When You Wish Upon A Death Star

Disney has given itself to the dark side.

I don’t say that as another outraged fan boy irritated by nerdy expectations, but as an historian who understands the profound inspirational power of art. I’m also astounded by the lengths that America’s imperial bread and circus brigades have proven willing to go to direct our ever fleeting attention spans toward their illusions.

Truth may be the first casualty in war, but the mechanics of that casualty involve significant co-opting of stories that bind our cultures together. The Vatican successfully assimilated the Celtic peoples of Northern Ireland by incorporating Judea-Christian names into ancient Gaelic stories, altering the cultural stories away from the traditions associated with the history of the people. These edits and omissions happened incrementally enough that after a while, many never noticed as their entire culture was rewritten.

Myths and Legends matter. They represent the art of informing subsequent generations of long established truths. And the medium of film presents perhaps the most powerful conveyance system ever conceived for expressing who we are and where our priorities lie. Cultural stories give us a shared sense of meaning and solidarity. The art of Cinema is the literal production of Motion Pictures, that is, pictures on the wall that evolve and morph and tell a story and pull you in and reconcile your emotional experience of the world.

Film was explicitly designed for dissent. It was designed to discuss alternative ideas. It was designed to push our collective narratives toward a perspective of advancing how our society examines itself – indeed, how we examine ourselves as individuals within it.

But an art form as influential as this couldn’t last as a pure medium forever. Greedy industrialists, seeing the obvious profit and propaganda potentials of film, smothered the reels with their greasy hands and began to turn it to the dark side. Now the engines of industrial art seem absolutely determined to sully one of the most important legends of the 20th century.

In essence, Star Wars: A New Hope was the story of an orphaned farm boy who became radicalized after a military strike killed what was left of his family, thus becoming indoctrinated in an ancient religion, in-turn deciding to accompany a band of insurgents on a terrorist attack that would kill hundreds of thousands of men and women. Given that appraisal, what unpatriotic pariah could possibly see any glory in such tripe? Given that appraisal, couldn’t we consider the rewriting of this myth as a good thing?

But Star Wars: A New Hope also represented the familiar story of discovering that we are more than just our flesh; that our being extends out into the universe around us; that we are all one consciousness; that the most yielding will always overcome the most rigid; that there is good inside the most evil among us. It told a story of profound forgiveness. A young man believed so strongly that his father could be saved from the dark side’s influence that he sacrificed himself to do so. After himself being tempted by the dark side, he tosses away his weapon and taunts the emperor by refusing to kill his father. The emperor responds by killing Luke slowly with painful force lightning, in-turn awakening a sense of empathy within Vader, who tosses the emperor into down the Death Star’s reactor shaft, killing him. Luke could not have known for certain that his gamble would produce fruit, but verified the belief that light will always overcome darkness in the end.

It seems rather obvious that the American Empire might want to co-opt and redirect our attention away from such a narrative. And it seems that the best way to kill something great, is to make as many copies of copies as possible and sell them to us.

So one of the corporations representing our friendly neighborhood Ministry of Truth bought the trademark to the story and now fills our consciousness with its mediocre rewrites, and not only because it knows it can make a buck doing so. Let’s remember why the demand for Disney to turn a buck on Star Wars exists in the first place: because the essence of Star Wars represented a unifying perspective that deeply touched and inspired millions, thus forming an entire culture around it – a culture now under attack by postmodern nihilism. Case and point, examine the line in the newest film:

Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. It’s the only way to become what you’re meant to be.”

Although this seems on the surface to mirror the sentiment of Forrest Gump’s assertion that “youve got to put the past behind you before you can move on,” it also constitutes an expression of postmodern nihilism. Within the context of producing yet another Star Wars film, the quote illustrates a mentality of complacency. It seeks to encourage cultural amnesia and historic myopia.

Disney’s new Star Wars films are proving themselves as tools for the subtle interjection of corporate messages and imperialist propaganda. They’re loaded with plot holes, logical fallacies, and embarrassing errors. They’re easy to understand, and instantly forgettable. They also happen to be worth a truckload of money.

In the same way, the cartoonish fairy tale we were all told about WMDs in Iraq was a corporate piece of imperial propaganda loaded with plot holes, logical fallacies, and embarrassing errors. But the story was easy to understand, and instantly forgettable. It also happened to be worth a truckload of money.

