The Independent says Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is racist, but 88% of African-Americans viewers liked it
The Independent says Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is racist in a new article.
“[…] [Star Wars: The Phantom Menace] was, after all, a children’s film about taxes, trade disputes and a racist space frog almost played by Michael Jackson.” […]
Jar Jar wore flared bell-bottom trousers and spoke in heavy Caribbean patois (“Dissen gonna be bery messy! Me no watchin!”). He made Lucas look regrettably unaware of American entertainment’s dark tradition of “coon” caricatures, positioning black characters as dim-witted fools whose speech and idiocy are played for laughs. Lucas claimed the character was inspired by the Disney character Goofy and denied all accusations of racism, but many people were unconvinced. The Wall Street Journal called Jar Jar “a Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit”, a reference to the 1920s/30s actor synonymous with the term, having perpetuated negative black stereotypes across a number of roles throughout this period. “There was something about his demeanour that suggested blackness and that suggested, more specifically, stereotypical blackness,” Michael Dyson, professor of African-American studies at Columbia University complained to CNN after the film’s release.
The problem with The Phantom Menace’s approach to people of colour didn’t end with Jar Jar. Watto, a greedy, hook-nosed businessman whose love for cash not even the force could buckle (“your Jedi mind tricks don’t work on me, only money!”) was accused of pedalling antisemitism, while the cowardly Trade Federations bosses who wore mock oriental robes and spoke with exaggerated Asian accents also drew criticism. […]”
But most of the African-American viewers don’t share these views. A 2017 poll shows that 88% of them had a favorable impression of The Phantom Menace. The movie is even more popular among them than among Whites or Hispanics.
As for the other accusations, The Independent can’t quote any Jew or Asian complaining about the “racism” of The Phantom Menace toward them, which speaks volumes.
As a reminder, The Phantom Menace is still the 18th highest-grossing film in Japan.
except most of the time they spread it like a fact
The Independent accuses others of racism based on its own prejudiced and racist associations. This pathetic attempt at self-righteous virtue signaling, pretending to take offense and speak for others, backfires spetacularly (like it usually does).
Laughable and ironic. All we should do is not give it any clicks. But thanks for sharing, Anthony.
Cryogenic: the floor is yours.
I’m here! (Thanks, Arch Duke).
Or if you want the “Are You Being Served? version:
But did some replies — again — go missing? On the main page, the little bubble shows five responses to this item, but when I click into the comments, I only see three as I write this reply.
Articles like these are so tedious. Both in the reading and the replying. To quote some lofty words of C-3PO: “This is such a drag.” Nevertheless, here I am.
I’ll begin with some chunky paragraphs I wrote to TFN (where else?) a few years ago. In these opening paragraphs, I play devil’s advocate — or, I suppose, Palpatine’s apprentice — to the notion that TPM (and Star Wars as a whole) is bereft of racist undertones. In other words, I argue that there are reasonable grounds for asserting that something about Star Wars *is* rather racist. On the other hand, I don’t personally align with that view, and I go on to describe various aspects of TPM and George Lucas himself as pointing *away* from racism, toward a more benevolent and enlightened view of humanity’s place within the cosmos.
Let me begin with a general observation/proposal: Seeing racism, or not seeing it, entirely depends upon the lens, or lenses, one adopts. In other words (and say it with me): “Your focus determines your reality.” It is curious, however, that people seem to fret over racism in a specific movie, when the basic visual coding (and casting) of the entire series could be considered racist — or, at the least, exclusionary (perhaps virtually the same thing).
Note that these next few paragraphs were written in 2014 — and, therefore, do not take the Disney films into account (and which aren’t relevant to the discussion, anyway).
The lead actors are all white. They all speak English. They’re lean and attractive. They have no obvious physical deformities or mental handicaps. Before getting their parts, none of them were on the poverty line, let alone scrimping for fresh drinking water every day. In other words, these handful of individuals, who have indelibly imprinted on our consciousnesses, barely reflect the sum total of human life experiences on Earth. On the contrary, they’re essentially an elite class, easily immortalized on film and deified by our archetypal brains, with the side-effect of blunting our awareness of and concern for pandemic human suffering. They have the same barcode, the same phenotype — the narrative of western imperialism is therefore concretized through mass-consumption films such as these.
And as has been pointed out, the original movie is something of a whites-only club when it comes to the rebels, and the films seem to only grudgingly let non-whites into the party as they move along (Lando just has to traitor the white heroes before repenting, doesn’t he?). Arguably, the movies seem to display some self-awareness of this, and characters like Chewbacca and Yoda could charitably be read as attempts at diffusion. Too bad that they’re also portrayed by whites. It’s even worse when you consider Darth Vader and his deep baritone. Finally, we DO have a non-white actor, but playing the villain. Voiced by a Black Indian American, in what could actually be viewed as the best tradition of Star Wars — that exciting melding of ethnicity, culture, and identity — Vader nonetheless comes across, at least initially, as “other”: an exoticness in contrast to the pedestrian, “safe”, and homely whites. Indeed, Vader is the slayer of whites: we’re led to believe that he mortally betrayed the ingenue’s father, we see him physically terminate the life of a white-faced, earth-toned rebel officer (and choke a similarly white-skinned Imperial bureaucrat), and he later kills the ingenue’s elder “father” figure and spiritual mentor, and climatically taunts Luke about corrupting his youthful, virgin-pure sister; which successfully withdraws Luke from his hiding place and provokes from him (set to stark musical accompaniment) a rapid flourish of savage, honour-protecting violence.
That and the Star Wars movies generally treat infirmity and deformity with a similar sophistication to a 19th Century freak show. When all your leads are lean and good-looking, it could be construed as a problem that a “vile gangster” — the series’ own wording — isn’t just vile because he’s a gangster. Rather, the films have to go one better and portray him as a corpulent, slimy, worm-like creep. Even “good guy” Dexter Jettster is portrayed as somewhat clumsy and unkempt and played for laughs (his physical awkwardness is all the more emphasized — juxtaposed, as it is, with Obi-Wan’s immaculate Jedi robes and boyish good looks). The decrepitude and physical odium of the Emperor is something to be either laughed at or feared. As the arch villain, he is something of a barometer for the series’ basic attitude to physical repugnance — and via ROTS, we learn that both Vader and the Emperor are both “deformed”, through the depredations of their own villainy. Again, however, the series does try and offset this stark encoding, somewhat, with Yoda in 1980 and Jar Jar in 1999, and the important theme of not judging by appearances and first impressions. Does that absolve the saga of its sins?
