A friendly reminder to readers: I write in Australian English. Hence the spelling. I will use “s” more often than “z,” and we pronounce that letter “zed.”
First up, I’m going to talk about Star Wars. In light of the new film (which is freaking amazing, if you ask me, and even if you don’t ask, I’m going to tell you), I wanted to write something about the impact of Star Wars on my own life. Then I’m going to connect it to some recent anti-Star Wars negativity I’ve encountered and how my personal working theory on this is that it’s representative of a deeper problem: the way that we use social media and memes to develop and inform our worldviews. I’m calling it “worldview by meme.” I don’t know if anyone else has coined that term or developed it as a fully-fleshed theory. I am using it as a shorthand reference to a set of ideas I am pondering based on the social media behaviours of acquaintances and total strangers alike. I have not done extensive research on it, as yet, but if time allows, I may try to develop the idea in the future.
The Force Awakens
Let’s talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for a moment. There are plot spoilers in this so if you’re a fan, and you haven’t yet seen the film, do yourself a favour and go into it with no preconceptions about who or where or what it will entail. If, like me, you’re one of those who devoured and more-or-less memorised the Expanded Universe Canon, I can say that while in a sense I “grieve” the alterations and dramatic changes that have taken place, I am so enamoured with the new story arcs that all is forgiven. Like so many fandoms that have gone before (I’m thinking of Batman and the Marvel Universe, for example), I am choosing to take the option of allowing the disparate universes to co-exist as alternate possibilities.
On the one hand we have the mesmerising Emperor’s Hand-turned-Jedi Mara Jade and the strong and mighty leader Boba Fett and the dark and powerful Darth Plagueis, among many others (the Darth Bane trilogy stands as my personal favourite); but in the new stories we have a brilliant, funny, tormented, clever, brave, diverse range of wonderful characters. I fell in love with them immediately: Rey, Finn, Poe, Captain Phasma, and the beautiful and wild and scary Kylo Ren – oh my, he’s shaping up to be my favourite but hey – I’m also one of these women that found Darth Maul disturbingly attractive so go figure, and Professor Snape is my favourite Harry Potter character. I agree with the people who posit Kylo Ren as Star Wars’s answer to Snape.
And there are a whole lot of new minor characters like the awesome X-Wing pilot Jess Pava – I hope we see more of her. How awesome is the diverse representation of characters? We have a woman lead character, a Nigerian-British Stormtrooper as her sidekick (of sorts), and a Guatemalan-Cuban American guy as the Galaxy’s top X-Wing pilot. I really like Poe, and I hope we see a lot more development of his character. For my friends of colour, and for all of us women – Jedi, Imperial and Sith alike – we have people on the screen just like us. We can imagine ourselves in to a story where we have characters with whom we can identify. I didn’t see it as token diversity either – each of those characters got a decent treatment and I can only hope that in future films we get to know more about them.
I love watching the clips on Finn actor John Boyega’s Instagram. What a hilarious guy he seems to be – sneaking up on fans at cinemas and surprising them when they’re waiting to see the film. There’s a photo of him in the USA, after he strolled into a cinema, shaking hands with a little African-American boy. To me that photo was profound, because I imagine that somewhere in that little boy’s mind his imagination has just exploded with possibilities. Here is an actor paving the way for boys who might see themselves in him: a hero they can look up to.
And as a mother, I loved sharing the experience with my kids (aged 13 and 11). Miss 11 is a Jedi in-the-making and for her to see courageous and diverse women was an absolute thrill – Rey, who is a veritable genius and who doesn’t let her fear stop her from doing what’s right; General Leia Organa, formerly princess of a now deceased planet, has never stopped seeking to bring peace to the Galaxy; Jess, flying the X-Wing into battle; Maz Kanata, the alien pirate with a strange depth of wisdom in the Force; Captain Phasma, the commanding and unflinching leader of Stormtroopers. It was just so exciting to share that experience with my kids, especially my daughter, knowing how important it is to her to have women role models.
My Star Wars Testimony
Those of you who know me in real life may recognise this as an expanded and hopefully more developed rewriting of a recent facebook status in which I lamented the general negativity surrounding Star Wars. I have since seen further hostility online and while I would normally try to gloss over it and just let my actions speak for themselves, sometimes I feel compelled to write a deeper response in the hopes of clearly communicating why I think it’s unreasonable. I also recognise that this debate has been sparked by a movie, for goodness’s sake, and it probably doesn’t deserve this level of cynical scrutiny.
