‘Fast and Furious': Has America’s basic building block become the posse?

May 4, 2015
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Paul Walker (L) and Vin Diesel star in ‘Furious 7.’ Universal Pictures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fast and Furious movies are blazing a trail into the record books. The 2013 Fast & Furious 6, which hauled in $788 million worldwide, has now been topped by Furious 7, which zoomed from a record-breaking opening weekend to four consecutive weeks at No. 1. (Avengers: Age of Ultron took the top spot this past weekend.). Furious 7 has made a dizzying $1.3 billion worldwide, behind only Avatar and Titanic. It might just outpace them, too.

That’s quite a showing for a franchise that may well signal America’s speeding decline.

Furious 7 points to a future in which vast numbers of people feel like outsiders on an ever more threatening and disappointing global stage. Despite its multicultural celebration and hooray-for-family-values nostalgia, something alarming lurks at the heart of Furious 7. That something is ultimately tribal, allergic to institutions and unbound by broad social ties.

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(Left to right) Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Paul Walker and Ludacris are all part of the family of ‘Furious 7.’ Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The dream team of kick-ass race-car drivers may appear global in their multiple ethnicities, but real loyalty is confined to a small group. The franchise sets the ideal of the personalized posse against formal, impersonal and vaguely sinister structures — whether government, business or the law. It’s us against everybody.

Furious 7 reflects the fact that over the past several decades in America, and across the globe, people have been increasingly sorted into economic winners and losers. Impersonal forces like deregulation and globalization have brought stagnant and falling wages, jobs with less security and fewer benefits, and agonizing hardship to huge numbers of folks. They feel deprived of their dignity and sense exclusion from systems they used to know how to negotiate — but no longer do. Checks and balances have disappeared, institutions are suspect and democratic participation is thwarted.

To survive in such a brave new world means learning to depend on personal networks. You’ve got to be wily and constantly improvise to stay ahead of a game that is rigged against you. Furious recognizes these growing trends and finds solutions — or at least compensations — in new myths of home and tribe.

The Furious films make it clear that the dream team is — despite its members’ ability to land cars by parachute — mostly made up of regular folks who are happiest with a Corona beer at a backyard barbecue. Team leader and outlaw Dominic Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is the kind of guy who once upon a time in America could trust that hard work would be rewarded with a decent middle-class life, complete with college for the kids and a cabin on the lake. Postwar economic policies and strong unions made it possible for such a guy to support an entire family.

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Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster, who play brother and sister in ‘Furious 7.’ Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The fantasies on display in Furious actually harken back to 1950s America, a time when the Great Depression was fading into the past and life was getting better for the masses. Wages were rising; union jobs and long-term careers gave regular Joes a chance to provide. If the domestic routine of suburban family life or the rhythms of the factory or the office grew too dull, the new consumer culture answered with fast, muscular cars and Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine for libidinous release.

Today’s economic policies have made a dusty relic of that world. Guys like Dom have been wiped out by the financial crisis, in many cases taking a permanent hit. They struggle to make their families proud. Home no longer seems like a place of authority. Women may not even want to marry you if you can’t get or keep a job. If you have a family, the dysfunction is growing — more partner conflict, financial stress and troubled children. You feel left behind, and it gets harder and harder to catch up as the economic winners speed by.

Furious serves up a kind of nostalgia that can lead to rejuvenated pride among people now feeling neglected. Home is depicted as somewhere you can still feel dignity, security and attachment either with your blood relatives or the family you’ve chosen — your posse. Your word counts. You matter.

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Paul Walker (L) and Vin Diesel in a scene from ‘Furious 7.’ Courtesy of Universal Pictures

In Furious, the 1950s fantasies are updated with a utopian dream of racial harmony and at least a nod toward gender equity, though despite more women kicking butt than the typical action film, there’s still a yearning for the traditional role of the mother in the home — a role that America’s economic policies no longer support.

The heart of Furious clearly rails against the code of contemporary economics that has made losers of so many, specifically the efficient-market theory that posits human beings as self-interested actors competing in a vast, impersonal game. Furious 6 villain Owen Shaw, a military operator-turned-criminal, presents his life code as one in which your “team” consists of so many pieces that can be switched out until you get “maximum efficiency,” a kind of Ayn Randian nightmare of the modern workplace. Owen derides Dom’s attachment to other people: “You, you’re loyal to a fault. Your code is about family. I can break you whenever I want.”

Of course, Dom is not broken because this is an action movie and he is the hero, able to turn the tables on his nemesis with roaring engines and flying fists. But Dom’s real-world counterpart may well be broken by the efficiency-crazed boss and routinely discarded by a brutal labor market. He can only fantasize of winning. He needs his posse.

The myth of the posse ignores the interconnectedness of the broader society, making tribalism the ultimate value. The idea of a common culture of citizenship recedes into the background, as does faith in a society based on shared principles of justice.

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Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel attend a black-tie party in Abu Dhabi as part of their pursuit in ‘Furious 7.’ Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

When the personal posse replaces civic spirit, and the us-against-them mentality prevails, monsters can breed. Any slight against the posse becomes a pretext for vengeance. In the search for home, you can become very inhospitable. You don’t worry about what’s legal, and only consider what you need to do.

This is what is now happening in many corners of the world, where neglected groups have formed posses positively bloodthirsty in their quest to assert that they matter on the global stage and to show they are not just victims of a rigged game.

Yearning for love, connection and community are natural reactions to the disenchantment of capitalism and the strains of inequality. This yearning in Furious is even reflected in the real-life bonds of cast members, who offer a moving tribute at the end of Furious 7 to their deceased colleague Paul Walker.

