idea that an apocalypse would be full of predatory capitalism just made sense. Though it's pretty fantastical, Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy is set in a world that periodically undergoes small apocalypses, and the social order that emerged as a result — and its serious flaws, despite not being arch-capitalist in the Mad Max vein — is a major focal point of the story.]]>

  5. I find a lot of solar punk post apocalyptic stuff talks a lot about new kinds of community and living and rebuilding after the world crashes and burns.

    Oddly hopeful genre, that. And a lovely break from all the ‘humans are scum, just waiting to hurt each other’ stuff in most PA fiction/movies/tv shows.

  6. < ![CDATA[I find a lot of solar punk post apocalyptic stuff talks a lot about new kinds of community and living and rebuilding after the world crashes and burns. Oddly hopeful genre, that. And a lovely break from all the 'humans are scum, just waiting to hurt each other' stuff in most PA fiction/movies/tv shows.]]>

  7. There’s a writer friend of mine who’s also a farmer. She grows all her own food and lives sustainably. She has some really strong feelings and clear thoughts about the (generally) male libertarian power fantasies that surround post-apocalyptic thinking (she thinks they’re a load of bullshit). I hope she writes a book about it someday, because it’d be pretty great.

  8. < ![CDATA[There's a writer friend of mine who's also a farmer. She grows all her own food and lives sustainably. She has some really strong feelings and clear thoughts about the (generally) male libertarian power fantasies that surround post-apocalyptic thinking (she thinks they're a load of bullshit). I hope she writes a book about it someday, because it'd be pretty great.]]>

  9. Daniel Swensen Remember in the early 2000s, when it was really popular to ask people what their “zombie survival strategy” was? As a certified fun-ruiner, I would always ask people after they had laid out their grimdark power fantasy where they were going to plant their beans and how far away they figure they needed to keep their composting toilet from their fresh water supply. They had a fresh water supply, right?

  10. < ![CDATA[Daniel Swensen Remember in the early 2000s, when it was really popular to ask people what their "zombie survival strategy" was? As a certified fun-ruiner, I would always ask people after they had laid out their grimdark power fantasy where they were going to plant their beans and how far away they figure they needed to keep their composting toilet from their fresh water supply. They had a fresh water supply, right?]]>

  11. How is the genre libertarian? If it is, I think it’s more libertarian-socialist than libertarian-capitalist; money, after all, is gone, as is any semblance of an economy. It’s about people banding together and helping each other out. Not just in the Postman, but also in Fury Road, in some earlier Mad Max movies, and in various other post-apoc stories. Helping each other out and building something together tends to win the day, unlike staying on your own and trading while avoiding commitment; that inevitably turns to violence where somebody, and possibly everybody, loses.

  12. < ![CDATA[How is the genre libertarian? If it is, I think it's more libertarian-socialist than libertarian-capitalist; money, after all, is gone, as is any semblance of an economy. It's about people banding together and helping each other out. Not just in the Postman, but also in Fury Road, in some earlier Mad Max movies, and in various other post-apoc stories. Helping each other out and building something together tends to win the day, unlike staying on your own and trading while avoiding commitment; that inevitably turns to violence where somebody, and possibly everybody, loses.]]>

  13. Ooh, The Peace War is a great point. I have the sense that Vinge is a LIbertarian of some stripe and he paints a sort of libertopian answer to what happens after a collapse. And it’s even kicked up a notch in his sequel novella The Ungoverned.

  14. < ![CDATA[Ooh, The Peace War is a great point. I have the sense that Vinge is a LIbertarian of some stripe and he paints a sort of libertopian answer to what happens after a collapse. And it’s even kicked up a notch in his sequel novella The Ungoverned.]]>

  15. IMO a lot of post-apoc fiction does feature people working together, but it’s almost always overrun by a militaristic force that takes or destroys everything, and regardless of whether or not that force is the villain, that’s what some people tend to remember and get behind — “if a real apocalypse happened, that’s the winning side and the one I’d be on” being the implied message.

    Not peer-reviewed case studies, just a general impression i get from various discussions.

  16. < ![CDATA[IMO a lot of post-apoc fiction does feature people working together, but it’s almost always overrun by a militaristic force that takes or destroys everything, and regardless of whether or not that force is the villain, that’s what some people tend to remember and get behind — “if a real apocalypse happened, that’s the winning side and the one I’d be on” being the implied message.
    Not peer-reviewed case studies, just a general impression i get from various discussions.]]>

  17. Oh, I think I understand the claim!

    It’s something like this, yeah, Martijn Vos:
    1. The post-apoc world as described in Mad Max is a hell hole.
    2. That hell hole is largely predicated on a military-industrial complex that consumes and destroys.
    3. Fury Road in particular shows that a small group coming together in cooperation can defeat the hegomonic militaristic cult.
    4. Therefore, Fury Road has a message that is pro-socialism, as it shows that the libetarian dictatorial nonesense of the villain is ultimatley self defeating.

