Mad Max: Appropriation Road

Here at No Award, we’re enjoying Mad Max: Fury Road. We’re inventing an AU (it’s called Mad Max: Fury Roadhouse, and it’s hilarious), we’re reading meta, we’re getting angry about world building on Tumblr. We’re taking it seriously as a commentary on our dystopic future, we’re getting grumpy about the lack of Indigenous faces, and we’re fighting with people on the internet. We’re having a lot of fun.

There are a whole bunch of posts we’re planning to make. Something something racism and the whiteness of Mad Max and the erasure of what it means to be not-white in Australia by American commenters. Something something the terribleness and inconsistency of the world building (“fang it” isn’t creative, it’s like saying something is going to the pool room!). But today we’re looking at a post from The Conversation and introducing the Tiny Mood Stephanies.

We love The Conversation here at No Award. It’s such an excellent, thoughtful, left-ish Australian national website. So many great articles! So much Australianness! Hooray!

So it’s with great interest that we encountered Stanza and deliver – the filmic poetry of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Okay, sure. Last week friend of No Award Genevieve Valentine wrote a post: The feminine desert of Mad Max: Fury Road, and we’re so into it. We want to know more about your thoughts of how great this movie is! We have been lit students and history students and we love movies and analysing this stuff! Yes! Great fun!

These pleasurable intertextual allusions enrich the text of the film by signifying a certain cultural universe in the film.

Yep, great, I’m into some nerdy cross-film references.

Miller uses the storied images and effects mentioned above to establish “normative” narrative expectations of adventure action. The jolt or misalignment comes with Furiosa’s sudden “detour” from some of the usual signifiers that “drive” the genre.

What’s up with the quotation marks? No Award suddenly worries if this article is a parody, but that’s okay, we’ve been out of lit circles for a while, that’s fine. Cool.

We hear more of the relict signifiers of Australian lower-middle class culture that characterise the first three films (“Fang it!”; the Ford “Falcon”; “Doof”; “Dag”; the enactment of “chrome” as a verb; and even “schlanger”, which doesn’t have an exclusively local history that I’m aware of but reminds me of other colourful playground abuse – “schlong”, “wanger”, “wanker”, etc.)

Yes, love it. Love the world building. Good stuff.

Tiny Stephanie (overjoyed)

I’m particularly interested in a series of race signs that lie within the film’s poetic assemblage.

Well, many of the major characters (blessings be upon very not white Toast and Cheedo and Valkyrie) are white, but okay?

Indeed, the characters whose behaviour the film associates with whiteness are literally marked with the colour – painted white.

I mean, they’re also white, in our post-apocalyptic, everybody lives outside yet somehow they’re all actually white and those Namibian boys who were paid not a lot of money and asked to miss school to film are also covered in white so you can’t tell world, but yes, I can accept this reading.

In contrast, Furiosa applies black warpaint (grease-paint): its colour signifies her difference from the dominant (white) culture. Is she reclaiming that difference – a correlative to the Jewish hero Shoshana’s use of paint to mark herself as a Nazi-killer in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds(2009) – re-purposing the normative signifier of race difference by marking herself with it?

No, it’s because it looks cool. Charlize Theron was integral in working out Furiosa’s look, and it’s because it looks cool.

Furiosa’s self-description of being “stolen” as a child rings loudly with historical implications of Aboriginal suffering. Of all the verbs that might have been used by the character, Miller directs Theron’s delivery of this one in a way that isolates and emphasises its significance.

Hey I see you’re using the term stolen to refer to the wives and Furiosa, as the text does, and drawing a parallel to the stolen generation and the allegory there. Are you sure you want to praise this use of a stolen generation/Indigenous issue without addressing the lack of Indigenous Australians in the movie?

Its poignancy encourages us to recognise a profusion of other allusions to Aboriginality in the film. When Furiosa arrives at the Vuvalini hideout, she announces herself as having an initiate mother and belonging to the clan of the Swaddle Dog.

Yeah nah mate.

Tiny Stephanie (saddened)

These are crude and fictive allusions to Indigenous kinship, but undoubtedly deliberate ones. Are they in some way linked to an image much earlier in the film, when Max is haunted by an Aboriginal man telling him, “You let us die”?