And these new Disney films have more in common with WMD’s than simply fulfilling their role as keys to distracting society’s attention. They’re stories that are received much differently by the people than they are the experts at public relations. They’re also stories with the power to shape culture by their immediate influence. The WMD story succeeded in mobilizing the massive forever-war that no one was allowed to challenge without undergoing accusations regarding patriotic loyalty. As Reverend Billy Talen says, sentimental patriotism is the same thing as extreme consumerism.

The imposition of mindless entertainment seems to prevent such realization from ever occurring. We Americans can’t ever really know that much about foreign policy when the very engines of our culture – in this case, the entertainment mediums that dominate our collective consciousness with ever-increasing leverage – implicitly encourage us to passively accept blind obedience to authority. After all, you don’t want to spoil the circus for your neighbor by doing too much thinking, now do you? You shouldn’t remind people, for instance, that the most advanced humanoids that have ever walked this rock are right now dropping explosive shells on children around the world, while attending pastiche entertainments that explicitly glorify such behavior.

And why is this? Why does our culture seem to have such a pathological aversion to bad news – to criticism – to thinking? Could it have anything to do with the fact that many of the films we watch reinforcecompliance and apathy? Aren’t we just there to fill our minds withexplosions and cool space battles?

After all, it’s not as if films riddled with deus ex machinas might promote a culture of intellectual laziness, right?

Why be bothered by unnecessary indulgences such as plot and character development? We’ll forget all about this movie in a couple of months anyway – unlike the original films. But with each new addition we all care about the original story less and less. With every subsequent release of a new Star Wars film, a once great unifying cultural force that extended beyond the bounds of race, religion or class, becomes less significant.

At the same time, Disney has positioned itself to be one of the most influential departments in the ministry of truth, for as they co-opt the cultural icon of Star Wars, they have also aligned themselves with the annual repetition of Christmas. The aim seems obvious enough; release new Star Wars films around the holidays and you can maximize toy sales. It does indeed provide Disney corporation with an excuse to sell us the same Darth Vader and Millennium Falcon themed products every Christmas, thereby reinforcing the principal edict of American Culture: unfettered consumerism.

But something even more insidious appears to be happening as well.

Disney is gradually inserting itself as one of the principal arbiters of culture for modern American life. The stories and traditions of the Winter Solstice that extend back into the eons now must compete against a new corporate tradition that seeks to capture our collective attention. In one fell swoop, Disney assert themselves as the high authority of both Christmas and Star Wars, and in-turn, the attention of those to whom the lore matters.

Seen in this way, the new Star Wars releases aren’t “just movies.” They represent what may be among the greatest disappointments in cinematic history – a mockery of a once great cultural perspective. And we’re guaranteed to be reminded of it ad infinitum.

Perhaps surprise may be an inappropriate reaction regarding the behavior of Disney – a corporation that lobbied congress to extend copyright terms by decades in order to severely limit the public domain. And beings that influence breeds an addiction to power which can only beget a craving for yet more power, the consolidation of corporate influence seems to inevitably point to the eventual assimilation of all things relevant into a singular entity, like the Umbrella Corporation of Resident Evil.

I see two possible outcomes here. Both involve Disney’s continuous barrage of Star Wars movies, but they differ on why Disney stops producing them. In the first scenario, people begin to hate all things Star Wars and forget the original narrative completely. We’re forced to endure the mind-assault of a continuous barrage of increasingly awful things emblazoned with the Star Wars brand to the point that we might eventually forget all about the inspiring acts and deeds of courageous rebels taking on an intimidating Galactic Empire. It makes sense that this might be desirable for the American Empire.

The parallels between the original films and the American Empire seem too embarrassing for orthodox imperial culture to endure. To wipe away this inconvenient stain, the empire employs their skilled propagandists at the Ministry of Truth, and who better within the cabal of Hollywood, than Disney, to do this? It was Disney, after all, that wrote, directed and shot scores of propaganda films during the Second World War. So who better to erase an annoying tale of imperial hypocrisy?

Today’s Hollywood regularly celebrates mindless entertainment purely for the sake of mindless entertainment, as a lovely distraction away from the desert of the real. Corporate media institutions prey on the naive minds of audiences who lack their own life experience to make their own judgments. But surely, Disney oozes benevolence. What kind of heretic could possibly have suspicious eyes for the magnanimous magic of Disney?

If the big, bad wolf disguises himself within the folds of innocuous costumes to keep from prematurely alarming his prey, then what better vessel for the darkest forces of all to inhabit than the unassuming innocence of Disney? Then again, Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox for $52 Billion may threaten to war thin the perceived innocence of their brand.

