"Only a story. Only the most important thing in the whole world."
January 3, 2016 10:26 AM   Subscribe

What to do when you're not the hero any more by Laurie Penny [NewStatesman] From Star Wars to Mad Max, a new, more diverse kind of storytelling went mainstream this year - and the backlash shows how much it matters.

"Now women and other cultural outsiders are kicking back and demanding a multiplicity of myths. Stories in which there are new heroes making new journeys. This isn't just good news for steely-eyed social justice warriors like me. It also means that the easily bored among us might not have to sit through the same dull story structure as imagined by some dude in the 1970s until we die."
posted by pibkac (61 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
 


My wife and I were talking about this in the car (I was filling her in on the Sad & Rabid Puppies in addition to this weird "boycott" of TFA) the other day, how thrilling it is to see films & stories where the leads/heroes are not white men, and how small and petty it makes those complaining about that fact look. Stories are how we define ourselves, and the stories we choose to tell either make space for others or they leave them out, without voice. We are pan narrans, the story telling chimp.

The fact that men's rights groups are up in arms about the new Star Wars makes my wife want to see it again; and when I mentioned the outrage over Mad Max: Fury Road - a film she has had no interest in seeing despite me telling her that it is a lot more than a car chase - may have finally peaked her interest.
posted by nubs at 10:45 AM on January 3, 2016 [23 favorites]


Great piece. Worth reading for the Fuck Campbell's Bullshit alone.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2016 [13 favorites]


Ugh, Joseph Campbell's nonsense. I didn't know he said that, but it reminded me immediately about Robert Graves' position that women couldn't be true poets, because they were supposed to be the subjects of poetry. My copy of The White Goddess did not get cracked far past that.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:48 AM on January 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


Ooh, ooh! I've been meaning to put together a post about Rey and her feminist resonance, but haven't had the time to, so I'm going to drop some links here if that's ok (some of these are probably from the Fanfare megathreads, apologies for not giving credit):

Why Rey from The Force Awakens Makes Me Cry
With Star Wars' Rey, we've reached Peak Strong Female Character (and there's nothing wrong with that)
The Power of Rey

And my favorite so far:

Girls explain Star Wars to you:
The awakening of the Force within Rey does not come via some terrible punishment, or some personal trauma that she has to overcome ... Rey is given a luxury that comes so easily to male heroes – she simply turns a corner, finds a magical item (Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber, no less) and it awakens the Force in her. Just that. No searing infertility, no rape, no revelation of past abuse, no heartbreak, no sacrifice. No heroine who’s validity is defined by what she has sacrificed, in the way of Katniss handing up her life for her sister, becoming a martyr for a revolution. In the way of Ariel, handing over her power to speak in order to walk on land. No poison apple, no needle on a spinning wheel here. Rey is Bilbo and the One Ring. Bastian in the bookshop. Harry, opening a letter."

I love Rey so much.
posted by lunasol at 10:50 AM on January 3, 2016 [128 favorites]


The Original Star Wars was famously based on Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey", the "monomyth" that was supposed to run through every important legend from the beginning of time. But it turned out that women had no place in that monomyth, which has formed the basis of lazy storytelling for two or three generations: Campbell reportedly told his students that "women don't need to make the journey. In the whole mythological journey, the woman is there. All she has to do is realise that she's the place that people are trying to get to".
Hadn't heard of this before. Standards have certainly changed, since I can't imagine anyone saying this now and not getting immediate pushback (assuming they say it in the first place).

I couldn't find a citation for the supposed quote, but I did find out about Valerie Estelle Frankel's From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey through Myth and Legend. She proposes a different kind of heroic journey for women than for men:
Though scholars often place heroine tales on Campbell’s hero’s journey point by point, the girl has always had a notably different journey than the boy. She quests to rescue her loved ones, not destroy the tyrant as Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker does. The heroine’s friends augment her natural feminine insight with masculine rationality and order, while her lover is a shapeshifting monster of the magical world—a frog prince or beast-husband (or two-faced vampire!). The epic heroine wields a magic charm or prophetic mirror, not a sword. And she destroys murderers and their undead servants as the champion of life. As she struggles against the Patriarchy—the distant or unloving father—she grows into someone who creates her own destiny.