Firstly, how has Star Wars affected me? I make no apologies for the fact this is going to sound a heck of a lot like a religious testimony. In fact, in the early 2000s, as a sociology student at Monash University, I even wrote a lengthy assignment about how modern-day mythos (in the form of Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings) can function as a meaningful social framework akin to religion – in some cases replacing religion as a means of finding purpose and building moral frameworks when religion has lost its ability to awe and transcend mortal reality. When the essay was returned to me, the marker noted that the essay was of very high quality and, to paraphrase, “it is clear that the student has an excellent and very in-depth knowledge of fan subcultures.” The marker wasn’t mistaken. Star Wars has been central to my life since I was pretty young. I married a Star Trek fan. My sister has long been a Harry Potter fan. And my mum was heavily involved with the Lord of the Rings crowd (some of her paintings inspired by LOTR are here).
I was born in the 1980s, a bit too young to appreciate the Original Trilogy in its early heyday, but I still remember the first time I saw Episode IV: A New Hope. I was in my first year of high school, aged 12. Already having been singled out and somewhat ostracised by my peers for my extreme geekiness – adults called it “gifted” but at the time, to me, it just felt lonely and isolating, because no one shared my love for reading encyclopaedias as a 7 year old, nor my obsession with vertebrate palaeontology as an 11 year old, nor my growing love for astronomy – I tended to be trapped in my own little world. I struggled to make friends, and where other girls my age were obsessing over boys and Beverley Hills 90210, I was reading Watership Down and visiting my science-loving school principal grandfather to play with his chemistry set and computers.
One fateful month during 1994, the year I had failed to make friends at my new high school, and thus spent most of my lunchtimes alone in the school library, the local free-to-air tv station played the Original Trilogy (the only trilogy then in existence). I wasn’t particularly interested but my mum told me to give it a try.
I watched with increasing certainty that, in a way, Luke Skywalker was me… The me that I wanted to be. A lonely, isolated but intelligent farm boy living in the middle of nowhere, certain he had no future, felt called to a bigger and more meaningful life. But his family were having none of that and did what they could to keep his horizons small and his mind on practical matters. Yet Luke, in the depths of his being, carried incredible potential for great things. Here I was, a bored and lonely but over-imaginative rural girl not sure if life would ever go anywhere, certain that if I could just have a chance I might go somewhere with my life.
The first time I watched Episode IV, my universe changed. It got much bigger. Suddenly there was a sense of the greatness of things. There was this life force – The Force – permeating all things (and talk about a great concept to sow the seeds of a later interest in spiritual mysticism; I can partly credit Star Wars with sparking my spiritual journey). Of course I knew I couldn’t literally get into a space ship and explore the Galaxy, but I wanted to. I already loved astronomy, but now when I looked out at the stars I wondered if there were inhabited worlds out there, places one could go to if only we could cover those vast distances. And yes, there was the dilemma of being a girl who loved a film supposedly for boys but wow, look at Princess Leia and how tough and brilliant and brave she was, not cowering in the face of the mighty men of the Emperor and yet, while being tough, never once lost her compassion and empathy and kindness. I resorted to buying t-shirts from the boys’ Star Wars clothing ranges and, here’s a random fact, since at least 1996 continuously I’ve had at least two Star Wars-themed outfits in my wardrobe at any given time. Usually Sith-related.
The following Monday I strolled into the school library, as I did most days, and flipped through the catalogue to find out whether they had Star Wars novels. My motto in life has long been, “If you want to learn something, borrow a book about it from the library.” This was no different. They had the novelisations of the Original Trilogy and immediately I borrowed them and read them over the course of the following weeks, while on the next two Friday nights I planted myself in front of the tv to watch them. Since that time, when anyone has asked, “What’s your favourite film?” my unhesitating response is, “The Empire Strikes Back.”
In the following years, the Expanded Universe gained traction and I managed to read several of them. I bought VHS video copies of the Original Trilogy and later, when the prequels were released and I fell madly in love with Darth Maul, my merchandise hoarding only increased in volume and intensity. I later updated to DVD and now Blu-Ray versions. Yeah, I don’t want to know how much money I’ve thrown at Star Wars merchandise.