Perhaps it was inevitable that this was all going to come to a head in TPM — a film with a rather improbable, Hydra-like construction and narrative texture. TPM seems to be having some fun with its alien sidekicks and villains. It WANTS you to laugh; or, at the very least, smirk. The political incorrectness of the entire series is exploded out here with an assortment of down-on-their-luck characters, sneaks, scumbags, bigoted tribal leaders who speak baby-English and fling spit everywhere, and the like. The film has a slightly masochistic quality, as if baiting people to throw stones at it. It even seems to be lampooning its excesses with lines like, “This is getting out of hand — now there are two of them”, its rhyme-twin, “Always two there are”, and Qui-Gon’s homily, “Your focus determines your reality”. TPM also seems to be aware that it is slightly “alien” to the other installments: an “outlander”, an “outlier” (is it racist to itself?). It is not terribly surprising, in my view, to find that it employs a slightly more absurd, Dickensian register; at least, for its non-human characters. In fact, the brash clashing of the two (dour humans, lively aliens) is perhaps too fractious for people to resolve, unless they posit that one half of that equation (while ignoring the implications of the other) is racist. Personally, I don’t think the criticism is really warranted, but I think I see where it comes from.
It is a bit ironic, in my opinion, that people would accuse TPM of racism, given the themes of the movie, and also the rich blending of east and west in Star Wars generally. Lucas basically cribbed the plot of the original movie from “The Hidden Fortress”, and it is very clear that Akira Kurosawa has been a huge inspiration throughout Lucas’ film-making career. Facts may occasionally be irritating, but they are rather important things, so it’s worth noting that Lucas, along with his other mentor, Francis Ford Coppola, actually helped fund produce and fund one of Kurosawa’s films in 1980 — a resurrection project which lifted the ailing film-maker out of a deep depression (“Kagemusha”). And both Lucas and close confidante Steven Spielberg (notably: Jewish — consider the accusations against Watto in this light) were there to present Kurosawa with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar at the 1990 Academy Awards. One critical aspect of Lucas’ life, not usually acknowledged, is that he basically made San Francisco, one of the world’s most socially progressive and integrated landscapes, his home and his entire base of operations, building Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, and living within San Francisco for much of his adult life. Financial considerations aside: San Francisco should be pretty low on the list for any died-in-the-wool xenophobe (including homophobe when it comes to that).
And it is easy to see which side of the “racial” (and, indeed, progressive) coin Lucas is on; especially when when it comes to African Americans. For instance, Lucas has consistently cast black actors in his own films, going back to Don Pedro Colley in “THX-1138” in 1971, then onto James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Hugh Quarshie, and Samuel Jackson in the original and prequel trilogies, the all-black film “Red Tails” that Lucas conceived and produced and finally released in 2012 (and which the mainstream film industry barely supported at all — despite great strides in civil rights since Lucas entered film school in the 1960s), calling then President-elect Barack Obama a “real-life hero” (verus Luke Skywalker: a fictional hero) and attending his inauguration in 2009, donating $1 million in 2005 to help in the building of a Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C., marrying a black woman in 2013, and adopting a non-white baby daughter later that same year. These are hardly the actions of some careless, clueless hack, let alone a cunning, intransigent racist — and I bet most of Lucas’ critics could scarcely point to an equivalent helping of pro-black, non-racist actions in their own lives.
And, of course, Lucas’ background is the socially-progressive 1960s; and, specifically, 1960s San Francisco art circles. He willfully broke away from a small-town existence in a backwater like Modesto (where he was raised), because the aperture of his mind was open from a young age, making the young Lucas receptive to broader ideas and different modes of being — which photography, and later film, are excellent mediums for someone so inclined to venture into and make their own explorations within. Then there is Lucas’ early, lifelong interest in topics like history, sociology, and anthropology: the so-called “social sciences”. Not to mention an early interest in comic books and science-fiction and escapist fantasy; which has also never gone away. These all speak to a curious intellect — someone with broad fascinations and open-minded, romanticist tendencies. Although Lucas is an exceptionally wealthy man today, he has never abandoned his roots. He gives generously and always votes for liberal candidates (as far as I know), generally supporting liberal causes along the way; such as donating $50,000 from the coffers of Lucasfilm, and a further $50,000 in his own name, to help shoot down the anti-gay marriage “Proposition 8” bill in California in 2008. He has not forgotten where he came from or closed himself off to the civic and existential struggles of our time.
But because, in one film (suspiciously: a film that people alleged to dislike for various reasons), there are some mincing robots, a fopping, clumsy amphibian, and a few bipedal aliens with funny accents, Lucas is apparently out of touch, and a stupid, outdated fool; and his work some wretched, pathetic embarrassment that ought to be derogated and quarantined from now until the end of time. It seems, to me, to be a bogus, retrograde argument, largely built on smearing and scapegoating.
And, in many ways, as if a microcosm for the film entire, Jar Jar became the main target: the whipping boy of TPM, the prequels, and 21st Century Lucas generally. Which only renders Lucas’ remark in “The Beginning” all the funnier, sadder, and truer: “Jar Jar is the key to all this.” Ironically, in people’s rush to disavow TPM as improper, broken, even fallen Star Wars, and a poor blockbuster entertainment in general (because a million “Jurassic Park”, “Terminator”, “Transformer”, and “Avengers” sequels are obviously leaps and bounds superior), people immediately committed a form of racist hatemongering by deeming Jar Jar as lesser, inferior — something unfortunate and unwanted; as if he had no place in Star Wars and didn’t belong there. And this, in turn, adversely affected the fortunes and even the mental serenity of the character’s performer, helping drive him to the brink of suicide. None of this behaviour was critically examined. Indeed, the more you questioned the hate narrative, the more of an “apologist” and “blind gusher” you were conveniently declared to be.
I also feel, as I once wrote in a long-gone IMDb post, there’s an element of homophobic and transphobic derangement in the hostility to Jar Jar. Consider this widely-circulated bash of Jar Jar from Joe Morgenstern writing in The Wall Street Journal in May 1999: “A Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hoofs, crossed annoyingly with Butterfly McQueen.” Butterfly McQueen, of course, was the black actress who played Prissy, maid to Scarlett O’Hara’s maid, in “Gone With The Wind”. Then there are these remarks from June 1999 in a lazy Salon hit piece by Bill Wyman: “Even tots don’t like Jar Jar. They don’t like his floppy ears, they don’t like his ludicrous walk and they particularly don’t like his language — which is akin to that of an overweening Jamaican drag queen.” Words both provocative and presumptuous. The Globe And Mail was just as pointed when TPM came out: “Jar Jar has a loose-jointed amble of a black drag queen.” In other words, Jar Jar isn’t just a black stereotype; he’s something far worse. He’s a black entity pretending to be female or somewhere in the middle; and even possibly — Oh, no! Head for the hills! — gay; or maybe bisexual, or confused, or at the very least, ambiguous.
