(Re)Awakening the British Spirit in the Star Wars Mythology

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By Shawn Stjean

No more basic example of cultural criticism exists than to recognize that the original Star Wars offered a subtextual retelling (in production during our nation’s Bicentennial,) of the American Revolution.  And even though it enjoyed success worldwide, US citizens, whether they thought consciously about it or not, had an extra layer of identification with Luke Skywalker and his outgunned band of rebels, battling the evil Imperials.

As the teaser trailer for the next iteration in the mythology has appeared, I’m reminded that there’s an even deeper subtext that runs through both trilogies, running counter to American mythology, that apparently will move forward.  I refer to the films’ far-less discussed British-ness.

The screenshot above from the The Force Awakens teaser invokes nothing so much as a knight, straight out of Arthurian legend, leaving the shelter and protection of court, to enter the wilderness with medieval broadsword, and fulfill his quest.  The hilted sword itself, while functional in its ability to turn an opponent’s blade from the wielder’s wrist, also in its time functioned as a readily identified icon for the cross, as carried by the Crusaders.  Do not underestimate the connotative power of this image, especially when featured in a 88-second text that reintroduces us to a whole new phase of George Lucas’ canon.

The 1977 original mixed in but downplayed, as much as it could, such elements.  Filmed substantially at Elstree Studios outside London, and employing many Brits among crew and cast, including a real knight (Sir Alec Guiness) as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Hammer films veteran Peter Cushing as Governor Tarkin, the story recounted not a civil war (as the opening crawl claims) but an open rebellion against a corrupt empire.  In finally defeating its ultimate weapon, the Death Star, everyman Luke employs a Force for humanism bequeathed to him by his father.  This is key.  Because I doubt there was an 11-year old boy sitting in those theater seats in 1977 who didn’t feel the strength of the thematic message of that climactic space battle.  When Luke puts away his computer, and freely chooses to use the Force to guide his hand, we not only witnessed the superiority of the human spirit over technology (expressed in cheers and standing ovations by the crowds as the orgasmic explosion of the space station filled the screen). No gimmick or special effect could have achieved such a response.  The film spoke to us at a much deeper level, told us that great feats of courage are possible by anyone, no matter how low their birth or background, no matter how small or weak their physical body, no matter how powerful the tech and resources arrayed against them.

Years later, as the second trilogy premiered with The Phantom Menace, commercial success welcomed it in arms of inevitability.  But die-hard fans made no secret of their discomfort and dissatisfaction–these are a matter of public record.  But the reasons cited were often unarticulated (“something’s missing”) or silly.  Jar-Jar Binks could not have sabotaged that film, any more than British-butler droid C-3P0 could.  I propose an alternate explanation: while catering intermittantly to an American sensibility, the Star Wars films progressively adopt disturbing (to us) trends from other cultures.  Here I’ll ignore the oriental, and direct my focus right across the pond.  PM‘s plot hinges on a search for The Chosen One–unnamed by prophecy–and we discover that he was fathered by the Force itself (immaculate conception.)  He’s a born noble, like Oedipus, hidden in obscurity.  Already this sounds much less North-American to me.  We proceed to learn that this universal cosmic force which “surrounds us and binds us, all living things,” as Obi-Wan had explained to Luke years earlier (or later, chronologically,) is in fact very elitist in its function: only certain special people have the gift, so much so that they are identified at birth and whisked away to be trained in the Jedi temple.  It undoubtedly served Lucas’ larger canvas to introduce slow compromises to the Jedi Order (beginning with Kenobi’s initial lie to Luke about Vader murdering his father.)  However, the audience’s sympathies shift more and more away from the unconscious/mythological level to the conscious, intellectual level.  Eventually the second trilogy pares down to a few moral characters with whom to sympathize, fighting on the side of internally degraded forces in a vain attempt to restore the principles of the Republic.  This may all be much more “grown-up,” and therefore more satisfying in a certain cerebral way.  But Americans, especially, would much rather look away and point the finger at corrupt forms of foreign democracy (see Jon Stewart’s 2014 Rosewater) than accept an allegory of the decline of their own.  Here, the Republic works!