But a return to tribal instincts and the letting go of the broader common bonds and the welfare of the greater human family has a dark side. It is a ultimately a dangerous road to travel.

14 comments

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“contemporary economics that has made losers of so many, specifically the efficient-market theory that posits human beings as self-interested actors competing in a vast, impersonal game.”
Yeah, who’d have thought we’d have so many that are so lazy they’re not even willing to compete? They’re recruited by the DNC though and used, have their votes bought with promises of more free benefits paid for by the dwindling hard workers. Like Bill Clinton having made mortgage banking a racial vote buying scheme and causing the housing/banking collapse. He should be in jail.

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

I thought click-baiting garbage like this was reserved for tabloids like Yahoo, not Reuters. Last time I visit this site again.

Posted by Mike121212 | Report as abusive

Fast and Furious is so dorky. It’s a movie series for the unimaginative, and people of low intelligence in general. Not saying that’s bad, but…. trying to squeeze sociological meaning out of this bro-grunt garbage is like trying to guess the provenance of your Red Bull.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

I wonder what people LetBalanceCome is referring to. Apparently the all too lucrative ‘wealthy donors who don’t work’ crowd and want to pay people to maintain that status quo.

And for the record, your utterly tired, repeatedly debunked and completely detached from reality talking point about the reason for the subprime crisis was old and disproven before it even hit the press, but that doesn’t stop fools from repeating it.

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

Is there any question to the reason so many people are looking to leave the cities for rural America? When law enforcement is getting overrun by thugs on the streets burning buildings and their elected officials are passively condoning it as their way of enacting free speech or who cities fold under the weight of unions, lack of water access, taxes or _____ fill-in the blank.

The media fuels the fires of the negative since that’s what sells. The more riots, the bigger the rating, the bigger the ad profits.

I’m not saying that smaller cites are perfect but at least in our state we have no racial divides or tensions, relatively low crime and if you want a job then there is usually something you can find… even if its manual labor… and still make it by.

My vote is to let all the criminals and entitled folks stay in the cities and fight it out. If you are looking to raise a family, don’t -have to- be rich but enjoy working, then move out and get that piece of quality you are missing in you life.

Oh, and remember when you read or see articles on the news that there is no “news” left in the world… its all opinion slanted to sell you an emotional response that in turn raises their ratings or gets the official they want elected.

Posted by EugeneGuy | Report as abusive

Do not need PHD to see a lot of this is true, across USA. Every fool “must have a gun to defend self, family, flag, apple pie etc. Common appeal to bottom by pols is “Fed Gov wants your guns, fed takeover of law and complete idiots in TX want to track “Army Maneuver’s as not a sneak plan to take over TZ by feds, etc. These are not the actions of responsible, intelligent citizens, rather the prancing about of what is best described as extremest mini-mobs.

For those that kiss off movies and radio, www as “nut cakes” might be closer to truth then they know. USA basic education systems have failed u for decades,now starting show how easy it is for money to buy elections as well as how easy to divide nation.

We have yet to find much elected or leadership, state or federal that seems to honestly represent “other 97%”. F&F is not to distant from the reality many would impose on all or try to pull off it they felt they could. Sadly most of population is simply to dumb to note their and others reality, or question why 3% own/control 90% of wealth. We stopped educating on money-math, history, government or even basic home economics as to healthy living. We have assure all that “wars are OK, as you will not go, makes it much easier on military-industrial to spend more then next 10 nations combined. Wages are same as entry level’s 15 years ago for most, yet WS is at record levels, most citizens cannot afford to use their HC.

F&F a fable, a fun thing to watch, well read USA/world, reread the article. then think about it. F&F is slowly creeping into a lot of folks reality, might just be that USA “Golden Age” was after WW2, when we educated nation via GI Bill and lead the world. Now we simply are for sale to the world, more so China, Sadly hard data provides most feel their kids will not be as well off as they, first time ever. F&F a fantsy, maybe, for now.Doubt it, ask any NRA memeber

Posted by fwrfwr | Report as abusive

The commentary makes good points but omits the dangerous depiction of reckless speeding as a thrilling activity.

Given that most of the entertainment soaked populace is now unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality (Brian Williams), more violent car wrecks (they aren’t accidents) will result.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

“Given that most of the entertainment soaked populace is now unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality”
HILLARY: “I ran from snipers in Bosnia, now that is what happened.”

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

…Right. Either all that or these movies are aimed at teenage boys who travel in packs and enjoy watching stuff explode.

Posted by Matthew73 | Report as abusive

Whoever wrote this article is reaching big time.

Posted by TetraBall | Report as abusive

Interesting to hear someone who’s clearly a Lib waxing nostalgic for the 1950s. When conservatives point out that this time, a time before the War on Poverty, Before the Department of Education, before the Civil Rights Act, was actually better, we’re called racists, luddites, anti-science, etc.

I agree America is on the decline. It’s a result of 50 years of failed liberal policies, and an ever-expanding federal government, promoted by the bi-factional ruling coalition of the two major parties.

Posted by PJackson | Report as abusive

Eugeneguy asks: “Is there any question to the reason so many people are looking to leave the cities for rural America?”

They’re not. Have you been to rural America? Actual rurual America (not suburban Portland)? It’s dying. Drive through South Dakota some time, Western Nebraska, Kansas, rural Oklahoma.

The people there are moving into nearby cities. The smallest farm towns are dead and dying. Probably for the better. Those places were always bleak.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

I didn’t know there were any people with souls left at reuters

Posted by wastingtime | Report as abusive

I agree America is on the decline. It’s a result of 50 years of failed conservative policies, and an ever-expanding privatization of federal government, promoted by the bi-factional ruling coalition of the two major parties.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive