Official trailer to 'Mad Max: Fury Road' (2015)
This weekend, millions of people will flock to movie theaters to see Mad Max: Fury Road. The film is a rarity in the landscape of Hollywood reboots, as it's directed, produced, and co-written by original Mad Max director George Miller, ensuring that it maintains the spirit of its source material. And critics seem to love it too. With a 99 percent "fresh" rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, it's shaping up to be one of the most acclaimed big-budget action movies since Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight.
But there's one thing about Fury Road that has rankled some men across the web—the film features an empowered female character named Imperator Furiosa, who is played by Charlize Theron. As VICE's own critic David Perry put it, to the dismay of MRAs everywhere, "Fury Road is an explicitly feminist movie, with Furiosa and Max joining forces to take down a literal patriarchy."
The film's feminist bent led writer Aaron Clarey to cry foul in a viral post for Return of Kings, a site that describes itself as a "blog for heterosexual, masculine men." In the blog post, Clarey bemoans the fact that the true focus of the new film isn't Max, it's Furiosa, who much to Clarey's chagrin, "barked orders to Mad Max" in the trailer. In Clarey's eyes, "nobody barks orders to Mad Max."
Continuing, he writes, "Men in America and around the world are going to be duped by explosions, fire tornadoes, and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda, while at the same time being insulted AND tricked into viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten right in front of their very eyes."
Clarey's big call to action is that men should not see Fury Road, because if the film is the hit it's shaping up to be, he claims, "Then you, me, and all the other men (and real women) in the world will never be able to see a real action movie ever again that doesn't contain some damn political lecture or moray about feminism, SJW-ing, and socialism."
I reached out to Clarey—who also runs a blog called Captain Capitalism—via email with some questions about the boycott, Charlize Theron's mechanical arm, and whether or not explosions were gendered. His initial response was, "You want to get rid of the snark/fake questions and then I'll take you seriously?" Which, fine. Asking if a robot arm is gendered is at least light trolling. I then asked him what he made of the response to his post, which had made the rounds from the Huffington Post to the A.V. Club to Wired.
He responded, "Didn't think an obscure blogger would elicit such a reaction, let alone get on HuffPo, the Telegraph, etc. However, the content of the reaction was completely expected and predictable and doesn't surprise me. Anytime one dares to be politically incorrect and speak blunt, indifferent truth, you can expect a near-scripted reaction. In this case, it's the accusations of being 'ist' (sexist, misogynist, etc.), 'I have mother issues, hate women,' etc. Been down this road before many times and there's no surprises."
On Twitter, meanwhile, Clarey expressed bemusement that his post had "gone viral in lefty and femmy circles," and posted this response to his YouTube channel. "To the leftist media," he says while flipping off the camera, "fuck off."
Though the idea of a blogger calling for a boycott of an action movie for being "too feminist" in it is inherently ridiculous, there's definitely precedent for petulant dudes banding together to cause chaos with their wallets. During the halcyon days of the largely anti-feminist GamerGate controversy, GamerGaters successfully petitioned advertisers to remove ads from the gaming site Gamasutra for running a piece critical of the term "gamer," and managed to get Mercedes-Benz and Adobe to pull ads from Gawker over some jokey tweets. The basic idea was that if enough young men complained to advertisers, advertisers would be worried that a large portion of their consumer base might cease to support them. That this group of consumers were upset that writers might have the audacity to criticize their online harassment of women throughout the web was irrelevant. The tactic worked.
There are some very obvious flaws to the argument in Clarey's initial post. For one, Mad Max is not a piece of American culture. Miller is Australian, and the original Mad Max movies were shot in Australia. Fury Road was shot in Namibia, and its stars—Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy who are South African and British, respectively. Meanwhile, Mad Max is George Miller's creation. If he says a woman gets to bark orders to Mad Max, then a woman gets to bark orders to Mad Max. Clarey's response to this was, "George Miller has every right to do with his piece of art that he wants. Just as the Wachowskis had every right to do what they wanted with The Matrix franchise. And just as George Lucas had the right to do what he wanted with Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III."
Additionally, Clarey and those who agree with him seem to be missing a much larger point, which is that action movies on the whole are incredibly homoerotic. Think of the scene in Fast 5, where the Rock and Vin Diesel are fighting, their muscly visages seemingly fusing in some sort of primitive man-on-man mating ritual. Or the weird romantic tension between Sam and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings franchise. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger showing up to the past naked in the Terminator movies. Or how in Die Hard, Bruce Willis gets progressively more greasy and undressed. Or pretty much the entirety of 300. The list goes on, spiraling into an infinite void of phallic-shaped guns and subtext. Straight men getting mad that an action movie features women kicking ass is like straight men getting mad that women show up in a gay porn. When I brought this trope up to him, he simply responded, "Heh, I really didn't study the LOTR series that much."
As to why he was specifically upset about Mad Max: Fury Road and not movies like Terminator, Tank Girl, and Alien—action movies featuring strong female leads, Clarey had this to say: "They hired a feminist to consult on [Fury Road]. The main actor (Charlize Theron) claims the movie is feminist. Even VICE.com has an article claiming it is a feminist movie. This unfortunately differentiates Mad Max from [previous] female-action films in that it now is practically guaranteed to have a very 'It's On Us' like sermon or lecture."
Ultimately, fears that action movies might be becoming too feminist comes from the same place as the anxieties of GamerGaters: the idea that spaces that have classically been reserved for men might no longer be strictly theirs. Those men are cowards. Pay them no mind, and go see the hell out of Mad Max: Fury Road this weekend, secure with the knowledge that your dollars are playing a small part in eroding the hegemony of men in Hollywood.
Drew Millard is on Twitter.