Saturday, October 28, 2006

I Have a Bad Feeling About This

I recently read Star Wars on Trial, a book of essays prosecuting and defending the Star Wars series against a variety of purported charges.

The book has a companion forum, so I made the mistake of posting a few things there.

I say mistake because, frankly, the reading of the book and my brief time on the forum have made me feel very bad about David Brin, and have done little more than rouse my anger at those who take a sadistic pride in hating something that others love.

Here's a sampling of some of the posting there, including another exchange between me and Brin:

Me: Here’s my take: The Prosecution in Star Wars on Trial is itself guilty of most of the charges it levels against George Lucas.

“The politics of Star Wars are anti-democratic and elitist.” This charge is quite rich, given the instant and reflexive response of the Prosecution every time the Defense raises the issue of the mind-boggling numbers of peole who love these movies. Without exception, the Prosecution heaps scorn and derision upon any suggestion that popularity could be used as a barometer of the films’ worthiness as art. Now, as it happens, I’m in full agreement with the Prosecution’s low opinion of the moviegoing public’s ability to judge quality filmmaking. But unlike the Prosecution, I acknowledge that such an opinion is at its very core an elitist viewpoint.

“Star Wars portrays no admirable religious or ethical beliefs.” While claiming to want fiction and art that make for a better world, the Prosecution elects to be a prosecution - to dwell in an antiquated adversarial system where it is acceptable to consider only one side of an issue. To resolve disputes through uncompromising conflict and not open-minded dialogue. The defining characteristic of the adversarial judicial system is that it frees the prosecutors and defense attorneys from having to worry about the morality or immorality of their respective positions. This is the model that the Prosecution chooses in order to lead us forward into a bold new future?

“Star Wars has dumbed down the perception of SF in the popular imagination.” Merely by including this charge and the “pretends to be SF” charge, the Prosecution “dumbs down” the science of critical analysis. When has SF ever been perceived well in the popular imagination? And in its own case, the Prosecution proves that Star Wars absolutely does not pretend to be SF, by way of numerous and explicit quotes from George Lucas himself. By presenting such utter hokum as high-level thinking, the Prosecution reinforces in readers the idea that hating something makes you smart.

“Star Wars pretends to be SF, but is really fantasy.” The Prosecution, though, is fantasy masquerading as Reason. It engages in relentless cherrypicking of facts, and is willing to endlessly speculate beyond the facts when doing so appears to support its case - but never does it expend the energy to fire even a single neuron on speculation that explains or accounts for the perceived deficiencies of the films. As a case in point, the nearness of Bespin to Hoth is presented as evidence of Leia’s deficiencies in The Empire Strikes Back. A real leader, it is claimed, would be aware of all systems near the newly established base. But the assumption of “nearness” relies on a scientific interpretation of the size of the asteroid field and the maximum speed of the Millennium Falcon without hyperdrive. Only by assuming that TESB is science fiction, and not fantasy, can you claim that Bespin must be extremely close to Hoth. So by using this line of reasoning, the Prosecution is admitting that one or the other of these two charges is clearly false. Yet no such admission is overtly forthcoming, because central to the Prosecution’s case is the utter fantasy that one can make such contradictory claims in parallel without any need for reconciling them.

“Women in Star Wars are portrayed as fundamentally weak.” The Prosecution's attempts to prove this charge are based almost exclusively on stupid and weak actions by women in part 3 of each trilogy -- but since almost everyone in part 3 of each trilogy comes off weakly compared to parts 1 and 2, this amounts to asking for special treatment for the female characters. In the case of Leia, the accusation is particularly repellent. She is described as being politically marginalized, shown as less important to the rebellion than in the earlier films. But the person by whom she is “marginalized” is Mon Mothma - a woman! The prosecution so thoroughly devalues Mon Mothma’s role that it fails to even mention her.

“The plot holes and logical gaps in Star Wars make it ill-suited for an intelligent viewer.” If anything, the Prosecution is even more guilty of logical gaps than the Star Wars movies themselves. There are numerous gaffes of the most amateurish sort (like saying that Obi-wan gave Luke a green light saber in Episode IV), and when presented with a holistic explanation for the central theme of the series, the Prosecution writes it off by claiming that less than one percent seem to have gotten that explanation, without producing any statistical evidence for the “less than one percent” claim or explaining why the percentage of people “getting it” is germane in any way to the truth of the explanation. Note also that the wording of this charge is highly elitist, as it inherently makes a comment about the intelligence of everyone on the Defense side, while also suggesting that plot holes and logical gaps do not make something "ill-suited" to an unintelligent viewer.