Eventually, she too descends into the underworld in a maiden’s white gown, there to die and be reborn greater than before. Awaiting her is the wicked stepmother or Terrible Mother (as Jung calls her): the White Witch of Narnia or Wicked Witch of the West: slayer of children and figure of sterility and unlife. This brutal matriarch is often her only mentor. The heroine not only defeats her, she grows from the lesson and rejoins the world as young mother, queen, and eternal goddess.
I wouldn't say that men or women protagonists have to follow their respective types or journey—after all, Rey's plot maps pretty well to the typical Campbellian monomyth—but it's good to have multiple possible plot outlines for a heroic fantasy story.
posted by Rangi at 10:50 AM on January 3, 2016 [18 favorites]


I linked this over in the FanFare thread but it's worth sharing here in the context of this post:

This is an interesting perspective and one I could get on board with:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Black Lives Matter's first science fiction film: [The Guardian]
After I saw Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens the first time, I was left wondering: what if under every white stormtrooper’s armour was a black human? After all, the only stormtrooper we actually see unmasked is played by John Boyega, and so it’s possible – though we are conditioned to believe that whiteness is the norm even in outer space – that his race wasn’t an aberration but the standard. The clues were certainly there: that on a galactic scale the First Order had conscripted black folks to do its heavy lifting (just as so many other oppressive regimes have done right here on earth on a planetary scale).

So when I watched the film for the second time, I did so imagining that all the stormtroopers were black. It not only made sense, it made the Force Awakens an even more intriguing and politically engaging movie. As white, Latin and black actors respectively, stars Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and Boyega better reflect the diversity of our times, which also plays to the international Star Wars audience Disney is developing around the globe. But if all the stormtroopers are black, the Force Awakens can be read as a tale specifically rooted in black oppression and, more importantly, black awakening and rebellion; indeed, it could be read as the first science fiction film of the Black Lives Matter era.
posted by Fizz at 10:57 AM on January 3, 2016 [22 favorites]


So when are we rebooting Harry Potter, only this time it's told from black Hermoine's POV. Make that shit happen. Just take my fucking money.
posted by Fizz at 11:07 AM on January 3, 2016 [25 favorites]


Anecdotally speaking, I've found no penalty to writing non-white and/or non-male lead characters in science fiction books. My last novel, which consisted of four novellas, had women characters as the lead in two of them, and the book before that had a non-gendered mixed-race character and a woman as the lead characters. The next major release of mine (an audiobook novella) has a Hispanic man and black woman as the primary characters. No problems selling the books to publishers, no problems in the editorial process, no concerns from marketing about the characters' genders/races, etc, and for the work that's already out in the marketplace, no measurable penalty in terms of sales, relative to the sales of other books where the main character is (or is assumed to be) white and male.

This is not to say my experience will be exactly replicated by anyone else; I'm aware of my various advantages in terms of the publishing world. But it does say to me that in my case at least, the only reason not to have reasonably diverse characters in my books, including as major characters, is sheer laziness.
posted by jscalzi at 11:07 AM on January 3, 2016 [78 favorites]


Jscalzi, that is tremendously heartening. I sincerely hope that message gets around to anyone who feels some imagined pressure to write straight/white/cis/male protagonists.
posted by shmegegge at 11:16 AM on January 3, 2016


Related: The Year the Studios Get It Right by Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott [The New York Times]
The blockbusters, all of a sudden, look like models of inclusiveness and ambition. Don’t get me wrong: I like wry comedies and earnest dramas and white people in old-fashioned clothes as much as the next guy. And I’m often more bored than excited by effects-driven serial storytelling. But when I look back at the movies of 2015 in search of popular art that reflects the realities and nourishes the dreams of the world I inhabit, I find myself thinking of “Furious 7,” with its multihued family of noble gearheads; of the “Hunger Games” heroine Katniss Everdeen and her epigones, Rey from “The Force Awakens” and Furiosa from “Fury Road”; of Finn (also from “The Force Awakens”) and Adonis Johnson, also known as Creed.
posted by Fizz at 11:18 AM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I had, perhaps naively, assumed there'd be no backlash to the casting of the new Star Wars, since no one could accuse the makers of "changing" the characters backgrounds. Is that not the case?

AFAIK racism and even sexism do not appear to exist in the Star Wars universe, despite the majority of the characters being white, human, males.
posted by callistus at 11:23 AM on January 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


AFAIK racism and even sexism do not appear to exist in the Star Wars universe, despite the majority of the characters being white, human, males.

I was talking to my husband after seeing TFA about how neither the Empire nor the First Order seem to have any goals with which to get the hoi polloi on side. Like, what's in it for all those button pushers and middle managers and subcontractors? Surely they aren't all forcibly removed from their families and brainwashed as children as the stormtroopers in TFA are, right? Facism always needs a reason for the volk to get on board, it's not just someone showing up one day and being like, "And here's how it's going to be everyone. I'm in charge, you're going to do what I tell you, we're going to fight a bunch of wars and you're all mostly probably going to die. No reason, just cuz I say so." But then you look around at both Empire and First Order scenes and they're all humans. It's weird to me that nobody ever confirms that the entire point of both movements is speciesism. I mean, it clearly is, right? It can't be just random chance that every single person in every location dominated by the Empire or First Order is a humanoid, can it? (And in the orig trig, they're not just humans, they're all white males. I'd love to hear some fanwank about how and why the First Order jettisoned the racism and sexism but not the speciesism.)


