In This Galaxy, Now

Star Wars VII Advance Publicity, Disney/Lucasfilm

Star Wars VII Publicity Photo, Disney/Lucasfilm, 2015

On Impermissible Thinking

Before I say anything else, I want to compliment Roland Dodds, my colleague at Ordinary Times, for his courage in taking on a topic with perhaps as much tolerance for an effectively forbidden perspective as that site, or almost any American political-cultural site today outside the “Alt-Right” (“Alternative Right”), is likely to withstand.

The very first comment on the thread questioned, or one might even say attacked, Roland’s willingness to treat proponents of the taboo perspective as “intelligent” at all, and seemed to fault him for observing a discussion marked by anti-Semitic tropes without, apparently, adequately emphasizing his own distaste for them. 1 I think in fact that Roland could hardly have made his own position clearer: His piece is structured as a repudiation of the views that he is nonetheless accused of failing to condemn strongly enough.

Roland does confess that for him the forbidden thinking contains some interesting or admirable thought, but I do not think anyone in his position ought to feel the need to apologize. That the enemy, or the scapegoat, or the heretic, or even the fool or child can have nothing to say of interest to us is itself a foolish and childish notion, and ought to be treated as an authentic heresy, close to the only one, for proponents of open-minded inquiry.

Epic in Global Real-Time

Roland’s subject is the Alt-Right attack on Star Wars, or on the new Star Wars installment as portrayed in its advance publicity. He answers the Alt-Right by citing Joseph Campbell’s landmark work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and by placing the Star Wars saga within the ancient epic tradition. Yet, the Alt-Right also understands the saga somewhat in this way, if less as a pastiche or assemblage or imitation of pre-existing epics than as “our” epic or a proposed epic: a version of an actual or (literally) projected epic for us.

There is much to be said for this view regarding the uses of narrative, as embodied in popular fictional narratives, in constructing not just our common stock of catch-phrases and immediately understood references, but in enunciating and validating common values and beliefs in an otherwise chaotically pluralistic culture: We differ on many things, but we mostly agree to root for the Rebels and against the evil (mass-murderous, deformed, exaggeratedly malignant) Emperor Palpatine. To call a character and a mode of conduct evil is to outline the good. To the extent we agree on Star Wars, we agree on good and evil, for us – not a small thing, if not or not yet a specifically very important or revealing thing. We constitute ourselves as the global people of Star Wars -StarWarsians of the Star Wars era, one might say – though whether Star Wars uniquely adds anything to our global self-constitution may be in question.2

Put differently, the political argument is precisely that the true or most significant “source material” for Star Wars is not some set of ancient literary texts with pre-literate and pre-historical roots, but our own actual reigning beliefs, so “our time” and “our culture,” not any other time or culture, and, more important, and the reason we may be interested even if we do not particularly admire the movies as works of art, is the perception and on this matter therefore the fact that our time and our ideas about ourselves are not just at the source but are equally and simultaneously the storytellers’ objective.

Though the true epic of our time would likely be a not yet recorded narrative assembled from diverse sources, among which Star Wars may or may not play any identifiable role, at this cultural-historical moment Star Wars stakes one of the most convincing claims, even and especially as a lowest common denominator claim, to status of “unifying myth,” and on a global scale. Star Wars does not merely draw upon the ancient sources, it is an epic for us and our time, being composed in our time, a quasi-ritualistic re-foundation of our own common culture, doing for us, in its tales of a galaxy long ago, what the myths of ancient cultures are thought to have done for those who recited and heard them.

