Why Everything Must be CGI

Reading Theodore Dalrymple’s write up of an art show in New York got me thinking of one of my old hobbyhorses: Fascism, appeal of.  I maintain that it’s aesthetics which is most responsible for both our current state of affairs, and the likeliest (n.b. not “the most desirable”) way out of that state.

Which got me thinking about Star Wars.  Bear with me here:


That’s Grant Wood’s American Gothic, obviously.  Here’s what Dalrymple says about it:

Wood clearly intends us to see the couple as imbued with moral qualities: they are hardworking, modest, proudly independent, almost certainly sincerely religious—but not much fun. For them, life is something to endure rather than to enjoy, to frown at rather than to smile at: and pleasure is a temptation of the devil (as was bourgeois luxury or even comfort in the Soviet Union). So we do not know whether to admire or to detest the couple, to laugh at them or mourn their passing: for the pitchfork, symbol of pre-machine-age farming (and relentless physical work), is merely pathetic in the era of the combine harvester and the Dust Bowl. Since the man is old—or, at any rate, aged before his time as a result of backbreaking labor—one senses a lifetime of self-sacrifice, without anything to show for it, not even happiness along the way. The couple appear as trapped by their virtues as libertines are by their vices. But their virtues are nevertheless virtues.

That’s why Wood is a great artist, and American Gothic a great painting.  I don’t particularly like it, and I know no more about the theory and practice of art than any other reasonably-educated man of my generation, but I know significant art when I see it.  Dalrymple has the explanation that eludes me: Ambiguity.  I wouldn’t care to spend too much time in the company of the American Gothic couple, and I wouldn’t enjoy having them rule over me, but I’d take them in a heartbeat over these:


or these:


The first is Soviet, the second Nazi, and both are instantly recognizable as such if you just google up some examples and study them for a few minutes.  The Nazi example, particularly, is neither more or less “realistic,” nor “stylized,” than Wood’s painting.  Yet there’s no ambiguity there, or in the Soviet example: These figures are ideal peasants, painted by a person who can use the phrase “ideal peasants” without a single pang of conscience.

Which brings me to Star Wars movies, and the people who make them.  We know George Lucas is an SJW in real life, but back in the Seventies he was an artist first and an SJW second (that combo was still possible in the 70s), so his creations looked real.  E.g. Tatooine in the first one (I refuse on principle to call it “Episode IV”):


The only “sci-fi” touch there is the double sun.  Everything else is inescapably real — the buildings are battered, rough, dusty, just like they’d be in real life.  This is how people would really live on such a planet if it existed.

Here’s a similar shot from The Phantom Menace:


That’s a video game cutscene.  There might as well be little power-ups floating around, and I’m told that the inevitable “special issue” anniversary re-release will feature a junior high kid calling you a “n00b faggot” in full Dolby surround sound.  We can’t believe that somewhere, somewhen, there are hover-speeders and aliens and androids, because clearly the filmmakers don’t believe it either — the giant furry horned thing must weigh 3 tons but stirs up no dust (despite its tail very clearly brushing the ground); the speeders all just came off the showroom floor; the buildings have the “rustic,” “distressed” look hipsters pay through the nose for.  The incredibly “realistic” CGI makes the whole thing look far more fake than even the clumsiest puppet effect in the original.

That’s no accident, as Marxists would say.  The new SJWars series is Leftist agitprop.  They know what they’re selling is impossible, in the same way the happy, well-fed peasants of Socialist Realism were impossible.  The Adventures of Girl Luke doesn’t fail because she — the character, Whatzerface — is a girl; it fails because Luke Skywalker is a man.  See the difference?  A woman could easily go through everything Luke went through — the Hero’s Journey is an archetype — but she wouldn’t react the same way Luke did, because men and women are different.

On the other hand, we’re used to video game characters acquiring — and mastering! — incongruous new powers out of nowhere, acting totally out of character, and ignoring plot holes big enough to fly a Star Destroyer through, so they made a video game.  A truly realistic story — where the armor has scratches, the vehicles have dings, and dust clings to clothes — would make the whole setup too implausible even for sci-fi fans.  They’d start asking obvious questions like, “wait, didn’t it take Luke the better part of three movies to master the skills Ol’ Whatzerface simply discovers on the fly?  Even assuming she’s twice the natural Jedi Luke was — and wasn’t he supposed to bring balance to The Force or some shit? — there should at least be a goddamn training montage.”  It’d be like panning back a few feet in the Soviet painting — sure, the peasants are smiling and laughing and acting like they’re having a great time, but that’s because there’s a commissar standing off to the left, pointing a gun at their families.