Anyway, back tot he point of the article: yes. It really has been a pretty refreshing year in the realm of genre media. I'm loving it. Next up: a female Doctor (not written by Steven Moffat, plz and thank you).
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:33 AM on January 3, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'd love to hear some fanwank about how and why the First Order jettisoned the racism and sexism but not the speciesism.

A Doylist explanation: the bad guys' speciesism is the in-universe analog for racism; the lack of black characters in the original trilogy was a result of society's actual racism.

(Fanwank: there were black people working for the Empire all along, the movie camera just didn't focus on them until now.)
posted by Rangi at 11:39 AM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Straight white guy here and I have zero problems with films that star heroes who don't fit my demographic. I may have quoted this here before but it sums up how I feel about movies in particular and art in general and says it better than I possibly can.

Roger Ebert:
We are born into a box of space and time. We are who and when and what we are and we're going to be that person until we die. But if we remain only that person, we will never grow and we will never change and things will never get better.
Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else's life for a while. I can walk in somebody else's shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.
This is a liberalizing influence on me. It gives me a broader mind. It helps me to join my family of men and women on this planet. It helps me to identify with them, so I'm not just stuck being myself, day after day.
The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.
I don't want to live in a world where I only see idealized representations of myself up on the screen; how boring would that be?
posted by octothorpe at 11:42 AM on January 3, 2016 [50 favorites]


I don't want to live in a world where I only see idealized representations of myself up on the screen; how boring would that be?

Tell that to producers and movie executives who hold all the purse-strings and keep on greenlighting the same bullshit over and over again. Thankfully, it looks like its slowly starting to change. We're not even remotely close to where we should be with regards to various minority representations, but its starting to happen.
posted by Fizz at 11:47 AM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


the outrage over Mad Max: Fury Road may have finally peaked her interest.

That was 100% why I decided to see it. (Between that decision and getting to see it, my internet lit up with praise, but I am not sure I would have rushed had out not been for the MRA whining.)
posted by jeather at 11:55 AM on January 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


As a cranky old white guy, I thought that the introduction of Rey and Finn as female and black heroes respectively, was the only good things about TFA. Beyond that, the movie played it so safe, it was pretty dull. If it hadn't been for the horribleness of the prequels, I'm sure this would be considered a ho-hum movie. Instead, everyone went in with low expectations and thus came away thrilled.

I was annoyed, however, that they played it so safe that they didn't even dare an interracial kiss. And movie tropes like being an instant expert at using a weapon / flying a ship / using the force and still lazy and dumb, even when the hero is a woman.

From the moment I saw the first trailer, it was obvious that BB-8 had been created purely for merchandising reasons. So far, the best thing to come out of TFA is Emo Kylo Ren.

Also, lawn, etc.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:06 PM on January 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


The Original Star Wars was famously based on Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey", the "monomyth" that was supposed to run through every important legend from the beginning of time. But it turned out that women had no place in that monomyth, which has formed the basis of lazy storytelling for two or three generations: Campbell reportedly told his students that "women don't need to make the journey. In the whole mythological journey, the woman is there. All she has to do is realise that she's the place that people are trying to get to".
I have a very hard time believing that Campbell said this with that intent in mind. He was pretty clear about there being women's heroic journeys. He may have said it in the context of how women are used in male heroic journeys, though; he was rather critical of how women were objectified in many. (This can be seen in the online "Power of Myth" pieces he did, btw.) Not to say Campbell was perfect, he had his blind spots, but this is a guy who was ahead of his time in many ways.

My Masters thesis was on women in cosmogonies (creation myths), so yeah, I love this stuff. My least favorite discovery was that Mircea Eliade treated women worse than jars and casks; at one point he says that women are nothing but containers; heroic men come out of women magically, their mothers have nothing to do with their powers. Which is an interpretation, not a fact, but he presents this interpretation as if it were incontrovertible. He even explains it as "what possible effect could a container have on what it contains?" Hell, man, have you ever cooked? Ever tried to make wine? The container has a huge effect on how that can develop. Unless you think you could use a pasta strainer to boil pasta. For instance. Hell, even objects have more value than objectified women in many modern interpretations of mythology.