Other interests and fads came into my life but Star Wars has unwaveringly been with me, right through my tumultuous journey from teenager to adult. I expanded my range, too. I started watching Star Trek: Voyager, I got into my generation’s sci fi like The Matrix (yep, I reckon Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens has shades of Neo, too) and The X-Files. I started exploring spiritual mythologies, too, like Celtic and Norse and Ancient Egyptian, noticing the similarities between some of their expressions and the mythos of Star Wars. As mentioned, in my uni days I found the sociology of fandom subcultures fascinating and if it weren’t for my strong love of environmentalism I probably would’ve done my honours research on sci fi subcultures, given the chance. I now hold a degree in Environmental Sociology, my sense of practical justice overtaking my love of myth in that instance, but I still find fandoms fascinating, both as marginal participant and observer. I say marginal because as much as I love and admire the art of cosplay, and especially admire the charitable work of the 501st, it’s never been my own creative strength.
Then my own kids came along at a time when they were able to watch The Clone Wars series and from a young age my daughter has loved the Jedi Ahsoka Tano. They’ve grown up with Star Wars being significantly interwoven with their lives. When we saw The Force Awakens together, last weekend, as a family we all wore our own Star Wars shirts – even my Star Trek-loving husband chose a cartoon Han Solo, Chewbacca and Jawa-themed shirt for the day. I wouldn’t normally go near dressing my family in co-ordinated outfits but this was the exception to the rule.
The point being, if I can possibly summarise 21 years of my life as an avid Star Wars fan, is that these films opened my imagination, gave me hope, and spurred me in the direction of further creativity and thought. They also gave me a community of fellow fans, people with whom I could talk for hours about the merits of Darth Vader versus Palpatine, or discussing whether it would be more fun to be an X-Wing pilot or a Jedi? Not to mention all the wonderful and fun jokes we had that were only funny if you knew the films to a significant depth. That’s right, the friendless “gifted” geek who had spent most of her school life feeling isolated and lonely suddenly found like-minded friends in the Star Wars universe: people with clever minds and great imaginations who accepted me because we had a common ground and language and mythos.
And the way Star Wars represents diversity – try to think what it does for a kid like me growing up in a monocultural rural community where “ethnically diverse” equals mainland European in a mostly British-descended town, watching a film where Lando Calrissian is a key player and a man of colour with influence over a whole planet, or where at one point we learn that Jango/Boba Fett is New Zealander Māori, or where humans live as equals alongside all kinds of alien species. There is no room for racism in a Galaxy far, far away. In my formative years growing up in an Anglo community where whiteness is so normal it was actually really odd that one time as a kid that I saw an Aboriginal family that was shopping in town (never mind that I subsequently learned that, of course, the whole region was Aboriginal land before white invasion), it was a necessary crack in my potentially-narrow privileged white worldview to love a film series that saw all skin colours – including every kind of alien mottled green or grey or violet – as equal players in a vast universe.
The films also got me asking questions like:
- Is there a fundamental good versus evil dichotomy in the galaxy or is it inherently problematic to think in absolutes?
- Is it possible that my own life – small as it seems to me now – might one day be something significant, like Luke Skywalker’s own journey?
- Are there things worth fighting for in the Galaxy? Peace or power?
- What is real? Is it just the “crude matter” of physical existence or is there more to it than what we can see?
- If all things are interconnected, how does that play out in my own reality? Are there choices I can make for the greater good, knowing that an inherent inter-connectedness would allow the good to flow beyond my own boundaries?
I know that it’s not perfect and my more serious cohorts will find plenty to attack in the questionable science and clunky dialogue of the films. The Expanded Universe novels came in by developing characters where the films couldn’t do so.
So let’s just take it back to what it is: a fantastical film series representing a modern day mystic and magical fairy tale (battles of good versus evil in a universe ultimately governed by supernatural forces), following the ancient storylines of myth (Homer’s Odyssey, anyone? Dare I say it, a vague hint of the Gospel records of Christ’s journey into the Wilderness, returning triumphant from his personal battles to then bring balance to the created universe, where for a terrible moment it seems as though the forces of evil have won, only to be defeated through the death and return of the good?), but linking it to futuristic concepts (near-sentient droids, interstellar travel, egalitarian society) and, cleverly, not resorting to black-and-white good-versus-evil dualistic narratives. In The Force Awakens, while some lamented that Kylo Ren isn’t “evil” enough, I think it made him more believable. He’s not a bad guy for the sake of being bad. He’s someone with incredible strength, power and potential, struggling to channel it in some ways, terrifyingly strong in the Force – but you can see that he’s trying to do what he perceives is true and correct. I really, really look forward to the development of his character. And, spoiler alert…
No really, spoilers…
Don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film but intend to see it.