The term “platform hoofs” in the first of the above contemporaneous quotes is a dead giveaway: it not only reinforces the gender-bending aversion of the author, but also evokes the sensual, lively spectre of the 1970s; or, more specifically, disco music. Which itself was subject to an enormous backlash at the end of that decade, as memorialized in a febrile hate movement, plainly and aggressively termed “Disco Sucks” — a movement now more broadly thought of as both racist and homophobic. In a definitive moment of trash spectacle, at that most masculine of venues, a baseball stadium, in mob-dominated Chicago, Ilinois, a crate filled with disco records was blown up on the field between two games of baseball, causing damage to the pitch and the latter game to be forfeit. Some attendees wore “Disco Sucks” t-shirts and went to see the promised carnage, and banners bearing the same slogan were hung from the ballpark’s seating decks. See the Wikipedia entry on “Disco Demolition Night” for more. If any of that sounds eerily familiar, it should: After TPM came out, many fans were quick to mock Jar Jar, even setting up hate sites like “Jar Jar Sucks” and “Jar Jar Must Die”, and various pictures and videos began to appear over the years, graphically depicting Jar Jar’s corporeal punishment and ultimate (and inevitably grisly) end.
And doesn’t Jar Jar kind of stand out against the taciturn, archetypally masculine Jedi he bugs and accompanies; even being sneered at and looked at with suspicion by Anakin? Qui-Gon even grabs Jar Jar’s long, sensitive tongue at the dinner table, as if communicating to Jar Jar (and those humble, simple folk in attendance) that he should remain quiet and keep his sexuality — or, at least, his sensuality — hidden and to himself. Only Amidala really takes to Jar Jar: the all-embracing ingenue of the saga. Wider society teaches men to be more like the Jedi (or, indeed, Amidala at her most formal and stoic): to repress emotions, speak in few words, share problems only with a careful few, “man up” and learn to “be tough”, and to stand and walk with purpose, as if you were a pyramidal block without flaw or on your way to replace a mouldering pillar at The Parthenon and readying yourself to stand in the harsh Mediterranean sun for a thousand years. No wonder Jar Jar, like disco music before him, elicited contempt and fury, disguised as righteous indignation and framed as a moral duty to the artistic world and culture itself.
That’s what is so sick about complaining and kvetching — and reporting — of this kind. Instead of courageously exploring the roots of stereotyping and prejudice, and the sociological and psychological mechanisms underpinning outrage and finger-pointing, these sorts of pieces only perpetuate the very things they’re pretending to isolate and be against. It is not entirely dissimilar to certain Star Wars message boards, where intellectual hypocrisy is now the norm and enshrined in codes of conduct. For example, the same moderator who erected “hate speech” laws against calling Disney characters “Mary Sues” and the rest of it, relentlessly bashed Anakin and Padme in ROTS for being a “moron” and a “wuss” respectively (in various threads, running them off-topic and into the ground), additionally proclaiming in Padme’s case that she was an “outdated 19th Century stereotype”. And woe betide anyone who tried to refute this moderator or offer a different opinion: for they were merely “mansplaining” to her, so she would just “skip” their post, because a person’s gender (or even merely their perceived gender; provided it is male) means their opinion is naturally inferior and terrible to begin with. But for the Disney films: don’t even THINK of slandering the characters, especially the female ones, because that makes you sexist by default; and if you choose to communicate sexist attitudes (against the Disney films, which, for some reason, require this extra protection), you’re gone. Banished, in fact, like Jar Jar — your “TPM”-ness too much to take.
Also, with a large cultural object like Star Wars (which was certainly very big when TPM came out), people look to make a name for themselves, by jumping on the back of another. No need to put in any hard work of your own, or apply much thinking to arrive at a nuanced or decently robust view. You can simply spit a few words of disdain in the direction of the movie, damage done, and then return to your day job, having inflated your presence in the limited media of the day (that everyone was consuming back then before do-it-yourself social media was yet a thing). For example, The Independent article captures an historical quote from Michael Dyson, (then) “professor of African-American studies” at Columbia University. But, like many academics, he seems to trust his own instincts a bit too much, not seeming to notice or care that he could be falling prey to confirmation bias — because, if a black professor at a prestigious university says it, it has to be true, right? Note that an older CNN article captures a more incriminating quote in this regard: “”I think that I immediately knew that there were some stereotypical elements to this character that suggested black culture — the way he spoke, the way he walked.” How did he “immediately know” this? The man is fond of reading race into everything. For instance, at a recent recorded debate concerning free speech and political correctness held last May, Dyson lashed out at Jordan Peterson in one notorious moment and said he was “a mean, mad white man”. Despite his supposed sensitivity to racism, he can’t resist deploying the race card when it suits him; not unlike that moderator described in the last paragraph.
So I’m going to back Alex up here and agree with him yet again: this newspaper is making accusations of racism (quoting him directly) “based on its own prejudiced and racist accusations”. More trendy virtue-signalling that, as Alex just said, tends to backfire spectacularly; at least, in the longer run. There is now this entrenched, ideological need — or often, not even a need, merely an excuse — to tar and feather people and things, and to throw them under the bus, when the people engaging in those actions are themselves just as bad, if not a great deal worse. Projection, in other words — but a kind of projection dangerously rooted in groupthink and toxic tribalism. Lucas didn’t deliver racist characters. What he delivered was a challenge to the culture. And the culture met that challenge by proving his point. People don’t want to look at the bigger picture. If something gives them an uncomfortable feeling, they reach for easy release valves to vent their unease. And in that way, they pretend all the other issues (that they feel inside) have gone away; or never existed to start with. Primitive brain circuity is obviously involved at some level in this process. As Lucas said: we haven’t really moved on too much over the past 10,000 years. We carry a lot of baggage.
