Let’s be honest. ‘The Fast and the Furious‘ franchise is automotive pornography. These films glorify the absolute worst driving behavior possible, making lavish sums of money in the process. By reducing conflict to its basest-level brute aggression, we see a meticulous refinement of ultra-violence mixed with muscle cars.
America perfected this brand of cinema, it’s now our chief entertainment export. Once a mere afterthought, international blockbuster revenue is now Hollywood’s driving market force.
Not to be outdone, the Australian Mad Max franchise has now officially been rebooted. Critics are raving what an adreneline-filled, nonstop massacre on wheels the new Tom Hardy/Charlize Theron vehicle is.
From A.V. Club: “The film unfolds like one long car chase, a feverish pursuit across vast, arid expanses of desert. Diesel and dust, blood and fire: Mad Max runs on all of it, flooding its fuel tanks to stay in perpetual motion.”
Even though USA is now post-peak car use, 100 years of four-wheeled jubilation has the rest of the world racing towards a post-apocalypic hellscape. Remember that 11-day long traffic jam in China? Not very Fast, but certainly Infuriating.
The fact is cars kill. So often are human lives maimed and extinguished that it rarely even makes the news. Instead, extremely rare collisions like the Amtrak derailing this week are national headlines. Predictably, Republicans jumped on this tragedy as opportunity to slash passenger rail funding. Just try and imagine if after 9/11 the GOP response was to gut defense spending.
It’s not as though motorized America is unaware how dangerous cars are: ask any mother who won’t let her kids bike to school – she’ll tell you why the streets aren’t safe. But instead of fighting the source of harm, most families embrace the status quo by driving even more.
Films that fetishize autos certainly aren’t promoting safety, but still they serve as positive marketing propaganda for their industry.
How is this? Why does a film like Jaws make us terrified of a fish that’s virtually harmless while films like Furious and Mad Max arouse combustion-engine erections?
The answer is in the spin.
You might remember when Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker died in 2013 while speeding with a friend. Both men were incinerated in a fire when they lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree. Just how fast and furious were they driving? The coroner reported the car at over 90 miles per hour, a speed disputed in court by Walker’s widow. If you look closely, you can see bike lanes where the collision occurred.
In reality this is tragic. In the fantasy of cinema, lives lost from vehicular violence are treated as momentary plot points lasting mere seconds before the Bud Light™ butt-rock soundtrack kicks back in. On to the next scene, we’ve got more explosions!
Another part of why Furious doesn’t frighten like Jaws did is because Jaws isn’t really about a shark at all. Sure, there’s a 25 foot bloodthirsty Great White devouring boats, co-eds, and salty sea captains, but the real fear in the film is the core of the horror genre: the unknown, the invisible, the misunderstood – three things cars are certainly not.
Watch any car commercial: there’s no extension of ego more familiar than the seductive, pulsating torso of a Porsche 911 GT3. In the movies these killer cars are portrayed as dangerous weapons, but always under the control of our protagonist or antagonist. Rarely, if ever, do vehicle ‘accidents’ occur in film. If they do, they’re served as allegory for the viewer to reflect upon the entropy of existence – but never the lethal monopoly of car culture itself.
Still, times change. For all its kitsch, David Koepp’s Premium Rush makes an entertaining stab at replacing your typical car-chase McGuffin with one on bicycles. As an homage to a century of source material to borrow from, the film appropriately casts Michael Shannon as a corrupt NYC cop confined to an ill-equiped unmarked squad car. The film almost breaks the fourth wall when Shannon mutters his situational irony aloud, “I’m chasing a bike!”
Look, I like a good road-rager popcorn flick as much as the next American. And of course, chase scenes didn’t invent bad driving. Art imitates life.
Be that as it may, we’re wise to criticize the true agenda of car porn. Perpetuating the profits of the auto-industry is the biggest hurdle to creating truly livable streets. DOTs are complicit in enabling lethal lanes for those who insist on driving angry. Continuing to shame the bureaucrats will hopefully prevent your street from becoming a real Fury Road.
Shark-nado? Car-nado? Sure, why the fuck not.