A major heroine journey is Inanna's, by the way. Bit of a different heroine, Gaia played a pretty big part in Greek mythology. There's also Psyche, a mortal woman whose courageous journey brought her to immortal life. In Native American (Iroquoian/Huron) mythology, there's the woman who fell from the sky... and more and more and more. Our stories have always been around, they've "just" been ignored, devalued, ridiculed, objectified... it's great to see more diverse stories coming to life again.
posted by fraula at 12:07 PM on January 3, 2016 [45 favorites]


It also means that the easily bored among us might not have to sit through the same dull story structure as imagined by some dude in the 1970s until we die.

Look, I loved the first Star Wars movie... And I love the latest Star Wars movie (more than the vast majority of the movies, for certain), but I think the best critique of the latest movie is that it is following the same structure as the first movie. While it's great to see diversity in this movie (and a bunch of movies recently), lets not pretend that the story structure is terribly original in the new Star Wars movie (I don't want to get too spoilery in a comparison of the movies, however).
posted by el io at 12:07 PM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


What does it mean to be a white cis boy reading these books and watching these new shows? The same thing it has meant for everyone else to watch every other show that’s ever been made. It means identifying with people who don’t look like you, talk like you or fuck like you. It’s a challenge, and it’s as radical and useful for white cis boys as it is for the rest of us - because stories are mirrors, but they are also windows. They let you see yourself transfigured, but they also let you live lives you haven’t had the chance to imagine, as many other lives as there are stories yet to be told, without once leaving your chair.
Perhaps it is a challenge, perhaps not. For this white cis boy, it is a welcome respite from the monotony of seeing the same story about the heroic archetype over and over again. Campbell may well be wrong about his monomyth, but formulating that inaccurate theory may have been an important step of breaking out of the narrative straitjacket we find ourselves in.

There is more art of all kinds centering around the white cis boy than any person can consume in an entire lifetime. Bring on the new stuff, and try to avoid the simple search-and-replace cop-out.

Hang on, did I just make it all about me again? well, shit.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:14 PM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Talking about TFA with a friend the other day, (an old, white male, like me) he mentioned how the main character wasn't a white guy like him and etc and I realized I didn't really get that that was something I should have noticed. I found both Rey and Finn universal and likable and relatable. Which made me wonder if it was me, that I lost track of my 'whiteness'? Oh please, no. I started on third base (as the saying goes) and I damn well know it. But I didn't start on third base in all contexts.

To not recognize the totally awesomeness of Rey and Finn would totally suck and thank god that's not my problem. Watching it again today I thought about the Guardian article and really liked that way of thinking about it. The world I live in is not all old white guys, I don't particularly want my movies to be like that either.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:17 PM on January 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have a very hard time believing that Campbell said this with that intent in mind. He was pretty clear about there being women's heroic journeys.

Looking for "woman" in the index of my copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces yields the following: "symbolism in hero's adventure," "as goddess," "as temptress," "Cosmic Woman," "as hero's prize," and of course, "see also mother."
posted by mittens at 12:32 PM on January 3, 2016 [15 favorites]


Hah, just had the following exchange on Facebook:

1. I post the "Girls Explain Star Wars To Me" article on facebook, with what I think is a relevant and interesting pullquote (the one Lunasol quoted here)
2. Obnoxious male friend says that is such a weak point he had to read the article several times to even understand what they were grasping at, and that it's a ridiculous argument.
3. Nice male friend pulls a different paragraph from the article making a very similar point.
4. Obnoxious male friend says "YES! That's an excellent point you make about the article 'Girls Explain Star Wars To Me,' Other Man!"
5. I die of irony.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:39 PM on January 3, 2016 [48 favorites]


Not to derail things ( I love, love, love the blockbuster diversity, and have great hope that studios don't fuck it up) . . . but about the Joseph Campbell hate . . .
He was a scholar of mythology who had a particular interest in the monomyth of the "hero", the very specific recurring figure who was overwhelmingly masculine across the cultures that he studied. He also studied recurring feminine figures, who could be called the "heroine", but the types tended to behave very differently. And down through history, probably because of male domination in our societies, the "hero" stories typically became the more celebrated myths. Because men.
The irony, of course, is that (yes, I'm a Jungian) myths arise from archetypal states, and one of the recurring points in many if not all mythological traditions is that we learn about ourselves from all of these figures, because all of them are us.
Our specific culture may be evolving into mythological fluidity, and that's an amazing thing, but it's very rare and precious . . . we can't change the past by blaming somebody who studied it (and yes, we can blame them if they get it totally wrong because of some agenda and they perpetuate their bullshit onto the present and therefore the future because of malice aforethought, but I really can't see that with Campbell).

