When I worked in the tech industry, I was living in an unincorporated area of Redwood City. Without any public transit, I rode a lot of taxis, and I’ll tell ya: small town suburban taxi drivers can go toe-to-toe with Lyft and Uber drivers for unrestrained weirdness. And you end up getting the same ones over and over. I lost both my grandfathers when I was a baby and moved around too much to have steady relationships with my grandmothers. These regular taxi rides came to replace that “dread-excitement at encounter with older person with uninformed advice” I recognized in others’ familial relationships.
I can’t recommend queer people who’ve been ex-communicated from their families to follow my example, but nonetheless I feel prepared for a scenario, however unlikely, where one of the queer people who casually call me “mom” as people are wont to do with older trans femmes suddenly finds themselves caring for a younger human and needs someone to pinch hit with bland candy and bad advice.
One of my regular drivers lived his life with the assumption that society would collapse at any minute. He used the tips he made from taxiing to buy non-perishable food which he hoarded in his and others’ basements. He believed that ramen noodles and cans of peas would become the new currency after the dollar collapsed, which, according to reputable sources, was any minute. He would drink milk out of the carton while driving; he had to maintain a steady layer of fat.
Talking with him inspired the interest in “food as currency” themes in media and post-capitalist critiques that ultimately lead me to write this article.
Tank Girl, 1995
Dir. Rachel Talalay
What About It: A utility company replaces the government, murders and jails competitors, problematic customers.
Why I Included It: The urge to just write THIS IS WHAT ANARCHO-CAPITALISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE over and over in this space for every movie I’ve listed here is overwhelming.
I first saw Tank Girl as a 9-year old living in a tiny German town. That sort of isolation — living in a country of 82 million but only being able to interact and engage with the ~100 other Americans on the military base your parents work — is a bad environment to develop paralyzing bouts of anxiety and existential dread. I remember sitting on the TV, watching a tape of the WWF Survivor Series ’93, realizing the universe was vast and I would die unable to grasp even a glimpse of that vastness, and then contemplating the monotony of eternal life until I stress-vomited my chicken nuggets.
When you live in a military family, you’re told the solution to this anxiety and fear is to forfeit your life for service to your country. And to that end, you are confronted with the persistent normalization of war. I saw Full Metal Jacket for the first time when I was 8.
American military communities are excellent at promoting any image of itself, regardless of intent, as part of the great cultural tradition of militarism. Media with a military aesthetic, regardless of its ultimate aim, becomes part of the social affirmation of life in the service. I have never, once in my life, ever, heard a an active serviceman say they didn’t like the message behind Full Metal Jacket or All Quiet on the Western Front.
This has the profoundly negative effect of co-opting any media critical of the military to further the ideological aims of the thing it critiques. It also means that if you condition your child to associate giant weapons of death with liberty and moral conviction and you show her a movie where a female protagonist rides a stolen tank through open fields to fight back against people that remind her of your coworkers, whose joviality around bombs and tanks unnerves her, she’s going to internalize a message counter to your intention.
I sometimes visualize myself riding a tank that becomes, as I ride through the mass grave of society, becomes increasingly decommissioned — I run out of ammo, the guns fall off, until I reach a commune of people like me. Then, I can leave the tank behind and grow asparagus or maybe potatoes engineered to be full of estrogen.
It’s an egocentric vision of my role in revolution, but I prefer it to the nightmares of those things that suck the water out of people that I’ve had since seeing this movie 22 years ago.
Delicatessen , 1991
Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro
What About It: In a world where grain has replaced cash, the creepy boyfriend from Amelie takes a job with a “more cannibal than usual” landlord.
Why I Included It: Seeds and grains make an obvious substitute for money; capitalism is obsessed with potential worth, and what has more potential than seeds? These seeds can become trees and vegetables, like the ones we cut down or left to rot in fields because it wasn’t financially beneficial for us to use them sustainable, except we’re gonna take super good care of these ones because we have to.
The problem with implementing “seed-and-grain-money” as your workaround for the futility of currency in statelessness is they require viable soil and water. No one’s debating that you require the majority of your resources focused on repelling roaming bands of tattooed roustabouts who worship the last surviving Zune or whatever, but you should at least be putting some soil in some jars and see where the good soil is or how to rehabilitate it when raiding and pillaging hits a “dry season”.
Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of whatever asshole finds the good soil and decides he “owns it”. And when that guy forces you all into indentured servitude to grow the plants from your own seeds, your mohawked second-in-command with a “z” instead of an “s” at the end of their name’s gonna look at you and say “hey, this is kind of like when all those major cities just sort of leaned on the privatization of transportation instead of reinvesting in their infrastructure, dang, we shoulda seen this coming” and you will feel a fool. You’ll never get your dank memes shared in this town again.
Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015
Dir. George Miller
What About It: Immortan Joe rules the Citadel through the artificial scarcity of water; he fights a truck full of feminists armed with well-meaning but regressive “sacred womb” metaphors.
Why I Included It: I had a Fury Road-themed wedding. I am no longer required to preface my critiques with it with assurances that I love it. Just a little hint hint for people who all you Law & Order: SVU fans reading this.