Brin: David Brin speaketh!

Cool posting. I wish herbm had been on the defense team. Things would have been far more exciting thn simply watching the Defense backpedal from every charge. (e.g. embracing the sins of Yoda rather than denying them. Accepting that the nasty little oven mitt is evil... and saying so?)

Seriously, Herbm/s remarks, while well-spoke, boil down to: “How dare anybody have strong opiniosn or try to persuade lots of people to see things in new ways! “

Really, read his remarks over again. So I believe I have fresh insights to offer, and I put them on Salon (a few years ago). Whole bunches of people found the article interesting, INCLUDING thousands who agrees, disagreed and ye, had their perspectives changed.. Many wrote in clamoring for a full book. So many that BenBella pushed for one.

Ah, but writing that article and expressing a fesh point of view is now “elitist”! Suggesting that millions might want to step back and re-examine a myth is snobbery. Will you pardon me for saying hogwash?

Likewise herbm’s dismissal of the adversarial disputation process.

Oh, sure, it isn’t as sweet and communitarian as some touchy-feely hippe love-in. (I can talk that way because I WAS a hippie! Moreover, my opposition to right-wing monsters is no less strong than George Lucas’s -- see? We agree where it counts!) Still, those who deny that we are strongly competitive and adversarial beings often do so in the strongest, competitive, and adversarial way! Like herbm? Hm?

Like the black-white adversarial imagery in Star Wars? In which institutions of subtle negotiation are trashed and ridiculed while decent men and women have to choose between two stark groups of mutants?

In fact, all of our progress toward democracy and enlightenment has come from HARNESSING these competitive drives, rather than pretending to suppress them. The “trial” metaphor works! It gets it all on the table while rules prevent one side from bullying.

(For a rather intense look at how "truth" is determined in science, democracy, courts and markets, see the lead article in the American Bar Association's Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University), v.15, N.3, pp 597-618, Aug. 2000, "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society's Benefit." or at:

Me: Thanks for taking the time to make such a long response without actually addressing any of the points in my post! (Okay, you did make some noise about the adversarial process, I'll grant you that.)

For someone who claims to dislike the construction of strawmen, you certainly do an awful lot of it yourself.

I'm all for strong opinions, and nothing in my posts suggests that I hold the expression of such to be elitist. It is either a misreading of my post or a mischaracterization of it to make that claim.

Similarly, I never accused you of "snobbery" because you want people to reexamine Star Wars. I accuse you of snobbery because your presumption is that most of those who love Star Wars have not already examined it in detail. There is an assumption in your case for the Prosecution that most people have not thought about these movies and, more importantly, that most people would agree with your side if they did bother to think about them. The former is probably an accurate assumption; it is the latter which demonstrates a generalized arrogance. But when we get to the subset of people who are interested enough in Star Wars to actually buy a book like Star Wars on Trial, both assumptions become offensive. It becomes insulting to assume that such a reader is an uncontemplative ruminant absorbing Jedi platitudes without thought.

The fact of the matter is, you steadfastly refuse to address the dramatic structure of this series and the message it conveys:

Episodes I - III show how both a religion and its parent civilization lose sight of their values and allow the ascendancy of tyranny.

Episodes IV - VI show how a person focused on the values of truth, loyalty, and forgiveness can achieve personal redemption for those around him, and how all of us can play a role in righting things which have gone off course.

I once challenged you in an email exchange to explain what was wrong with Luke Skywalker. These two trilogies, viewed in proper dramatic order, contrast Luke with Anakin, and show what it takes to be a true hero. If you are to show that Star Wars is valueless, I suggested to you, you must show how Luke's story, which provides the ultimate climax of the series when he throws down his lightsaber in a moment of pacifist self-sacrifice, is bad.

You failed to respond to me then. I wonder if you can do so now?

Of course, the ending of that last post is a bit unfair, since I did explicitly invite Brin to cut off the email exchange at any point that he tired of it. But honestly, I was so angry that he would say, "Cool posting," and then proceed to disparage me as trying to silence his point of view.

The guy just seems to willfully or perhaps subconsciously misinterpret everything he reads or sees if it is contrary to his own perspective.


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  6. I despise David Brin. Thank you for pointing out his bulls**t.