Lucas’ filmmaking, especially in the prequels — and, maybe, TPM most of all — reveals abundant sympathies for other cultures, other ways of being. Some may find characters like Jar Jar and the Ewoks patronizing and silly, but they are there to make broader points about strength through diversity (real diversity: not the fake diversity that liberal doublespeak advances as the only diversity there is). Then there are all the cultural and artistic motifs at work. A staunch leftist won’t be convinced, of course. They’ll just bash anything you flag up as “cultural appropriation”. So it’s good to be diverse and inclusive, but only when a liberal ideologue says it is. “Two legs good, four legs better.” But in TPM alone, we get wide-ranging influences, running from African tribal masks, to Mongolian royalty hairstyles, through to sliding doors and wipes (that elegant Japanese aesthetic — present the full width of the saga), geisha makeup, Elizabethan robes, Roman chariots, and German-influenced Art Deco motifs and mannerisms on Coruscant. Jar Jar himself is, if anything, less of a black stereotype than a Shakespearean fool, with his specific trickster archetype traceable to earlier forms in Ancient Japan and various Native American folkloric traditions.
TPM is fit to bursting with imagination and inspiration. Properly read, it should cause deeper engagement and reflection — the opposite of shallow reactionaries who posit ugly and ungainly things at the flick of a wrist. And the real brilliance of TPM lies in more than just its design elements. It is also in the story that coheres everything together.
The complaining and denouncing is really sad when you look at the actual story unfolding in TPM. So let me end by focusing on that. The design elements are not unimportant; but in Lucas’ words, the Star Wars films are telling a story, and all would be for nought if they weren’t. Story is the magic word. Story is the raw piece of transformative technology that ultimately matters. Empathy tech. But only once you get the basics right. Breaking it down like a simplified game of chess:
Palpatine is the greedy politician and corrupt adviser. Padme is his opposite, his foil, the “hero” of the movie. And she achieves her goal by pursuing a path of unification in the face of greed and oppression. And who helps Padme in her pursuit of unification? Answer: Jar Jar. The rootless, derided “Other”. The banished, loathed outsider. The one who gets threatened, pushed around, choked, maligned, spoken down to, ignored. Inside the movie and, yes, sadly, outside of it, too. In short, TPM is a simple fable about a young girl who loses her kingdom (or golden ball), and then regains it with the help of an innocent frog, binding her people with his, in a human-frog alliance.
What? Isn’t there more story than that, you say? There may well be, but that is the inner component that really matters: the jewel in the lotus. Arguably, the rest is just dressing, or an event horizon around a centralized singularity: a protective sheaf or shield that keeps the main power source intact. Gain access to the singularity, you gain a vibrant new understanding of the whole. In a sense, that is what the film is daring you to find. In any case, I like this idea, and I think it’s a lot less hurtful, injurious, unhelpful, and idiotic than complaining that TPM is “pointless” or “full of terrible characters and terrible choices”.
But theme matters, too. Let’s nudge this pinball machine a bit more, without activating the “tilt” mechanism, and see what else is relevant:
Again, the concept was endlessly bashed and scorned, but there is also the metaphor of midi-chlorians — and this is where the theme of symbiosis on various scales of the cosmological drama is made explicit and concrete. We all need to work together in this pain-wracked world. Benefits accrue only when there is symbiosis and balance. It is the greedy power-grabbing of the Sith that throws the Star Wars universe out of balance. People must come together and put aside differences — and embrace them when appropriate — to drive back evil. Constantly trying to reduce things to some crude, reductive label, via the lens of identity politics, doesn’t bring people together; it pushes them apart. If Amidala judged the Gungans as severely as your typical leftist ideologue judges this same movie, they could never have brokered a pact and allied with one another. When tribal values are asserted at the expense of charity, compassion, and giving people the benefit of the doubt, division and discord are the result, and the flame of hope gutters. This film exposes the intolerance and sheer stupidity of tribal doctrine and ignorant judgementalism.
Finally: Naboo is clearly an idealized Earth — the “mother realm” the movie purposefully begins and ends on. The parable comes “full circle”, you might say. The take-home message is that we live on a jewel of a planet and we must foster good relations between people and adopt the right thinking in order to protect and nourish it. We face many perils; and currently have nowhere else to go. It’s this world or nothing. When everyone is striving, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, to be the momentary master of a fraction of a dot, least of all shouting others down because they see things a little differently, out of some deference to a false consensus, we don’t get very far. We need to play fairer and think smarter. What else can really take us out of our present malaise and lift us into a brighter tomorrow? Art allows us to transcend ourselves; to bring about a revolution in consciousness. Especially when it offers us condensed, genius ways of seeing the world and provides an imaginative space for reckoning upon the impact of our own actions within it. If TPM/Star Wars isn’t a visionary piece of entertainment, I don’t know what is.
4,354 words I’m after counting. That’s enough for a chapter of a book! A wonderful effort, and though I found your allusions to 70s disco and the bricks of the Pantheon an unwanted detour, you really hit your stride on later paragraphs.
The tragedy of ‘Darth hit-piece writer the unwise’:
“Instead of courageously exploring the roots of stereotyping and prejudice, and the sociological and psychological mechanisms underpinning outrage and finger-pointing, these sorts of pieces only perpetuate the very things they’re pretending to isolate and be against”
More good stuff:
“Also, with a large cultural object like Star Wars (which was certainly very big when TPM came out), people look to make a name for themselves, by jumping on the back of another. No need to put in any hard work of your own, or apply much thinking to arrive at a nuanced or decently robust view. You can simply spit a few words of disdain in the direction of the movie, damage done, and then return to your day job, having inflated your presence in the limited media of the day ”
You also make many salient points on the issues plaguing modern day liberalism in the US. On many other parts of the internet, you’d probably be denounced as a fascist, but you won’t here because some of us recognise the spirit of Bertrand Russell shining through your prose.
@ Arch Duke:
“4,354 words I’m after counting. That’s enough for a chapter of a book!”
It is!!! That’s about how long many of my present book chapters are. Hint, hint… 😉
I’m impressed you did a word count. I counted it up myself, a couple of times, as I was nearing the end, and I could see I was going to breach the 4000-word mark. Might be my longest post on Naboo News yet!
“A wonderful effort, and though I found your allusions to 70s disco and the bricks of the Pantheon an unwanted detour, you really hit your stride on later paragraphs.”
Thank you for the compliment.
I admit: The Parthenon thing was a bit of an idiosyncratic detour, and not a great deal more than an ad hoc, in-the-moment allusion. Although the word “detour” is also putting it strongly. Maybe it seems heavier an allusion than it is, because it occurs at the end of one of my many chunky paragraphs, but I was really just reaching for a quick and slightly playful analogy. I was comically overstating matters, in other words; a bit of hyperbole to render my more basic observations/musings all the clearer. But if you’re just docking me for a silly analogy — yes, I suppose it was. 😀
On the other hand, the “Disco Sucks” movement, as transient a moment in American history as it was, and as strangely disconnected to Jar Jar as it may seem (writing is nothing if not an excuse for some slightly “out there” connections and postulations), is one I was being a bit more serious about — though you may certainly not agree with my somewhat abstract and arguably ill-formed argument. Good to throw a few curve balls, however.