There are a whole heap of theories swirling around the relationship between Kylo and Rey. My personal favourite theories are: that Rey and Kylo are either secret siblings or cousins, unbeknownst to themselves; that Rey is the granddaughter of Obi-Wan, that’s why it’s his voice that calls to her under Maz’s castle; or that Rey is, in fact, just an everyday hero with a connection to the Force that far surpasses any being the Galaxy has ever known, and perhaps a survivor of Kylo’s massacre at Luke’s Jedi academy. I don’t buy into the Kylo and Rey will eventually be in love with each other in the fashion of a mummy and daddy who love each other very much theories… but hey, that would be kind of cool, too, I guess I’d cope with that. I prefer stories where the heroes don’t need to resort to petty human concerns like romantic love but again, that’s just me.
I just love that there’s so much room and space to delve, and I look forward to reading the novels in the new story arcs once they’re released. I especially love the hilarious “Emo Kylo Ren” to such an extent I’m tempted to sign up for a Twitter account just so I can follow it.
In terms of going deeper on the stories, I need to know who Rey is. Where did she come from? Why is she so skilled at anything she puts her mind to? I don’t know what Myers-Briggs personality type she’ll be pegged as, but as an ISTP I’d like to humbly (!) suggest that she is one of us. While other people tear their hair out at the ignominy of a young woman living on her own yet being a brilliant pilot, scavenger, lightsaber warrior and Force user, with a whole lot of bravery to boot, I’m thinking, “Yes, of course, why wouldn’t she be brilliant at those things?” And, beyond that, Luke (usually pegged as ISFP or INFP, according to that google search I did a moment ago) was also a brilliant pilot and technical guy knowing how to repair ships and droids and so on and lightsaber warrior and Force user and yet I haven’t heard anyone whinge that he was too brilliant for a male character. Maybe it’s reasonable to think that in the Star Wars universe, piloting and knowing how to maintain ships go hand-in-hand. And that being a Force user gives someone an instinctive ability in other areas, anyway.
In a way, what I saw in the interplay between Kylo and Rey was this sense that Kylo is inadvertently teaching Rey how to use the Force, as she imitates his actions but works them against him. Or, once again, that they may both have been students of Luke Skywalker. In fact, I’m going to posit my pet theory here. I note it so that when Episode 8 eventually comes out, I’ll be able to either congratulate myself for my futuristic insight or, more likely, laugh.
This is my personal theory, based on what I’ve read on fan sites and my own pet ideas about what I want to see happen. DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS. I’m being as cryptic as I can but it will still give away too much to the fans that couldn’t see the film yet.
I think Rey might be a Skywalker-Solo or a Kenobi. I’ve already mentioned that. I suspect she might be Luke’s daughter for a few reasons. I don’t think it’s a mistake they cast someone who vaguely resembles Padmé Amidala, Luke and Leia’s mother from the Prequels. That would make her a close relative of Kylo. Kylo is, of course, the “villain,” but he’s not bad for badness’s sake. He’s tormented. There’s this desire in him to emulate Darth Vader but it stops short when it comes to his own family. The light side of the Force that still touches him penetrates that part caught in a love for his family. He wants Supreme Leader Snoke (*cough* Plagueis *cough*) to approve of him over and above General Hux, but Hux is just doing a much better job at being a straight-down-the-line baddie. Kylo’s career is going along fairly swimmingly, though, with his torments kept between himself and the charred remains of his grandfather Darth Vader’s helmet – until he meets the girl from planet Jakku. Now, Kylo loses his cool when he hears that “a girl from Jakku” was seen with the droid BB-8. BB-8, an echo of R2-D2, is carrying information vital to the Resistance/Rebellion. R2-D2 is there, but he’s busy processing seven decades’ worth of information he gathered in his travels. Still, there’s something about the fact Rey’s from Jakku that seems to alarm Kylo. He seeks her out and takes her with him. I won’t give away the whole story but for me there was more to it than him interrogating a prisoner. He’s moved by a whole mess of emotions as he tries to get into her mind, only to find himself repelled by her greater instinctive command of the Force. Later on, in combat with her, he offers to be her teacher. He doesn’t kill her – despite many opportunities to do so – and as a result she wounds him and escapes. We assume that he survives, presumably picked up by Hux fleeing the disintegrating Starkiller base. It’d be pretty crummy if Kylo doesn’t survive because I am convinced he will be one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars universe, wavy hair and boyish good looks and all, if he gets the chance. (I was genuinely surprised to later read that the actor who plays Kylo is roughly my own age – I would’ve thought him somewhat younger, but that’s okay, I don’t feel so old and washed up knowing people my age can still do cool things like acting…)