The initial resistance to The Empire Strikes Back is telling in this connection, for it stands as a film with a much less romantic, more “grey,” European aesthetic: life as a series of disillusionments, defeats, and loss, sometimes compensated by survival.  Many throughout the world welcome this sort of philosophical realism–but it is far from the “Everything will be alright” handholding that define 90 percent of American films (including Return of the Jedi, with its childish proposal that Vader could find redemption).  Living Americans never have had to live under sustained aerial bombardment and blockade such as the English did during the mid-twentieth century, or occupation such as the French endured, or the sacrifice of many millions to outlast invasion, as the Russians, or had weapons of mass destruction unleashed upon them, as the Japanese.  We have the luxury of our illusions, observing the world in exclusive terms of “the dark side, [or] the light.”

So the six films increasingly reveal that the Force, like the truth itself, really resides in the custody of the few elites, to be employed against non-sensitives in such forms as mind tricks, telekinesis, and dueling/acrobatic skills.  Anakin finds the Jedi order itself to be very hierarchical, in which padawans answer to knights who answer to masters who ultimately answer to the Council (or just Yoda, or even the Chancellor.)  I’m not claiming that the United States is without its elitism or its class system–but we are very fond of telling ourselves that, and films defy that collective ego-image at their peril.

It isn’t authentic British-ness (if there is such a thing), then, that undergirds the films, so much as the American vision of that entity: unquestioned authority and hierarchy by birth, elitism, exclusionism, expansionism, and a sense of racial/moral superiority, versus American democracy, inclusiveness, and tolerance.  Obviously, to claim this “Yank vs. Brit” dichotomy is real would be absurd–but it certainly is what young people learn from Hollywood film and television.  These dubious truisms may be more visible in Disney’s Pirates of the Carribbean franchise, though no more palpable than in Star Wars.

Even though Lucas’ films are truly postmodern, mixing languages, racial and cultural traditions, and visual iconography (Mark Hamill, for example, trained in Kendo for his lightsaber duels, and Lucas has acknowledged his debt to Japanese director Kurosawa), it’s useful to unpack the various elements, to separate the less- from the more-meaningful.  Will U.S. audiences embrace an even further push east as the Empire rises again, or will they insist on a return to their own cultural values?

link to the teaser trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erLk59H86ww

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Issues For Indie Writers: Complicating the Plot Structure of Your Story / Novel

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By Shawn StJean

Shakespeare inherited from the Greek tragedians a 5-part plot structure, which functions to keep the writer on track concerning the overall trajectory of the work, and from getting lost in the details.  English teachers know this structure as Freytag’s Triangle or Pyramid: Act I—Exposition, II-Complication, II—Climax, IV—Catastrophe (Reversal), and V—Denouement (“Unraveling”).  In today’s faster paced, Hollywood-aligned writing environment, the formula is often shortened to the left half of the pyramid, or simply three components: Exposition, Complication, and Climax.  Credits roll.  And although crucial elements can be lost in this truncation (reducing the pyramid to a two dimensional line, as it were), that’s a concern for another time.  More important for the moment, is that in its short form, the Complication (often oversimplified in diagrams as “rising action”) assumes even greater importance—in fact, it can truthfully be called the “guts of the story.”

Even so, not enough modern writers understand the pivotal function of Act II.

Reviewing briefly:

Act I—Exposition.  The best narratives begin “in media res,” (in the midst of things)—at an interesting point in the overall action.  This requires that the audience be briefed, by means of flashbacks or dialogue, on the conflict that brought the characters to this high pass, and quickly introduced to the individual characters themselves.  In a film, this act consumes the initial 30-40 minutes of viewing time.

Act II—Complication.  30-40 more minutes.  Many folks intuit that, here, we’ll “get to know the characters better.”  They’ll make friends and/or develop antagonisms, either against each other, themselves, or the environment (in the case of Hamlet, all of these).  But a complication only deepens plot, by mixing the element of characterization with it, so to speak.  Think of it this way: Things go from bad to worse.  Example: A soldier’s gash on the foot at first causes a mere limp, but left untreated, induces sepsis.  How do the characters react?  How does action lead to reaction?  What ironies and motifs and themes begin to emerge?  Does the narrative take on a tone of inevitability, or are choices still available?

