This article is dedicated to the incomparable Chumbucket, the black-fingered hunchback with the best words in Avalanche Studios’ 2015 AAA action title Mad Max. Voiced by Jason Spisak, Chumbucket does not appear in Mad Max: Fury Road but he is the heart of the Mad Max licensed video game. A scarred mutant, Chumbucket thrives in the wasteland left over from when the world was killed. In the wasteland, meaning is hard to come by. Speaking feverishly, Chumbucket breaks down the grammatical vehicle into its noisy parts, strips it down to its frame, retools its engine, and puts it back together one piece at a time. Chumbucket says his Magnum Opus is the perfect 8-cylinder car, the plans for which he has scrawled on the wall, but this is a lie: His real Magnum Opus is the stream-of-consciousness blithering with which he livens up a dead world.
It is a very dead world, indeed. Bleakness made beautiful, Mad Max’s wasteland is a junkyard playground for DIY anarchists and nonsense-spouting mechanics. The star of Mad Max is neither Max himself nor Chumbucket but the nightmarish scenery. In an industry fraught with game franchises featuring soulless post-apocalyptic scenarios, Mad Max’s wasteland setting is gorgeous and thoroughly realized.
The world of Mad Max is completely scarred by the violent dissolution of the old order. This means massive shipwrecks in the sand dunes and other mean evidence of a past where water must have been abundant. The game’s wasteland (different in some respects from that of the Fury Road movie) is divided into Gas Town, The Great White, and Dead Barren’s Pass, each with its own distinct flavor of post-apocalyptic devastation, each crawling with ramblers and ne’er-do-wells who spit vitriol as backwoods preachers are wont to do in our world. Evidence suggests that the apocalyptic event was a nuclear one. Skeletal remnants of a lost civilization’s structural feats of Ozymandian hubris have become valuable scrap heaps for the War Boys, a deranged collective of sand pirates who reap chaos with a fervor explicitly religious and ritualistic in character.
Traditionally, the Apocalypse (there can be only one) indicates not a nuclear holocaust but rather Revelation on a universal scale. All becomes clear, the veil of deception is lifted, the doors of perception are cleansed, et cetera.
As the Bookish (though not bookish) parse it, the Apocalypse is a once-and-done divine judgment, a final reckoning, an expression of love and wrath as political and as societal as it is spiritual and metaphysical. All humanity must suffer its truth. How your immortal soul fares depends on which aspects of the mythos you’ve chosen as your favorites, as well as which Holy Holy Holy! edition of the Saints’ Dungeon Master’s Guide you’re picking and choosing your rules from.
In our own pre-apocalyptic world, authorities decry the vulgar chaos of slang, invoking religious tenets to crush any free-thinking, meaning-making, hooligan individualists. Though transubstatiated beyond immediate recognition, the language of religious authority retains its influential awesomeness even when put by blasphemers to secular use. This is a big deal to the Bastards on high. When a low-born wretch abuses the Word in this way, he besmirches the holiest of the Establishment’s relics: Round-the-clock maintenance of absolute social control by means of invoking some fragile yet essential purity, which must be protected from strange pollutants and new ideas.
Consider now the secular appropriation of apocalypse in this context. We heathens describe catastrophic, life-changing — but not world-ending — events as apocalyptic. We set stories, movies, and video games after the death of the world. In the case of the secular appropriation of apocalypse, the purported purity in danger is ironically the purity of the horror of the Biblical event. In secular usage, an apocalypse is a standard revolution of the wheel of creation and destruction. The Old Way falls away and with it, its habits, its prescriptive grammar, its word-meanings both sacred and profane. The survivors are left behind to pick up the pieces and start the wretched cycle of cutthroat sectarianism anew. “We’re not talking about a learning experience or a new beginning,” warn the self-proclaimed originators of the word. “Your sinful soul will be judged! No take-backsies! Now, fall in line — or else!” These are the risks we take when we steal others’ special words.
Secularization of religious language is at the soul of Chumbucket’s appeal. He calls Max “Saint.” He is ever praising, testifying, proclaiming, “Praise be! Praise be!” His exaltations belong as much to old time religion as to his garrulous eccentricity, his own individualistic audacity. When Chumbucket praises the “tranny on high” for his good fortune, we are just as quick to imagine a benevolent omniscient transsexual in the sky as we are to imagine the Holy Transmission of some god-car on the highways of Valhalla. In the same stream of consciousness, Chumbucket’s cries of “revolution upon revolution, rejoice!” mimic the physical motions of an 8-cylinder internal combustion engine, the next-best thing to the cyclical rhythms of a living world.
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