It’s actually even worse than that.  Much of the fun in a standard Hero’s Journey plot is seeing all the ways the storyteller varies the form.  The Odyssey, for example, is a fun story because the “hero” isn’t very heroic at all; Don Quixote is deliberately over-the-top ridiculous.  In both cases, the question for the audience isn’t “will So-and-So embrace his destiny as a hero?”  Of course he will — that’s why it’s a Hero’s Journey, even when the definition of “hero” is pretty loose.  Rather, the tension comes from seeing just what the hero will have to go through to get there.  A Hero’s Journey can be told without a hero, but the journey isn’t optional.*

SJWars doesn’t have one of those, either, and again, that’s by design.  How could it be otherwise?  The Hero’s Journey is an archetype; it works because it expresses a universal truth about the human condition, a bedrock Reality.  The only thing Leftists really believe, when you come right down to it, is that Reality is always wrong.  The Adventures of Girl Luke isn’t just Star Wars cosplay for the Millennials, then.  It’s an attempt — so far, quite successful — to keep younger audiences from learning there ever were such things as archetypes.  Why does Whatzerface suddenly, out of nowhere, have all these kick-ass abilities?  Because grrrl power, duh!

That’s why making the whole thing as video game-y as possible is doubly important.  If all this works, Millennials who go back and watch the original trilogy will conclude that it’s inferior to The Adventures of Girl Luke, not least because the setting is so grimy.  The Standardized Test Generation can’t see the point of all that “training” and “self doubt” stuff, because they know nobody’s different from anybody and everyone’s the best at everything.  Which is also the explanation, btw, for the oft-remarked fact that even though the original trilogy is chronologically after the events of the remakes, the remakes have much cooler and more effective technology.  Not only are the Alliance’s X-Wings battered and dirty in the original films, they’re obviously inferior prototypes of the stuff in the remakes — just like the original Luke Skywalker is obviously an inferior prototype of Girl Luke.

There’s no room for ambiguity in propaganda.  Realism — that is, anything that looks like it could plausibly take place in a world that might actually exist — is, by its nature, inherently ambiguous.  Thus, everything must be CGI.



*Even the most daring subversions of the trope still have to acknowledge the trope, and, most importantly, call the audience’s attention to it.  Much of the ooomph of the Schwarzenegger version of Conan the Barbarian, for example, comes from Thulsa Doom simply telling Conan the answer to the Riddle of Steel, thus ending his Hero’s Journey halfway through.  Schwarzenegger’s Conan is a wonderfully bleak, nihilistic movie, very out of step with its times; future historians will have a field day with it.  (The less said about the Jason Momoa “remake,” the better).

This is why Game of Thrones is also destined to fail, and will be forgotten the second it ends (until future Chinese historians, exploring the death of the West, have a field day with it in 2100).  Everyone in Westeros is an amoral power-hungry nihilistic scumbag; everyone who wasn’t, or might have been redeemable, is dead.  Rooting for Zombie Jon Snow (as is inevitable), or — God help us — Tyrion Lannister against the ice vampire thingies is like rooting for the Soviets against the Nazis at Stalingrad — the lesser of two evils, I guess, but only in the sense that lymphoma is a lesser evil than bowel cancer.

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25 thoughts on “Why Everything Must be CGI

  1. Anonymous White Male

    “The Standardized Test Generation can’t see the point of all that “training” and “self doubt” stuff, because they know nobody’s different from anybody and everyone’s the best at everything.”

    This may have some validity when describing the “infants” that waste their parent’s money by going to see the propaganda that Hollyweird produces. However, they will outgrow this viewpoint. Why? Because you are forced to review your actions in life and you will eventually conclude that everyone is NOT the best at everything. And the reason you will eventually conclude that is because you realize that YOU are not the best at everything.