Act III–Climax.  Second hour.  A sad truth about contemporary storytelling, whether oral, filmic, written, or graphic, is that Act II gets short-circuited and far too much attention gets lavished upon the action of climax (recall how much of the finest elements of Tolkien’s work have been jettisoned by Peter Jackson in service of gory spectacle).  People say “it picks up,” as if this equates to “gets better.”  True, this presents a mighty problem for the chronicleer: how to present a high significance of action, and not just a high and unsustainable level.  But the truth is, a finely wrought set of complications will dictate the climax to a large extent, and no artificial resolution should be needed (such as a deus ex machina, aka miracle ending).

As ever, pop culture provides a ready resource for illustration.  As a contained–hopefully visual and entertaining–example of structure and the energizing role of Complication, I’d like to use an unusual text–a performance of the Rolling Stones’ iconic song “Gimme Shelter.”  Lyrics, naturally, form our primary, but not exclusive, focus here.  To simplify matters even further, we need only examine the chorus (a term aptly take from Greek drama,) of the song, which not coincidentally divides itself into three, similar couplets:

 

1-War, children,

It’s just a shot away.

 

3-Love, sister,

It’s just a kiss away.

I’ve intentionally left out Act II here, to dramatize its effect later.  Taking the first and third parts, we see the speaker has created a parallel structure, at both the local/grammatical-sentence level, and the overall plot level.  And while technically speaking, it’s hard to say this is “plot,” so much as allegory, it certainly becomes one when we add the aural and visual elements of a performance:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctrC9FtkmYA

If you’ll invest five minutes watching the video, you’ll see not only a great song performed by its creators, but even its flaw serves a wonderful purpose.  Dividing it roughly into thirds, we initially see Mick Jagger and the boys doing professional, if run-of-the-mill, work—not exactly phoning it in, but doing what’s proven, in a fairly uninspired way.  But what follows changes everything (Act II): an unfamiliar element, Lisa Fischer, for whom the term “back-up singer” would be a gross injustice, descends from the background, takes center stage, and electrifies the performance, raising not only the audience’s interest level, but galvanizing the other band members: Watts’ drums, Richards’ and Woods’ guitars, and Jagger’s vocals.  And now we’re in a position to hear those lyrics Fischer is responsible for:

2-Rape, murder,

They’re just a shot away.

These lines complicate the basic conflict: that we’re all living, in the late 20th/early 21st centuries, under the delicate balance and precarious threat of war—just a simple misstep from Armageddon (recall the Cuban Missile Crisis of ’62.)  But there’s a choice—peace, too, that can be embraced, through an act of love, not fear and hatred.  If we ask ourselves, what structurally ought to come between the black and white, the right and left, we’ve confronted one of the most basic intellectual challenges in life.  It isn’t always as simple as “Grey,” when the choice lies between wrong and right.

Instead, the Stones have chosen another route.  Because “war” is such an abstract, monolithic concept, the 2nd stage of the chorus both amplifies and specifies what it entails: not just bloodless “killing” in defense of ideals, but the vicious and selfish ending of human life–murder–always a by-product of war, as well as the brutal stripping of the precious: land, children, women.  Rape.  These lines give the song flesh and blood, in the same way Fischer’s blood-curdling ability to hit the high notes thrill the spine and appall the senses.  In terms of the performance in the video (enhanced by the camerawork, lighting, and editing) Fischer adds an important female presence, and more than a hint of controlled sexuality, which makes her repetition of the word “rape” very resonant.