Here’s the thing. I reckon Kylo could have and would have killed Rey if she was just an insignificant girl from Jakku. He had no qualms killing a whole village on that planet because they didn’t give him what is essentially an well-travelled SD Card. What makes Rey so different from her fellow Jakku people that she comes away unharmed? He could’ve killed her after he put her into a Dark Side-induced coma, or while he interrogated her, or while he held his cross-guarded lightsaber to her throat. All her progressions in using the Force came after these moments, when he’d pushed her but allowed her the room to explore the Force in response. He’s obviously sensed something in her – her blatant Force abilities, perhaps or, I’d like to think, a kindred spirit in the truest sense of “kin.” If she is his sister or cousin that makes things a whole lot more reasonable – though how they would weave that into the stories without entirely losing all Expanded Universe fans everywhere as we demand to know where Mara Jade is, is beyond my imagination.
We know, from the film, that Kylo was responsible for a massacre. We also know that Rey was the one sent to find Luke Skywalker – why Rey, and not, say, Leia or the Resistance’s trusted pilot Poe, is not explained. We can surmise a few things, too. Rey is dressed a lot like a Jedi youngling in the flashback sequence that shows her first landing on Jakku. We don’t know who left her there. I would think that Kylo massacred most of the Jedi in Luke’s care, but not all. I think that he couldn’t bring himself to kill his closest same-generation family Rey, who we learn from the timelines is roughly 12 years younger than him. So he hides her on Jakku. As long as she’s on the margins of the Galaxy she’ll be out of the way. She has lived on Jakku convinced that one day they’ll return for her. But, as fate would have it, in a Galaxy governed by the Force, a true Jedi cannot stay in the shadows too long. Rey is thrust into the Galaxy’s problems – whether she likes it or not, and it seems that she has resigned herself to this idea that she has to do what’s right, rather than returning home – and insists on going back to Jakku to await the family she is convinced will return for her. But instead, her long lost brother/cousin captures her and tries to get answers from her, all the while not causing any harm to her whatsoever, and (inadvertently?) teaching her how to use the Force.
That’s it, my own personal working theory on The Force Awakens is that Rey – proposed surname Skywalker/Solo/ maaaaybe Kenobi – is only so far surviving the more skilful Kylo because he has allowed it. I’m fairly certain that he loves her, as a sister, and that this is the one thing that prevents his fully going over to the Dark Side. Now only time and future films will tell if I am on the right track. I am thoroughly enjoying the freedom to explore the possibilities.
On the Star Wars counter-movement and worldview by meme
That brings me to my next point. As I have already lamented to my in-real-life friends, most of the responses to Star Wars have been thoroughly antagonistic. Most have been in the form of memes. Some of them are surprisingly insulting. If not the meme itself, then the comments shared with it, have really been an attack on those of us who enjoy Star Wars. I hasten to add that if other people don’t like it, that’s okay, I really don’t care. What bothers me is when so-called friends transform into angry, petty jerks attacking their other friends’ interests for no reason other than some contrarian, counter-movement type of arrogance.
Here is the text from my initial status on the topic from my personal facebook, dated 22 December. It was on a high setting of privacy so a lot of my facebook friends would not have seen it.
I have edited it for clarity’s and grammar’s sake. Also, I’m a fair bit calmer now than when I first wrote it. Apologies if it sounds unnecessarily antagonistic or defensive; I’m one of those people who tends to bottle up my thoughts until they explode like that time we tried to make plum sauce and it fermented and the glass bottles shattered leaving a trail of stinking fruit through the pantry.
I’ll be honest, all the jerkiness online this week is getting me down.