    This is an example of a religious belief. All religious beliefs result in a loss of faith. It doesn’t mean all of their religious beliefs are wrong, just that enough of them are that you begin to take absolute certainty with a block of salt. I had a friend that went through some very result oriented religious paths. By this, I mean they required the obtaining of certain abilities if the path was followed as written. Like Raja Yoga or Magic. You can follow these “paths”, but if you don’t achieve benchmarks, you will eventually realize that either you are a failure or you’ve been lied to.

    The belief that nobody is different and that everyone is the best at everything is destroyed by noticing that everyone is similar, but different, and that some people are so much better at some things than you are. Did you ever try to play guitar? Then why are there people that are so much better at doing that than you are? It is the obtaining of wisdom over time that allows you to understand you are a pathetic loser and not the center of the universe. Only the most psychologically damaged individuals never learn this, or can admit it to themselves. Like they say, youth is wasted on the young.

  2. Marcel

    “Much of the ooomph of the Schwarzenegger version of Conan the Barbarian, for example, comes from Thulsa Doom simply telling Conan the answer to the Riddle of Steel, thus ending his Hero’s Journey halfway through.”

    Thulsa Doom lies to Conan about the riddle of steel. Conan, though almost taken in, sees the lie and corrects Thulsa Doom, with steel.

    1. Severian

      That’s the thing, though – Thulsa Doom actually gives Conan the right answer: “steel is nothing compared to the flesh that wields it.” Conan’s revenge, when it finally comes, is pointless — he beheads Thulsa, kicks the head down the stairs, and walks away (in shades of Apocalypse Now). There’s no redemption. There’s no arc – Conan is exactly the same guy he was at the start. In fact, he died — and was resurrected — proving Thulsa’s point about flesh being stronger than steel.

      As I said, it’s a wonderfully nihilistic movie. The Nietzsche quote at the start isn’t the scriptwriter (John Milius, who also wrote Apocalypse Now) being pretentious. He really means it — for him, Conan is the ubermensch…. which shows that he totally misunderstood Nietzsche, or understood him completely.

      It’s a fun movie. Conan, in both the books and the movie, is far more of an “anti-hero” than any of the lame Foucalt-lite whiners George R R Martin et al have turned out….

      1. Whiskey Jack

        I agree with your take on the new STWars, but you’re are simply incorrect on the Conan film, it is not nihilistic. And Conan does have an arc, albeit a subtle one. This is doubly hard to see initially, due to Arnold’s near-inability to act or speak, but it is there.

        [This comment grew rather longer than I’d expected, sorry]

        As a slave, Conan lives purely for the glory of victory in the pit fights. When he is freed, he is introduced to civilization, and then turns to hedonistic pleasures (sex, drugs, alcohol, and wealth), becoming a thief.

        His desires change again when he discovers the snake cult symbol during the temple heist, and becomes almost immediately obsessed with revenge, no longer interested in material wealth. This quest for revenge makes him abandon his friends to find Thulsa Doom, and this leads to his near death on the Tree of Woe, and ultimately his discovery of love with Valeria. A love that literally reappears at the end of the film, to save Conan from a killing blow.

        There’s a recurring motif throughout the film, in that Conan keeps meeting characters that are essentially older versions of his possible selves.

        Max Von Sydow’s King Osric is the most obvious, as an old king who now realizes, too late, that his love for his daughter is all that matters to him, as he tosses a fortune in jewels away as if they are glass. Conan’s meeting with the king is one of the most important moments of the film, and a driving part of his character arc. Osric is Conan, just many years removed, and much wiser for his experience.

        Second is Thulsa Doom, who is the literal embodiment of what a life lived purely for oneself leads to, a life driven by hedonistic pursuits. He has power (of a kind, at least), wealth, endless orgies, and he literally feasts upon the flesh of his followers. He lives purely in and of the material world. And he is what thief Conan would become, if he stayed on that path, seeking meaningless carnal pleasures and power for its own sake.

        One could even add the opening slave owner, who breaks Conan’s chains to free him, in what the narrator hints is an act of respect and love. Or the old, dead king still on his throne, from whom Conan gets his sword.

        Thulsa Doom’s answer to the Riddle of Steel, that flesh is stronger, is wrong. Thulsa can never truly answer the riddle, as he ultimately cares about nothing.

        Throughout the film there is a recurring theme that love conquers all, the actual answer to the Riddle of Steel. This is the lesson that Sydow’s King Osric learned too late.

