Friday, July 13, 2012

Night of the Mindless Lucas Slaves!

(Apologies for the long delay. The book is stealing most of my Star Wars attention at the moment. But here’s finally another post - and with an exclamation point in the title. Because, you know, they make everything so much more exciting)
Oddly enough, the initial inspiration for this post was actually an iTunes review that was posted on my birthday, February 4, 2012. I personally am a huge fan of the Forcecast and consider it to be the beating heart of our fandom. In many ways, it has given me the fandom that I’ve wanted since first logging onto the internet, and does so with a fresh, funny, and often fascinating voice. However, one particular gentleman took our hosts to task. And contrary to the mantra of that podcast when it comes to writing reviews, I’m afraid he failed to “make it good.” The comments went something like this –

“I gave up on this podcast a few years ago because of the Anti-Expanded Universe (mostly Jason). I tried to listen to it again recently and was very disappointed to find that nothing had changed …. This content is so pro-Lucasfilm it looses (?) credibility. I love Star Wars but I’m not blind to the issues, this podcast acts as if anything that comes out of Lucasfilm is gold and should be worshiped (?) …. ”

This courtesy of our friend Rancor Boy. Well, apologies to Rancor Boy. Here’s hoping he finds a Star Wars podcast that he enjoys. One, presumably, that is a little less pro-Star Wars. No doubt he would feel this blog has “loosened” a lot of credibility, too. But his review did knock loose a few thoughts concerning fandom. Or maybe a small avalanche.

On the surface, this is just another in the endless variants concerning anyone who loves Lucas and the complete Star Wars saga. Back in the day, those fans were lovingly referred to as “Mindless Lucas Slaves.” That seemed to be a favorite on the Ain’t It Cool News talkbacks as well as the Jedi Council Forums back in 1999. Indeed, if I personally had a quarter for every time that particular phrase has been fired in my direction on the internet, I would have already had my book written because I could have simply retired by now.

While a variation on that timeless theme, the first thing that caught my eye was the use of the word “but.” It’s always there, like the perpetual bad penny that keeps showing up. Inevitably, it goes something like this: “I’m a huge Star Wars fan, BUT – ” Usually followed by “But I’ve hated everything about it since The Empire Strikes Back” or “But I think George Lucas is the Anti-Christ.”

Quite frankly, it’s not unlike people who have to constantly qualify everything they say with the phrase “I know this sounds crazy, BUT – ” This, in turn, is usually followed by “But I think I’m receiving text messages from transvestite aliens” or “But I went camping this weekend and Big Foot taught me how to square dance.”

Friends and readers, I feel that if we follow the words of Yoda and believe him when he says “There is no try,” we also have to extend that to Star Wars fandom. In this case, “There is no ‘but.’” In point of fact, let’s just Cut the But (should be a bumper sticker). In other words, there are no apologies, justifications, backpedaling, stuttering, pie charts, or lengthy explanations required. If you are a real Star Wars fan, then just say so. Period. End of story. No lectures, no qualifications, no protests, no anything. It’s easy. Allow me to demonstrate:

“I’m a Star Wars fan.”

See? To say anymore is gilding the lily. Or perhaps shaving the Tauntaun. Whatever. It would be like a Whovian who has to go around saying, “Well, I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, BUT I haven’t liked every single episode that has aired since 1963.” Well, duh. Of course being a fan doesn’t mean you have to like every single thing about every single movie, book, television episode, or whatever, that showcases what franchise it is that you’re a fan of. In a normal world, that should be something of a given.

In this case, our reviewer posits that he loves Star Wars but wants us to know that he isn’t “blind to the issues.” That’s interesting, isn’t it? Well, here’s a heretical thought – What if you are? What if, horror of horrors, you are blind to the issues? What’s going to happen? Does that morally compromise someone? Does it dehumanize them? Does it make them less of a man?

What if someone really is (gasp!) a Mindless Lucas Slave? Should they be excommunicated? Exiled? Deported? Should they not be allowed to be taught in the same classroom as the other person who isn’t “blind to the issues”?

