Mix "Fury Road" with "The Hunger Games," add equal parts "Handmaid's Tale" and "The Walking Dead" and you have described Trump and his acolytes' vision for America.
Half-asleep and glazed with whiskey, I toggle back and forth between channels, watching the Republican National Convention and Mad Max: Fury Road. The bright orange-brown backdrop of the Quicken Loans Arena stage becomes the desert hellscape where a warlord hunted his runaway breeders; the crowd’s cries for “lock her up” (her being Hillary Clinton, of course) became the howling of War Boys in pursuit of the rebel Imperator Furiosa, who only wants to find the green place she called home. Finally, Donald Trump stands high above a group of desperate, starving people, and advises them, “Do not become addicted to water, my friends. It will take hold of you and you will only resent its absence.”
I wake up, blearily recollecting that it is, in fact, the Immortan Joe—the desert despot who hoards all the water and the greenery, turns women into incubators and young men into cannon-fodder just to satiate his own ego—who says these words. The sad thing, though? The Donald could’ve absolutely tweeted something like this. In earnest.
Later that night, I text a friend that everything put forth on that stage in Cleveland, and in the GOP’s platform itself—which eliminates all forms of gun control; strips LGBTQ Americans of their civil liberties; makes abortion illegal, returning it to the back alley, and puts all women under the bell jar; privatizes student loans (putting middle and lower-income families in the bear traps of predatory loans); razes social services and protections for the environment; and literally calls for “ building a wall along our southern border and protecting all ports of entry”—reads like “a blueprint for the end of the world.” But this blueprint is already evident in the fictional dystopias ruled by Immortan Joe or The Hunger Games’ President Snow, worlds where human rights and natural resources only belong to the tyrants who can steal them and the plutocrats who can afford to buy them back.
The Republican platform, and its message, is reflected in movies like Fury Road, and the Hunger Games series, along with TV fare like The Walking Dead. In their visions of the future, strongmen stand on the backs of the vulnerable and sick; governments create and sustain systems of crushing poverty by offering televised distractions that make sport of bloodshed (and, when that doesn’t work, executing dissenters in the public square); and, in the ultimate free-market free-for-all and second-amendment lovefest that is the zombie apocalypse (there are no taxes on anything you loot, after all), only the ruthless survive. This current zeitgeist for the End of Days isn’t just some cinematic flight-of-fancy, it illuminates the rot that has been so darkly blooming through the shambling corpse of a major American political party, and has, very publicly, spread into the air of our culture. Even Tony Schwartz, the man who ghostwrote Trump’s famous book, The Art of the Deal, says that, if elected, he could, “end civilization” as we know it.
This is why Stephen Colbert’s Republican Party–crashing attire—in costume as Panem’s huckster-in-chief, Caesar Flickerman—is so heartbreakingly appropriate. In The Hunger Games, Flickerman is the sleazeball agent of the state who hosts that annual battle royale, using flim-flam and flash to distract posh Capitol audiences from the genuine suffering of the young people forced to battle for their lives on-screen. In Trump’s America, though, the arena is unrelenting debt, it is the inside of a car as the cop goes for his gun, and it is the foreign battlefield he will inevitably condemn our troops to die upon (after England’s new prime minister, say, blocks him on Twitter). Colbert’s epic prank is a wink-and-nod toward Trump’s notoriety as a reality-TV star, and the ways that America today is—spoiler alert!—just like the Capitol in its willful obliviousness toward its poor, and its youth. However, Trump’s repeated calls “to build the wall” also calls to mind the geographic stratification of the 12 districts; divided, they are conquered, turned against each other for fun and profit.
One of the most terrifying aspects of Trump’s appeal is that he has never held a real leadership position, at least within government. He’s “an outsider,” a ball-bustin’, shoot-first man’s man who doesn’t even bother to ask questions later: operating out of will and whim, with no real appreciation for the carefully calibrated (if imperfect) system of checks and balances that keeps our government in motion—just like the plodding He-Men who seize power in The Walking Dead’s obliterated America. They are small-town sheriffs and bat-wielding high-school gym teachers who take control through brute intimidation, not through any talent for politics or compromise—and under their watches, the world becomes a crazed free-for-all of constant war. The only ethics are “might makes right”; the only things worth tending to (i.e., constantly defending) are their own fiefdoms. The lone female leader is a woefully ineffective suburban mom who wants to take the main character’s gun, until, of course, she needs him to stand up and fight (and then she immediately concedes her community over to him).
These dystopias are He-Man Woman-Hater Boy’s Clubs, and this unhinged hatred of women is most potently explored in Fury Road. This film was excoriated by the MRA crowd (who were likely snatching up the “fat thighs, small breasts, left wing” buttons long before they were on sale in Cleveland) for turning Mad Max into a feminist ally in his own movie—vesting the heart and soul of the movie with Imperator Furiosa, the one-armed woman warrior who liberates Immortan Joe’s “prized breeders,” a group of sex slaves whose rallying cry is, “we are not things.” The “five wives” call for freedom may seem like Feminism 101, but in a world where women are literally hooked up to Rube Goldberg–esque milking machines or bound in chastity belts (whenever they’re not being raped, that is), it feels transcendentally radical.
It is just as radical in the Republicans’ “great again” America: Trump’s vice-president pick, Indiana governor Mike Pence, has repeatedly, and vociferously, supported anti-choice legislation so Draconian that even the Republican women of the Indiana state legislature opposed it. Pence’s most infamous achievements would send a warm tingle through Immortan Joe’s creepy plexiglass battle-armor down to his jackboots—Pence signed a bill that would force women who’ve had abortions or suffered miscarriages to pay for funerals for their fetuses (a horror that even George Miller, didn’t even dream up). Pence has apparently conflated the worth of a woman’s womb with the actual economic collapse of our nation; this is actually the case in Fury Road, where Immortan Joe’s Cult of V8 can only stay operational if his “wives” continue to pop out War Boys who will pillage more resources.
No wonder, then, that there is such murderous rage at Furiosa—demands to “pike her in spine,” and taunts of “one angry shot” to take her out. Like Hillary Clinton, she is an uppity woman who doesn’t know her place. The burn-the-witch rhetoric (former GOP contender Ben Carson insisted that she gets her marching orders from no less than Lucifer himself) that has been formally codified and endorsed onstage (even if it has been roiling on talk radio and Twitter for eons) is the Republican war party come squealing wrathfully after progress—women exerting their wills against their oppressors, seeking freedom and choice. And, as we watch the Party of Lincoln whip itself into madness, we can only hope that, as a nation, we get out and vote, so that we might share Fury Road’s hopeful resolution: the warlord defeated, torn apart by the people he subjugated; and those uppity women emerge victorious.
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