In Too Deep: Is Mad Max Part of American Culture?
Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now I just saw Mad Max: Fury Road and loved it (since, while it may not be the best film ever made, it is the best made film ever), but I also remember hearing the hoopla surrounding the ‘feminist overtones’ of the film. In particular, that this latest film ruined a piece of American culture. Now most people laughed this off as the complainers being stupid… but what if they weren’t? What if, in this one part, they were right? Is Mad Max part of American culture? Well lets find out.
First off, lets get the obvious out of the way. Yes the film are directed by an Australian, set in Australia, filmed in Australia, and has a lot of Australian actors in it. The film was made and inspired by Australian culture. But that does not automatically mean that it is only Australian culture, or that it can’t be a part of any other culture. If that was true then no international film could ever have an impact on the foreign market. But since Hollywood films have had an impact overseas (the easiest example being how they influenced Australia and New Zealand popular culture), and foreign films have had an impact in America (James Bond, anyone?), then saying that the country where the film is made can’t have an impact on another country is ludicrous to say the least. So what does this mean for Mad Max? Well, despite its many Australian influences, just because it was made in Australia doesn’t mean it didn’t also have an impact on American culture. The same way James Bond being made in England doesn’t mean it can’t have an impact on American culture, or that fantasy Hollywood films of the 70s and 80s didn’t have an impact on New Zealand culture. So Mad Max is a part of American culture because it had an impact on American culture. The question is, just how much of an impact did it actually have?
Now it’s been joked before that Waterworld is essentially Mad Max in the ocean; and in many ways this is probably the most accurate way of describing the flop. It has all the tropes and clichÃ©s popularized (if not invented by) Mad Max, but somehow manages to fail miserably. Most of it comes to bad acting and directing choices, but it’s an interesting case of the Americanized version of an international property. Waterworld is Mad Max made by Americans. So does that mean there’s something inherently Australian about Mad Max, something that can’t be copied? Well the first film, certainly. The first film is very much an Australian film, even if it feels nothing like the rest of the Mad Max movies (for the record I saw the second first and then the first, leading me to become very confused at the contrast). It’s hard to explain how it’s Australian, since it requires talking about a culture I don’t know a lot about (despite moving to go live here, go figure). But the second film is certainly a much different film, but how Australian is it? Because I’d argue that it’s a far more Americanized film than its predecessor. It’s certainly bigger and flashier, and has a much larger and more climatic climax. It has a lot of tropes and clichÃ©s found in Hollywood films, after all. The third film is especially bad at this, with its somewhat bizarre aesthetic choices and its strange story. So each movie slowly but surely got more ‘Americanized’ as each instalment went along. Even the latest film feels much more like a big Hollywood blockbuster than anything else (though not really surprising, all things considered), though considerably better than most due to its more effective use of ‘show, don’t tell’. But while the films got more Americanized, what about the impact on American culture. Well that’s very simple, and can be summed up very well. Because, my friends, we need to go beyond thunderdome.
To my recollection I’ve never heard an Australian use the phrase ‘beyond thunderdome’, nor ever really quoted or talked about Mad Max in any significant way. Granted, one man’s view isn’t conclusive, but Mad Max never really seemed to be a big thing over here. Compare that to America, where Mad Max tends to be a small but significant part of popular culture. Not surprising, considering the film is essentially a Western film with clever dressing. But even then, a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction set in a desert tends to be influenced more by Mad Max than anything else. Mad Max helped create and modernize the… well, the ‘petrolpunk’ genre, for want of a better word. For reference, ‘petrolpunk’ is a term I just made up, and is derived from the concept of steampunk (aka Victorian culture intermixed with future technology), only using a future society and relatively modern technology. That and everything being powered by petrol rather than steam. But since Mad Max helped create the ‘petrolpunk’ genre, any piece of American fiction set within the genre owes a great deal to those films. So Mad Max is part of American culture, if for no other reason than it created a genre that thrived within American fiction to this day (as well as being a series of films increasingly Americanized in terms of action and spectacle).
So there you have it. My convoluted look at how much Mad Max could have impacted American culture. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.