Branding Fascism on PJs and Lunchboxes
August 9, 2018 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Pop Culture Critic Extraordinaire Lindsay Ellis (many previouslies) takes on the new Star Wars films with the question: What is the Ideology of the First Order?
posted by Navelgazer (32 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've felt that America was doomed as soon as I saw stormtrooper Halloween costumes and stickers on cars. When the originals came out sympathizing with the Empire was completely unimaginable.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:25 AM on August 9 [12 favorites]


I enjoyed this video, but I feel like saying that Kylo Ren believes nothing ignores a tantalizing question: what does he believe about Darth Vader? Luke surely told his entire student base about as much about Anakin Skywalker's corruption and redemption as he could. Helping Vader find redemption was Luke's thing -- arguably his greatest achievement -- and it seems weird that he'd just keep the whole thing secret.

We know Kylo Ren is obsessed with Vader in The Force Awakens, at least on a sartorial level. But what does he believe about Vader's narrative? The audience is so thoroughly familiar with his arc (prequel trilogy or not) that to have a villain idolize him without any nod to what he represents is maddening.

The only way Ren's behavior makes sense is if Luke pulled a Kenobi and said just enough about Vader to make Ren curious (i.e. he was powerful and did a lot of evil things) but not enough for him to make an informed decision about what he believes.

And I guess that superficial admiration does play quite well into the video's thesis -- Vader and stormtroopers look cool, and that's all that matters.
posted by lumensimus at 9:34 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


> Abehammerb Lincoln:
"I've felt that America was doomed as soon as I saw stormtrooper Halloween costumes and stickers on cars. When the originals came out sympathizing with the Empire was completely unimaginable."

Not to well actually you, but: I was 6 years old when Star Wars came out (and you know I'm old because I call it 'Star Wars', not 'A New Hope'), and 90-95% of the boys in my school went trick or treating that Halloween in crappy Darth Vader costumes.
posted by signal at 9:39 AM on August 9 [24 favorites]


That's a surprising amount of effort taken to establish that the Empire were Nazis without any mention of the fact they're called stormtroopers.
posted by sfenders at 9:42 AM on August 9 [14 favorites]


One thing that always gets me about Episode IV is that the most direct quote from Triumph of the Will involves the Rebels, not the Empire. I always felt that Lucas meant that medal ceremony scene as an ironic twist of an ending, hinting that the rebellion would end up as they often do, just as repressive as the regime that they've replaced. Sadly he never really followed up that thought in the next two.

The new films would have been more interesting if they'd shown a New Republic thirty years after victory having descended into just as much corruption and repression as the empire. What if the big bad in Force Awakens wasn't Snoke but President for life Organa who had gradually become more and more autocratic in an attempt to hold the New Republic together?
posted by octothorpe at 10:03 AM on August 9 [15 favorites]


I've been wondering about this myself. I have a friend who cosplays for the 501st Legion, and I shot him a message. It wasn't too much of a stretch in the original series to see stormtroopers as sort of lovable losers, the gang who couldn't shoot straight. And I can see the appeal of dressing up as the big bad villain.

But having parades of stormtroopers feels creepy and wrong in a very visceral way to me now. And they've been way more prominent on the merch than they were in the old days. The prequel trilogy (which I generally pretend doesn't exist, but I think it had an impact here) recentered the whole story on Darth Vader instead of Luke Skywalker, making the villain into the hero. I hate blaming anything on the poor millenials, but I think a lot of them Star Wars wrong because of the shit movies they got as kids.
posted by rikschell at 10:06 AM on August 9 [7 favorites]


Not to well actually you, but: I was 6 years old when Star Wars came out (and you know I'm old because I call it 'Star Wars', not 'A New Hope'), and 90-95% of the boys in my school went trick or treating that Halloween in crappy Darth Vader costumes.

I was born while the original trilogy was being released, and I used to have a photo from my baby daycare that was half Vaders and half ewoks (and me, an angel, but apparently I was mistaken for Leia with failhair). Most people are concerned with a costume’s coolness, not its politics, however, Star Wars came out of the Reagan era and it shows.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:13 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


The prequel trilogy (which I generally pretend doesn't exist, but I think it had an impact here) recentered the whole story on Darth Vader instead of Luke Skywalker, making the villain into the hero.

Well. One of the problems people had with the prequels was that they went into it with this "Darth Vader is the real (anti)hero" attitude, and when they saw Hayden Christensen portraying Anakin as a whiny, awkward, petulant creep, they decided that Lucas had failed to understand his own character and botched the whole thing up.

A lot of Vader's lines and actions from ANH, of course, are whiny and petulant, the behavior of a man with tremendous power and stunted emotional development. From his gloating over the captured Leia to his final "I'm on the leader!" during the trench run, Vader is consistently a selfish, pissy man-baby. James Earl Jones' voice masks this well, giving unearned gravitas to everything Vader says.