In our first scenario, Disney masquerades through the world in the remains of an empty shell of inspiration, which seems like an unfortunate imperial triumph. So in the second scenario, I imagine a growing disgust for the use of electronic hallucinations to hypnotize us into set modes of thinking. It gradually takes more than one-dimensional characters and loads of special effects to maintain the attention of movie goers. Over time, a mind evolves among people who now grow tired of easily identifiable cliches, and cannot tolerate obvious fallacies or massive plot holes. A growing backlash begins to develop against the corporate consumer culture that seeks to dominate every aspect of our daily lives, especially around the holidays. Because Star Wars culture breeds Star Wars geeks. And if geeks are good at anything, it’s identifying inconsistencies. The culture of technically minded individuals who identified Han Solo’s mischaracterization of parsecs in the Mos Eisley Spaceport are the same folks annoyed by obvious plot holes. Geeks have led the way on many fronts, and they’re already losing interest in the Star Wars franchise.

Over time we begin to realize we’ve been sold another turd dipped in glitter; that the soft reboot that became Episode 7 constituted little more than a scene-for-scent remake of A New Hope, wherein we meet our protagonist on a desert planet – again – by means of a droid carrying top secret plans to a giant Super Weapon – again – who almost gets crushed in a trash compactor – again – before triumphantly flying through the exhaust trench of aforementioned Super Weapon – again – to blow up another ominous space station. It could be said to be a point by point copy of A New Hope, but without pesky distractions like good acting, thorough character development, well-defined dialogue, an original thought, a firm grasp of tension and release, or a reason to care about what happens to any of the characters.

For me, the primary metric for gauging any piece of art is the question, “What did it make me feel?” By this standard, the worst films I’ve ever seen didn’t make me feel anything. The only characters I cared about at all in Rogue One, for example, were the droid and the blind Jedi. When they died, I did feel something. But I can’t remember either of their names, so I obviously didn’t care very much. And why should I? The suicidal nature of their mission meant that all of the characters were made to be disposable from the very beginning. And I’ve already seen this movie – it was called Saving Private Ryan directed by Stephen Spielberg. The only difference between Spielberg’s Private Ryan and this new one is that the new one has storm troopers instead of Germans.

In many ways the newest of the Star Wars films can be described as yet another remake, but this time of The Empire Strikes Back; A wannabe Jedi travels from an isolated planet to train, ignores their teacher’s advice, then learns who her parents are. Next we swap out Billy Dee Williams as the betrayal character for Benicio Del Toro. Finally, our remake becomes complete with scenes of a ground assault led by 4-legged imperial walkers that look just a little bit different, attacking a rebel base on white-desert planet, but unlike Hoth, this planet is covered in salt instead of snow.

There are many reasons that the newest Star Wars films are among the least-liked Star Wars movies by audience reviews. They could be described as a Midichlorian dumpster fire that now threatens to consume timeless cultural icons.The fine minds at Red Letter Media have even dubbed the Last Jedi, “the cinematic equivalent of Homer Simpson’s makeup shotgun.” But the professional critics seem to like it. I wonder why that could be.

Remember, the Vatican assimilated the Celts by incorporating Judea-Christian names into the myths, altering the cultural stories away from traditions associated with the history of the people. While these edits and omissions happened incrementally, some assimilation happens much more quickly. When a particular ideology landed on these eastern shores, so did the onset of cultural amnesia here in the Americas. Within just a few generations, the roaring fire of long established traditions extending back through the centuries of Amerindian antiquity, shrank to a meek candle flame, struggling against the wind to stay alive. The same mentality that sought to co-opt and dominate all philosophical doctrines before, now have their sights set on the subversive stories that emerged from within that very heart of their own Empire.

The good news is that this reign of psychological terror can end as soon as we grow tired of their electronic hallucinations. People power defeats propaganda. Education, after all, is subversive by its very nature, for it forces questions to the forefront that our masters don’t want us asking.

I for one feel optimistic. Just as Luke knew there to be good within Darth Vader, I believe the concept of ethics can one day awaken within the ownership class.

 

2012-11-05

Gabrielle Lafayette is a journalist, writer, and executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.

In 1492, Globalization Made Its Debut

123 years ago, US President Harrison established Columbus Day to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ 1492 landing in the Bahamas, and in October 1971 the United States officially recognized it as a federal holiday. In turn, American public schools have consistently reminded the youth of this nation to associate the second Monday of every October with the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria. But this year, might I suggest that perhaps it would be wiser to recognize the Inca, Cherokee, and Lakota?