Mate, is this really the time to be going all ‘About them without them’ in regards to images of Indigenous suffering and the Stolen Generation this week, right when we’re talking about Banished, a series about settlement and first contact that features zero Indigenous Australians?

Specifically, they tell what resemble Indigenous first-contact stories to explain the appearance of Max and then, at the film’s end, to incorporate their encounter with him into a new legend.

About a white man. With no Indigenous Australians.

Like the word “stolen”, it’s hard as an Australian viewer not to recognise this as a fictional appropriation of historical signifiers. Yolngu encounters with Macassan traders, coastal contact with European explorers and invaders, Asian migrants in Broome and the mining technology of the Pilbara, have all been documented and explained in Indigenous art forms and oral histories.

About white people, with no Indigenous Australians.

Over and over, Miller plays with action, iconography and dialogue to say, this place is and is not Australia; is and is not our cultural reality. Associating Furiosa with signifiers of both Indigenous and settler cultures, the film deepens the meaning of her mission to reclaim her identity. It can represent a social motivation as well as a personal one.

Quokka, forgive me if this is getting repetitive but this is an Australian movie that’s telling an Indigenous narrative without Indigenous actors or characters.

This is basic, my Australian friends. As Australians, we have to tell Indigenous stories and Indigenous implications of suffering using Indigenous people. It is unacceptable, it is racist, it is a sign of our ongoing colonised problem that we tell Indigenous stories without Indigenous people. It is unacceptable to simply allude to Aboriginality. To do so is cultural appropriation at its most simple and obvious.

This is a criticism that was always going to come; but more than that, it’s a criticism of this uncritical reading. We can’t climb Uluru, we can’t erase Indigenous suffering from our current narratives, we can’t hide from the racism in our country, we can’t do dot paintings and call them inspired, and we can’t tell Indigenous stories using allusions to Aboriginality.

Tiny Stephanie (anti-racist)

STAY TUNED FOR THE FOLLOWING:

  • Racism and the whiteness of Mad Max and the erasure of what it means to be not-white in Australia by American commenters.
  • The terribleness and inconsistency of the world building (“fang it” isn’t creative, it’s like saying something is going to the pool room.).
  • The Mad Max Coffee Shop AU fanfic that Steph is obsessed with, because it’s set in a small town in Australia that has a Starbucks, a Canadian Tire two towns over, and a bar with a piano in it but no pub. NO PUB. (This will be a part of talking about things Americans get wrong about Australia, one of No Award’s favourite topics).
  • Climate change and the move of filming from Broken Hill to Namibia.
  • The fights Liz keeps getting into on Tumblr.
  • The full range of Tiny Stephanies.
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11 thoughts on “Mad Max: Appropriation Road

  1. Moya

    Straight to the pool room for this post, yes please. I am definitely staying tuned for more.

    Also, I maintain that reading that article was like reading a first-year comm/ling student’s … emissions. I need more coffee to cope. Again.

    1. Right? I do not normally point and laugh at the work of undergrads, for they are but wee infants, but I feel like, once you’re on The Conversation, you’re basically a grown up.

      Also, I just checked, and the author is not an undergrad, but a lecturer. Suddenly my dad’s prejudice against pop culture studies seems validated.

  2. I’m sorry? A Starbucks in a small town in Australia? Have they suddenly re-classified Canbrrrra, Sydney or Melbourne, then? Because as far as I know, that’s as far as the Mermaid got in this country. They might do better trying it in WA with DOME coffee shops (although DOME don’t do the fancy syrup drinks and are fairly snobbish about this) or something like Gloria Jeans, but… Starbucks?

    I won’t even get started on Canadian Tire, except to say that it would probably help the writers one hell of a lot if they’d start by performing even the most cursory form of research about their subject location. Like, say whether the shops you’re putting there would actually exist…

  3. David Witteveen

    “Fang it” is an excellent piece of world building: a relic from Aussie hoon culture, recycled for use in the apocalyptic wasteland. Just like all those classic cars.

    Linking Furiosa’s backstory to the Stolen Generation seems like a stretch to me.

    The Stolen Generation were taken by a colonising government trying to erase the indigenous culture. Furiosa was taken by a monomaniacal warlord to be used as a sex slave breeding stock. Her backstory is closer to the Iliad than Australian history.

    1. I will accept your correction wrt world-building but only if people know that’s what they’re referencing. I will not accept it though in regards to its originality.

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