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'Fast and Furious' may signal America's speeding decline

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

17 Comments
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Yo, Lynn, get a life. Anyone who would take the success of Furious 7, much of which was due to the death of Paul Walker, and extrapolate from that the "decline" of the U.S. simply has way too much time on their hands. As you yourself note, "The Avengers" also was a smash hit. What does that say about a U.S. decline?

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Lynn managed to connect events in the movies to her own particular way of looking at life that left me 'amazed' at her logic. A really poor presentation of the 'meaning' of the entertainment she spoke about. Perhaps medication would help.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

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.

Not mentioned in this lovely picture is that after the war America was the only industrialised country which had not seen it's manufacturing sector destroyed. Japan's and Germany's factories were utterly destroyed, Britain's were heavily damaged. America had thousands of new factories across the country, vast amounts of new infrastructure and material resources, and hundreds of thousands of young men returning from war with money in their pockets. And during the 1950's, the Cold War was in full swing. America's economy grew in the 1950's because America was rich in industry, land, resources, young people, and had absolutely no foreign competition for it's market.

If you want to talk about the results of strong unions and long-term careers, you should look at Britain from the 1950's onwards. Unions were much stronger there than in America, and 80% of Britain's industry was nationalised. But no one would say that this period was a British golden age.

in America, and across the globe, people have been increasingly sorted into economic winners and losers.

I hate to break the news to you, but today, like yesterday, like last year, going back to the beginning of time, there have always been economic winners and losers. Even the the hey-dey of the 1950's there were still American children who went to school in bare feet, because their families could not afford shoes. The poorer classes that exist in America nowadays live in air conditioned homes with colour television, the poor of the 1950's lived in tarpaper shacks without electricity, or cockroach infested apartments in the inner cities.

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.

Please give me even one example of the "deregulation" you point out. As a business person, I know quite a bit about regulations. I guess you aren't aware that the US tax code currently has more than 10,000 pages, and contains more than 70,000 regulations (and more are added every day), and that the greatest increase in the number of regulations has occurred since 2008? And the US tax code is only the tip of the iceberg, once you add non-tax federal regulations, and myriad state, county, and city regulations, well, you get the point.

"Globalisation" began almost 6 centuries ago, when Spain began sending ships to the new world, and other countries followed. Globalisation has quickened as transportation and communication has improved, but globalisation is far from being a new phenomena.

Wages may be falling in America, but they are rising in developing countries. Fully one-fifth of the world's population has risen out of poverty over the past 15 years.

and agonizing hardship to huge numbers of folks

You obviously have no idea what hardship is. Half the world lives on $2 per day or less. How is that for a large number of "folks"? I suppose it would be better for the billion or so people in developing countries to be put back into poverty, so the 300 million in America can get an increase in pay?

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

What policies do you mean? In American inner cities, the drop out rate is very high, among Latinos it is more than 50%. Generally speaking, dropouts cannot get good jobs, or earn high salaries, and economic policies have nothing to do with this problem. Home no longer seems like a place of authority because many young people in the lower social strata come from single parent households. Welfare is mainly given to unmarried women with children, if they are married, they can't easily receive welfare payments, and the more children they have out of wedlock, the more money they can get. Hardly a formula for encouraging marriage and two-parent households.

I lost my job in the financial crisis, so did many others. But I thought hard about how to get back on my feet, I worked hard, and now I am doing better than I was before. I am nobody special, if I can earn a decent living, so can anyone else.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Uhm.. actually, it's about cars.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Could it be that because central bank's love of their money printers, things are getting more and more expensive, so pretty much EVERY blockbuster from now on will eclipse the previous years? (Measured in nominal dollars, of course, don't see to many inflation adjusted movie receipts)

How much did a ticket to Titanic cost?

How much does a ticket to Furious 7 cost?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Tokyo drift was fun. a friend of mine worked on the UAE set of this and tells me Vin Diesel is a piece of work. To extrapolate from movies to social trends is an old journalistic saw - and just as silly now as it always has been.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Funny how an action flick can lead to a thesis in sociology...

1 ( +3 / -2 )

It's a pity that no one seems to relate to this article. I for one totally agree with this view. We live in a world getting more competitive and impersonal by the day. I also believe that entertainment movies are actually a mirror of where the society is headed. In this respect again, this article makes perfect sense.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Wow, what an insightful review! I've been avoiding Hollywood movies for years because they all seem to be about glorifying the violence of America's wars without end to prevent the zombie apocalypse, which in my view has already happened! This take on "Furious 7" gives me hope that people are still capable of thinking outside the herd mentality of mindless fear that is stampeding the human race over the economic cliff of environmental destruction and mass suicide. I'm going to watch the movie!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Or it's just a movie and most people like movies with heroes, the idea someone out there will try to take care of things in a direct and real way. It is almost amazing how this author draws all of these ridiculous conclusions between America and this movie all with the goal to basically say this author has bought into the left wing socialist nonsense about how being human is bad because it means not living in that socialist utopia and this movie shows how the USA is moving to freedom and self reliance instead of reliance on the left wing utopia.

My favorite nonsense line in this article is how horrible it is women have become so ridiculous by marrying only men with reliable jobs and stability. As if women have in the past preferred jobless men who have No capacity to provide forbade family. clearly the author is living in the socialist fantasy.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Lynn is not a happy person. Here's a list of her recent submissions to Alternet:

http://www.alternet.org/authors/lynn-stuart-parramore

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Fast & Furious has not been about cars since Tokyo Drift.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

actually nicely posited.

whenever you use a popular medium to set a social thesis you will have issues- however this one does have some parallels with today's societies.

sometimes it is seeing the threads and pulling them together - i believe the writer did that here.

nice reading

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Lynn is a staff writer for reuters news service who covers culture and hollywood. This piece is just an oped. She has a right to her pov.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Civilization survived "Love means never having to say you're sorry," and it will get through this, too.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Saw the movie

Part Crap Part Cool Part Crap again.

Only part I liked was 15 minutes at the end of the movie...

The song no the movie went well together.

I don't know if I can watch another movie...l this movie was toooooooooooo over the top for me.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Heavy stuff.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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