The Second Best Star Wars Movie…

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The worst thing about the movie is this poster

Finally saw it, and I have to say Rogue One is pretty much the best Star Wars movie to hit the screen since the credits rolled on Empire Strikes Back.  It manages to prove that it is possible to do several things that have evaded the film franchise since the introduction of ewoks:

  • Apparently you can make a Star Wars prequel that doesn’t suck or introduce gaping plot holes.
  • You can do homage to the 1977 Star Wars without cannibalizing the plot.
  • The protagonist doesn’t have to be a superhero in training.
  • The Jedi don’t have to be all that.
  • You can write a Star Wars film for adults.
  • Aliens don’t have to be CGI Muppets.

So, good film, go see it. However, it does continue another Star Wars tradition. Just as in the prior films, Rogue One carries its own weight of questionable politics. From an article by Ilya Somin:

But while we see what the rebels are fighting against, we have almost no sense what they are fighting for. What kind of regime does the Rebel Alliance intend to establish if it wins? […] It is almost as if the rebels simply assume that, if the Empire is bad, virtually any alternative government is likely to be better. Such thinking has often proven dangerous in the real world. The Russian, Chinese, Cuban, and Iranian revolutions are among the many revolts against oppressive governments that ended up installing regimes even worse than those they supplanted.

Realistic, but troubling. Perhaps more troubling:

Droids are at least as intelligent as humans, and clearly feel emotions, such as hope, fear, and pain. K-2, the main droid character in Rogue One, has personality, free will, and a mind of his own to an even greater extent than C-3PO and R2-D2. Yet neither rebels nor imperials see anything wrong with treating sentient droids as essentially the slaves of biological beings.

Much like many of the American Founding Fathers, the rebels are simultaneously freedom fighters and slave owners. Unlike George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the rebels don’t even seem to realize that there is a contradiction between these two roles.

Not The Greatest Path to a Book Deal…

So, less than a month before the election, a group called “Pantsuit Nation” appeared on Facebook. It was a Mecca for Hillary supporters, who were invited to join the “private” group en masse until, by the time the Washington Post was printing glowing reviews of the pro-Clinton site, it had nearly two million members. The Post contrasted its uplifting message with Trump supporters more acerbic and “in your face” social media presence. The coverage did not hurt the numbers either, as the site continued to grow after Clinton’s loss becoming something of a “safe-space” for online feminists to sit shiva and tell their stories.

Well, apparently this was all a scam.

The group’s founder, Libby Chamberlain, made a surprise announcement that “Pantsuit Nation,” after less than two months of existence, is going to become a book. This has come as a bit of a shock to the online membership. Who aren’t happy about it.

As mentioned on the Huffington Post:

And now, of course, there is a book deal, announced with no transparency as to where the profits from the book are going, whether the contributors whose posts Chamberlain is presumably selecting for this book will get paid, and without any consideration for breach of privacy laws were someone’s intellectual property and personal experience suddenly able to sit on your coffee table. Pantsuit Nation reportedly is working to become a 501(c)(3) and 501 (c)(4) charity, which raises more questions about profit allocation and distribution. Chamberlain is the only person credited on the book pre-order page, which also is troubling given that the book supposedly has no content, theme, or profit sharing structure and is already available for $17.99 on Barnes and Noble’s website.

As a writer and user of social media myself, I find this very disturbing, and very sketchy. It has all the earmarks of a scam, up to and including the accelerated timeline. It almost looks as if the site was founded with the intent to scrape free content for publication.

 

So Trump Won…

Despite pleas to the Electoral College, Trump got almost all the electors pledged to him.  While 2016 was a record year for faithless electors (most on Hillary’s side, interestingly enough) it was an order of magnitude short of what would have been needed to move the needle. So we have Trump for four years. While Democrats seem convinced that our country will end up as some alt-right dystopia somewhere between Fury Road and Hunger Games, I’m trying to form a more realistic picture of what the next four years might look like.  Here are some predictions in no particular order:

  • Business cycles being what they are, we’re overdue for a recession, and it will probably hit in 2017 if it’s not here already. It will probably be on a par with 2008, and it will be blamed on Trump’s economic policy, even though by the time we’re in the midst of it he’ll have barely outlined a proposal, much less implemented anything.
  • One of the first big showdowns will be over downsizing or reorganizing some major federal agency. There will be picket lines of civil servants chanting “We Will Overcome” and the stories will claim that this is the last stand of the labor unions. It will end much like Reagan and the air traffic controllers or Walker and the teachers’ unions.
  • There will be a major scandal in the media about some Trump company and conflict of interest. It will go absolutely nowhere, but every left wing pundit will find a way to work it into into every discussion about Trump for the next four to eight years.
  • The Republicans will learn nothing, claim their own permanent majority, and screw the pooch in the midterms, losing the Senate, possibly the House, and one or two governorships.
  • Because of this, the Trump presidency will tack to the center in a mirror image replay of (Bill) Clinton’s. Another similarity is that this will coincide with an economic recovery as we exit the 2017 recession. Trump will claim credit for it.
  • Like Clinton with welfare reform, Trump will piss of his base with some grand compromise on immigration reform. It will please no one, might actually work, and effectively take the issue off the table for the next election cycle.
  • Race relations will improve, not because of any structural or policy change, but because people’s perceptions of the black-white tensions will improve. This will happen because the media will shift focus away from racism and on to immigration and the economy.