    I think this is about what you are saying?

  18. < ![CDATA[Oh, I think I understand the claim! It's something like this, yeah, Martijn Vos: 1. The post-apoc world as described in Mad Max is a hell hole. 2. That hell hole is largely predicated on a military-industrial complex that consumes and destroys. 3. Fury Road in particular shows that a small group coming together in cooperation can defeat the hegomonic militaristic cult. 4. Therefore, Fury Road has a message that is pro-socialism, as it shows that the libetarian dictatorial nonesense of the villain is ultimatley self defeating.
    I think this is about what you are saying?]]>

  19. < ![CDATA[The socialist aspects of Fury Road are framed either in terms of their failure or their eventual promise, never as a practical reality. That's true for most post-apoc sci-fi movies IMO.]]>

  20. William Nichols Almost. I don’t see the villains in any way as libertarian. They’re authoritarian autocrats, highly hierarchical. It’s the small group coming together that wants freedom. Hence it’s much more libertarian-socialist vs authoritarian capitalist than state-socialist vs libertarian-capitalist.

  21. < ![CDATA[William Nichols Almost. I don't see the villains in any way as libertarian. They're authoritarian autocrats, highly hierarchical. It's the small group coming together that wants freedom. Hence it's much more libertarian-socialist vs authoritarian capitalist than state-socialist vs libertarian-capitalist.]]>

  22. I’m designing a post-apocalyptic game (kinda*) and it was important to me that community-building be essential. So it’s something you have to deal with every session (the hardholder’s moves are essentially farmed out to the playing group). The dials are all set to run down toward apocalypse and inevitable ruin, but a given table should be able to keep their community alive if they spend most of their resources on doing so.

    * It’s about the death of everything and everyone magical but in a thriving human empire

  23. < ![CDATA[I'm designing a post-apocalyptic game (kinda*) and it was important to me that community-building be essential. So it's something you have to deal with every session (the hardholder's moves are essentially farmed out to the playing group). The dials are all set to run down toward apocalypse and inevitable ruin, but a given table should be able to keep their community alive if they spend most of their resources on doing so. * It's about the death of everything and everyone magical but in a thriving human empire]]>

  24. Author NK Jemisin was really just talking about post apocalyptic projections being primarily about our society and not necessarily how people will act when things come apart (we have both history of Europe post-plague and both N & S America after the colonizers brought disease). Her Broken Earth trilogy might be something you might enjoy reading.

  25. < ![CDATA[Author NK Jemisin was really just talking about post apocalyptic projections being primarily about our society and not necessarily how people will act when things come apart (we have both history of Europe post-plague and both N & S America after the colonizers brought disease). Her Broken Earth trilogy might be something you might enjoy reading.]]>

  26. Post-apocalyptic stories generally aren’t truly speculative; they’re metaphoric. The claim isn’t that authoritarian assholes fueled by libertarian fantasies will rise to power after the collapse of civilization, but that civilization is already run by authoritarian assholes fueled by libertarian fantasies. Post-apoc just has fewer veils than reality.

  27. < ![CDATA[Post-apocalyptic stories generally aren’t truly speculative; they’re metaphoric. The claim isn’t that authoritarian assholes fueled by libertarian fantasies will rise to power after the collapse of civilization, but that civilization is already run by authoritarian assholes fueled by libertarian fantasies. Post-apoc just has fewer veils than reality.]]>

  28. Actually post-apoc stories just make the assumption that “now there is civilization, after the collapse we go back to something like prehistoric societies, so how were these societies organized?”.
    Now, if you stop wearing political glasses and put up the historian and anthropological glasses, you will see that in that kind of age (which actually happens to coexist with us since it’s perfectly replied in many tribal societies that are away from “civilization”) there are always two distinct types of societies/groups, that develop up because of the local conditions: the hunters-gatherers, which live usually in places were you can find food by moving but were is hard to rise crops, and the harvesters/city builders, who live in areas were resources are more plentiful and stable and don’t need to move around a lot (now, there are also societies in the middle, but nevertheless these two are the more representative groups).

    What usually happens if these two groups meet and have to share a critical resource is that the hunters, being used to take what they need, do exactly that, and the harvesters see that as a menace, because they can’t move like the others and would need to defend that resource.
    Now, guess were that is going to end? Tensions between these groups and a conflict that needs to be resolved. Most times, since the two groups have very different cultures due to how they are used to live and use the resources, this becomes a war, and after the war those who contributed more to their side victory are granted a higher status.