To return to Hollywood terms, then, the Complication amplifies the basic conflict, by doubling or tripling it, by raising or personalizing the level of threat, by adding a previously unseen dimension.  In Oedipus Rex, a plague has descended upon the city of Thebes, and a soothsayer reveals the gods have brought it on because a murderer roams free in the city.  The king vows to find and punish the culprit: basic conflict established.  However, we in the audience slowly come to realize, through layered ironies, that the murderer is Oedipus himself.  Thus, a complication can often be expressed through a question:  How can a man administer justice for the community and himself at the same time?  Today’s films, even comedies, as simple as they often are, are no different.  Take Jack Black’s School of Rock, for example.  In Act one, we find a N’er-do-well ejected from his band, his job, and his apartment all in the same day.  Basic conflict.  He falsely assumes the identity of a middle-school substitute music teacher in order to make ends meet.  Thus, complication: How can a man who knows plenty about music, and nothing about teaching, inspire a motley bunch of youngsters to play, appreciate, and love music?

The Complication, if well done, will rise above the Climax in its interest level.  It’s here, after all, that protagonists struggle with the details of their challenges, suffer setback and defeat, and prepare to (potentially) grow, or devolve, in the final act.  When you’ve seen enough Hollywood films, in fact, Climaxes begin to bore you, with their gunfire and car chases, somehow contriving to sell you on the dubious idea that violence always solves complex problems (try Divergent for a recent, disappointing example.)

What does this mean for writers, as a practical issue?  First, Aristotle’s famous remark that “plot is the soul of tragedy” still holds true, especially if you take a generous definition of tragedy: a struggle (often failure, but an occasional success) of human beings to reach their potential.  Western culture’s first critic insisted that events and our responses to them define who we are—we do not shape events.  This may create an uncomfortable view of free will for the modern viewer, but it helps in storytelling immensely.  Ask yourself: how is my protagonist both a representative of, and an amplified example of, humankind?  What trials will represent and dramatize this best?  How will s/he have it worse than the average person?  What bits of key dialogue will support this plot?  Which elements are worth repeating–with variations–to clarify my theme?  Most importantly, what actions will the protagonist(s) take, or fail to take, when adversity arises?

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A lot gets lost in those parentheses, but “Rising Action” or Complication provides the real enjoyment of a story or novel.

Celebs and the Super Bowl: The Selling Out of Real Talent

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By Shawn StJean

I had done my best to forget the numbing spectacle of the Super Bowl for another 10 months, but as I recently thumbed through a paradoxical magazine that juxtaposes features on eco-friendly homes with advertisements for upscale/luxury products to fill them up with, I was reminded–by a full page spread–that the iconic figure of Morpheus, a lead character from the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix films, functions these days as spokesfigure for Korean-based KIA’s new luxury sedan , the K900.

The TV commercial and the print ads are amusing enough, but the concept–“Challenge the Luxury You Know”–among other patent allusions to Hollywood’s dialogue–may as well be a riff against “the Devil you know” (Cadillac, perhaps?).  In the television ad, Morpheus as concierge offers a wealthy couple the “blue key” or the “red key” –as if they’re the type that would take the latter, under any circumstance.  What follows is an even sillier, operatic orgy of vehicular destruction, and, the corporations would have us believe, it’s all in good fun.

I have no issue with the car companies, or any product manufacturers, competing, and employing every rhetorical means to persuade us of their superiority (hey, when you watch the Super Bowl, you oughta know what you’re in for.)  But, as anyone who frequents this blog knows, I’ve a special place in my heart for The Matrix.  It has made some seminal ideas of Socrates, through Plato’s philosophy, accessible to twenty-first century citizens of the planet.  We need them.

But like this?

Are some writers, thinkers, ideas, and people themselves, inviolable against parody, especially in the service of commercialism?  Laurence Fishburne, who plays Morpheus, thinks not.  He granted an interview discussing the advertisement, and some of his remarks are more revealing than the ad itself.

“All my heroes are doing commercials now:  James Earl Jones, David Bowie, Malcolm McDowell, Sam Jackson. . .actors of weight.”  Hmm. So the great Morpheus, the paragon of free thinkers, follows the crowd now?  Or is that Fishburne talking?  Appearance and reality do blur here.  Is he somehow less free of market forces?

