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:
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.