I am hella down for bionic soft butches and lecherous auntie snipers getting held up as emblematic of feminism in the face of fascism. Where I take issue with the widespread read of Fury Road as this innovative, profound re-imagining of the woman’s role in the revolution is that the film is literally dedicated to a male ally but doesn’t offer any representations, even fleeting, of the inverse. I have seen enough moaning and groaning about public breastfeeding to know that mass producing breast milk as a food source probably, or at least its implementation wasn’t solely Immortan Joe’s idea. Literally every woman depicted in the film is in open defiance of Joe’s power, which is good feminist aspirational praxis but a subpar feminist critique of gender oppression. At the very least, there’d be some L*ci Gr*en or WifeWithAPurpos -type sitting in the passenger seat of a car in Joe’s motorcade complaining to any War Boy who’ll listen that Joe’s wives should try engaging with him in reasoned debate if they want him to take their freedom seriously.
Films like Fury Road and Snowpiercer highlight a particular limit of the neoliberal imagination; the implementation of sustainable, civilization-preserving technologies, like communal hydroponic gardens or self-contained ecosystems for raising livestock, are only conceivable or permissible after capitalism and imperialism have imploded our societies. It’s like junk food; if you only let yourself have innovations in agriculture on bad days, you’ll have more bad days. Treat yourself.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015
Dir. J. J. Abrams
What About It: Rey’s life up until she heeds the call to join the intersectional fight against the fascist heartthrobs of the First Order is spent toiling for scrap parts, for which she’s “paid” in increasingly smaller portions of dehydrated bread.
Why I Included It: Unkar, the gouty-big-toe-looking alien that rules the scavenger yard, is the Star Wars equivalent of the company store, inflating the prices of the necessities his indentured laborers can only get from him (supposedly, the water used to activate the bread is also “sold” by him, but the film doesn’t show what those transactions look like).
Supporters of capitalism describe it as driven by “the profit motive” or “profit incentive”. It’s important to delineate here the deliberate preference for “profit” over “money”, because you can have profit without money. If Unkar were an earthling, he’d probably be a regional manager at Wal-Mart, which earns up to $78 Million forcing employees to buy their work uniforms from them. Or maybe he’d work for the bank that issues pre-loaded debit cards to the employees of fast food chains, the sort that charge fees to withdraw money or to even to check your balance.
Sometimes this theft can pass as the dividends of class traitor-ship. I used to work at a Silicon Valley startup. During the Q4 of the company’s most profitable year, where many of us were working 12-16 hour, 6-7 day weeks, a group of us approached management with a demand for higher pay for the support staff. We were told that giving raises at the end of the fiscal year was bookkeeping suicide, and a counter offer of catered lunches and weekly visits from a massage therapist were made. We agreed, with profound trepidation. After a month of catering clusterfucks where the person in charge of ordering didn’t account for the high volume of vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free people on staff, and awkward office visits from the masseuse where everyone felt too gross or stressed to let a stranger touch them and so only management made use of the appointment times, we were at last told, at our first Q1 staff meeting, that the company had spent too much on catering and massages to afford a raise for the team.
Rey is very lacking as a “strong female lead” — her character arc is largely dictated by the motivations of the men who neglect or obsess over her. She makes a better model for class warfare. No one’s coming to rescue you. Steal what you can and seek out your comrades.
Midnight Meat Train, 2008
Dir. Ryuhei Kitamura
What About It: Bradley Cooper plays a softboy vegan photographer who develops a taste for blood as he searches for a serial killer who rides the late night subways of New York.
Why I Included It: In my Freshman English class, we had to read an opinion piece that compared Black people on financial assistance to feral cats who keep producing kittens who don’t learn to fend for themselves and become dependent on food left out by the author. The piece ends with a dresser or some other piece of abandoned furniture all the stray kittens are trapped in being flooded with water, drowning the kittens but sparing them a life of hardship. The author considered this, and the suggested correlating event so deftly and demurely hinted at, an uncomfortable but ultimately more compassionate option. We were asked to critique it’s efficacy as “persuasive writing”. Judging by the number of high school classmates I’ve had to cut out of my life, it worked.
The comparison of people on welfare to wild animals, and the casting of the welfare state as an elaborate underground conspiracy to indulge and placate beasts better obliterated is a cornerstone of modern conservative ideology. Some variation of this meme has been bumping around conservative social media for a few years now. There’s also op-eds like this one published in the Tennessean, where Lea Hudson, a Republican, states:
“It’s like animals at the zoo — they are totally taken care of — food, shelter, medical help, etc. As you all know, they can never be released back into their natural environment to fend for themselves and be productive in any way.
It is no different than the generations of Americans, born into an environment on the dole from government handouts . . . no longer able to fend for themselves and be productive in any way. And they have lost the distinction between right and wrong.”
The midnight train, and the grim-faced people who take hapless commuters to their deaths to preserve the livelihood of lesser beings, is the “economic anxiety” of the conservative mind made manifest. The Good, God-fearing people of the country (and more importantly, their money) are disappeared to appease the evil twin we locked in the attic.
In this narrative, the function of the welfare state, which preserves economic stimulation of the economy under the guise of humanitarian mutual aid, is to destroy the value of labor, and thus money, as the wealth of the state is supposedly disappeared in its redistribution, ex-sanguinating honest businesses and hard-working taxpayers along the way.
But hey, look at the bright side: once the crypto-socialist liberal establishment eats out your tongue, you won’t really notice the effects of sharing your toothbrush.
Author: Jetta Rae
Founder of Fry Havoc. Can be found on twitter at @jetta_rae