That was the sentiment last week at the Seattle City Council, who passed a unanimous resolution Monday 5 October 2015, to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, challenging the idea that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America with his 1492 voyage. Instead, Indigenous People’s Day aims to celebrate “the thriving cultures and values of Indigenous Peoples in our region,” by reinventing the holiday.

Seattle is the latest to join a growing list of municipalities shifting the holiday’s focus from Columbus to the people he encountered on this continent as well as their contemporary descendants.

In April the Minneapolis City Council adopted a similar measure to, “reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Dakota, Ojibwa and other indigenous nations add to our city.

In Lawrence, Kansas students from Haskell University have successfully pushed their city to honor their ancestors by declaring October 12th Indigenous Peoples’ Day. On Tuesday 6 October 2015, Mayor Mike Amyx recognized that the City of Lawrence, whose University houses 151 tribal nations, was built on the homelands of Osage and Kansa. Christopher Sindone, president of the Haskell Indian Nations University’s Student Senate said, “For them to pass something like this, as a city … that’s 180 years of resiliency by Native Americans acknowledged.

And Portland Public Schools have announced that Indigenous People’s Day will supplement Columbus Day in Portland rather than replacing it outright. According to the Oregonian Greg Belisle of the Portland School Board said, “It’s not about one or the other, it’s about how do we get a complete picture to understand where we’re at in history, and how we got there?”

Despite the recent surge in popularity, an effort to move away from a celebration of Columbus is not new. Sixteen US states no longer recognize Columbus Day as a national holiday. South Dakota has officially observed Native American’s Day since 1990. Berkeley, California followed suit in 1992 when Mayor Loni Hancock told TIME Magazine that Columbus Day celebrations are “Eurocentric and [have] ignored the brutal realities of the colonization of indigenous peoples.

According to Nolan Feeney of Time magazine:

Talk of an alternative to Columbus Day dates back to the 1970s, but the idea came to Berkeley after the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, in 1990. That led to another conference among Northern Californian Native American groups, Hancock says; some attendees, along with other locals interested in Native American history, brought their concerns to the Berkeley City Council. The council appointed a task force to investigate the ideas and Columbus’ historical legacy, and in 1992 they unanimously approved the task force’s recommendation for an Indigenous Peoples Day.

Hancock asserted that,“[Columbus] was one of the first Europeans to get to the American continent, but there was a lot of history that came after that in terms of the wiping out of native people. It just didn’t seem appropriate. It seemed like a reemphasizing of history and recognizing that to be very ethnocentric really diminishes us all.”

Hancock says there was vocal opposition to change but notes that most of it came from outside of the Berkeley community.

However common sense this disposition may seem, several Italian-Americans have denounced the shift, arguing that Columbus Day was an important celebration of Italian pride and heritage, and that changing the celebration is ‘disrespectful.’

Lisa Marchese, a lawyer affiliated with the Order Sons of Italy in America told The Seattle Times this week, “Italian-Americans are deeply offended. By this resolution, you say to all Italian-Americans that the city of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your community worthy of recognition.”

While I may be a staunch supporter of unpopular opinions, I couldn’t help but wonder if Miss Marchese was aware for the reason the city is named Seattle at the time of her comment. I wonder what Chief Seattle would have to say to her ‘deeply offended’ Italian constituents: “Sorry our memory competes with your existence,”? And if we’re going to talk about being offensive, how about we address a point so fundamental it’s almost cliché: the genocide of tens of millions of Native Americans. Isn’t it more offensive that European immigrants all but exterminated upwards of 60 million human beings and threw what few remained into boarding schools and reservations – an ongoing crime that continues to this day? Wasn’t the destruction of native lands through clear-cutting and mining, the poisoning of their watersheds through industrialization and hydro-fracking, the annihilation of the buffalo, and outright disappearance of the natural biodiversity that used to exist on this land mass, as well as the outright dismissal that anything could be wrong with these events, more disrespectful than honoring the heritage of the very bloodline responsible for these atrocities?

And how does today’s sanctity-of-life obsessed culture juxtapose the hero worship of the Conquistadors against the condemnation of gun violence and terrorism? By today’s standards we would consider Cortez, Pizarro and all of their Conquistador marauders to be fundamentalist terrorist extremists. For example, Pizarro’s violent siege of the Inca Empire and subsequent enslavement and murder of Atahualpa was all shadowed beneath the justification of ‘Christianization’. The imperial takeover of the New World and subsequent genocidal looting likely could never have been brought about without a horde of Catholic fundamentalists who were absolutely convinced that they were carrying out God’s murderous will. In fact, the Castilian law of the Spanish Royal Crown explicitly prohibited non-Catholics from embarking on the conquest of the New World. This all would certainly qualify as the behavior of fundamentalist terrorists, but that’s not how they’re remembered. Certainly, considering them as such would severely contradict the mythology of the American Empire’s romanticized version of history that seeks to conceal our crimes beneath a mountain of lies.