The “Alt” View

500 years from now, if there are historians at all, and they find our culture interesting, the Star Wars saga will stand as an artifact of our time – in world-historical terms of the late 20th to early 21st Century American-formed Global Order. The cultural forms and expressions of this order are shaped principally by the results of World War II, in which the United Nations – a global alliance led by, as the enemy put it, a “mongrel” nation and a “slave” nation – defeated, indeed effectively annihilated amidst massive so-called “strategic” and total warfare and, eventually, extended occupation, the leading representative states of exclusionary ethno-nationalism – or of national monoculture rather than transnational multiculture. 3

So, the problem that the Alt-Right has with this latest incarnation of our global epic – supposedly about a galaxy long ago and far away but obviously and inherently about a global regime right here and everywhere, now – is precisely about the character or desirable character of the real origin culture, which is not or not merely an imaginary culture or merely an assemblage of ancient cultures, but also “our” “culture.” In perhaps deceptively simple terms, for those who believe that white boys need white male role models, this installment of the epic seems to be offering quite progressively less. If Star Wars is an epic of anything it is, and very much, and self-consciously, an epic of their defeat.

Yet the American “Alt-Right” and corresponding movements in other countries represent, among other things, a stubbornly held belief that the news is neither all in nor all good for the world-historical political-cultural regime form of our era. Nor, in this view, are the returns all in for the defeated regime form, even if Nazi Germany, Imperial Way Japan, and Fascist Italy are never to rise again.

From this perspective, the once-upon-a-time Axis Powers may have been destroyed – or vastly out-produced in a war of competitive industrial bases4 – with the result that a “United Nations”/multi-cultural/ e pluribus unum ideology has since the 1940s amounted to the official ideology, or political theology, of global civilization, but the story, or history, is not actually over: 70 years may seem a short time in world-historical terms; and for the same reason any declaration of final victory or defeat would be premature. Furthermore, the material or temporary material defeat of an idea is not necessarily the same as a defeat of the idea as an idea or even as a still available recourse – depending on developments.

As Roland has I believe pointed out, and certainly as he has implied in different ways, far left and other “un-intelligent” critiques share numerous features in common with this “Alt-Right” view, sometimes including the centrality of “race.” A main acknowledged difference, of course, is the end state. The Marxist or post-Marxist, or materialist and progressive left still believes (or must believe) in a release of productive forces that would eliminate the enduring sources of social conflict (which latter always, from prison yard to world war, turns at some point into some form of “racialized” or nationalized, or political theological conflict). Americanism still relies on a parallel concept, on the solution of social conflict by other means: the ever-expanding frontier, originally a geographical expanse, now a technological and temporal expanse, into which inequities can be continually and indefinitely projected. 5

The Alt-Right has to believe, or is defined by the belief, that both visions are fantasies tending towards nightmare. According to the typical Alt-Right racial or human concept, the “multiculture” – an aspirational, so imaginary, assemblage culture – is neither natural, nor desirable, nor sustainable, and, though post-war post-industrial Americanism-Globalism may have had an impressive run, it is or may be doomed. As much to the point, even if Americanism-Globalism is not doomed, or likely to meet its doom anytime soon, its success is not the success the Alt-Right would want anyway, since that success presently involves the systematic active suppression of their own unique identities or identity expressions, in the name of a, to them, transparently false regime of “equality” – “equality” to be imposed and enforced by their reduction and demotion, by comprehensive denial of their identities or favored or self-chosen identity expressions. This never completely implemented regime of global equality is, for them or in their minds, a regime in which all ethnicities and belief systems are held to be equal and worthy of pride, each with an absolute right to exist as such, practice self-defense as such, and seek self-advancement as such – except for theirs. Theirs is the one identity or identity formation which is to be corrected and subject to further correction, as a matter of reparation and compensation for imputed historical crimes, on charges against which no defense is to be heard. To complete the circle, it is this very work of correction, compensation, and reparation that continually re-constructs an “Alt-Right/white” interest in the very act of suppressing it.

To call this process, as intimated in a popcorn flick, however widely talked about and seen, a “white genocide” seems some mixture of obscene and ridiculous, yet Star Wars VII still stands as the image of the completed destruction, or intended destruction, of a white racial patriarchal concept as our cultural-integrative concept.

