Monday, January 4, 2016

National Review fails: Star Wars

BB8. Via JamFactory.

So the 19-year-old and I went to see The Force Awakens at last, and—without spoilers, just in case there's anybody left who hasn't seen it—there are some things I'd like to report. First, that it's really good in exactly that way you'd hope it might be; as some fool at the National Review (Nordlinger? I can't find it) was complaining, it's the same movie as the one from the seventies. Or rather it's not the same movie at all, but it is the same myth, or a new phase of the same myth, under profound transformations like the different phases of the Oedipus myth in the famous chart of Claude Lévi-Strauss:

Via Brown University Math Department.
I might write something about that someday, but not today.

It's a dazzlingly new movie, but always rhyming with the old one, and very movielike in the same way, with great wisecracking dialogue (but the wisecracks have a Millennial freshness, they aren't as Bogart and Stanwyck as they were) and wonderful editing in the fighting scenes, where the emotional meaning of each explosion is rendered perfectly clear. And the 19-year-old was able to watch it without cynicism, something that doesn't come easy to him. We had a wonderful time.

Another National Review idiocy came from David French:
Star Wars Proves Feminists Are Clueless about Science Fiction
...Make no mistake, I like Rey. Daisy Ridley brings the right amount of joy and wonder to the character, cutting force-empowered hyper-competence with the right hint of surprised determination. But the fact that feminists are hailing her (and a couple of other bit-part characters) as some sort of ideological revelation shows how little they know about modern science fiction, including Star Wars itself.
What they should know, according to French, is that Princess, now General Leia Organa was also pretty badass back in the day (which is true, and something I'd noticed rightwingers not noticing) and that there have been many strong female characters in space operas over the past 40 or so years. So you have to be a nonfeminist to realize that women can be as good as men? (Not exactly, because they can't, according to French: "modern sci-fi has been so open to the female action star precisely because it provides a rationale for the physical empowerment of women. Genetic engineering, The Force, training from birth, or alien power..."—they need some kind of artificial assistance, like being permitted to have an education.)

Yielding, at all events, a classic Jonah-style switcheroo: feminists are the real woman-despisers.

More interesting is some trolling from French back in October:
The Jedi — as portrayed in the movies and in many of the books of the expanded universe — are basically the lightsaber-wielding jihadists of an intergalactic bureaucratic caliphate. The Galactic Republic is the Hotel California of interstellar governance....

The Sith, by contrast, are defined not by a system of government but rather by their struggle for individual liberty — a struggle against centuries of Jedi oppression. Consider the Sith Code:
Peace is a lie.
There is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
Nowhere does the Code define a Sith system of governance or a Sith philosophy of self-determination. It defines a struggle, not an outcome. Thus, the Palapatine/Vader imperial model has no precedential value for any follow-on Sith lord. Each can chart his own path, including by implementing true self-determination to the galaxy. The Jedi, on the other hand, define themselves by reference to the Republic and by their single-minded quest to annhilate their ideological opponents. 
Pretty sure he thinks he's being paradoxical and just-for-fun witty here, but he really unwittingly pins down how little distance there is between conservative individualism and down-and-dirty fascism, the absence of any ideology other than that of the freedom of the Superman or Leader, the only freedom that counts. Collectivist Jedi, jihadists with their silly regulations, cannot act alone, but libertarian Sith murder close relatives, seize state power, and blow up any planet they want, killing billions of people at a time, because they hate oppression so much. The freedom of anybody who doesn't belong to your ruling class isn't relevant to French's analysis, and he can't even notice that it is relevant to the other side.

Jonah Goldberg himself is a little nervous about a turnaround of good and evil on this scale—he'd rather stick with the tried-and-true view that the Republic is a conservative polity and the Sith are liberals, but he can't resist messing with it:
Jonathan Last, a friend and writer at The Weekly Standard, pointed out to me that the “droids” in the Star Wars movies are slaves. Unlike a lot of the ridiculous Star Wars revisionism in recent years — much of it ushered in by Last himself when he argued that Darth Vader & Co. are in fact the good guys — Last’s case that droids are slaves strikes me as nearly incontrovertible. I’d hoped to be persuaded otherwise when I went to see the The Force Awakens. No such luck....
The argument is completely wrong, of course. Droids are not humans, and they are not slaves, Those that are so programmed do, of course, have genuine emotions and needs and second-order cognition, as dolphins and elephants do, and should always be treated with respect and kindness, but they are not a community; literally have no existence apart from their masters, for whom they are factory-assembled. If you left them alone to live their own droid lives without human interference, they'd simply go into a vegetative low-power mode, as [SPOILER] R2D2 indeed does when he seems to be permanently separated from Luke. A much better analogy would be with the work animals described by the wonderful late writer Vicki Hearne, bred to work with humans and deriving joy from working well.

(The clones in the incoherent 1990s cycle are slaves, I think, and the Imperial storm troopers certainly are: there's a powerful antislavery message in the current installment, which [SPOILER] features a storm trooper developing a political consciousness.)

Top prize for explanations of the uniqueness of American slavery that don't mention the word "race":
A more likely answer is that the self-appointed censors missed the widespread slavery in Star Wars because they tend to think that slavery was a uniquely American institution. It wasn’t. Slavery was ubiquitous and constant throughout human history until the 19th century (and it survives in some corners of the world today). What was unique about American slavery was American hypocrisy. A country founded on human equality and inalienable rights should have been the last place where humans could be held as property.
I'm not going to bother arguing with that one, just leave it there as another instance of how far into imbecility Norquist has fallen. Sad, really.

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