I’ve seen more “I hate Star Wars, it’s lame/crap/stupid/boring/I’m never going to watch it because it’s lame” statuses from 30-40 somethings than anything like “hey I really enjoyed that” or even simply, “it’s not for me but I appreciate other people have different interests” responses. Like, really…
…if you’re a small petty and embittered middle aged person whose imagination died along with all your childhood dreams, hey, good luck to you but you don’t need to drag the rest of us down into your sad little world.
Secondly, you realise you’re investing a heck of a lot of effort into positing a contrarian attitude and playing childish ego-games, right? Do you really think it makes you a better human being than the rest of us because you define yourself by your hatred for our interests?
Thirdly, as anyone who’s talked to me for more than a few minutes will quickly learn, I love Star Wars. I’d stop short of calling it my religion but it’s pretty close to that level for me. Maybe that’s why it rankles me that suddenly all these friends have popped out of the woodwork to gloatingly inform me how much they hate it. It feels like an attack not just on a movie, because I genuinely don’t care if they like it, but an attack on me, as if somehow I’m lame/crap/stupid/boring for my personal enjoyment of a fictional series. Not that other people’s opinions should matter that much to me, but they do.
… I say all this not because I’m trying to be a “true fan” whatever that means – I really think these are pointless hierarchical debates, no different to any other human system where people try to prove to themselves how much better they are than others by their self-imposed labels.
But what I am trying to say is, life is short and I’m getting too old to need to put up with “friends” having a constant dig at the things that bring me joy.
Do I attack their favourite movies, books, music, fashions, religious/worldview expressions, etc? Okay, I might let them know if I don’t personally enjoy it – but I always try to communicate that in the sense of how I can appreciate that it’s meaningful to them. If I perceive something to be inherently problematic or immoral yeah, I’m going to speak up, too, but hopefully with better and more articulate reasoning than “it’s, like, totally lame.”
You like country music, floral fashions, romance novels, whatever? Hey, that’s cool, I’m glad you found something that makes you happy. It’s not for me but it doesn’t need to be, that’s part of what makes us different and diverse and interesting. I won’t reject a friend for having different interests and quite frankly I NEED diverse friends to prevent me from the luxury of thinking I’m somehow “it.”
The point is, I’m in the process of blocking people, not just over Star Wars (because really, I know not everyone will enjoy it and it’d be juvenile of me to end a friendship because they insult my favourite movie), it’s also just for any of that pointlessly dualistic and dichotomous rant crap that spews all over my feed. The same people gleefully expressing hatred for SW in my friend list are the ones who most often share anti-Muslim, racist, anti-Atheist, anti-everyone slightly different to themselves-stuff. I just don’t need to expose myself to that.
On top of that, as examples of the same type of logic headed in different directions, in the last few days I’ve read that “real Aussies” eat bacon, well I’m screwed because I’m 6th generation Aussie but haven’t touched bacon since 1995 and you know what, I haven’t handed in my citizenship! Or “real women” are curvy, yeah, again, thanks from all us women who are less curves than sharp angles and who never fully lost the post-pregnancy shape – I’m all for body positivity, so yay for curves, but it’s a pretty narrow view to say “real women…” are any stereotype. Or I read one the other day, about how “real Christians” care about people more than pets, again, a false and unhelpful dichotomy. I love Jesus and I’m pretty sure Jesus loves my cats, don’t dare try to convince me that Creator God formed sentient, living, breathing, feeling creatures as mere filler material on the human stage (whether by evolution or special creation or something in between, again, I know people who believe every possible permutation of that notion of creation/evolution and if that reflects their best understanding of life, who am I to take it from them?).
It’s the same people presenting the same small “worldview by meme” as I’ve taken to calling it. Take a single catchphrase, stick it on a photo and build a whole identity on it. Yeah, sorry, but a fully developed and realised personhood takes a lot more thought and serious reflection than resharing a thing you saw on social media. I say that as someone at the very beginning of this journey but I know that in the lives of those I would emulate, the Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, Julian of Norwich-types of this world and, yes, the Obi-Wan Kenobi-types of a galaxy far, far away, conscious and reflexive living demands an effort of the whole self, not just a lazy resharing of some small and hate-fuelled set of pixels and believing that to fully encompass reality.
In short, I just can’t take the negativity.