“In The Matrix, it’s like, reality is what you perceive, it’s in your head, blah, blah, blah. . .” It’s more like the actor is struggling to remember, or it’s not a concept worth articulating.  Perhaps the bodily weight he’s put on through a decade of prosperity has clouded his Kung-Fu.  In any event, Mr. Fishburne certainly has come a long way from seventeen-year-old “Clean” in Apocalypse Now.

I imagine this sounds like a personal attack on Fishburne and his choices, but fundamentally it’s not.  I’m drawing attention to the debasement of important cultural values of the West.  There was a time not so long ago when actors/personas of “gravitas” didn’t transfer their charisma, admiration, and authority to corporations.  So why now?  Are all rules out the window?  Do they really need the money that badly–or has public trust become just another commodity to be leveraged?

But, Hey, I can hear someone objecting, didn’t the Matrix trilogy make Warner Bros. like a billion dollars in the first place?  So where’s the paradox in one commercial entity washing the hands of another?

For my reply, I’ll enlist the aid of another cultural icon:

Venerable songwriter Bob Dylan also featured in a commercial during that same ball game, and some might say the difference is merely in degrees of propaganda: he encouraged viewers to buy American cars (Chrysler ones in particular.)  But there’s a distinction worth making.  There’s more there than a hip guitar beat and a series of jingoistic catch phrases/images (one girl wrapped literally in an American flag.) Whether one views the approach as pure patriotism or crass exploitation of sentimentality, a higher reality lurks here. It’s a policy of isolationism that’s defined Americans since Plymouth Rock and which, for better or worse, kept us on the bench during World Wars One and Two, until very late in those games.  Since then, we’ve abandoned those policies in favor of trade deficit, unlimited debt, War on Terror, world economy, world bank, world police force.  And how’s that working out for us?  To me, Dylan’s choice to endorse isolationism, whether right or wrong, is to stand for something real: a defensible philosophy. “Let Germany brew your beer; let Switzerland make your watch; let Asia assemble your phone; we will build your car.”  After all, those are quintessential American jobs he’s talking about–and even if, with all the imported materials in Ford, Chrysler and GM products, and the “foreign” autos assembled in U.S. plants today, the situation isn’t as simple as Dylan presents it, it’s still a solid concept: keep your business among your neighbors, and they’ll be around to buy back from you.  They’ll have retained the means, the freedom, and the pride to do it.

I’m not trying to politicize Fishburne’s particular brand-fealty–it might have been Ford just as well as KIA.  My point lies more in the dilution, or rather the dismissal, of a fundamental truth.  Addiction to comfort, security, and luxury, over Truth, is one of those very “shadows on the wall” Plato and the Wachowskis warned us against.  This isn’t homage, or even parody.  It’s contempt.  And it insults the American consumer by waving his own illiteracy in his face.

Yes, The Matrix franchise has about as much surface resemblance to Plato’s Republic as the Super Bowl has to an actual football game: it’s one big show.  But for all the window dressing, beneath the TV sales, the betting pools at work, the 6-hour pre-game, and the bottomless bowls of nachos and empty calories, there’s still something there, a fundamental set of values.  Football is a worthwhile activity, for American youngsters especially, and their families.  The Matrix, for all the car chases and bullets flying, presents an unpalatable set of considerations to the young people of today: you don’t have to exist as a wage-slave penned up in a cubicle, jacked in to what amounts to a milking machine, for 1/3 to 1/2 of your functional life, all for the possibility of some intermittent pleasure and luxury.  An automobile, after all, following a home and the decision to have children of their own–will probably rank as the third weightiest financial commitment of their lives.  The payments will keep drivers working, and tractable, and docile.  But, before they buy in, they can still choose Red/Reality–it’s not as pleasant, and the vinyl doesn’t feel like “real” leather.  But hell, leather is skin: whether cowskin, pigskin, or the human variety.  It likely came off the back of the guy in the cubicle next to you.

Decide for yourself:

KIA K900 Super Bowl TV Ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ob-wn52Dkmk

Fishburne’s Interview: http://on.aol.com/video/laurence-fishburne-on-playing-morpheus-for-the-kia-super-bowl-commercial-518103767

Dylan’s Super Bowl TV ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlSn8Isv-3M

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The Con of the Coin: Shouldn’t Batman Go Independent?