In Pictures

In the transition from Star Wars (1977), the first film – aka Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode IV – to Star Wars Episode VII: A Force Awakens (2015), we can also observe, as we would expect, a movement of “our” history, which necessarily implies a self-reflexive movement in the history of our concept of ourselves.

The movement is also, necessarily, also tracked in the movement of Star Wars as a would-be central unifying or integrating cultural self-representation – as legitimate “epic” of our own time and place and space, not possibly of any other time and place and space – from…

Star Wars - Style A, 1977

Star Wars – Style A, 1977 – Art by Tom Jung

…to…

star_wars_episode_vii__the_force_awakens_ver3_xxlg

Star Wars Episode VII, Version 3 (Main Theatrical) – design by “LA”

The Alt Right, quite apparently under the influence of the trailer and other advance publicity, sees, even more, this:

star-wars-7-struzan-poster-full

Star Wars VII – Drew Struzan Special Advance Poster Art

…as, metaphorically, the Democratic coalition, perhaps, clockwise from top (and leaving out the masked figure), Barack, Hillary, and Bernie – or, for the ultra-rightists, Barack, Hillary, and… any old aging, decreasingly relevant Republican.

To Re-State the Too Obvious

To say the same thing in many more words, if still more in the manner of a thesis than any attempted proof:

The period of the making of Star Wars, equally of the post-Vietnam, post Watergate, post-OPEC, stagflationary air that the young George Lucas and friends were breathing, was widely taken as a combined political, military, cultural, and economic nadir for post-War America, even amidst the public observation of the Bicentennial of the American founding in 1976. The background mythos informing Star Wars is – so obviously that it need not even be stated or perhaps needed not to be widely stated – reflects an American and modern revolutionary mythos as muchas it reflects anything in Joseph Campbell. Put differently, the Hero with a Thousand Faces provided a vehicle for an epical/epochal re-envisioning and restatement of the or an American revolutionary idea, at a time when it was felt to be in need of an overhaul. At the time, it was still possible to represent that idea cinematically as a “racially” monochromatic idea.

Star Wars 1977 Original Publicity Still

Star Wars, 1977 – Publicity Still

The refracted Americanism of Star Wars is still, in short, an Americanism or Anglo-American globalism embodied as much in the physical persons of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Sir Alec Guinness as in the characters they played. The principal figures offered up for emotional identification to the audience, and even their principal antagonists, are all, whatever else they may be or represent, of the same ethnic type.6 Otherwise, the “Wookie” character is a furry monstrosity with a silly name, that speaks in unintelligible squeals. Similarly, the alien representatives of the rebel alliance and the Empire’s lumpen-proles – the “diverse” population that Roland and OT commenters mention as though in rebuttal to the reactionaries’ reactions – are variously bizarre and ludicrous figures: The “colorful” allies are depicted via stereotypically orientalist caricatures or as cartoonish sentient animals.

Especially if we focus on the landmark first film, but even if we include typical exceptions from the later ones in either set of three, the conclusion remains inescapable that this galaxy long ago and far away is a place ruled by white men, with appropriately white male heroes, plus one clever white princess who looks appealing in a harem costume, and a few vaguely grotesque and comical walk-on “honorary Aryans.”

13427943_3As deep as we are into our later phase of the Americanized global era, we require of our few central cultural products a multi-ethnic and gender-equitable complement. The narrative thus, it would seem, disproportionately focuses on two figures whose rise and, one presumes, eventual triumph transparently record the rise of their demographic in all social, economic, political, and therefore cinematic-mythopoetic calculations.7

The Alt-Right is criticizeable in many ways, and is undoubtedly full of unpleasant people given to saying repugnant things and taking pleasure in doing so, but the Alt-Right is not wrong to point to a transformation whose existence is obvious, but whose significance is difficult to discuss. The denial their statements receive may in turn reflect a determination on the part of a type of true believer to accept the narrative as a kind of sacred truth, rather than as an even conceivably debatable proposition.