        And it’s a lesson Conan begins to understand in the final battle of the film, on the old tombs. Conan, in one of his longer bits of dialogue, suddenly remembers his father and him picking blueberries as a child. Something that has stayed with him, despite a life of hardship, violence and the toils of slavery. He seems surprised by the sudden memory, yet it seems to give him a measure of peace before the coming battle. It’s a little moment, but it’s meaningful.

        The clearest, and most obvious sign that the answer to the Riddle of Steel is not Thulsa’s empty “Flesh is stronger”, but that “Love is strongest of all” is when Valeria, Conan’s love, reappears as a valkyrie at the end to save Conan from a killing blow, in the second genuinely mystical moment of the film, after Thulsa’s snake transformation.

        And immediately after Valeria’s appearance, Conan strikes back against Doom’s henchman, his sword breaking the steel sword of his foe. That broken sword is the very sword Conan’s father made at the opening of the film, as he first told Conan about the Riddle of Steel.

        It is ultimately Thulsa Doom who embodies a nihilistic philosophy, who finds no meaning in anything, and lives purely for material pleasures. His inability to care for others, even Osric’s daughter, is his doom in the end, as she helps Conan easily reach Thulsa, and dispatch him. Had he truly care for her, as she did him, she might well have not betrayed him to Conan.

        And with his death, Thulsa’s power and wealth are as nothing, his temple burning and his cult disbanding. His power of flesh is an illusion, where Conan’s strength of caring about something beyond himself, his friends, Valeria, and his parents, is truly lasting.

    1. Nate Winchester

      Everyone in Westeros is an amoral power-hungry nihilistic scumbag; everyone who wasn’t, or might have been redeemable, is dead. Rooting for Zombie Jon Snow (as is inevitable), or — God help us — Tyrion Lannister against the ice vampire thingies is like rooting for the Soviets against the Nazis at Stalingrad — the lesser of two evils, I guess, but only in the sense that lymphoma is a lesser evil than bowel cancer.

      This is one thing that bugs me in GoT. If everyone betrays everyone, then how haven’t all the peasants and servants betrayed the nobles and burned the entire thing to the ground yet? This is when you realize that everyone with name get to betray but if you’re an extra in the background, you must remain a prop.

      1. Conán Maol

        “If everyone betrays everyone, then how haven’t all the peasants and servants betrayed the nobles and burned the entire thing to the ground yet?”

        I know little about the series, but this makes sense if you know real history. Powerful men do love to scheme and plot for advantage against one another when they can get away with it, but an elite class that wholly gives itself over to pure selfish Machiavellianism invariably becomes too fissiparous to maintain Asabiyyah in the face of outside threats*. Even the sleaziest of political schemers must maintain some outward pretense of honor and loyalty; if they don’t, they become vulnerable not only to foreign invaders, but also to any native rival who can plausibly position himself as the champion of peace, order, and the cause of honest men.

        *(To take but a trivial modern example, opponents of Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primary might have had a chance of defeating him, had they joined forces by having all but one candidate drop out of the race, but neither Cruz, Kasich, nor Rubio wanted to sacrifice personal ambition and “take one for the team”. History is replete with others).

      2. Unconcord

        Seriously, the first noble to penalize rape across the board, and offer basic weapons training to the smallfolk, would be sitting in King’s Landing within about a week.

        (If, of course, the specific peasant whose plight inspired the noble to do so didn’t have the inevitable attack of ingratitude manifested as a stab directly to the merciful noble’s face. Seriously, how often has GRRM pulled that one out of the bag?)

        1. TWS

          Training in medieval weapons and acquiring the weapons and armor are not trivial.

          Further many armies took the sack of a city or fortress as its due. There have been the rare Successful peasant army in history but there’s a reason they are rare. Hus’ crew were a rarity inn both their unity and success.

      3. Whiskey Jack

        It bothers me as well, and is probably why I stopped reading the books or watching the show after season 2. I found the Red Wedding to be a jump-the-shark-moment, as it became clear that the setting was not the least bit realistic.

        Never mind that the population does nothing proactive; Martin has created a world filled with horrible people betraying everyone and everything for their own ends at every turn, yet somehow these same people have managed to continue to lead vast armies to fight each other with.