I should also like to point out (you’ve now given me the perfect opportunity to deploy this!) that I was referencing another article written many years ago. I didn’t make the connection myself. But, certainly, after reading the article, I began pondering it. Credit goes to Richard Goldstein of Village Voice. A short, but interesting read:
“You also make many salient points on the issues plaguing modern day liberalism in the US. On many other parts of the internet, you’d probably be denounced as a fascist, but you won’t here because some of us recognise the spirit of Bertrand Russell shining through your prose.”
OMG! Thank you. You triggered me. But in a good way. And I’m going to end on a bit of a sombre note here — sorry, but the timing is too freaky to dismiss:
I was only saying to another Star Wars fan in private, not more than 48 hours ago, that I consider myself a classical liberal in the vein of Christopher Hitchens and Bertrand Russell. And, in fact, I just shared a Bertrand Russell item on my Facebook wall, this very morning: Russell’s “Ten Commandments”. I won’t list them all, but (since I only just posted them) the 7th and 8th Commandments seem relevant here:
7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
Not to mention the end of the 4th Commandment, which concludes:
“A victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.”
Which certainly puts me in mind of a certain Star Wars message board — and the machinations of all these corrupt tin-pot digital dictators and their cowardice when they resort to the ban button…
I’d be denounced as a fascist? Tell me about it. Happened to me two days ago. And put me in quite a snit. Even though I predicted it would happen. I was removed from a page on Facebook, and my posts deleted, for calling into question the ideological bias of a certain post, and wondering aloud why a page that uses the word “skeptics”, has a picture of Einstein, and a banner graphic that says “QUESTION EVERYTHING” (just like that: in all-caps) doesn’t allow questioning; especially when it comes to a certain religion and a certain political orientation that frequently defends said religion and denounces critics of it as racists and fascists. But that’s the world we’re in at the moment.
I think Hitchens, too, would have been very alarmed at the current state of things. He offered his own set of alternative commandments/injunctions, one of which, similar to Russell’s above (and which left a big impression on me), was “Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.” Unfortunately, people are finding themselves rapidly silenced when they speak up on certain matters, making argument and disputation almost impossible. How can you offer a contrary view on anything, when doing so gets you immediately shouted down and banned? This is the prison we’ve built for ourselves. A digital Orwellian nightmare. Question is: Can we break ourselves out and wake up and recover a respect for core Enlightenment values in time?
Without dwelling too much into politics, for I earnestly believe the moderator should feel quite entitled to delete any political comment that would meander away from the subject of a blog post, I will say a few words.
I don’t think you’re a ‘classical liberal’ in the sense of how many internet commentators identify as such. They tend to share a similar variety of right-wing economics to that of the average conservative: sceptical of the role of the state and putting huge faith in private enterprise. I doubt you swing this way. Your economic views, from what I gather, are more akin to a Jeremy Corbyn, or for our American friends, Bernie Sanders. Things like trade unions, minimum wage, nationalisation of railways, universal healthcare, university funding, caps on CEO bonuses and being anti-bank bailout matter to you, right? I also sense a strong Noam Chomsky influence in your worldly pessimism. Perhaps the best way of describing you is an anti-PC liberal? Sam Harris and Joe Rogan would be good examples.
Unfortunately for the US, one’s designation on the political spectrum today seems more determined by his/her stance on the so-called culture war than anything else. When you think about it, it really is textbook misdirection, in the way that Marx once spoke about the “opium of the people”. By focusing all their energies on petty issues, instead of tackling the kleptocracy and gaping economic equality that actually do hurt and cripple their society, Americans are going nowhere. The only ones smiling are the rich neoliberals on Wall Street who backed Hillary Clinton.
Your experiences online mind me of a famous sermon on Mustafar:
“If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy!”
Or, to give it a more medieval twist:
“if you’re not for my [neoliberal & identity politics] dogma, then you’re a [alt-right] heretic”
We can therefore say, and I think our moderator will appreciate this one:
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”
Banning is simply modern excommunication.
“Unfortunately for the US, one’s designation on the political spectrum today seems more determined by his/her stance on the so-called culture war than anything else.”
I don’t think the current culture war is something that should be downplayed or ignored. It’s not a petty issue. Culture is much more central to society than one might think. I would even call it its backbone. WIthout a common moral and ethical ground, with principles and values that for the most part we all agree on, a society/civilization can hardly function. This is true and has been true throughout History.
In a way, I’m glad that there is a culture war. It means that some people are standing up and willing to “fight”, because they are seeing the consequences of the buildup of decades of moral relativism and postmodernism, subtly injected on many fronts (mostly education and entertainment) and for many decades.
We can see that in our society, but in art as well. Star Wars being a prime example. The major difference between what Star Wars was and what it currently is, is basically a result of this postmodern adulteration. There’s a reason many everlasting and universally-appealing franchises and stories are being attacked in this way, through re-interpretation and corruption.
@ Arch Duke:
You know me well. I have a good deal of respect for Sam Harris and Joe Rogan and frequently consume their material. I’m very much a liberal in the mould you describe. There’s a bit of Chomsky in me, too. Of course, those people don’t necessarily all like each other. Sam Harris, for instance, rather strongly disagrees with Naom Chomsky on the Middle East and on the pernicious effects of religious belief, and famously had a testy e-mail exchange with him a few years ago.
Anyway, the way I see it: income inequality is one of the major blights of our “Late Capitalism” era. The eight richest people in the world now have as much wealth between them as the poorest four billion humans on Earth. That’s something we have to change. Our existing socioeconomic systems are in desperate need of reform. And the planet is now choking to death — or, as Bill Nye angrily put it the other day: “The planet’s on ******* fire!” — because we have allowed capitalistic enterprise, via an oppressive, neoliberal paradigm, to pursue unchecked greed. As a global civilisation, if we seriously wish to preserve the Earth and one day become a long-lived, star-spanning species, GDP should not be the “One Ring” that controls all other rings.