Notes:

  1. November 2, 2015 at 12:24 am:

    I feel like once you are getting involved in area’s of white nationalism, you lose all claims on being a sharp tool or intelligent. What points do you agree with Spencer on? How does he know the meetings were all white and Jewish? Where is his proof? Where is his evidence? Doesn’t it disturb you that he is willing to be openly anti-Semitic?

    …as though “intelligence” might be measured by degree of conformity to the commenter’s own views; and as though anyone has ever produced evidence that high intelligence and correct or sympathetic beliefs always – or perhaps even often – coincide. []

  2. The occasional exceptions to the rule will tend to support it, if subtly, since the authors will be themselves speaking as rebels against a reigning misbelief – where they do not seem simply to be writing satirically. []
  3. Whether global multiculture relies on, propagates, and equates with a peculiarly deracinated monoculture of its own, differences annihilated ideally and really by capital, is a separate discussion. []
  4. Of course, the model we prefer, and that Star Wars replicates, is victory of plucky, brave, ingenious, and virtuous volunteers, with providence or The Force on their side, vs evil psychopaths. []
  5. See many sources for this observation, but very pointedly Reinhold Niebuhr in The Irony of American History. []
  6. Even the very “black” Darth Vader is, as we later learn, of the same genetic line as our heroes. []
  7. I have not seen the film, of course, nor am I familiar with future plans, but no one will be surprised if this one, or at latest VIII or IX, features openly gay and by whatever means transgender protagonists. []

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18 comments on “In This Galaxy, Now

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      • Yes, hmmm… Not sure what’s going on with it. It is linked among the socialist and anti-imperialist left with each new trailer (along with similarly unflattering takes on Campbell). What I find interesting, in the context of your post, I just how far it suggests that group is from, well, just about everyone in their view of the film and what we all seemingly take it to represent.

  1. Excellent response/retort CK. I am going to need to consider this in greater detail:

    “Similarly, the alien representatives of the rebel alliance and the Empire’s lumpen-proles – the “diverse” population that Roland and OT commenters mention as though in rebuttal to the reactionaries’ reactions – are variously bizarre and ludicrous figures: The “colorful” allies are depicted via stereotypically orientalist caricatures or as cartoonish sentient animals.”

    Perhaps this reflects my own nostalgia related to the Star Wars films, but as a child watching them, I wanted to be Chewbacca or Admiral Akbar. While the films have their share of cartoonish racial stereotypes and monsters, the fact that these characters were desirable role models and individuals to pattern our actions on seem to put them at a higher social level than mere foils/friends for our white heroes. But perhaps that is simply my childlike mind at work.

    Your take on the alt-right view of history is quite on, and really should be required reading for anyone interested in this cultural debate. You must know what someone thinks of the past to understand what they want from the future.

    Obviously, I also agree with your first points about rejecting the “acceptability” police when it comes to political debates. There are slews of folks I disagree with vehemently, but assuming they are not trolls intending to steal my time, I have no problem engaging with said ideas. Life would be rather boring if we were to just speak with those who shared the same ontological foundation and political prescriptions.

    We should keep this conversation going as I find this exchange enlightening.

    • Thanks, Roland, and, yes, let’s continue to walk down this dangerous if not hopelessly suicidal path, intellectually hand in hand…

      However, I don’t think of my response as a “retort,” since to me the word tends to suggest a counterattack.

    • [A]s a child watching them, I wanted to be Chewbacca or Admiral Akbar. While the films have their share of cartoonish racial stereotypes and monsters, the fact that these characters were desirable role models and individuals to pattern our actions on seem to put them at a higher social level than mere foils/friends for our white heroes. But perhaps that is simply my childlike mind at work.

      Not sure how old you were, but to me they resemble, or evoke, the talking animals of a Disney or Warner Brothers or Hanna-Barbera etc. cartoon. (It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized that Sweet Polly Purebred was another dog. As a small child, I heard “Pure bread,” and I didn’t find it odd at all that Underdog and she were romantically entwined!) In theory, regardless of whatever conscious attachments you formed, the fact remained that the type or heroic archetype embodied in Luke Skywalker was being imprinted on your mind anyway, as for many millions of others.