But seriously, just listen to the guy sometime.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:28 AM on August 9 [30 favorites]


“Fascism is to politics as a Ponzi scheme is to investments.” — William Gibson

I have seen the March of the First Order parade at Disney Hollywood Studios. I don’t really see it as a celebration of totalitarianism. Really, the way it is framed, it is as if play acting at being under a very scary martial law. Captain Phasma issues a lot of stern warnings about what will happen to you if you step out of line. It is a little bit like those horror mazes where you pretend to be escaping from a serial killer.

Also, yes, a lot of the Dark Side merch gives me the weirds. You know those guys are evil right?
posted by chrchr at 10:29 AM on August 9 [11 favorites]


I love Star Wars, but its politics and worldview are, at best, icky. The "golden age" of its universe is defined by the rule of a seemingly benevolent but all-powerful government, which relies on a cadre of secretive warrior magicians to maintain order. Oh, and those warrior magicians have an ethical code that very explicitly doesn't extend to taking any sort of stance on slavery.

I know this is because Lucas merely didn't think very hard about the implications of the world he was building, but he's even on the record as saying that "a benevolent despot is the ideal ruler." Thinking too hard about Star Wars is a HUGE bummer.
posted by incomple at 10:49 AM on August 9 [7 favorites]


I don't think this particular mythos is capable of bearing much in the way of analysis.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:03 AM on August 9 [12 favorites]


I always felt that Lucas meant that medal ceremony scene as an ironic twist of an ending, hinting that the rebellion would end up as they often do, just as repressive as the regime that they've replaced.

Ah, case in point. Lookit, mang: Lucas staged the scene that way because it looked cool, not because he meant it as a subtle dig at the propensity of revolutions to eat their young.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:05 AM on August 9 [11 favorites]


I love Star Wars, but its politics and worldview are, at best, icky. The "golden age" of its universe is defined by the rule of a seemingly benevolent but all-powerful government, which relies on a cadre of secretive warrior magicians to maintain order.

This isn't strictly correct, the Republic is hardly portrayed as "all-powerful," the Revenge of the Sith crawl takes an explicitly morally neutral stance on the Republic and the Separatists, and both the prequels and the new trilogy call out the Jedi Order's bullshit.

Everybody who has been pretending the prequels don't exist for the last decade+ ought to revisit them. The cringy stuff is still cringy, but the overall themes have held up well, and if you're not going into it looking for things to shit on, there's a lot of nuanced worldbuilding to appreciate. Please don't @ me with "no, the prequels are actually very bad" takes, I'm familiar with them all.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:11 AM on August 9 [6 favorites]


I have seen the March of the First Order parade at Disney Hollywood Studios. I don’t really see it as a celebration of totalitarianism. Really, the way it is framed, it is as if play acting at being under a very scary martial law. Captain Phasma issues a lot of stern warnings about what will happen to you if you step out of line. It is a little bit like those horror mazes where you pretend to be escaping from a serial killer.

Still, I wonder what Norman Spinrad would think of it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:21 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Still, I wonder what Norman Spinrad would think of it.

It's time to BUG FERIC JAGGAR.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:22 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the medal ceremony has always been problematic to me. Though more in a one party state communist way than fascist (though I like the Lani Riefenstahl reference, octothorpe). I always felt like, medals? Really guys? Medals are for assholes. If you really want me to respect you give me something tangible. Food, a new ship, an "I saved the universe and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" t-shirt, something. Also, what's up with just the white men getting medals?
posted by evilDoug at 11:23 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I haven’t watched the video yet, so maybe Lindsay Ellis goes into this, and I don’t have the verbiage to explain my thoughts clearly, but a lot of Anakin’s characteristics in the prequels remind me of all the people currently whining about the new Star Wars movies cow towing to SJWs and all that. He is a whiny, immature, petulant creep, who was seduced and manipulated by power to the point that he eventually choked and murdered his wife. That’s sort of a big weird flashing red light to me, but I can’t quite connect the dots.
posted by gucci mane at 11:25 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


This is why I love the 'neither the republic nor the empire" and "we have to do something to break this cycle" message of The Last Jedi.
posted by The Whelk at 11:43 AM on August 9 [24 favorites]


Yes, unfortunately the prequels have held up way too well. From the trade wars to the fall of democracy and treason. Prequel Memes is a treasure. "So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause". There are so many quotes tailor made for this trump/Putin timeline.
posted by GregorWill at 11:44 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I think some of the best fun in stormtrooper cosplay involved doing stuff that movie stormtroopers wouldn't really do, like pass out presents to kids, dance, or Orange Vader (who apparently wasn't Mark Hamill). But I agree that it's a bit off now.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:34 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Also, yes, a lot of the Dark Side merch gives me the weirds. You know those guys are evil right?