    Thus, post apocalypse stories tell that struggle in a simplified and usually very one-sided way, which is our “harvesters and city builders” point of view. So the hunters are the bad guys, while the harvesters are the good guys.
    But Capitalism and socialism have really little role in that kind of story and scenario, the could be inserted to tell something about our society BUT to feel realistic they in the end clash with the fact that primitive societies don’t have capitalism or socialism, because there is no time to accumulate, there is just the need to survive and thus the basis on which both those economic ideas are based, are not present yet, or are just there in a very proto form, which doesn’t compare to our ideas of economy or even just society.

  29. < ![CDATA[Actually post-apoc stories just make the assumption that "now there is civilization, after the collapse we go back to something like prehistoric societies, so how were these societies organized?". Now, if you stop wearing political glasses and put up the historian and anthropological glasses, you will see that in that kind of age (which actually happens to coexist with us since it's perfectly replied in many tribal societies that are away from "civilization") there are always two distinct types of societies/groups, that develop up because of the local conditions: the hunters-gatherers, which live usually in places were you can find food by moving but were is hard to rise crops, and the harvesters/city builders, who live in areas were resources are more plentiful and stable and don't need to move around a lot (now, there are also societies in the middle, but nevertheless these two are the more representative groups). What usually happens if these two groups meet and have to share a critical resource is that the hunters, being used to take what they need, do exactly that, and the harvesters see that as a menace, because they can't move like the others and would need to defend that resource. Now, guess were that is going to end? Tensions between these groups and a conflict that needs to be resolved. Most times, since the two groups have very different cultures due to how they are used to live and use the resources, this becomes a war, and after the war those who contributed more to their side victory are granted a higher status. Thus, post apocalypse stories tell that struggle in a simplified and usually very one-sided way, which is our "harvesters and city builders" point of view. So the hunters are the bad guys, while the harvesters are the good guys. But Capitalism and socialism have really little role in that kind of story and scenario, the could be inserted to tell something about our society BUT to feel realistic they in the end clash with the fact that primitive societies don't have capitalism or socialism, because there is no time to accumulate, there is just the need to survive and thus the basis on which both those economic ideas are based, are not present yet, or are just there in a very proto form, which doesn't compare to our ideas of economy or even just society.]]>

  30. Martijn Vos it’s again an harvester society against a nomadic one. Which one is good or bad, right or wrong, warlike or pacific, is just what the authors decided based on the message they wanted to pass or their views. Thus they wanted to criticize capitalism and civilization and made the harvesters to be the bad guys.

    But the initial assumption is always the same: post-apocalypse = primitive societies.
    What they decide to develop and described based on that distinguishes the message of Fury Road from that of another movie but still it’s based on the same assumption.

    And I’m in no way saying that genre absolutely haves to take that assumption for granted. Numenera or the Dying Earth by Vance are examples of very different approachs to post-apocalypse, but in the end most people and authors identifiy that genre with that assumption, and so you get all these movies with the same messages just painted in different subjects and scenarios

  31. < ![CDATA[Martijn Vos it's again an harvester society against a nomadic one. Which one is good or bad, right or wrong, warlike or pacific, is just what the authors decided based on the message they wanted to pass or their views. Thus they wanted to criticize capitalism and civilization and made the harvesters to be the bad guys. But the initial assumption is always the same: post-apocalypse = primitive societies. What they decide to develop and described based on that distinguishes the message of Fury Road from that of another movie but still it's based on the same assumption. And I'm in no way saying that genre absolutely haves to take that assumption for granted. Numenera or the Dying Earth by Vance are examples of very different approachs to post-apocalypse, but in the end most people and authors identifiy that genre with that assumption, and so you get all these movies with the same messages just painted in different subjects and scenarios]]>

  32. < ![CDATA[I don't really speak "politics", but if anyone's interested, I have a private collection where I gathered a few articles and videos on Mad Max Fury Road, mostly from a feminist pov. If anyone wants, I can add them to the circle that can see it :)]]>

  33. Giorgio De Michele I think all we need concern ourselves with is the genre as an aesthetic artifact, regardless of whether the authors are trying to be “realistic” or are purely exploring metaphor. And in that sense, I think the genre veer much leans towards the ideologies we’ve been talking about.

    In MMFR, it’s organized governance always becomes despotism, and loner individuals are always the good guys. That screams American individualism and libertarianism to me.

  34. < ![CDATA[Giorgio De Michele I think all we need concern ourselves with is the genre as an aesthetic artifact, regardless of whether the authors are trying to be "realistic" or are purely exploring metaphor. And in that sense, I think the genre veer much leans towards the ideologies we've been talking about. In MMFR, it's organized governance always becomes despotism, and loner individuals are always the good guys. That screams American individualism and libertarianism to me.]]>