Mad Max and the Dream-Work of Homosexuality

Carl Gustav Jung became famous with his theory of a “collective unconscious.”  This was an aggregation of all the suppressed ideas and thoughts, which Freud had catalogued half a century earlier.  For Jung, the suppressed or unacknowledged psyche existed not as purely individual adaptations, but rather in a universal form residing in the burrows of every human being’s mind.

A semi-psychoanalytic reading of Mad Max: Fury Road

Jung’s theory hasn’t crossed my radar in a long time, but a recent film made it suddenly relevant.  The film Mad Max: Fury Road seems to be an eruption of suppressed anxieties about society’s mass fascination with homosexuality.  The final cut is likely at odds with the progressive beliefs of its creative team, at least as individuals.  I can’t imagine Charlize Theron ever publicly disagreeing with the Human Rights Campaign or with Mary Bonauto.  Bonauto is the attorney who eagerly told the Supreme Court that same-sex parenting, including arrangements concocted through surrogacy, is beyond reproach.

The dystopian images of Fury Road depart significantly from the Mad Max films of the 1970s and 1980s.  Fury Road presents us with a world where motherhood is commodified to suit an elite class of males who wish to share their property and life ambitions only with other men.  Women are hooked up to machines that pump milk from their breasts and held inside dismal barracks, gestating heirs for warlords who show no sexual interest in women.  The men of this warrior ruling class derive all their ecstasy from the company of muscular young males eager to labor and soldier for each other and for their male patrons.

I doubt anyone on the production team has read “Breeders: How Gay Men Destroyed the Left.”  Hence I am left to conclude that the movie’s pretext embodies everything that “anti-gay” opponents of surrogacy such as myself have been warning, because there is a deep-seated but suppressed anxiety running rampant in Hollywood about just how horrible our society will become if gay men are uncritically awarded everything they demand.

The male body is reduced to its muscularity and force, the female body to its breasts and capacity for birth.  The elitists who run the “Citadel” have decided to keep these two objectified classes separate, in precisely the way that mainstream gay culture segregates gay men from lesbians, and both from the heterosexual masses who depend on male-female cooperation to found families and populate the nation.

A number of conservatives have been puzzled by the left’s simultaneous defense of gay men and Islamists.  The cognitive dissonance might belie a deeper coherence: both Islamists and gay men aspire to separate men from women, albeit in different realms, to the noted benefit of men and to the obvious rejection of women as autonomous beings with dignity and rights.  Lesbians have gone along with sex segregation because they have not examined their own anti-female obsessions (notice how they share with gay men a longing to be ever more manly) and because they believe that gay men are going to protect and privilege them after subjugating women and banishing heterosexual men from their networks of power.

The “men’s rights activists” who are furious about Fury Road seem to have missed the film’s implicit plea to the audience to give heterosexual love a second chance.  (The plot features a few details, which I will not spoil the film by revealing, involving male-female love as a necessary “redemption” after the devastation wrought by the sexes withdrawing romantically from each other.)

Within the dystopian context of Fury Road, not all men belong to the homoerotic elite.  Those who are part of it control the water, resources, and political process for the hordes of heterosexuals in ragged, torn clothing, who are kept out of the fortress and forced to wander like beggars in the sands of post-apocalyptic Australia.

A group of runaway surrogates escapes the gay Citadel and flees across the desert in a truck, hoping to reach safety among a colony of earthy women called “many mothers.”  The all-male elite of the Citadel and the all-female nomads play to gay aesthetics familiar to people who’ve interacted with both gay men and lesbians.  (Full disclosure: I am bisexual and was raised by a lesbian.)

The warriors in the Citadel have washboard abs.  They range from muscle bears to slender “twinks.”  They decorate themselves with silver glitter, facial makeup (eye liner?), and tattoos or brands of other men’s names so their flesh attests to their undying male-male spiritual bonds.  Miraculously unworried about being wounded, burned, or struck with skin cancer, the sexy “war boys” carry on all their battles and brute labor under a blazing sun with no armor or covering of any kind, so that everyone can see their lean stomachs and deltoid muscles flex with each thrust and parry.  Ten years ago, the film 300 hinted at homoeroticism.  Fury Road offers no hint of anything else.

The architecture of the Citadel is unmistakably reminiscent of the gay sex dungeons in which I worked during the 1980s and 1990s in New York (these experiences were the basis for the lurid novel Melville Affair): complete with campy chains and shackles, ostensibly titillating sadomasochism, and lots of masculine steel and cinder.  The mass labor and war parties both invoke the orgies that abounded in New York’s gay scene before the same-sex-marriage movement forced “queers” to put on a normal, conservative countenance to the public.

The metonym of the blood tube – something meaningful to anyone who spent the 1990s surrounded by gay men dying of AIDS – appears repeatedly in random ways throughout Fury Road.  This film is a creature of society’s collective repressions.