I had a good laugh last winter, when I noticed Vader and Stormtrooper Christmas-tree decorations...
posted by jkaczor at 12:58 PM on August 9


and both the prequels and the new trilogy call out the Jedi Order's bullshit.

As does the Clone Wars series at times (which in general presents more neutral/grey stuff and gives a better transition between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith).

But also --- yeah, thinking too much about Star Wars politics/universe is still unwise, it's light entertainment. I don't think someone thinking stormtrooper outfits or TIE fighters look cool means they have any sympathies at all with actual fascists. Star Wars is sufficiently cartoonish that its quite easy to enjoy it as an abstract thing without connecting it to your "real world" views. Similarly, I don't think someone who really likes Aragorn in LOTR is necessarily a strong believer in the divine right of kings.

Also also --- if I were to focus on problematic things in Star Wars, I think exhibit A is the universal enslavement and cruelty to droids, which is practiced by all sides, even the heroes (I mean, they literally just shut off 3PO when he annoyed them).
posted by thefoxgod at 1:54 PM on August 9 [6 favorites]


Not to derail, but given Lindsay's desire to no longer be associated with the Nostalgia Chick character I wonder if it might be appropriate to stop using that tag for posts about her work?
posted by Aleyn at 2:56 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Most people are concerned with a costume’s coolness, not its politics, however, Star Wars came out of the Reagan era and it shows.

What? Presidents during the development and release of the first Star Wars trilogy: Carter, Carter, Reagan. I mean, heck, the first one was written and shot during Ford's term.

I think the Reagan era only really shows up in the prequels, in which its influence is cloyingly obvious.
posted by rokusan at 4:05 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


That's too bad about the Nostalgia Chick character. I remember roaring with laughter during the Labyrinth review when the Area was revealed.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:53 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


(I mean Lucas’s stated intention was to make a Vietnam metaphor with the rebels as the viet cong)
posted by The Whelk at 4:57 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Anecdote: just saw a truck with the following stickers - stormtrooper, Hydra with an American flag print (maybe with a Punisher skull?), an AK-47, and some wolf sticker with text I couldn't read.

I don't think it's an intentionally ironic collection.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:58 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


I'm really bummed she hates her old stuff. I thought it was mindblowing. I can see it for purposes of "working for Doug the asshole sucked," which makes sense, but it wasn't bad.

I dunno about removing the tag since a lot of folks first heard of her that way and might track her that way. Even on that twitter thread some people didn't realize it was the same person. Then again, I wasn't super knowledgeable about that company drama until the last time we had a thread on it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:00 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I know some of the old stuff wasn't her idea to do, and you can usually tell (the NC "Jem" episode gets stuff wrong, and you can tell she's only doing it because she was told to, and I think she even says as such in the video), and I think she mentioned immediately kinda chafing at being the "girl version" of an existing character rather than herself, but, yeah, for the most part, the NC era was pretty great. (But I adore the stuff she does now.)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 6:21 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Anecdote: just saw a truck with the following stickers - stormtrooper, Hydra with an American flag print (maybe with a Punisher skull?), an AK-47, and some wolf sticker with text I couldn't read.

This sounds unnervingly like the incoherent collection of pins worn by one of our more recent school shooters (can't recall the name, and wouldn't post it if I could). IIRC, he sported a hammer & sickle, an Imperial Japanese flag, an Iron Cross and a Baphomet-head, none of which make particular sense together, but all of which have a certain amount of obvious appeal to a kid gesturing impotently after world-historical badassery.

But there's a lot of that going around, isn't there? From time to time, in various para-sketchy social contexts, I think I've seen what you think you're seeing, too: the Star Wars Imperial insignia (retconned from the helmet device seen on one of the Death Star's main battery gunners, no?) used as a kind of winking, deniable emblem of tribal affiliation, for folks who aren't quite ready to take the leap into out altrightery.

I literally have skin in this game, too, having recently covered up two bicep tattoos I've had for decades (a stylized "industrial" cog on the left and the old JAL crane logo on the right) because I was getting tired of nerds mistaking them for, respectively, the Star Wars Imperial and Rebel insignia, and me for some kind of hugely motivated superfanboi.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:53 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


At the very end of the 400k Q&A she addresses this whole thing: saying she wishes she could delete all the NChick videos but people will just upload them again anyway, so they are going onto a separate channel.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:51 PM on August 16


She also said in that video that she wants to do a video with jscalzi. That should be a thing that happens.
posted by octothorpe at 4:45 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]


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