A Thought About Lovecraft

The TombIf you were to pick out who is the most “problematic” character in the SF/Fantasy canon, H.P.Lovecraft has got to be near the top of the list. He is probably one of the most influential voices in the genre, not just touching authors as diverse as Stephen King and Charles Stross, but extending his tentacles deep into popular culture; movies, comics, games, t-shirts, internet memes, music. . .  The influence is pervasive.

And that’s what makes him problematic.

Because he was also a racist and bigot of the first order. This is, in the current age, the primary unforgivable sin. And he made life particularly difficult for any apologists because he wasn’t particularly subtle about it in either his fiction or his correspondence. Not only did he make his views explicit in his letters, any reader with half a brain can look into his stories of the terrifying “other” and see the racism staring right back.

It occurs to me that this is exactly why he is such an important writer. Some others might want to, on one side, remove or minimize his pride of place among foundation authors in the genre, and on the other, minimize his “unwholesome” views to protect his legacy from being tarnished. . . I think both sides miss the point.

What Lovecraft did was take his own personal— and to modern eyes bigoted and racist— fears, and abstracted them just enough to make them universal.  The fact is, however progressive anyone tries to be, there is always “our” tribe and the “other” tribe. Some draw the lines by race, some by class, some by nationality, and some by political affiliation.  We may not like this fact of human nature, but that doesn’t change the fact that it exists.  Lovecraft looked into the darkest part of his own soul and pulled out something horrifying, and very human.

A little political truism…

In a political discourse, if someone isn’t trying to debate, they’re attempting to exercise power.  That is where a large fraction of American political life has gone off the rails. It’s there in comment threads all the time; where one person attempts to have a rational discussion, and the other screams non sequiturs, ad hominem attacks, and declares how the other guy did it so that invalidates your argument but not their own.

That’s the difference between arguing to reach consensus and a solution to a given problem, and arguing to exercise power. Things suck not because of the Internet, not because of “Fake News,” and not because of those evil Russian hackers… It sucks because political debate is not debate anymore, it’s an exercise in power and virtue signaling to one’s own tribe. When you argue your point of view for the sake of power, rather than to convince people, you do not actually convince people. Funny that.

Ask yourself if the following exemplar of the form does anything other than try and beat up the author’s enemies with a rhetorical stick: “America is Held Hostage by Flyover States“.

Those Who Would Protect Us From Art

I wrote about the morality of fiction earlier, a couple of things I’ve read recently brought me back to the question from the another side. In that post I was talking about morality of fiction in light of the inner processes of the author. But really, when most people talk about the morality of fiction, they seem to talk about morals enforced from outside, either by social pressure, or in extremis, the heavy hand of the state.  (At the risk of Godwinizing this post, such talk has always made me think of Entartete Kunst.)  Such impulses always seem to come from some misguided effort to “protect” society, or some subgroup, from “bad” ideas.

The perennial example that’s back in the news is, of course, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, is being considered for removal by the Accomack County Public Schools in Virginia for “the books’ use of racial slurs.” It’s almost a cliche now to point out the deep irony of banning these books in the name of racial sensitivity.  The battle here is so well-trod that I think even die-hard advocates of free speech sort of glaze over these stories, despite the implications of erasing uncomfortable parts of history.

Perhaps more alarming is when art is censored because it illustrates uncomfortable parts of our present. Not fiction here, but the implications are chilling:

Organisers of an art exhibition celebrating freedom of expression have found themselves removing one of the exhibits after police raised concerns it was “inflammatory” and warned it would cost an extra £36,000 to secure the event.

The artwork in question was a series of tableaux entitled ‘Isis Threaten Sylvania’ that used children’s Sylvanian Families dolls to satirise the Isis terrorist group.

In the work Sylvanian Families dolls are seen enjoying a picnic or a day on the beach, while other black-clad dolls, some of them armed, one carrying a black flag, gather on the sidelines.

Consider the various elements here: A “freedom of expression” exhibit was told by police that an artwork satirizing a terrorist group was too “inflammatory.” Note that none of the typical complaints of xenophobia apply here. The work was not targeting Muslims as a group, or Islam as a religion, the scenes were all anthropomorphic animals, so no racial bigotry was on display. The only group critiqued here was, in fact, ISIS. One wonders who is being protected by hiding this work, and what are they being protected from?

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