Again, sorry for any derail . . .
posted by pt68 at 1:22 PM on January 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


Someone please tell me that they got almost all the way through this thread, as I did, reading "TFA" as "the fucking article" and not "The Force Awakens." Please. It makes sense either way. Mostly. Unless you start to think about why this particular fucking article birthed so many earnest discussions and repeat readings.
posted by nevercalm at 1:43 PM on January 3, 2016 [52 favorites]


Hold on a minute! Poe is Latino? Hot damn! (I would have placed him as Mediterranean or Persian.)
posted by oddman at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2016


This is not to say my experience will be exactly replicated by anyone else; I'm aware of my various advantages in terms of the publishing world. But it does say to me that in my case at least, the only reason not to have reasonably diverse characters in my books, including as major characters, is sheer laziness.

Or inability to grow as an author. Odd thing to me is while there is diversity in characters (finally) that does not seem like a trend, the structure of storytelling is still firmly patriarchal, making the changes superficial. It is not enough to merely diversify the kinds of characters in fiction; you have to have the structure to accommodate.

I don't want a female protagonist to be interchangeable with a male one. I want a story that explores in such a way that is truly different. It reminds me of the Hagar the Horrible strip where Lucky Eddie makes fish balls, fish cubes, and fish donuts, and doesn't get that changing the shape doesn't change the fact it is the taste that counts.

It is an issue I think about as an author a lot, and we haven't even begun...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:49 PM on January 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Contra jscalzi's comment, I'm afraid I have seen backlash/negging reviews for a book with a non-male protagonist.

It's probably a special case, though. First, I wrote five books in series from the first-person POV of a sympathetic white male nerd-hero character (who is, however, an unreliable narrator). Then at the end of book 5 he has to move out of the marital home. Book 6 picks up the story from his wife's point of view—and she has a very unvarnished view of hubby's failings (he views himself through a rose-tinted lens, to say the least). She's also acerbic, witty, independent, and generally not a pliant doormat and helpmeet. It's also the story of her midlife crisis, culminating in a nervous breakdown. (To be fair, at the point of the breakdown she's just survived a boss fight with the King in Yellow ... PTSD much, anyone?)

That book came out in summer of 2015, while the whole puppy bed-wetting nonsense was at its peak, and a bunch of the Amazon and Goodreads reviews are unfavourable. Yes, there is a correlation between the gender of the reviewer and the one-star or two-star reviews: and the negging reviews focus on how "unpleasant" the main character is.

Now, I might just have written a turkey. (Twenty-plus novels in and I'm probably overdue for one.) But my agent and my editors didn't think it was a hot mess, so what's going on here? It might simply be down to me having taken an existing series and kicked the shit out of the comfort-reader's assumptions about where it was going by turning everything they thought they knew about the previous central protagonist upside-down. But I think there was a whiff of the culture wars about some of the comments, and it came out in the middle of the biggest culture wars spat in SF/F since the early 70s going prompt critical ...

Needless to say, this isn't going to stop me writing more books with non-straight or non-male or non-white[*] protagonists. (And sometimes all three in the same package.) As far as I'm concerned any writer who doesn't is an idiot; the majority of fiction readers are female, nobody likes seeing their kind of people erased from literature, and if I've learned anything in over fifty years it's that it's a really dumb idea to stand in the middle of the road waving a "stop" sign at the oncoming steamroller of social change. But? If you challenge the assumptions of the frothing MRA/red pill/rabid puppy loons, you've got to expect blowback. So suck it up.


[*] Insert comment implying awareness of issues surrounding cultural appropriation here.
posted by cstross at 2:01 PM on January 3, 2016 [33 favorites]


Though scholars often place heroine tales on Campbell’s hero’s journey point by point, the girl has always had a notably different journey than the boy. She quests to rescue her loved ones, not destroy the tyrant as Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker does. The heroine’s friends augment her natural feminine insight with masculine rationality and order, while her lover is a shapeshifting monster of the magical world—a frog prince or beast-husband (or two-faced vampire!). The epic heroine wields a magic charm or prophetic mirror, not a sword. And she destroys murderers and their undead servants as the champion of life. As she struggles against the Patriarchy—the distant or unloving father—she grows into someone who creates her own destiny.