My in real life friends understand that if you want to be a part of my life, you at the very least politely tolerate my love for sci fi and fantasy, my heavy metal, all creatures great and small, my rainbow hair, and all the other stuff I love. The rest, you know what, if your life is defined by what you hate (whether a fictional story or a whole group of people), I hope that works out for you… I really do. Not everyone has the luxury of thinking when they’re busy surviving so I’m not talking about those. But for those who have all the time in the world to rant about how stupid they find everyone else, I’m just sorry you haven’t found anything bigger in your life than a sense of self satisfaction at your advanced levels of tall poppy syndrome.
And yes, I know, I’m probably taking it all too seriously and there’ll likely be some hypocrisy in what I’ve written here, but I guess it’s a convoluted way of trying to say that I am not interested in investing into relationships where the other person sees it as their duty to tell me that I’m wrong because I’m not exactly like them.
Yeah, I know, in retrospect it comes across as pretty angry… I may be ISTP but I do have emotions, they’re just usually hidden from view. Sometimes my emotions are negative. I tried to leave it aside after that and move on, but today I saw another meme – this one directly targeting Star Wars cosplayers and fans – and again, I felt insulted. It was in the context of an environmentalist group and I think in one fell swoop they managed to alienate a whole lot of their activists and followers.
Here is my response, again, edited for clarity, shared on a page that reposted it:
Really?! Talk about a false dichotomy. Loving a film series that presents people with a hope-filled mythical framework and participating in the community surrounding it is not equivalent to being therefore disinterested in matters of social and environmental justice. This image really presents a terribly narrow interpretation of any fan community. By demanding that people only focus single-mindedly on your specific social justice cause, you’re pushing them into activist fatigue and burn out. Not to mention that a lot of sci fi in the vein of Star Wars and Star Trek, have been forerunners in anti-racism as just one example, by giving people a vision of an imagined future in which racial and gender equality are possibilities. Why would you want to prevent people from that? Surely activism cannot take root in a person’s mind unless they’ve had a vision of what the future might become? Fiction is a great way of communicating that.
You see, I can’t quite put my finger on my issue with it, because, you know, other people being wrong on the Internet isn’t exactly a new concept for me, but I really think it boils down to this: way too many people these days put our faith in memes to construct our worldviews.
Where is the reflection, the serious and reasoned consideration of all sides to a story? Where is the contemplation on silence that gives our minds the space to deeply process information?
Rather than constructing our worldviews on considered thoughtfulness, it is too easy these days to rely on re-shared social media imagery to give us our sense of morality. I do it, too, I admit that. I spend more time reading facebook than real books – in fact, one of the big reasons I go on regular, extended social media fasts is because I know that I am a kinder, more patient, more thoughtful, more well-read human being when I stay offline. Is the Internet helpful? Absolutely – but only when it doesn’t become the source of all my knowledge. There is no discipline in googling all the answers, or relying on dichotomous and dualistic social consensus to tell us what to believe.
The logical extremes, as far as I see them: religion is reduced to sharing Bible verses and Joyce Meyer memes or “liking” pictures of Jesus. Acceptance within a subculture reduced to what your facebook timeline cover art looks like (perhaps unsurprisingly, mine is currently a picture of Kylo Ren). Being socially progressive is seen as anti-gun memes; socially conservative as pro-gun memes. Being a “true” Aussie these days seems to be more about Australian flag pictures and fear-fuelled rants about Muslims, while glossing over the really thoughtful and interesting pages dealing with social issues facing Indigenous Australia or women victims of violence or animals.
A few years ago I read a piece on the problem with TED Talks and I wish that I could find the link to share it here. If I recall correctly, it said that while TED Talks are useful as a means of presenting a summary of information, what we miss is the years of dedicated, self-disciplined research and thought and eureka moments most TED speakers would have faced in their careers. A lifetime of work is reduced to a ten-minute talk. While I personally find a lot of TED Talks really useful when they can lead me to learn more about a topic of interest, it is useful to remind oneself that just watching one talk video will not make us an expert in the presented topic. Not to mention that ultimately it is still a selection – it’s just that researcher’s view. We aren’t presented with the critical thinking and overview necessary to challenge our perception of the issue at hand.
I think internet memes can operate the same way. They may, in fact, present a useful summary of information, but if we take them at face value the risk is that we will assume that the caption represents the reality in its entirety. Thus we get a meme showing a picture of Star Wars cosplayers claiming that if people care about real world issues as much as they do about a fictional universe, maybe more important s*** would be achieved by humanity.