This is where the whole mess gets tricky and starts to collapse in on itself. Especially when held up to the slightest amount of scrutiny.

One of the principle problems with this fandom and its relationship to George Lucas in general is the inevitable Double Standard that has grown up like a weed for the past decade. No one is held to the same standards as George Lucas. It seems to me that there is a seminal confusion, a notoriously shaky foundation, on which all of this is built.

To begin with, why in the galaxy is George Lucas consistently held up to the standards of some kind of religious or political figure? It’s never simply that he’s a filmmaker and an audience member either likes or dislikes the movies he directs or produces. It’s always a highly-charged, emotionally-driven, life-or-death confrontation, complete with raped childhoods and ruined adulthoods and everything in-between. Lucas can’t simply film a “bad” movie or make “alterations” to a pre-existing one - it has to be some kind of full-blown societal crisis.

It’s always a scandalized atmosphere, as though someone had handed all their personal authority and responsibility over to someone in a position of power, and that someone had completely and utterly betrayed that trust. Again, at the end of the day, Lucas is just a filmmaker who can only make films people love or hate, are moved by or are indifferent to. This has been blogged about numerous times, but there is an undeniable feeling among a sizeable percentage of fandom that 1) George Lucas has enormous authority and 2) That authority must be challenged at all costs.

(And if you don’t, guess what that makes you? See blog post title for details)

One of the most grievous examples of this has to be on the trailer for that ridiculous documentary, The People vs. George Lucas. In it, a group of chunky, round-faced man-boys are filmed standing on a street corner, crooning away with guitars. The gist of the documentary goes something like this – we turned George Lucas into a god, then we found out he wasn’t a god, and now we’re furious about it. And we’re making fools of ourselves singing on street corners because our childhoods have been ruined. Or something.

Wow. What I wouldn’t give for a time machine so I could bring their younger fan selves into the future to offer them a firsthand dose of what they’re going to grow into. I would be willing to bet my Darth Maul figure on a vintage card that their child selves would be horrified. And probably sinking in red-faced embarrassment, too.

But again, this is the sort of thing that happens in political or religious circles when an elected official or spiritual master betrays the community by having an affair with an intern or gambles all the tithe money away or some such. Someone making a prequel to a movie you love and then being disappointed in it does not constitute a scandal.  Righteous indignation or online outrage simply do not make any sense in this picture, because no trust has been broken and nothing immoral has happened. No one is being oppressed or having their rights trampled on.

I really feel the height of this lunacy is the complete and utter confusion with an artist’s creative authority and an individual’s social, political, or religious authority. To your average fanboy, there is no separation between the two, or even an understanding that there is indeed a very important difference. As noted in a previous post regarding the EU petition a year or so back, a fan argued that if you didn’t question George Lucas’ authority, you were not only failing in your duty as a fan but, basically, as an American.

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter is an important tome for many reasons. For one, it is simply the finest book on writing ever composed. Almost all 700 pages of it. For another, it really exhibits an understanding of the kind of relationship that exists between a rabid fandom as juxtaposed against the creative processes and personalities that are actually in charge of such a fandom.

In many ways, Doctor Who is one of the few fandoms that can be compared to Star Wars. After over twenty years on the air, it was shelved by the BBC. Fans had to wait another sixteen years before it was brought back, the exact amount of time that Star Wars fans had to wait between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace. Not to mention they even had a lot of the same actors involved with them, like Jeremy Bulloch and Peter Cushing. Special editions have also been made of older episodes released on DVD, complete with updated special effects.

Most importantly, Who developed a rabid older fanbase thanks to the “classic” series, one that apparently spends an inordinate amount of time now on Outpost Gallifrey online complaining about how the new series has basically raped their childhood. Okay, I’m paraphrasing, but the sentiments are the same. Despite the fact that it’s insanely popular with the next generation, much like the prequels were (both complete with new CGI effects and warehouses full of merchandise). The only difference is, while Who’s iconic status is largely limited to Great Britain, the Wars iconic status is everywhere.