Called by ungracious names like “Manhole,” the underground sex clubs and bathhouses of the 1980s and 1990s were meeting grounds for men who wanted to be in social spaces involving pleasure but no women.  Populated with closeted military members and garbed with hypermasculinity based on violent impulses and exclusion of women, those underground clubs were designed to look gritty and hard, just like the images of the Citadel in Fury Road.  The Citadel lacks only a St. Andrew’s cross, a fisting sling, and men in leather harnesses ready to pour candle wax on people’s chests.

Watching the film, I feared that at any minute they might start sniffing nitrates and looking for the condom dispensers.

What of the caravans of trucks and motorcycles that sally after the heroines?  They might have taken the wrong exit off a highway on their way to the gay pride festival in Palm Springs, California, complete with a glam-chic electric guitar player, motorcycle studs, lots of shirtless twinks perched in convertibles, and multicolored flares.  There were even cans of glitter spray on hand.  Mad Max meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

The colony known as “Many Mothers” contains multigenerational women who possess seeds for future organic gardens.  They ride motorcycles draped in sensible outdoorsy gear (they are spared the obsession with shirtlessness that afflicts the gay men of the Citadel).  For a moment I awaited the line, “we got waylaid in the outback on the way to the Michigan Women’s Festival.”

Cast as the utopian alternative to the all-male monsters of the Citadel, these butch women are positioned more sympathetically to the audience.  But they and the gay male colony are both dying, despite all efforts to live on.  The lesbians are dwindling in numbers because they have no males to impregnate them, while the gay men are obviously unable to keep their class of “breeder” women under their control and face inevitable collapse from within.

I won’t ruin the movie by saying anything more.  But this film seems to operate like Freud’s model of “dream-work,” a conversion of buried feelings and fears into metaphors and analogies that can escape the repressive mechanisms that force us to keep such things silent for our own self-preservation.  In earlier times, we had to suppress sexual urges to survive in a bourgeois society.  Now we have to tamp down our natural urge to resist the dangers of sexual events that we know, intuitively, may be harmful, because in a bourgeois society we cannot live freely once we are branded homophobes.

Like the urge to have intercourse, the urge to resist strange and threatening sexualities does not go away as a result of bans or punishment.  Freud and Jung were well aware that the urge resurfaces, recast as something less incriminating.

So what is the primal thought the “dream-work” of Fury Road had to repackage as a seemingly un-bigoted post-apocalyptic film?  Here’s a guess: what if the normalization of homosexuality is something sinister, and our most basic instincts encourage us to reject it?

Is there a natural survival instinct – homophobia as natural response, not bigotry – that causes revulsion at the separation of humanity into sex-segregated spheres, just as powerful, perhaps, as the survival instinct that leads us to want to make love to the opposite sex?

What if, stripped of stigmas and prohibitions, a generation of men will decide that the best way to get ahead is to cut women and their demands entirely out of their lives, and join an elite of men who limit female interference only to the need for reproduction?

Maybe our species has been here before.  Maybe the ancient prohibitions against sodomy arose because of mistakes made by earlier civilizations – not only the Greeks and Romans, but even, perhaps, the pagan cultures that appear so undignified in the Old Testament.

I recently conversed with an exceedingly wise Jewish theologian who told me why homosexuality seems to cause so much more controversy than other sins.  According to him, homosexuality is unique among carnal sins, because it is social as well as carnal.  It entails not merely a departure from the purpose of our flesh, but also a reorganization of the social realm that fosters a self-destructive tendency in subcultures cut off from the insights of the opposite sex.

There might be no way to protect gay men from stigmas without giving a green light to the all-male networks of power and political control that seem to blossom wherever men find ways to get professional allegiance, social affirmation, emotional support, sexual gratification, and patrilineal legacies strictly from other men without women.

Let us say, for argument’s sake, that anal sex alone is not enough to bring down a civilization.  The problem is that where sodomy flourishes unchecked, society becomes reordered.  Men who replace procreative sex with anal sex seem given to replacing women everywhere in their lives.  If so, then it is logical to imagine that such a wholesale dismissal of women’s necessity will lead to the dehumanization of women, oppression of women, and eventually, marginalization of men who give women a central place in their lives.  The “heteropatriarchy” so often maligned by radical leftists is destined to become the 99% against a gay male 1%, if there is nothing about homosexuality that anybody can stigmatize, criticize, or place limits on.

This is what we see in Mad Max: Fury Road.  You can censor the doubts of mankind, but they will find some “dream-work” allowing anxieties and misgivings to come up for air.

Robert Oscar Lopez is an associate professor of English and classics in Los Angeles.  He is president of the International Children’s Rights Institute and co-editor of Jephthah’s Daughters: Innocent Casualties in the War for Family Equality.