  2. Good stuff.

    A few years ago I ran across online the 60’s National Review extravaganza on Star Trek. Last time I looked, NR had taken it down, but I wonder how that discussion, and this developing one compare.

    • Wait a sec – you’re saying that way back when, ca. 1968 or so, National Review did a Star Trek extravaganza? That might indeed be worth digging up.

      As I was pondering this it occurred to me that we are now twice as far in years from Star Trek as Star Trek was from WWII. Roddenberry was kind of a McGovern figure – the bomber pilot who returned from the war with a vision of a world that wouldn’t ever need/want/have bomber pilots again. I’d guess that NatRev of the time would have accused him of selling communism via a particularly naive form of “one worldism.”

      • To bookend the more extended analysis, we’d also want to look at the political function of “Star Wars” during the Reagan years. As I’m sure you will recall, the term was attached derisively to the “SDI” program, as though the ridiculous would-be emperor, ex-actor Reagan, was building his own Death Star, mistaking science fiction for reality. Reagan was notoriously stubborn about SDI/Star Wars – his aides and allies had to grit their teeth when he insisted on pursuing it – but the ironies mount when one considers first the defensive design of the projected weapon system, second the fact that it was never built, and third that, whether or not Reagan was having difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction, his Soviet counterparts in the “Evil Empire” apparently took the threat seriously (in other words the fiction had a real effect).

        By the time we get to Dick Cheney as Darth Vader, and fellow travelers playfully advocating for the Empire, we are dealing with a very peculiar moment in political culture.

        • While formally, SDI would have been a defensive system, the Ruskies perceived it as, in effect offensive, since it would have theoretically upset the MAD regimen. Assuming someone could get the thing to work, it could have enabled the US to make a first strike with some protection against retaliation.

          It also seemed that part of Reagan’s strategy was to intentionally intensify the arms race so as to cause the decrepit Soviet economy to collapse from the effort to keep up. So even if it didn’t in fact work as a weapons system, it was an economic offensive weapon.

          My impression is that this is more generally given more credit for contributing to the USSR’s collapse than Reagan’s Wall-side rhetoric.

          AS I noted in passing in my last AG post, something like this has played out more recently with Bush’s efforts to get ABMs in Poland, and erases to me, any distinction between offensive and defensive autonomous weapons.

          But yeah, NR had the Star Trek thing, although I don’t know the date – really could’ve been later than the 60’s.

          • Right – I understand what the Russkies and for that matter the Western peace movement thought of “Star Wars.” That’s why they called it “Star Wars,” and meant it derisively. The fact remains that SDI’s – projected, imaginary – form was of a shield against Death Stars, not as a Death Star. In that indirectly offensive and imaginary form, rather than overtly and directly offensive and actual form, it may have, according to the historians, been more effective, which was fine for Ronald Skywalker in his successful long-odds battle against the Evil Empire. If true, that conclusion would undermine the “Reagan was a pre-Alzheimery stumbler-bumbler and his voters were idiots” narrative, and tends to support “he and they were either a lot smarter than credited, or the Force was with them, or both.”

            • Pretty on point article: http://www.historytoday.com/peter-kramer/ronald-reagan-and-star-wars

              A poll conducted in 1986 found that about half of all respondents saw the Empire, abstractly, as an embodiment of ‘evil’, whereas 24 per cent saw it representing right-wing dictators and 12 per cent saw it representing Communism. The real life equivalents of the rebels, as identified by respondents, ranged from the heroes of the American revolution and leftist revolutionaries in contemporary central America to right-wing so-called freedom fighters'. When asked whether the movie is in favor of the conservative idea of “peace through military strength”‘, conservative respondents overwhelmingly said ‘yes’, whereas the majority of moderate and liberal respondents said ‘no’. This poll suggests that Star Wars allowed everyone to extract from it precisely the political meaning they were most comfortable with.