Eventually, she too descends into the underworld in a maiden’s white gown, there to die and be reborn greater than before. Awaiting her is the wicked stepmother or Terrible Mother (as Jung calls her): the White Witch of Narnia or Wicked Witch of the West: slayer of children and figure of sterility and unlife. This brutal matriarch is often her only mentor. The heroine not only defeats her, she grows from the lesson and rejoins the world as young mother, queen, and eternal goddess.
Luke gets more screen time, but this is more or less Leia's story from the first film - her loved ones are the rebellion, her magic charm is the Death Star plans, her underworld is the Death Star (which is also her Terrible Mother), her shapeshifting boyfriend is Luke in his stormtrooper uniform, and the Patriarch is Vader and the Empire.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:19 PM on January 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


...but about the Joseph Campbell hate . . .
He was a scholar of mythology who had a particular interest in the monomyth of the "hero",


No. No he really wasn't. He was a Medieval literature major who was trying to understand Joyce's "Ulysses". And to do that, he cherry picked a bunch of myths and legends out of context to fit his theories, engaged in wholesale cultural imperialism, and generally did for mythology studies what Von Daniken did for archeology. The damage he did to serious mythology studies will probably take a century to undo.

He is also the reason why Hollywood movies suck. Way too many writers and directors use his nonsense as a bible.
posted by happyroach at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


The fact that men's rights groups are up in arms about the new Star Wars makes my wife want to see it again;

I hope studios remember how utterly negligible these complainers were on box office in the future. But, at least for the moment, I can bask in the agony they must feel that the world for once has not capitulated to their sexist and racist bellyaching.
posted by maxsparber at 2:25 PM on January 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


From the moment I saw the first trailer, it was obvious that BB-8 had been created purely for merchandising reasons.

Funny, I thought it was obvious that the reason BB-8 was created was to have, for once, a droid in the SW universe that could fucking keep up with humans running away from danger.
posted by hippybear at 2:46 PM on January 3, 2016 [47 favorites]


I was talking to my husband after seeing TFA about how neither the Empire nor the First Order seem to have any goals with which to get the hoi polloi on side. Like, what's in it for all those button pushers and middle managers and subcontractors?

Awesome points here...
TFA did try to settle the 'contractors on the deathstar' question by implying that the stormtroopers are doing all of the dirty work. Probably also explains why they're such terrible shots, at the same time: too much time fixing the drains, too little time at the firing range, perhaps...

My partner noted how soviet the First Order rally scene was in its aesthetic; I actually read it as being a bit more North Korean, a weird isolated and pointlessly evil remnant of a once-great (and pointlessly evil) empire.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:52 PM on January 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Seemed like another reference to Triumph Of The Will to me, which was also referenced in Star Wars.
posted by hippybear at 2:56 PM on January 3, 2016


As somebody mentioned it actually appears to me that we are now on track to be sitting through the same story structures for decades. The faces will be more diverse though and I'm not knocking that at all.
posted by atoxyl at 3:10 PM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ursula K. Le Guin on heroes and journeys. It was actually somebody here who first exposed me to this essay and it's so good so thanks whoever it was.
posted by atoxyl at 3:13 PM on January 3, 2016 [18 favorites]


As somebody mentioned it actually appears to me that we are now on track to be sitting through the same story structures for decades.

The Atlantic - All Stories Are The Same (John Yorke, Jan 1, 2016)
posted by hippybear at 3:18 PM on January 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


"... it is a curious characteristic of our unformed species that we live and model our lives through acts of make-believe." ~Joseph Campbell Myths to Live By
posted by pjsky at 4:19 PM on January 3, 2016


As somebody mentioned it actually appears to me that we are now on track to be sitting through the same story structures for decades.

Save the Cat!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:13 PM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love this Junot Diaz quote:

"There's this idea that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. And what I've always thought isn't that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. It's that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.

And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn't see myself reflected at all. I was like, "Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don't exist?""
posted by Borborygmus at 5:30 PM on January 3, 2016 [15 favorites]


Every Adam Sandler film has the same plot. Misfit overcomes adversity to get the girl, loses girl to bad guy, wins her back, banishes bad guy. Fin. He had monster hits with Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, so he's just decided to make the same movie a few dozen times. Why mess with the formula?

This is the same with most Hollywood blockbusters. When you're spending 200$ million on a film, you don't mess with what works.

So fuck Hollywood. If you want daring and creative storylines, you want independent and foreign films. They can't afford big franchises and CGI nonsense, so often the novelty is in the story. It's almost mandatory to have a compelling and original story just to get the film noticed at all.

Foreign films in particular are a window into another culture. Korea makes great horror films with no chainsaws. Some French films have no epilogue, they've given you all you need to construct your own while you chew your mental food.

So if you're sick of cookie cutter movies from Hollywood, boycott them. There's a whole world that's far more interesting.
posted by adept256 at 5:49 PM on January 3, 2016


Funny, I thought it was obvious that the reason BB-8 was created was to have, for once, a droid in the SW universe that could fucking keep up with humans running away from danger.

