Friday, 22 August 2014

Welcome to The Thunderdome, Superman Told Samurai Jack

In Mad Max Somewhere Over the Thunderdome, Max is not sufficiently mad, so he goes to Bartertown to barter for some mad. Aunty Turner uses Max to gain political leverage over Master Blaster by having him fight Blaster in the Thunderdome. They fight. It's great.

But then, Max knocks off Blaster's Juggernaut helmet revealing him to be mentally disabled with the disposition of a child. The revelation of Simply The Best Aunty's trickery succeeds in making Max mad.
Luckily for everyone involved, it happened after he had ditched the chainsaw.

Aunt Tina then exiles Max for not honouring their contract by refusing to kill the child-minded Blaster, Max is exiled to the desert on a horse. He nearly dies but a monkey brings him some water because of course it does. He doesn't die. But he does collapse again. Only to be found by a girl who brings him to the village of the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. He gets better and wakes up with lots of shouting since he is still mad. Probably because the Lost Boys cut his mullet while he was sleeping.

The girl then goes out into desert with some other kids towards Bartertown, probably to sell Max's hair or rejoin civilization or something like that. Max goes after them, they decide to save Master for some reason, there's big train/car chase, Max sacrifices himself so the kids can fly away, closing narration, the end.
"This is my last one, right? I don't want to get mad anymore." - Mel Gibson

Now, what's interesting about this Mad Max film is not the Lost Boys being so lost they thought they were on the set for Hook in the Australian outback, but the Thunderdome. It's the Thunderdome, naturally considering it's the title of the film, which struck a chord and introduced one of the most iconic phrases in all of pop culture:

"Two men enter. One man leaves."

Awesome. Nothing can be simpler. Two men enter the arena, they fight until one kills the other, the winner leaves. Boom, done. This simple idea proved too pervasive and cool for it not to be referenced in a bazillion things afterwards.

Farnsworth: There are no rules. Two robots enter, one robot leaves. Then later the other robot leaves after being declared the winner.
Bender: Well, that doesn't sound so bad.
Farnsworth: Oh, did I mention the crippling, agonising pain? I'm pretty sure I did. Oh, yes, definitely.
But then it got combined with the Spartacus 'free the slaves' theme and there emerged a new narrative from beyond the Thunderdome. One where the protagonist is taken prisoner, made a slave, forced to battle other slaves in an arena of death to a cheering crowd, before the protagonist emerges as the most popular warrior but refuses to kill, eventually leading a revolt and freeing the slaves.
Are you not pleasurably enthralled?

And it's official. We love seeing our heroes captured, enslaved, and forced to battle other enslaved warriors to the death in a Colosseum-style stadium. It's a narrative that's been repeated again and again in pop culture, often in cartoons because that is obviously the best medium for the expression of Thunderdome gladiatorings.

No, seriously. Now, a proper examination of the popularity of this narrative trend would have several examples and research to back it up, pointing out that such a narrative has a long history before the Thunderdome. I have two. And yes, it's because they're the only ones I could think of or be bothered looking up.

In the episode "War World" of Justice League, because Bruce Willis was too busy being in a couple of movies that apparently didn't do anything since I don't think anyone has ever heard of them, Superman and The Martian Manhunter are out in space placing bombs on an asteroid that's on a collision course with Earth.

"What you up to?"
"Oh, I'm just superheroing like I do. Planting explosions in asteroids, you know how it goes."

But the explosion is bigger than they expected because of the high amount of hydrogen in the asteroid and the needs of the plot, so both Supes and J'onn J'onzz are knocked out and then picked up by some alien slavers who just happened to be spacing around. They get taken to a planet ruled by Mongul who constantly holds Thunderdome fighting events to distract his citizens from noticing how shitty their lives are. Superman and Manhunter are enslaved and Superman is forced to fight the reigning champion, Draaga.
This is Draaga.
And yes, this is a still from a Justice League cartoon, not Dungeons & Dragons.

And of course, Superman defeats Draaga although he doesn't really want to fight him, and wins the crowd over since he's Superman. He naturally does not kill Draaga and becomes a symbol of resistance and freedom since he's Superman. Eventually, he fights Mongul in a rigged fight where if he wins, Mongul will destroy Draaga's homeworld but still manages to find a way to defeat him since he's Superman.

Hmmm... bad guy holds big fighting events to distract the masses, good guy refuses to kill in fight to the death, becomes symbol to the people, then the bad guy fights the good guy in a rigged match. Sound familiar?
Hello again!

In the Samurai Jack episode "Jack and the Smackback" (I don't know either), Jack is captured by slavers and taken to the Dome of Doom where he is forced to fight various warriors by the Ringmaster for the crowd's entertainment. Yes, it really is called the Dome of Doom.

And there is indeed a lot of doom in the dome.

Oh, and the Ringmaster is the announcer of the Dome and named Jack 'Two Sandals', which Jack hates since it's his slave name. The first champion is Gordo the Gruesome, who delivers such an awesome parody of wrestler smackdowns it has to be repeated in its entirety here:

"I am the master mechanic, the alpha and omega. I will put a hurting on you, slave. I'm gonna tear you up into little shreds, and then I'm gonna take those shreds and tear them up into little shreds. I will make your mother cry. I will make your Aunt Edna from Withershoot proper, south of Barnaby cry. Are you ready for pain, Two Sandals?"

Are you?

Predicatably, Two Sandals defeats Gordo rather easily before defeating the Aqualizer, and Sumoto (by tickling him until he passes out from laughter because kid's show) in turn. So, Ringmaster then makes all the remaining champions fight Jack at once since Jack will not kill because, good guy. Jack defeats them and gets back his sword, telling the crowd off for taking enjoyment in senseless violence.

He then violently threatens the Ringmaster to release the slaves, which he does. Jack then kills the guard that is whipping the slaves to freedom and who whipped Jack, but it's okay because violence is justified if it is for revenge. Jack then walks off like a badass.

Pictured: Badass.

So, why do we love seeing our heroes stripped of their belongings, enslaved, and made to fight in Dome battles to the death while resisting the urge to kill their opponent, eventually becoming a symbol of non-violence and hope by violently beating people up?

Well, it does remove them from their familiar surroundings and thrusts them into a situation where they have been stripped of their freedom and their status as a hero. Therefore, we get to see them demonstrate their heroism and prove their worth as a symbol of hope by winning over the crowd while defeating progressively more dangerous opponents in a dome of death.

Also, two men enter. One man leaves!


Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome Wikipedia page

War World (Justice League episode) DCAnimated wiki

Gladiator (2000) Wikipedia page

Jack and the Smackback (Samurai Jack episode) Samurai Jack wiki

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