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By Shawn Stjean

One of the unsung virtues of independent film is that, as miraculous as any production seeing the light of day is in the first place, they rarely suffer from the Hollywood strain of sequel-itis.  Thankfully.  It seems that barely two, let alone three or more, entries into a successful franchise can bear the weight of sustained storytelling.  Give a series enough rope, and it will begin to show inherent contradictions, and self-deconstruct.  For the sake of coherence, I’ll confine myself mostly to the most fully realized of the three 21st century Batman films, The Dark Knight, while referring obliquely to its excellent predecessor, Batman Begins, and its pale follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises.  Together, a half-billion dollar story to make.

Since Batman’s first appearance in comics in 1938, readers have grown accustomed to a self-made hero, one who traveled the Earth learning from the best instructors, honing his body to Olympic-athletic condition, and his mind to that of a world-class detective.  In stark contrast to Superman, then, the Caped Crusader’s thematic popularity consists in the realization of the everyday potential of normal human beings. In the conclusion of the recent film trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) loses his position, his fortune, his butler and friend, and for a time, even the use of his body.  But, it doesn’t matter to police commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman,) because of the symbolism: “anyone could be Batman.”  However, this sentiment runs counter to nearly all the major signs in the previous films–as Carmine Falcone rightly put it, Bruce Wayne is “the Prince of Gotham.” Christopher Nolan does not present us, visually or narratively, with a democratic hero.  Contrarily, this Batman is truly a feudal knight, in that he’s not only the inheritor of a seemingly endless fortune, but, like the military itself in any age, he relies far more on technology and its exclusivity than on human ability.  His adversaries (villains) are less fortunate.  In fact, THE THREE MAIN CHARACTERS OF THE DARK KNIGHT FALL ON A CONTINUUM OF GOOD TO BAD BASED ON THE LEVEL OF THEIR INVESTMENT IN THE WHITE, CAPITALIST SYSTEM.  The richer, the better; the less material wealth, the greater the evil.

Beginning with the hero himself, among Batman’s other problems, he must contend with vigilantes inspired by his own image, but without his vast resources for support.  They masquerade and attempt to bash criminals in home-made versions of his high-tech body armor (developed at Wayne Enterprises from scratch—a very conservative estimate might put this suit, rubberized muscles and all, at one-hundred thousand dollars.)  When the real McCoy rescues one of them and warns him to stop, the humiliated imitator angrily demands “What gives you the right?”  Batman’s reply: “I’m not wearing hockey pads.”  Two resonant lines of dialogue, which might paraphrase: “If you’re not privileged with a Batmobile, Batcomputer, and a combat-surgeon-turned-butler for a nurse, your only right is to be safely escorted to your day job.”  In a world where we can suspend our disbelief over the constant jumping off rooftops, Batman’s later, willing destruction of his own bat-radar system to satisfy the ethical demands of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman,) a priceless and unique invention which merely invades the privacy of citizens on cell-phones, is among the most unbelievable premises we are asked to consume.

Next, the film conjures and disposes of a half-dozen minor villains, not coincidentally all minorities/of ethnic descent: Gambol, a black gangster-type; Lau, a Chinese mathematics wiz; Maroni, an Italian Mafioso; and the Scarecrow, a homosexual readily identified by visual cues.   This leaves the struggle for power in Gotham City to be fought exclusively among white patriarchs.  Harvey Dent, a conspicuous (“White Knight”) if unpedigreed double for Bruce Wayne, has half his body burned by the Joker, and thereafter adopts a two-headed coin, scarred on one side, to decide whether to support good or evil in any case.  The suggestion here is that money is morally neutral, depending on its use for its value.  This is, in fact, a luxurious position.  To quote Oliver Stone’s black corporal, King, from Platoon, “You gotta be rich in the first place to think like that.”  Director/Writer Nolan insists Dent suffer a more tragic demise than the other rogues: a clean-cut, politically ambitious, right-wing, upper-middle class WASP, he deserves better.  What a waste that, because of partial immolation, he should turn his back on a career as agent for law-and-order.