It seems, to me, to try and keep this in the realm of the prequels, Lucas was trying to hint at these same issues with the Republic and its bloated bureaucracy. In TPM, he made this very explicit by showing the influence of the Trade Federation in the senate (with both the senate and the individual senate pods depicted as circles — natch). The Trade Federation is obviously very powerful in the timeframe of Episode I. It blockades and then invades a planet, it has its own senators who are comfortably able to put their own case in the senate (consider the thousands of other systems with their own issues and points of view that the Trade Federation simply steps on or hogs critical debate time for), and it blatantly scuttles Amidala when she petitions the senate to intervene and save Naboo from the Trade Federation’s mercenary grip. Many bureaucrats and senators within the Republic, as Palpatine suggests, are also likely being given bribes and golden handshakes by the Trade Federation and various kindred organisations.
If Lucas isn’t himself alarmed and disgusted by the present state of things, and how we have somehow tacitly allowed a ridiculously unjust pyramidal structure to prevail, with wealth and power becoming ever more-concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals, then I would like someone to explain this exchange of his with Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning in January 2012:
GEORGE LUCAS: The legal system, the financial system, the political system, they’re all based on “winner take all”. That’s not a good society, that’s not a good culture. That’s a culture that is built out of a caveman mentality where the guy with the biggest hammer wins. That’s not a good society.
CHARLIE ROSE: And you want to see a society that is defined — how? By everybody comes out…
GEORGE LUCAS: By compassion. By saying, “We care about everybody in our society, and what we want to do is what’s best for everybody in the society. And we want to build the best society where everybody gets the best possible life they can possibly have.”
CHARLIE ROSE: And would you call this “democracy”? Would you call this “socialism”? Would you call this some other “-ism” that we don’t have a name for?
GEORGE LUCAS: I’d call it common sense.
I love how Rose tries to pin a label on what Lucas is saying (the labelling game in political discourse is endless), and Lucas bluntly rebuffs him: “I’d call it common sense.” Precisely.
My thinking has been shaped by those aforementioned commentators, including George Lucas, and yes, Carl Sagan, too. I try to adopt a bigger-picture, cosmic perspective — and, in fact, it’s one of the reasons I love the prequels, which are essentially a discourse on fear and greed on the personal and political levels, not to mention the “galactic” setting of Star Wars itself, and the horribly maligned and horrendously misunderstood concept of the midi-chlorians.
On the other hand, Alex also raises some important points, and I detest the regressive nature of many people on the left — which people like Sam Harris and Joe Rogan have talked a great deal about, and which has, sadly, been my own experience when trying to debate and challenge certain individuals on the left, in various places the past half-decade or more. You’re bang-on with your Anakin analogy, AD. I believe I referred to that same piece of dialogue quite recently. It describes their mentality to a tee. They talk a good talk about “tolerance”, “diversity”, and “equality”, but what they actually want is total consent to state/collectivist doctrine — i.e., the tyranny of the majority.
What these people have become estranged from are all the core values that make the west — at its best — individualistic, scientific, and enlightened. In that way, they are traitors to the spirit of democracy, and are instead little more than religious fanatics. The agenda-based “storytelling” of the Disney films is another sign of the times: a fork-tongued, exploitative corporation telling other people what to think, and many of these genuflecting consumers defending them while moving with haste to shut down any bashers or critics of the corporation and its products; on the grounds that people who bash corporations are essentially blasphemers and hatemongers! It’s like peasants and coal-miners defending inquisitors and the aristocracy.
As John Stuart Mill wrote in his classic work “On Liberty”:
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
And here, too, is a stark warning from perhaps the greatest of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin:
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
@Cryo: Man, I would love to tackle a lot of your points (specially regarding the income inequality, which I don’t think it’s a problem at all), but sadly the comment system here is not pratical enough to do it, nor do I think it’s fair to Anthony to use his blog to have such an in-depth political discussion.
But to bring it back to Star Wars a bit, let me just say that I love that the premiss of the galactic political crisis was “the taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems”. It’s like a train of corruption and greed. Taxation (taking away from individuals through coercion), of trade routes (a common good), to outlying star systems (the ones that are far away, and therefore have limited access to goods/services).
Lucas has said that one of the major, recurring themes of the movie(s) is greed. And that very sentence is all about it: greed of corporations (corporatism) and governmental greed (socialism).
“Man, I would love to tackle a lot of your points (specially regarding the income inequality, which I don’t think it’s a problem at all), but sadly the comment system here is not pratical enough to do it, nor do I think it’s fair to Anthony to use his blog to have such an in-depth political discussion.”
Fair enough. This comments section, unfortunately, isn’t conducive to long, involved discussion, and the blog isn’t meant to host lengthy political debate. However, the prequels, as we both recognise and resonate to, do have a powerful political subtext; and we also see how “political” — in a different way — Star Wars itself has become, as a corporate object, under Disney. So it may be difficult to always avoid any and all political discussion in this blog section.
And okay: you don’t think income inequality is a problem. But take a man like Jeff Bezos — one of the richest eight people in the world I mentioned in my last post. Not only does he have a ludicrous amount of personal wealth, but he has been able to acquire it by being CEO of a major multinational tech company (Amazon is one of the Big Four along with Google, Apple, and Facebook). With a net worth of $131 billion, Bezos is currently the richest man in the world. And he lives high on the hog, while his own company pays slave wages to its warehouse staff, has notoriously tough working conditions, and evades its tax commitments with a series of tricks unavailable to small businesses and those of the working and middle classes. Even other members of that list, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, seem to understand the present financial system is ridiculous, with Gates publicly stating that people like himself should pay more tax, and Zuckerberg one of several technocrats in favour of a universal basic income.
New and exciting candidates have recently appeared on the political scene, too, in both the United States and here in the UK. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour party, offering a resurgence in progressive, anti-corporate, redistributive economics — and, historically, Labour has always been the strongest opposition party to the Conservatives, who are basically the party of the rich. Ten years of brutal austerity is finally taking its toll and has begun teaching the electorate that the present system needs a re-think. In the States, it’s even better, with Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang. Of course, Bernie’s been at it a while, but Yang, for those who fear socialism, offers a slightly milder left-of-centre raft of policies, including — here’s that term again — a universal basic income.
Universal basic income will absolutely become a reality sooner or later as automation and artificial intelligence significantly diminish the human work force in all areas of employment. UBI is a logical fix to a number of serious, pressing, and ultimately unavoidable consequences of capitalism and technological innovation. This existing paradigm isn’t built to last. A very good writer, speaker, and theorist on this whole topic is Jeremy Rifkin. I recommend the most recent three of his books and checking out some of his talks and interviews on YouTube.
Income inequality is absolutely real and it’s only growing worse. Quite simply, we can’t keep doing things “business as usual” — human civilisation and the fate of the entire planet (as a sustainable, habitable place for humans to live; including millions of animal species) are now in serious jeopardy. I just think a lot of people have ostrich syndrome and are burying their heads in the sand, pretending everything is fine, and any attempt to alter the existing way of doing things is dangerous and wrong. Personally, I feel it’s the exact reverse.
