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16 June 2021
Fast & Furious franchise a poor reflection on manhood
Words Mark Hadley
When considering the blockbuster franchises of our time, it’s easy to stop at the Marvel, Harry Potter and Star Wars storylines. However, a world away from the magical and the alien are the heroes of the Fast & Furious franchise. Better known in the movie biz as the ‘Fast Saga’, this collection of nine films has earned a tidy $5.8 billion in petrol money. When F9 comes out this year, it’s certain to add to those coffers. It’s also certain to help further cement a way of looking at manhood that is having as singular an effect at home as it is on the streets.
Fast & Furious is currently the seventh highest-earning film franchise of all time and, with at least three more films to follow F9, is likely to go higher. Add to this the income from theme park rides, live shows, video games and cartoon spin-offs, which are also turning a healthy profit. All this … despite the end of the West’s love affair with cars.
According to the asset management firm Schroders, the number of vehicles per person in the United States is in steady decline. In Britain, fewer drivers under the age of 30 have licences than in the 1990s. Automotive analyst Katherine Davidson says that car sales may never recover to the levels measured before the 2009 recession. Somewhat surprisingly, she identifies urbanisation and smartphones as the car killers.
The majority of the world’s population now lives in cities. In the West, the attraction of a suburban lifestyle has been undercut by increasingly clogged highways and longer commute times. Government infrastructure the world over is turning to increased public transport over freeways. On the whole, Millennials place less value in owning a vehicle than previous generations. Davidson writes, “Cars are not as relevant as a status symbol, and getting a licence is no longer a ‘rite of passage’ in the way it once was.”
Millennials are also more positively disposed towards other forms of transport due to the environmental effects involved. Cars have a detrimental impact long before they hit the road, requiring the production of materials that leave a sizeable environmental footprint. Car emissions have been linked with personal costs such as respiratory diseases and disabilities, and external costs such as noise pollution and ozone depletion. Is it any wonder that value systems are beginning to shift?
Smartphones have also contributed to the car’s demise through the provision of software that undercuts the vehicle’s essential purpose. Cars provided freedom for a previous generation, allowing members to travel more easily and so access friends, experiences and resources. Today, though, a range of apps provide that same level of contact instantaneously. Similarly, increasing E-commerce effectively reduces the number of trips new generations take. As Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd writes in her book, It’s Complicated, “What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging and other social media are to teens now.”
So, if the desire to own a car is receding and the need for doing so is similarly reduced, we might well ask why F9 is set to crush the box office this year? This is because the Fast Saga has managed to use its unbelievable car chases and outrageous stunts to tap into something very real. Research entitled Driving Cultures by Sarah Redshaw offers an explanation: “The demonstration of car handling skills has long been regarded as a mark of mastery by men. When young men display these skills through ‘hoon tricks’ … not to mention racing on the streets, it can be regarded as threatening, and of course it can be unsafe. Young men, however, are encouraged to display their masculinity in such ways … Skill in handling a car, allied with dangerous unpredictability, is regarded as superior and as more desirable than driving with caution.”
In short, the last century of driving has linked the car to masculinity, and the sorts of excessively risky driving demonstrated by the Fast & Furious franchise are indicators of superior manhood. However, the question arises, is fast driving a good indicator of what makes a man? That sort of query deserves its own article. Whatever culture we are considering, though, it should be easy to see that responsibility is one marker of the mature man. However far back we care to look, he is a provider, a member of the body politic, a husband, a father, a teacher and a leader. He doesn’t just play the role of a man; he acts it out responsibly. As the Bible puts it, “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?”
Consequently, a man cares about the effects his behaviour has on those around him. And surely, on that ground alone, the mature man is at odds with the heroes of the Fast & Furious franchise. They laud their friendships but encourage their friends to live dangerously. They talk about family, but they risk the lives of innocent families. Whatever fantasy value emerges from the Fast Saga, the reality is its producers are driving masculinity off a cliff. And it’s hard to object when we’re paying to be in the passenger seat. Cue the squeal of tyres.
Mark Hadley is a culture writer for Salvos Magazine and one of Australia’s leading Christian communicators.