The gears of American Empire would begin to grind to a halt if her children were remotely aware of the truth; that we fabricate evidence to perpetuate war profiteering; that we are the only country that has ever deployed nuclear weapons against a civilian population; that we arm and fund dictators responsible for human rights violations as unspeakable as they are uncountable; that we rewrite history to conceal our lawless abominations.

I used to think that the curiosity the led me to ask such questions would eventually proliferate into the culture at large, but more and more I see an outright unwillingness to acknowledge our authentic history. This has led me to wonder, where does this arrogance emanate from? Is Imperial Hubris a personality characteristic inherent within American Exceptionalism? Is it the result of the prisons that pass for schools today, where children are indoctrinated into left-brained fetishism while free expression is ridiculed and punished? Is it a byproduct of the inescapable barrage of propaganda, fear mongering, and war porn pouring out of news reels, films and video games as ubiquitous as they are outrageous?

Wherever it originates from, this ignorant vanity reveals a widely unacknowledged superiority complex that still exists within the decedents of European colonizers for whom decadence is an entitlement so coveted that we are willing to look beyond the profound human suffering that is required to produce it.

They say Indigenous People’s Day honors one group while disregarding the heritage of others, but doesn’t Columbus Day do exactly the same thing? Isn’t observing Columbus Day just a not-so-subtle reminder of who dominated whom? And isn’t it blatantly hypocritical for European decedents of any ilk to complain about commemorating their heritage on these stolen lands? It’s not like Native Americans have immigrated to Italy and demanded the Italian government recognize a national holiday in their honor. It’s not as if Native Americans are demanding from Spain, a restitution for all the gold and silver that was stolen from this continent. All that is being asked for is an accurate conception of history. You don’t have to feel shame or guilt for what was done to the Native Americans especially since this generation had very little to do with these transgressions. But we are the descendants of those who committed these crimes, so we should at least have some respect for the dead and acknowledge what happened. We can’t change the past but we can change our behavior for the better based on an accurate understanding of the past.

Despite what American schoolchildren may learn about “Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492,” teachers rarely if ever mention that, “in 1493, the Europeans stole everything they could see.” Columbus should not be celebrated for “discovering” America because neither he nor any of the Conquistadors that followed him ever discovered anything. Tens of millions of people had already inhabited this land for centuries by the time Europeans crossed the Atlantic, and they’d done it in harmony with nature. European settlers were stunned to find sprawling cities larger than any of the capitals of Europe when they arrived here, and even more surprised to find that these metropolises did not have any of the pollution problems that Europe did. And while much of this might seem like romanticized wishful thinking, the journals of European scouts prove these assertions accurate. It only seems fantastic because the version of history we have all been spoon-fed by our public school system is such a dramatic forgery – because when a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous.

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant announced last year, “Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of indigenous people and a celebration of social justice … allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day.

While history is all too often written by the subjugator, many researchers and professors have successfully peered through the omissions, distortions and lies of the commonly accepted Columbus narrative to present modern minds with a well-documented account of how we got here. Historians such as Howard Zinn, Jared Diamond, Charles C. Mann and James W. Loewen illustrate that history is not black and white; that an accurate history is essential for us to understand today’s circumstances; that history is the only subject so frequently mis-taught that college professors consistently make considerable efforts to help their students unlearn the fictitious stories drilled into them by the federal public school system. This is also why so few Americans know who America declared independence from in the Revolution, what century the civil war was fought in, or why US troops were sent to Vietnam. We need to know our history, or we’re doomed to repeat it. Ironically, a thorough study of history confirms that people have been repeating it for centuries as a byproduct of not studying it.

So at the very least, today’s schoolchildren should understand that the purpose of European Imperialism into the New World was not to pave the way for a federal holiday to be celebrated on the second Monday of October by self-entitled Americans, so much as institutionalize coerced colonization, subjugation and decimation of the indigenous population.

In the words of James Lowen:

“Cherishing Columbus is a characteristic of white history – not American history.”

rethink-columbusGabrielle Lafayette is a journalist, writer, and executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
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