“But to bring it back to Star Wars a bit, let me just say that I love that the premiss of the galactic political crisis was “the taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems”. It’s like a train of corruption and greed. Taxation (taking away from individuals through coercion), of trade routes (a common good), to outlying star systems (the ones that are far away, and therefore have limited access to goods/services).”
Yes. But notice who’s doing the blockading and the complaining. It’s the Trade Federation. Notice who has an army and all that military gear to force other individuals, groups, and even entire planets to back down. It’s the Trade Federation. Notice who has a seat in the senate and power and influence over bureaucrats within the Republic. It’s the Trade Federation. And look at the posturing and actions of Nute Gunray, the TF’s own Viceroy, at the start of the film — boastful, arrogant, deceitful, and murders people within minutes of them arriving in his presence. The TF is like Amazon and Google with actual military power. And just as the big tech companies deliberately underpay workers and evade corporation tax (acquiring lucrative contracts and subsidies at the same time), so the Trade Federation refuses to give into the new tax laws on trade, seeking to bully a peaceful planet into submission to get its way.
And none of this is accidental on Lucas’ part. He’s a student of history. He knows how politics works and how big organs of commerce behave. It was even written into the prologue of the original Star Wars novelisation (yes, the whole thing was ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, but he was obviously going directly on Lucas’ notes). It’s no big secret that the Trade Federation was based on the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company. As the “behind the scenes” section for the Trade Federation entry on Wookiepedia explains:
“The Trade Federation was inspired by both the British East India company and the 17th-18th century VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), better known in English as the Dutch East India Company. Especially the latter had its own fleet (one that rivalled most countries’), the right to wage its own wars, negotiate treaties and hold colonies, and a near-monopoly on the extremely lucrative spice trade. The company, considered to be the first ever transnational corporation, would be worth around $7.4 trillion in modern-day dollars.”
$7.4 trillion. That’s pure insanity. When is too much too much? Should companies be allowed to burn down hundreds of acres of rainforest every day, destroying priceless habitats, erasing ancient tribal people, compromising the planet’s delicate CO2-O2 balance; and make as much profit as they like with no consequences? What about the fossil fuel industry? We have plenty of coal and gas reserves. Should they just be allowed to get on with it without any governmental interference? What, then, of the planet’s climate? Should CFCs have ever been banned? They were cheap and effective. Was saving the ozone *really* that important? Can’t we live without a thin layer of ozone, anyway? I do not share your apparent optimism with an unhindered corporate sector and a lack of governmental regulation. Capitalistic entities do not sit down, go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and resolve by themselves to do better.
“Lucas has said that one of the major, recurring themes of the movie(s) is greed. And that very sentence is all about it: greed of corporations (corporatism) and governmental greed (socialism).”
Governmental greed is not socialism. Greed is everywhere. Socialism is merely one form of societal organisation that can go bad. The welfare state, a major civilising force within liberal democracy, is socialism. A national health service (which we have in the UK — though it has been heavily besieged by bad faith commercial actors) is socialism. Free education is socialism. Roads that work well and that are safe to use is socialism. And as the saying goes: Don’t be fooled. The rich may be against socialism for others, but they’re certainly not against it for themselves. In the Charlie Rose clip, Lucas was clearly saying that all of society’s major institutions are broken and only designed for the benefit of a wealthy and powerful few. He doesn’t decry socialism. He simply states that the present system is madness and we need to replace it with a better one. For a man who always thinks outside of the box and understands how ridiculously short-sighted, selfish, and corrupt people can be, his words make perfect sense to me.
In all these years reading pieces on TPM, I’ve never seen a comparison made between the Trade Federation and the East India Company. And when I think of it now, as someone with a fairly well-rounded knowledge of history, it surprises me that the allegory hasn’t dawned on me in the past.
In it’s menacing pursuit of greed via exploitative trading treaties with the coastal peoples of India, and preparedness to use physical force when negotiations don’t work out to their liking, with no due regard to law, the East India Company is the perfect template. With it’s clever disguise as a purely commercial venture, as opposed to the more overt invader reflected in the Empire of the OT, one can argue that Lucas offers multiple valid grounds for the title “The Phantom Menace”. In 1858 the British state would take direct control of India and dispense with the company, not unlike the “reorganisation” in RotS.
“Capitalistic entities do not sit down, go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and resolve by themselves to do better.”
Anyone not suffering from amnesia would do well to recall this is exactly how the financial crisis played out only a few years ago. And the Clone Wars, which would air throughout the horrendous recession, was not unaware – one of the stories has Palpatine engineering a crisis where he can take control of the incompetent banks.
Your interpretation of the Trade Federation’s role in TPM is naive. Taxation is not presented as an evil in of itself, like some liberation fantasy world, but rather as one of the tools in the arsenal of the predatory Trade Federation. Cryogenic gives a wonderful outline of this.
I think you would do well to remind your American audience that socialism, or at least their interpretation of what it is, is not practised anywhere in modern Europe (not even in Greece with its staunchly leftist government). What largely exists are mixed economies, where the benefits of a regulating state and free enterprise are combined. It is not perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than the kleptocracy that exists in the US, where abusive corporations like Facebook and Google exploit one end of the petty culture war to hide their sins, and demagogues like Trump hijack religious causes to cover up his own.
@ Arch Duke:
Thank you for your responses, AD! Great stuff.
Time is a little short today, but I hope to give a fuller response later this evening. Nothing revelatory. Really just planning to spend five minutes dotting some “i”‘s and crossing some “t”‘s. I hate suddenly being short of time! New job, you see. Capitalism in action…
@ Arch Duke:
Back to this as promised — and there’s really not a whole lot to add…
(But I can always ramble in my usual way!)
Just wanted to riff slightly on you not twigging to the Trade Federation being the Star Wars universe equivalent of the Dutch East India and British East India trading companies. Don’t beat yourself up. “Your focus determines your reality.” Still, not only was that highly deliberate of Lucas, but it exposed the political and historical illiteracy of most viewers, who entirely missed the connection (and probably wouldn’t care if you explained it to them), with the most ardent detractors of the film complaining that the entire plot is baffling, confusing, incoherent, stupid, and that nothing makes sense.
