Late into the evening of November 8, when it became clear that this nation was about to face the very grim, and suddenly very real, prospect of a Trump presidency, my Facebook feed filled with images of the apocalypse. Memes of Imperator Furiosa, the woman warrior battling a misogynist autocrat in Mad Max: Fury Road; awkward jokes that suddenly, the blighted world of The Walking Dead didn’t seem so implausible anymore; GIFs of Katniss Everdeen offering the three-fingered salute to her fallen comrade, Rue, in the first Hunger Games movie, and clips of Katniss as the Mockingjay, offering her stern and solemn vow to the tyrant who firebombs her people: “If we burn, you burn with us!”
It may seem hyperbolic for Americans—who have been insulated from the daily sieges that imperil the people of Syria—to find such solidarity in series and films with protagonists who fight for their freedom in the days after the end of days, where there are no checks and balances. Yet these works articulate the terror of people who feel that a Trump administration is nothing less than apocalyptic. Pieces that worked on a grander, more metaphoric level—like The Walking Dead’s new villain, Negan, making his debut as a sneering strong-man who literally beats his opponents’ heads in with a baseball bat—during the Obama administration attain a newer, more literal urgency under Trump.
For seven seasons, The Walking Dead embraced a kind of might-makes-right conservatism, where only the strong survive. However, Negan, the bat-wielding leader of The Saviors, promises to complicate this ethos— even though he is, ironically, the living embodiment of it: a man who earns his power through blunt force and charisma, and uses that power to create a system of capitalism-by-extortion, where the top one percent literally take whatever they want from the weaker masses. And the zombie horde, mindless and gnashing, feels like an apt, shambling symbol of the masses who, glutted with fake news and conspiracy theories about emails and Benghazi, checked the box for Trump.
Though The Hunger Games series is ultimately more optimistic than The Walking Dead, it does present a jaundiced view of the state-of-the-union: America is no longer a country, rather, a collection of savagely divided nation-states ruled over by a temperamental autocrat who relies on cheap jingoism and audacious spectacle to keep the masses cowed into complacency. The series skewers reality TV’s propensity to dehumanize participants, reducing them to crude archetypes like the small-town hick or the “angry black man;” we see Katniss and her ally Peeta contort themselves into the “star-crossed lovers” sponsors will adore. The books and films alike portray the spectacle-obsessed denizens of the Capitol as spiritually bankrupt, willing to uphold the status quo if they’re always entertained.
Though the people at Trump rallies would likely be mortally offended by any comparison to those hyper-stylized, foppish elites, the comparison fits. They are accustomed to, even excited by, cruelty—whether it comes as another death in the arena, or Trump, as host of The Apprentice, gleefully telling another poor dreamer “You’re fired.” In Panem and Trumplandia, this collective will to cruelty is directed at poor people, and people from “foreign” backgrounds. Katniss becomes the figure of the resistance because she models compassion and humanity, even to her fellow tributes like Rue, because she recognizes that they are unified in their subjugation. When she tells Snow that, “if we burn, you’ll burn with us,” she cries out not only for the Rues of Panem, but for the kind of people who are not welcome in Trump’s America as well.
Katniss has become one of the most imminent, indelible girl rebels on the silver screen, and when she let her exploding arrows fly, she blasted a path for figures like the Divergent Series’ Tris Pryor, the teenage stoics and chieftains of The CW show The 100, and, of course, the desert warrior women of Fury Road. If apocalyptic entertainment has traditionally provided an intellectualized outlet for anxieties about governance, the scarcity of natural resources, and the global economy (think of Romero’s zombies shuffling through American shopping malls), then this new spate of works has a very singular focus on gender. Fury Road’s acid-tinged take on sexual violence and reproductive rights speaks potently to the 2016 election. You can aptly refer to our president-elect as Immortan Trump in dishonor of Immortan Joe, the tantrum-throwing warlord who keeps a harem of “prized breeders,” and starts a patriarchal cult in his name. The Five Wives’ battle cry, “we are not things,” becomes sickeningly resonant when the “leader of the free world” can cavalierly admit that he can do anything he wants to women, even “grab ‘em by the pussy.” Until Furiosa and the wives strike out for “The Green Place,” they are no more than incubators, bodies to provide the Immortan with labor.
This misogynistic philosophy isn’t just evident in Trump’s hot mic confession, it is codified into the new Republican majority’s platform: Vice President-Elect Pence has proposed positively Draconian anti-choice legislation, and Trump himself vows to appoint judges who will plow their War Rigs through Roe v. Wade. Fury Road not only functions like a horror film about women’s bodily autonomy, it is a rip-roaring revenge flick, one that gives survivors like Furiosa, or the tribe of women who have seen their “land of Many Mothers” decimated under Joe’s rule, the chance to take their power back. Furiosa’s final words before she kills Joe—“Remember me!”—would suit a protest sign at the Million Women March.
Creative works like The Walking Dead and The Hunger Games and Fury Road can offer powerful templates for explaining—and resisting—a Trump administration. However, it is essential that we move beyond sharing memes and refreshing clips, or opining on Twitter, and fully embrace the spirit of action and rebellion that have made these pieces so resonant. That Mockingjay pin, in and of itself, can’t change policy—instead, try wearing it while you call your Senator.