British author Philip Pullman wrote the introduction to The Writer’s Tale, noting “the relentless and merciless idiocy of internet ‘criticism’.” In another venue, he has quite rightly questioned why, if they’re so talented, creative, and insightful, the people who go online and endlessly complain about everything don’t simply write their own stories and scripts firsthand. It is a rather spectacular waste of time, if you start to think about it. He also applauds Russell T. Davies’ attitude toward writing and art which, if every fanboy and girl typing angrily online could simply comprehend, the world would be an infinitely saner place.

After observing how cruelly and viciously some of his writers, including himself, have been attacked by “fans” on internet forums, he expresses a point which almost no one understands:

I read that stuff and it doesn’t stop me, not ever. I’ve got quite
high-flown and fancy beliefs about art that maybe put it into
perspective. Principally: it is not a democracy. Creating
something is not a democracy. The people have no say.
The artist does. It doesn’t matter what the people witter
on about; they and their response comes after. They’re
not there for the creation.

I would strongly, strongly suggest that Star Wars “fans” read that over and over again until it sinks in. He also adds:

This is becoming one of the great arguments of the day,
for populist writers especially. It taps into the whole debate
across journalism about the democratization of the critic.
It was summed up best by Rachel Cooke in The Observer
recently, where she said that the online voice writes
with a deep sense of exclusion. She wrote about that
with some anger, but also with a lot of sadness. I don’t
see the sadness myself. I think it’s right that they’re
excluded. Of course, it’s always been that way, people
have always carped on, but the internet means
that we can all read it now.

Davies also went on to say how this will be looked upon as an utterly mad period in history, one in which we all sat around and typed at each other. Fair enough. Incidentally, it is worth noting for Star Wars fans that in chapter four of The Writer’s Tale, Lucas was interested in Davies writing for the live action series. Of course, this was way back in 2007, so there you go.

Generally speaking, I think our own fandom would possibly have benefited greatly from the addition of someone like Russell T. Davies. Not only as someone used to dealing with all the pressure of working on a high profile show loved by millions, but also someone not afraid to put furious, indignant fanboys in their place. This is one point I can’t help but feel Lucas has somewhat failed on. Lucasfilm should have taken the “fans” to task for a lot of things said during the prequel releases. Or even told the hyper-aggressive ones to stop going to their movies and to get out of the fandom altogether.

In another parallel, Davies, like Lucas, has been accused of surrounding himself with “Yes Men.” This has been a raging scandal on the internet with Wars fans since The Phantom Menace. To this day I would be willing to bet that half the people who use that phrase don’t even have a dim awareness of what it is they’re saying. But Davies points out that of course someone in a creative position is going to naturally surround themselves with people whose values and opinions mirror their own. In the real world, that’s just common sense. But in Bizarro Fanboy World, it’s an utter outrage!  

(I mean, seriously people, who goes out of their way to surround themselves with critics and second-guessers and backseat drivers in real life?)

Still, that’s largely irrelevant, thanks to his killer line -  Creating something is not a democracy. The people have no say. The artist does. Now, this doesn’t mean that an authority figure is trampling on someone’s rights or denying them their civil liberties. This means a creative figure has the right – okay, the authority – to create, or recreate, whatever the living hell they want. And the audience and fanbase has absolutely, positively, no voice whatsoever, except to perhaps like or dislike it, love or hate it, be moved by it or remain indifferent to it.

Incidentally, if the audience and fanbase really does have such a keen understanding of film or television or storytelling and they do go out and create their own fictional universe, quite naturally the same right will be extended to them. Until then, however, they are simply not part of the creative process in any way, shape, or form. There is no democracy, no term limits, no votes, no debates here. As Pullman himself has noted, art is a dictatorship. End of story. Get over it.

But that doesn’t make someone a “Mindless Lucas Slave” anymore than going to an Impressionist exhibition and adoring the paintings makes someone a “Mindless Monet Slave.” And yes, I do find it funny that no fanboys are running around in museums trying to blast all the art work. “You can’t like this! You must question Monet’s authority!”