Or as Mike Stoklasa, playing Harry Plinkett, flatly and idiotically states in the first minute of his seven-part TPM review: “Nothing in The Phantom Menace makes any sense at all. It comes off like a script written by an eight-year-old. It’s like George Lucas finished the script in one draft, like he turned it in, and they decided to go with it, without anyone saying that it made no sense at all, or was a stupid, incoherent mess.”
Charges of racism levelled at the movie (to return to the original news item) are plainly fatuous and imbecilic; especially in light of the fact that nothing is ever said of Lucas’ protracted critique of flag-waving, militarism, mercantilism, and empire across the Star Wars saga. The opening lines of the TPM crawl signal his intent from the beginning. Along with the marching band music that opens every Star Wars film — both propellant and satiric — he is encouraging a spectator to become both excited and involved, but also cautioning them to take a weary, critical distance, and to really examine the particulars of the story being told (and, of course, how the various pieces echo and actually apply to our own world). Unfortunately, people have largely shown themselves both emotionally and intellectually incapable of doing this. They worship the basic feelings the films give them like a fetish object. Very little of the content is actually understood or resolved against a contemporary reality.
The perfect summum bonum (in a twisted sense) of all this inside-out societal ignorance is, indeed, for people to adopt a hipster bandwagon mentality, and to repeat, as mindlessly as Battle Droids mutter “roger, roger” among themselves, as if constantly having to check their footing and affirm the illusory solidity of their own posture, that the film has racially problematic elements, and is essentially an artistic and cinematic blunder. But if the film is bashing and sending up any particular group, it’s clearly the British and European empires, the colonisers of much of the known world. Ironically, people can’t see this, because not only are they ignorant of the powerful political resonances within the prequels, but they are also attached to those very systems, or the attendant artifacts derived from those systems, and don’t notice their own insularity and cultural biases. Much like hypocritical message board feminazis obsessed with “sexist” speech, people who shout “racism” rarely stop to analyse their own prejudices and assumptions.
“With it’s clever disguise as a purely commercial venture, as opposed to the more overt invader reflected in the Empire of the OT, one can argue that Lucas offers multiple valid grounds for the title “The Phantom Menace”.”
He does, indeed. Episode I might have the most brilliant title of any of the films. And, in a way, the situation the film begins on is actually, in an abstract sense, the same as the original film: big grey thing chasing/harassing small, underpowered thing. While an oppressive empire, armed with big tech, aggressively pursuing a tiny rebel faction, with scant resources, might make for a more superficially thrilling scenario, the prequels simply present a sneakier and subtler version of the same basic paradigm; only, this time, people actually have to be paying attention (“Be mindful”) and must use their frontal cortex a tad.
“Anyone not suffering from amnesia would do well to recall this is exactly how the financial crisis played out only a few years ago. And the Clone Wars, which would air throughout the horrendous recession, was not unaware – one of the stories has Palpatine engineering a crisis where he can take control of the incompetent banks.”
Exactly. And let me remind you of one of those aforementioned/alluded-to paragraphs in the prologue to the novelisation of the original film:
“Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.”
Which is more or less what we actually see happening in the prequels. There is this tendency to ignore/downplay how Palpatine actually gets to power in the prequel storyline. He doesn’t take power through Force. He manipulates people into giving it to him. And it begins with those “massive organs of commerce”. Fear and greed are thematically linked in the prequels from the start. Witness how panicked and gutless Nute and his associates are when the Jedi come aboard; and also how concerned they are at how the senate will respond to their actions. The prequel storyline starts with fear and greed, and it effectively ends on fear and greed; with only a nostalgic coda providing that fresh spark of hope; that all can yet be set right and put into some deeper sense of balance again.
“I think you would do well to remind your American audience that socialism, or at least their interpretation of what it is, is not practised anywhere in modern Europe (not even in Greece with its staunchly leftist government).”
That’s true. Modern Europe, at best, plays host to social democracies: corporate capitalism with some much-needed buffers. I do sometimes forget, I suppose, that there is rabid opposition to left-wing politics in the States, and it isn’t quite so bad — despite a recent rise in right-wing populism — in the UK and Europe. The golden rule of discourse in America seems to be: if you can brand something you don’t like as “socialism”, then do it.
“What largely exists are mixed economies, where the benefits of a regulating state and free enterprise are combined. It is not perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than the kleptocracy that exists in the US, where abusive corporations like Facebook and Google exploit one end of the petty culture war to hide their sins, and demagogues like Trump hijack religious causes to cover up his own.”
That is brilliantly said. As a title like “The Phantom Menace” suggests, the culture war and religious values are basically fronts/facades, or red herrings, enabling the rich and the powerful to distract the squabbling proles below. They game the system all the way, knowing they can get away with almost anything, and few people have the gumption or the means of calling them out and adequately responding to their Machiavellian tactics. And yet, on some level, both still are menaces (the culture war and conservative, anti-science, anti-reason religious values); menaces being grabbed as useful shields by even greater menaces that pass by unseen in all their dirty scheming. Palpatine as another smiling face in the crowd.
Wise words. You, at least, completely understand what I’m getting to by describing the US culture war as petty, and a front to distract people from discussing and challenging the economic policies that hurt so many (ie forced to do multiple jobs) and ensure corporatism will always reign supreme. Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign seemed to hint at addressing this, but even he too – tragically – was unable to fend off the plague of identity politics.
As far as I could observe, the folks who pushed the “check your privilege/oppression” narrative had no interest in creating a more fair and equatable society. Their agenda is essentially a secularised version of Original Sin, where every non-minority American ought to feel crap about themselves. The only thing that achieves is antagonising the white working class, who in de-industrialised America, as it turns out, had witnessed a traumatic decline in their livelihoods represented nowhere else in the country. Was it any surprise then that they wouldn’t take lectures from the economically-secure yuppies on CNN? And was it any surprise that places like Michigan and Ohio fell into the hands of Trump?
Obama is not entirely blameless in this mess, as Ross Douthat succinctly described in the New York Times:
“Trump’s appeal was in part a reaction to a pervasive late-Obama-era politicization of pop culture — which was encouraging Republican voting as a form of cultural protest, and Trump voting as an act of transgressive rebellion.”
I’m afraid the more these honest Americans are labelled as racists or misogynists or [insert ism here], and the more their economic plight is obscured and ignored, the more difficult the US Democratic Party will find it to ever recover these crucial constituencies. You can make the argument that the authoritarian left in American now serve are useful idiots, an unknowing fifth column, for Trump and his own band of culture warriors. The only real winners in the inevitable stalemate is Corporate America.
“The golden rule of discourse in America seems to be: if you can brand something you don’t like as “socialism”, then do it.”
Yup, as Palpatine teaches: “Dew it!”