        It’s simply not believable. Every soldier in the series is effectively a mercenary out for money and power, as they have no deeper reason to fight for any particular family. None of the main power factions inspire any real sense of loyalty or duty in their men; except for the Starks, who always lose simply because Martin wants the “good” guys to lose no matter what history and basic strategy would suggest. All to subvert the expectations of the genre, I guess.

        But it also subverts my expectation that the story will ever reach a conclusion worth the time and effort I’d have to invest to finish reading it. So I won’t.

  3. P_Ang

    The manliest-man in the original Conan is Subotai. “My god is greater. He is the everlasting sky. Your god lives underneath him.” At that point normal men would have found a new place to sleep after the withering glare Ar-nan the Barbarian gives Subotai.

    Instead he LAUGHS and continues eating.

    Ok, maybe he’s just insane.

  4. Deplorable Black Man

    Great post Severian! I’d love to see you continue in this vein – your takes on popular culture are excellent!

  5. Pingback: Is Conan the Barbarian Art? – UPDATED | Rotten Chestnuts

  6. Whiskey Jack

    Good article. Personally, I’ve always been bothered by the American Gothic painting, for some reason. I think it desperately needs a dog sitting between the farmer couple. But that’s just me.

    I agree with your broad points about the new(er) Star Wars and their texture-less CGI worlds. In their attempt to expand the settings, they’ve lost their grip on reality, and this disconnect drives a further wedge between the story and the audience.

    However, I think the main issue I have with the modern films isn’t their smooth, cleaned-up look of the sets so much as the thinness of the stories themselves. The crisp CGI certainly creates that weird “Video Game” unreality you speak of, but that’s literally true of the Clone Wars cartoon, and that show works for me despite its CGI purely because it actually has stories to tell that are worth the telling. The show has it’s flaws, namely cheap CGI, sometimes childish plotting and dialogue, and a misunderstanding of the Force from the Original Trilogy.

    But it’s also not afraid to hurt characters and let them make mistakes they can learn from, unlike the newest films. And that greatly enhances the show’s ability to tell worthwhile stories.

    The Original Trilogy was a complete story; Lucas was growing tired of Star Wars by the end, so shoehorned in all of his ideas for future sequels right at the end of ROTJ, like Leia being Luke’s sister. This made the last film a bit flat and somewhat rushed feeling, but at least it concluded the story well, and I still find I enjoy ROTJ on repeat viewings. I’d say I’ve grown to like it more over the years, if anything.

    Then for some reason Lucas decided to make the Prequels, despite having no story worth telling in them. There’s plenty of plot, too much really, but almost no story. “How Anakin became Darth Vader” is maybe enough story material for a single film, if you stretch it out a bit, but it’s also a story we already know as much about as we need to.

    Even the Clone Wars, the only thing that happens in the Prequels that might be interesting to see, happen almost entirely between films, and aren’t explored at all. The Prequels are all plot and no story, and for that reason fail.

    Ultimately the Prequels don’t hurt the Original Trilogy, though they also don’t really add anything worthwhile either.

    It’s really these newer Disney films that actively hurt the original films, and I think that isn’t just due to incompetent storytelling, but is, as you surmise, an intentional act of modernist propaganda. The films even admit they want to destroy the past, and wash it away under a tidal wave of empty heroines, poorly edited action scenes, seizure-inducing CGI spacebattles, and blatant character assassination of beloved figures from the original films.

  7. Gracelyn

    Just a side note: someone has made a version of Force Awakens as in a video game. The characters are actually played by video-game characters. It’s not bad, really. (Search for Triforce Awakens on YouTube if you’re interested.)

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  9. Linda Fox

    I did enjoy Conan, but for purely superficial reasons – I like movies in which only a few characters survive the battle.

    I only saw GoT’s first episode. My son’s girlfriend was addicted, and I wanted to see what attracted her.

    Still puzzles me. Actresses forced to simulate sex while baring everyone for money? The distinction between that and whoring is lost on me.

    There were only a few in the episode that were even slightly less amoral and repulsive than the main characters. Servants were only slightly less self-involved and narcissistic.

    I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any given character’s outcome – they were all awful.

    I suspect that women watching this envision themselves as the more devious schemers – the wives and daughters, bedmates and hangers-on. They become caught up in the thought that they could, by scheming and wit, come out on top.

    Not gonna happen, BTW, but – I suppose they enjoy the fantasy.

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