And while we’re on the subject, this kind of standard should be applied to all fandoms if it’s going to be applied at all, not to just Star Wars. Avatar fans should be Clueless Cameron Clones, and Firefly fans should be Headless Whedon Fanatics, and Harry Potter fans should be Sycophantic Rowling Zombies. Logic has to apply equally, right? 

And on that note – why is it nothing short of a crime against humanity to, as Rancor Boy said, act as if “anything that comes out of Lucasfilm is gold and should be worshiped”? Or to put it a bit more succinctly (with spell check!), why is it a violation of freedom, justice, and apple pie to be a Mindless Lucas Slave yet, on the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable to be a Brainless Hater Automaton? It's even applauded in a lot of circles. Once again, logic fails.

Yes, true believers, this is another stress point at which the whole thing starts to implode. Indeed, the fanboy “rebellion” against Lucasfilm has become - let’s be honest here – just another tired status quo. Half the time when someone talks smack about the franchise or Lucas, I don’t even get angry or annoyed anymore. In fact, I have been known to start nodding off while trying to listen. If only they had an inkling of a notion of how utterly boring, unoriginal, and conventional they’ve become.  Frankly, for the segment of fandom that pretends to deplore conformity above all else, the haters ironically spend an unprecedented amount of time wallowing in it.

For instance, when George Lucas is mentioned in a conversation in circles that veer toward the geeky, if you lean in and listen closely, you can actually hear the sound of knives being sharpened. It is so completely uninformed and reflexive now. The criticism isn’t balanced or even remotely thought out. It’s like when you’re having a physical exam and the doctor hits your knee with that little rubber hammer. You just automatically jerk your leg in response, and it’s much the same thing here whenever anyone mentions Lucas.

To be honest, whenever someone brings up the Wars in a conversation, I find myself internally rooting for them. Come on, say something new or original or insightful. Don’t take the easy shot. Make a stand. Don’t just baaaaash along with everyone else. But usually they do. How Pavlovian. It doesn’t lower my opinion of Star Wars, but it doesn’t do much for my opinion of them. If you can’t bring something new to the discussion, is there really any point in bringing anything to it at all?

In my opinion, all the high-fiving, back-slapping, self-congratulatory fanboy nonsense that goes on when someone disses Lucas or Star Wars is little more than masturbation at this point. The ones doing it may find it immensely entertaining and fun, but there’s really no need to share it with anyone else. And it sure as hell isn’t something they need to go around bragging about doing.

Somehow, this groupthink or mob mentality fancies itself the champion of liberty and free thinkers. Marching in rank and file, the Anti-Lucas Gestapo has been goose-stepping all over the internet for over a decade now. And with any mentality that goes largely unchallenged, they’ve certainly started to deteriorate. Over the past thirteen years, the charges of the haters have gone from the ridiculous (“Lucas raped my childhood!”) to the bat**** insane (“Lucas changed the movies again? He’s like Stalin!”).

But like with pretty much all forms of mass media in this culture, there is a need to grow more and more sensationalist. Otherwise, everyone’s just going to forget you with a nod and a yawn. Perhaps that is why someone who cancels their Blu-Ray subscription on Amazon tries to fancy himself a Henry David Thoreau enacting a bit of Civil Disobedience. At the end of the day, there’s really no other reason to care. Maybe all the frantic running around, waving the arms in the air, and cries to question Lucas’ authority are just that: frenzied, misguided attempts to win some attention.

The central irony in all this is that, if one fails to drink the Star Wars-hating Kool-Aid, they’re a pariah in certain circles. The haters constantly rally around rebellion and free speech and questioning authority, yet the second one dares question their carefully carved-out status quo, they’re pretty much flamed off the internet. And probably referred to as something like a “Mindless Lucas Slave.”

But of course the haters don’t want your blind, unquestioning allegiance to go to George Lucas.

They want it for themselves.