And lastly, the poor folks.  How did such an anarchist as the Joker (Heath Ledger) come to be?  He explains to Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that his wife had been attacked and her face disfigured: “We got no money for operations,” so the husband mutilated himself  in sympathy.  Rejected in horror because of his inability to provide the conventional solution of plastic reconstructive surgery, he turns to destruction (“Dynamite is cheap,”) and crimes like extorting the mob–“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”  But he does do it for free, and the glee.  If Batman stands for defense of the established order, the maintenance of the status quo, the Joker stands–archetypally, and in this film–for chaos and the rejection of systems.  He amasses his loot into a Marxian unfinished pyramid—the apex missing  (a figure familiar to film buffs from Blade Runner, and which represents the base power structure of working proletariat supporting the upper classes by their labor, further oppressed by the military, church and schools, and the government) which he proceeds to burn down, to the horror of the assembled spectators.  Once captured, the police find no labels in his clothes (no Armani or Gucci or even Bill Blass as Bruce Wayne would own.)  He’d apparently like to hide his true identity, but he’s also refusing to support the marketplace—very un-American.  And as a white man whose face has been reinscribed in bleached “whiteface,” (thus only “playing” white,) his “evil” seems very non-specific: the robbing of banks and demolition of a hospital, not to mention murder—none of these is as bad as his betrayal of capitalism.

As for the later sequel, neither Ra’s al Ghul, Thalia, nor Bane shows any interest in established wealth–when not pursuing utter chaos and destruction, they redistribute property and power to the lower classes.  This third entry redresses the subtextual racism of its predecessor, but amplifies the classism: Socialism=Evil (and false socialism=even worse.)  Catwoman (Anne Hathaway, who issues Bruce a dark, Marxist warning about “liv[ing] so large, and leav[ing] so little for the rest of us,” seems more interested in stealing a new identity and start for herself, which she eventually gets—again, by accepting proprietary Wayne Enterprises tech–and becoming Bruce’s traveling companion, essentially “selling out.”

The three films not-so-subtly endorse the values of consumer capitalism by casting their hero in the role of billionaire by day, and. . .what do you know?, billionaire by night.  This Batman is the sum of his parts: the toys, the cave, the computers, the vehicles.  His most worthy adversary, a working class victim of an industrial accident incarnated as a grotesque clown, by his refusal to buy into bourgeois principles even with unlimited wealth in his grasp, is written off by everyone as insane.  After all, who would burn a giant stack of money but a madman?

Because indie films, like the productions of self-published authors and unsupported artists of all types, are not themselves “sold out” to the formulas and packaging of the marketplace, they can “afford” not to promote the dominant cultural values it patronizes.  Meanwhile, Hollywood, always quick to imitate its own success, and with no public outrage or boycott of $10 seat prices, exacerbated by the intermixture of TV-type commercials with its theater trailers, continues to chronicle for us the adventures of another billionaire industrialist: Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, who got his start as a crusader against stereotypical Arab terrorists.

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NEW ARTICLE SERIES: Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture

 

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It was inevitable, after over forty years since Romero’s Night of the Living Dead revived (inapt metaphor) and morphed the voodoo-animated monsters of the early 20th century into our beloved, modern brain eaters, and countless “B” movie,”B+” movie, and parody entries into the genre, that Hollywood would throw some serious weight (a.k.a. money) into a blockbuster Zombie movie: World War Z.

TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HcwTxRuq-uk (thanks to Andrew at the great pop-culture blog http://sparklyprettybriiiight.com/ for the heads-up and link).

So I think the time ripe for me to debut a series of articles I’ve been planning for awhile, to dig deeper into our fascination with certain recurring figures from the collective unconscious. Why can’t we get enough of these creatures, monsters, plot-types, and villains?  I’ll begin my analysis with the two most popular at this cultural moment (you guessed it: zombies, and then vampires, in my second effort.)

Look for the debut article later in the week.

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