In the debate I saw surrounding that meme, some people claimed, to paraphrase, “Well, what it’s actually saying is that when people pour themselves cult-like into a subculture, their focus is taken off important stuff.” The reality is, that’s precisely NOT what that meme said. What it presented was a view of cosplayers at a convention, men, women and children, with their smiling faces showing that they were having fun, captioned with a one-liner rant implying that cosplayer behaviour is exemplary of the inanity of such fun in light of all the gloom and doom in the real world. I mean, where does it end? What forms of creative art would be acceptable to this all-wise meme maker as he/she/they sit in their computer screen-lit room pondering snappy captions for photos of complete strangers who presumably don’t consent to being represented in this fashion without at the very least having the right of reply?
If the maker of that meme had, in fact, wished to present a helpful perspective, like, “Imagine if more people poured their energy into social justice and environmental justice, how great the world would be,” they could have, (a) used this remarkable gift we call “language” and “words” to compose “sentences” and “paragraphs” communicating a “message”; and (b) they could easily have done so without alienating a whole lot of people who may well already be involved in social justice causes.
Speaking experientially, you don’t have to look far in any kind of sci fi or fantasy fandom before encountering generous, energetic, positive, caring, compassionate individuals who are so inspired by the hope-filled message of their preferred mythos that they carry that energy into real life. You get your scientists inspired by sci fi – growing up watching sci fi films, one day working for NASA or ESA or whatever. You get your pro-women, anti-racism activists who discovered in sci fi an alternate universe where women and people of colour get to do all the amazing things upper middle class white men take for granted. Look no further than Star Trek: Voyager, with a woman captain, a woman head of engineering, an Asian operations officer, a Vulcan security officer with the role played by an African-American actor, and a Native American-Mexican second-in-command. I watched that show as a teenager and it never occurred to me, at the time, to question whether such diverse interstellar spaceship staff would be possible. It wasn’t until I hit adulthood that I realised there are people who don’t actually like this kind of vision of the future, but by then I’d already internalised the message that our vision of the future needs to be for everyone.
You find your many, many Star Wars cosplayers who use their personal enthusiasm for the art of costumes and combine it with charitable causes. There have been countless seriously ill children who’ve received a visit from Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers through the 501st, for example – volunteers and cosplayers who share their love of the Star Wars mythos to brighten the lives of the terminally ill. How is that in any way being obsessed with pointless s***, as the above meme and its subsequent promulgators so eloquently claimed? I probably don’t need to highlight how often memes use swearing and obscene language in captions as if using the harshest, loudest four-letter monosyllabic word will somehow increase the veracity of one’s argument.
We have this incredibly vast vocabulary in the English language; let’s learn how to use it wisely and thoughtfully.
So that’s where I’m at. A very happy Star Wars fan enjoying the chance to share her enthusiasm for stories that have profoundly touched her life with a new generation, seeing this new form pay homage to the original in so many ways; at the same time grappling with the realisation, yet again, that for reasons I can’t fathom I know more people in my real life who hate it and are proud of the fact than people who like it. Of course, these same people couldn’t be bothered ranting against, say, the Batman or James Bond films, so I don’t really see the logic in their insistence on hating on Star Wars.
For me, I don’t mind if other people dislike it – but I beg of anyone reading this, please don’t base your opinions on any group of people on memes. Memes discourage thoughtfulness and reflection, and only feed false dualism. In the end, it’s probably all just “holier than thou” games, isn’t it? We like to make others feel bad to make ourselves look good. It’s your ego at work. I think it was Fr Richard Rohr who said that when Jesus talks about crucifying the flesh, he’s using the term “flesh” in the way we would use the word “ego.” Our ego wants us to be better than others, so we single out a group of people we think we hate, like Star Wars fans, make assumptions about their lives (“if they spend so much time on cosplaying I bet they are too busy to care about the environment”) and then think how wonderful we are that we’re not so vapid and shallow as the complete strangers we just judged. It’s absurd, pointlessly partisan, and nothing but a hollow and thoughtless kind of judgementalism that we would hate if it were pointed in our own direction.
All of this from a movie.
Happy and safe Christmas and New Year’s and summer (winter for my northern hemisphere readers!), folks. I’ll hopefully be working on some more art and writing in the coming weeks and with the intention of returning to blogging early 2016.