            • I think the point is worth making that SDI only ever had a “projected, imaginary” form. It’s value was entirely as a combination of symbol and provocation. To the extent that it could have existed “by the end of the century”, now 15 tears ago and still an impossibility as an impenetrable, undefeatable net, it would have been an invitation to an arms race that would have made MAD seem sane.

              I don’t mean to minimize symbol and provocation in the least, but simply to define our terms a bit more precisely.

              The scale of unraveling causality in that moment of history takes my breath away.

  3. somewhat disjointed thoughts ahead –

    “Alt-Right is not wrong to point to a transformation whose existence is obvious, but whose significance is difficult to discuss. ”

    The Alt Right may be right in that is obvious, but they are wrong in that it is difficult to discuss. There is no there there for white supremacy to be a necessary underlying conceit for the movies made in the 70s – Hollywood in the 70s used American and British actors, who, due to the trends to that point, were overwhelmingly white. Now, casting directors – especially on a film with a global reach itself – have a global reach.

    If you’re saying that the alt-right has a particular fondness for mid 20th century fascism, they’re showing it in a weird way by venerating a movie where the good guys (Triumph of the Yavin notwithstanding) beat the bad guys who have all the iconography save an actual Hugo Boss label of the same mid-20th century fascism. There may be some elements of the alt right that are nostalgic for 1930s Germany and Italy, but most of the strains I’m familiar with are more “white people need to live in white nations and shut the rest of the world out” – which wasn’t Nazi Germany’s ideology.

    Speaking of iconography, I don’t think the posters demonstrate the change that you imply. First, many critics of the 2nd trilogy point to the jumbled mess that the movie posters associated with them were, as emblematic of the jumbled mess the movies themselves were. The newest movie looks to be following the same design cues, much the detriment of fans of movie poster art. In contrast, the version of the Star Wars poster here has the benefit of the clean design, though very much itself a archetype (and lampooned by both the posters for Vacation and Army of Darkness).

    What the old poster does not have is any semblance to what’s going on in the movie. And really, striking a sexy pose in front of your twin brother is cultural norm I’m glad we abandoned. Speaking of Hugo, that was one of the weirdest arguments put forth in that bruhaha, when someone claimed back in the day, you could tell what a story was about from its book cover art.

    • Kolohe, I don’t think the AltRight venerates SW IV. I’m not sure that the AltRight has a collective characteristic view of SW IV, or for that matter of mid-20th C fascism. I think what’s clear is that the trend outlined or co-realized in the transition from Star Wars 1977 Style A (and all those photos) to the jumbly and multi-cultural gender-equitable present is a (simultaneously political, economic, cultural, historical, ideological, etc.) trend further against their preferences and ideas.

      The difficulty of talking about the “significance” of this topic is evidenced in the first comment on Roland’s thread and the treatment of the AltRight as a contagion requiring quarantine rather than as proponents of one view among others. I’m not proposing that we relax that quarantine or tighten it. I’m not sure it’s even up for decision.

  4. A more interesting point, is the scenario the sequel presents, 33 years on, the victory over the Empire, has faded into Myth, the First Order, somewhat like the Siloviki, reigns over certain corners of the outer rim, their ferocity also suggests the Islamic State,

4 Pings/Trackbacks for "In This Galaxy, Now"
  1. […] Our own CK Macleod responded to Roland’s original post about Star Wars with his own, touching on Star Wars, leprous […]

  2. […] tempers flare, and sure the dialogue long ago largely (though not entirely) moved off the front page and into the comment section.  But, brutal as it may sometimes get, […]

  3. […] change was already evident in the advance publicity, as discussed both at Ordinary Times and at my own site – elsewhere treated as of discussable significance mainly among proponents of a racialized […]

  4. […] change was already evident in the advance publicity, as discussed both at Ordinary Times and at my own site – elsewhere treated as of discussable significance mainly among proponents of a racialized […]

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