I think BB-8 was created because watching him live on stage as a practical prop was completely mindblowing.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:54 PM on January 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


the lack of black characters in the original trilogy

Lando Calrissian was one of the greatest and most beloved characters in TESB. I was a kid when I first saw it, but I don't recall anybody noticing or commenting that he was black when watching the movies or playing with the action figures. I'm not sure if James Earl Jones voicing Darth Vader counts or not (let's say 1/2).

In any case, there weren't a lot of black characters ... but there weren't zero. I don't recall the prequels having substantially more representation of minority humans (i.e. not aliens or droids) even 20+ years later. Mace Windu being the most prominent example.
posted by theorique at 5:58 PM on January 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


The awakening of the Force within Rey does not come via some terrible punishment, or some personal trauma that she has to overcome ... Rey is given a luxury that comes so easily to male heroes – she simply turns a corner, finds a magical item (Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber, no less) and it awakens the Force in her. Just that. No searing infertility, no rape, no revelation of past abuse, no heartbreak, no sacrifice. No heroine who’s validity is defined by what she has sacrificed, in the way of Katniss handing up her life for her sister, becoming a martyr for a revolution. In the way of Ariel, handing over her power to speak in order to walk on land. No poison apple, no needle on a spinning wheel here. Rey is Bilbo and the One Ring. Bastian in the bookshop. Harry, opening a letter."

(Emphasis mine).

Now, considering there's so much of Rey's backstory we still don't know, Rian Johnson had better not screw that up.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:03 PM on January 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't recall the prequels having substantially more representation of minority humans (i.e. not aliens or droids) even 20+ years later. Mace Windu being the most prominent example.

Padme's chief security officers were black. Jango and Boba Fett were Maori, as was a successor queen of Naboo. The other successor queen was Indian. There were PoC on the Jedi council, including women. Bail Organa was Latino.

They were a bit hemmed into having white leads, but overall the prequels were a hell of a lot more racially diverse, noticeably so, than the OT.
posted by prize bull octorok at 7:19 PM on January 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


BB-8 was inspired by Ralph McQuarrie's original design.

Still twee, though
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:22 PM on January 3, 2016


My partner noted how soviet the First Order rally scene was in its aesthetic; I actually read it as being a bit more North Korean, a weird isolated and pointlessly evil remnant of a once-great (and pointlessly evil) empire.

See, and I (and the folks I've discussed it with) went straight to Nazis. Photos like this, or this. OTOH, my concept of Nazi imagery is certainly colored by fictional(ized) WWII films, rather than just source material.

But I guess we all bring our own background to interpreting these sort of things. And with a bit more googling, wow, these regimes have really all used the same visual language, haven't they? It would be an awfully interesting topic to look into further.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:33 AM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


these regimes have really all used the same visual language, haven't they? It would be an awfully interesting topic to look into further.

A potential place to start:
Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State

posted by nubs at 8:41 AM on January 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I mean, fwiw, I'm glad that Force Awakens has a diverse cast.

Not to make it about a pet issue of mine, though, the last time I heard this much buzz about a film being good with race was Crash.

And, well, y'know. Just like in that one, people who look like East Asians were relegated to background scenes and didn't really have much to say. It's a fun little game of mine. In TFA, it was nice to be able to count one Asian actor who gets a few lines (in the briefing scene), and one Asian woman pilot who doesn't really say anything.

Seems about right. Even in space fantasy, it's really just about black and white.
posted by qcubed at 10:00 AM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


some friends of mine and I were doing a Machete Order rewatch of the earlier SW films, and as to be expected with a home viewing where a bunch of scotch and beer was being passed around, we were doing a whole lot of heckling. At some point in the midst of the Dagobah arc, Luke's kneeling next to R2-D2 and saying, "hold on, Artoo, let me give you some power."

and one of us called our in pretend-R2 voice, "Oh, you mean, you're going to empower me with self-determination and the freedom to not be bought and sold like property? You're going to credit my sentience with the acknowledgment that I have free will and ... oh, you mean you're just going to give me energy. Ok, I guess."

which is to say that I am also honestly, legitimately glad that TFA has a more diverse cast and that Rey is a fully autonomous badass who gets to own all of her badassery, but I'm feeling like the BlackLivesMatters angle on Boyega feels like a lot of projection on our parts. I was about ready to dive into it myself, but then felt disappointed when it emerged that Stormtroopers weren't clones anymore. I thought that having Boyega just being a 4th or 5th iteration clone remix of Jango Fett, who is now trying to assert his own agency would've been really great.

