The Last Jedi and Being On No Side

The Last Jedi and Being On No Side January 11, 2018
My sons: Star Wars fans.

No need for a spoiler alert as this is not really about The Last Jedi. I have family and students who love the film and some family who strongly dislike it. They all have interesting things to say and the conversations have been worth hearing and I will keep hearing them.

Good, except when it is not.

Entertainment, Religion, and Politics Off Limits?

My family and friends enjoy disagreement and we can discuss religion and politics, and even Star Wars, with fire, force, and friendship. Yet I have noticed that discussion of The Last Jedi in my broader social media feed has become (almost) toxic. If you loved the film, you are accused of all sorts of folly and bad ideas. If you hated the film, then you must be evil. People have gotten angry over what amounts to a comic book movie.

Please do not get angry for my calling Star Wars a comic book movie.

I wish I were kidding. The film reviewers I trust generally found The Last Jedi to be a well made and well told film, so I assume that is true. The separate question about enjoying the film is the definition of subjective. I really enjoyed the film the first time I saw it and had less fun the second time. Since this is a jolly popcorn movie, my goal is not deep thought (go read Plato or the Bible for this), but enjoyment.

Star Wars always seemed high grade spectacle. If you paid to see Krull, I did, then any film with George Lucas promised a good time with fewer groans. There was usefulness in the ideas in such films, because one could use the movies as a common cultural touchpoint. Many students had seen Star Wars and so references to ideas made sense. This changes over time as present students have not watched the original three films or the prequels. Star Wars films are the Disney reboots.

Time passes and nothing is more dated than spectacle. See King Kong. 

Can’t we take our entertainment less seriously?

The joy of sports discussions or even movie discussions used to be that unlike religion and politics, the outcome did not matter. The Bears are not really evil and the Packers good. We could agree, disagree, and go home (really) friends. Maybe there were people in Packerland who could not be friends with da Bears fans, but I never met one.

There is something disturbing about the fact that many of us worry about opining about our amusements now, because friendships are on the line. There is team Last Jedi and team Hate Last Jedi. What if (like I did), you had a good time, but were mostly “meh?”

This manages to irritate everyone or so it can seem.

One thing I am trying to do this year is to focus on areas of agreement and on things I like. I liked Last Jedi, though not enough to watch again anytime soon. Personally, Galaxy Quest is more likely to get a replay than Last Jedi, but that is just me.

Are there ideas behind the Star Wars films? Naturally. The increased diversity of the cast is excellent and presents a hopeful vision of the future. Does the film take an overly cynical view of a hero’s end? Maybe, though read the end of King David in the Bible. Life ends in death and there is no final victory.

And yet is this so new?

So are we left with an obvious conclusion that people should just calm down about fun? No. That too is too simple minded. Entertainment does have a point of view and concern about entertainments is less new here than I might think at first. We cannot forget that entertainment has always had critics. Opera? Immoral. Shakespeare? Clean him up.

And then there were the people who could condone anything by saying it was just for fun. That went badly.

If you cringe at  ideas of immorality being attached to entertainment, think minstrel shows. If you defend a song like “Jump Jim Crow” or “Zip C—n” by arguing it was just for fun (people did), then you are wrong. It was hateful and destructive to an entire class of people, but that means that nobody can simply dismiss a moral argument attached to entertainment.

This has always been a discussion.

Victorians (for example) would condemn some entertainments as immoral. Oddly, we might condemn such spectacles as immoral too, but for different reasons. A circus might get attacked now for having elephants, while in the past for immoral exhibitionism (though even that is making a comeback). Spectacle always has a moral component and all white heroes do make a bad point if every film shares such images.

The difference I think is the continuous angry criticism that our technology allows us.

The circus came to town once a year and people could opine with most ignoring either side. Some went, some did not. Some people used to go to movies, others did not. Pubs? It depended on the culture. Now the anger is more continuous as we move from angry arguments over Star Wars to the Mary Poppins reboot.

Everybody knew and knows that the person constantly upset about some sin or obsessed that someone, someplace is having fun (whether it is a secular or religious person) is disturbed. We just have more chances to become disturbed now.

Here are three rules that have proved useful to me in these discussions:

First, allow friends to like or dislike an entertaiment without assuming it is for moral or immoral reasons. They may like what is good about it or simply dislike what is bad.

Second, any entertainment will have ideas. Discuss ideas. Try, best you can, to disagree agreeably. Preserve friendships. 

Third, try to find some places to enjoy experiences while not swamping the emotions with too much thought. Thinking is a great good, but it is not the only good. Allow your friends to do the same. If someone had a good time at the Grand Canyon, try not to ruin it by immediately making true statements about the problems with the park. 

This is not a rule, but I also try not to opine on every controversy. This is wearisome to at least my spirit. Maybe you can try to do the same!




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