If Star Wars really wanted to tackle a BLM theme, they would talk about droid emancipation.
posted by bl1nk at 10:18 AM on January 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't say Rey has no trauma or struggle, given that she was abandoned on a desolate hostile world and had to fend for herself at a very young age. And still wants to believe her family is alive. She has combat skills and has most likely had to use them in self-defense.
posted by emjaybee at 11:11 AM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I sincerely hope that message gets around to anyone who feels some imagined pressure to write straight/white/cis/male protagonists.

I don't believe that pressure is imagined. I took jscalzi's comment to mean he can largely ignore it now, as can others in his position. I'm also going to speculate that earlier in his career he was not as aware of the pressure because it was just how things were. The future as envisioned by the calcified futurists of SF just happens to be almost entirely made up of 1950's U.S. straight white dudes and maybe A Girl.

F&SF writers from marginalized groups still get plenty of that pressure, and if they try to ignore it they often find their work ignored instead. If their work does make it to publication with a non-default protagonist it's likely to be subject to white- (and straight- and cis- and...) washing in the marketing, or get reclassified entirely.

Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely happy to see authors playing at the lowest difficult setting writing more diverse characters. It's a necessary but far from sufficient step to make for better stories all around. There's still a long way to go.
posted by pibkac at 11:53 AM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


See, and I (and the folks I've discussed it with) went straight to Nazis. Photos like this, or this. OTOH, my concept of Nazi imagery is certainly colored by fictional(ized) WWII films, rather than just source material.

The color scheme certainly screamed Third Reich: white, black, red evokes the Hakenkreuzfahne and other Nazi flags for sure.

The scene where the First Order has their big rally and (avoiding spoilers here) does the bad thing that hurts people looked like it could have been a shot from Triumph des Willens (im Weltraum) (i.e. Triumph of the Will (in Space)).
posted by theorique at 12:10 PM on January 4, 2016


If Star Wars really wanted to tackle a BLM theme, they would talk about droid emancipation.

When I think too deeply or long about Star Wars, I do get creeped out by how the droids are treated. I think - and this sense was pretty strong after watching TFA - that the intent is that the audience should react to the droids as if they are pets; that is certainly how they often act around their human "masters" - like loyal dogs, who just happen to be really, really intelligent in terms of understanding language(s), having their own language(s), and appreciating the nuances of civilization.

I don't think that reading helps anything, though, because even at the level of being a "pet", these are created beings and if they display the tendencies of pets, well - who programmed them to be that way? Certainly, we've bred certain animals and lines to display certain traits, and we train animals to certain behaviours, but programming an intelligent, thinking device capable of feeling pain and loss to essentially fulfill scut work functions or dirty/dangerous jobs seems a step beyond that.

Anyways, that was where I left things in my head for the next time I think about the issue of droids as a slave race.

Maybe this could be the subject of Star Wars X: Droid Emancipation:

The NEW NEW REPUBLIC is in turmoil. With the FIRST ORDER vanquished,
the SENATE has begun the work of restoring justice and peace to the galaxy.

But a new threat has emerged. Declaring themselves a free and independent
people, a large group of DROIDS have seized the unpopulated FLEEBIAN SYSTEM
and demanded independence or recognition of their personhood.

As a subcommittee of the SENATE looks into the implication of granting all
droids in the REPUBLIC the rights of every other citizen while negotiations
continue, a renegade group of droids known as the 1010001001010 is preparing
a sneak attack....
posted by nubs at 12:32 PM on January 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Relevant
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:52 PM on January 4, 2016


Maybe this could be the subject of Star Wars X: Droid Emancipation

Wasn't there some kind of Droid Federation that was part of the enemy faction in Episodes 2 or 3? I seem to recall finding the idea intriguing, but it was skimmed over so quickly that I'm not sure I didn't imagine it.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 1:31 PM on January 4, 2016


Followup: After poking around the Star Wars wiki, I guess I mistook the Techno Union for being led by actual droids, when they were just aliens in fancy armor suits.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 1:38 PM on January 4, 2016


Maybe this could be the subject of Star Wars X: Droid Emancipation

I know the EU is no longer canon, but in the game Knights of the Old Republic 2, there was a Planet of the Droids segment (which was actually cut from the final game, IIRC).
posted by Panjandrum at 2:48 PM on January 4, 2016


Pedant's note: KOTOR/KOTOR2 take place ~4,000 years before any of the Star Wars movies. The EU getting nuked doesn't apply to them in the slightest.
posted by Ryvar at 10:58 PM on January 4, 2016


Storm Troopers, people. STORM TROOPERS.

With all due respect (which is plenty) to cstross & jacalzi and their excellent work, cisish hetroish whitish maleish writers writing The Other is not the same as non-cis, non-male, non-white writers writing their stories. Great bridge works, certainly, but not yet the promised land.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:22 AM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


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