Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Best Of Everything 100-day 100-question Star Wars Blogathon, Question 17

New to this? Official rules here.

A change in the standings today! Grumpy has moved into second, although Andrew, smartly mentioning this on his blog a lot, retains a good (but not unbeatable) lead.

Hang in there, Rusty. There's a new way to earn points. In honor of Rusty's mention of DJ sound effects on my other other blog, I'm calling this "Be Caller Number..." and it's a doozy of a point-earner. Here's how it works: I'll pick a random number between 1-10 each day, and and the person whose comment falls into that slot will get 10 points... provided that his comment is not the one immediately before the scoring comment. So if the number is five, and your comment is the fifth for that question, you get 10 points.

Simple, right? At least it's not as bad as my Stupid Pineapple system. The "not immediately preceding" rule means you can't just comment five times, say, and get the points.

I'm sure everything will work out just fine.

Also on Andrew's blog, I promised sharp pop culture commentary accompanying these questions, so if anyone knows someone who can provide that type of commentary, please pass this on to him or her and let them know I've got a job opening. Until then, I'll be filling these posts with the usual dreck, such as:

This image:

Could have totally gotten you a Master's Degree in college but you were too dumb to study something like Star Wars, and also, it helps prove that Star Wars is the reason people care about society.

That image figures into the first paragraph of what I'm told is an actual serious academic paper entitled "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars?:Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture", a paper which begins by quoting Francis Ford Coppola on the democratization of art by ever-cheaper prodution methods:

"For me the great hope is now that 8mm video recorders are coming out, people who normally wouldn't make movies are going to be making them. And that one day a little fat girl in Ohio is going be the new Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father's camcorder. For once the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed and it will really become an art form."

about which I say: Did he have to call her fat? That poor girl! Isn't life already hard enough for her, what with trying to be "the new Mozart" by producing a "beautiful film?" Didn't she know that Mozart wasn't a film producer? (I think Mozart was a cartoonist.) Did she have to have a famous film director call her fat? I bet that girl went on to become anorexic and lived a miserable life, all thanks to Francis Ford Coppola. Nice. Hollywood jerk.

Anyhow, in Quentin, etc., Henry Jenkins talks about how Star Wars proliferated almost instantly into pop culture, including at one point Samuel L. Jackson speaking to Harvard students by imitating Yoda doing lines from Pulp Fiction, which I think was either the apogee or the nadir of Western Culture, or both, and which I also cannot find on Youtube, which is a shame because I'd have happily watched that the rest of the day.

Jenkins goes on to talk about participatory culture, by which he means "we're all taking stuff other people made and telling our own stories about it," which Jenkins compares to traditional folk culture -- suggesting that Han, and Chewie (Rusty: WOOKIES!) and the rest have become the Paul Bunyans of the modern era:

Just as the American folk songs of the nineteenth century were often related to issues of work, the American folk culture of the twentieth century speaks to issues of leisure and consumption. Fan culture, thus, represents a participatory culture through which fans explore and question the ideologies of mass culture, speaking from a position sometimes inside and sometimes outside the cultural logic of commercial entertainment.
And are you still reading this? Or did you skip up to the question? I hope you at least came back and read this.

While Jenkins notes that these pop culture icons belong to corporations, not the people, he also notes that Star Wars, in particular, seems to have been much more appropriated by fans, and that fans feel a greater right to do that -- and ironically feels that Star Wars itself gave fans the feeling they could just use the material:

Encouraged by Lucas's romantic myth about grassroots resistance to controlling institutions, these fans have actively resisted efforts by Lucasfilm to tighten its control over intellectual property.

The paper actually traces, in an interesting way, the back-and-forth between Lucasfilm and the fans, with Lucasfilm "implicitly" okaying some fan fiction by nixing others -- Lucasfilm said no x-rated fanfiction could be made, which seemed an okay to produce family-level stuff. Lucasfilm later offered free web space to produce indie Star Wars efforts... on the condition that the resultant materials were deemed Lucasfilm's property, and the lines sometimes were blurred as fans made unauthorized versions of authorized spin-offs.

That's all interesting as far as it goes, but I had both a different theory of why fans feel so particularly able to ripoff/use Star Wars, and of the effect of Star Wars as a myth/folk tale.

Star Wars, as everyone knows, was one of the big films to offer merchandising -- in particular, action figures and playsets. While those might have been around before Star Wars (I was 8 when the movie was released, so I don't really know), they certainly took off once Star Wars came out. I can distinctly recall going to a Target store, at about age 8, having just seen the movie, and there was an entire row devoted solely to Star Wars toys in the toy section. Figure after figure after figure; I'd never seen anything like it before.

As kids, I and my brothers of course got everything we could -- we had action figures (including, once, a Boba Fett with the shootable missile) and AT-ATs and X-Wings and a landspeeder and more.

And originally, we recreated the movie scenes with them. I had a dresser with bookshelves on it, and the dresser was the Death Star -- with the third section down being the trash compactor and the larger base being where the Falcon was dragged with the tractor beam.

But after a while, that got old-- and Empire hadn't come out yet, so what could we do? We had to invent new adventures for Luke and Han and Greedo (I had a Greedo action figure and he wasn't always a bad guy) to go on. And with that, fanfiction was born: George Lucas gave me the tools to create my own stories with his characters, and in fact made it seem okay.

If as a kid, you're allowed to make Greedo be friends with Luke and use the landspeeder as a spaceship itself to explore a hollow planet made entirely of poisonous jungle thorns (my bunk bed), why can't you as an older person write that story down? I think that is what's behind fanfiction and the feeling that Star Wars belongs to us and we can do with it what we want: Lucas let us do that as kids, and we don't want to let it go.

As for the larger impact of Star Wars on our culture, and I'm being totally serious here, I think that the myth of Star Wars -- innocuous, naive farmer, helped by a few savvy friends, overthrows a vast Empire -- both serves as a re-creation of the American Revolution (Luke is Washington, Obi Wan is Ben Franklin, and Han is the French)(Chewie is still Chewie -- there were Wookies in the American Revolution, Rusty!) and as an inspiration for people who are trying to fight similarly large, faceless institutions.

By that I mean: The Occupy movement. The average age of protesters in the Occupy movements is 33, with the majority of people being in their early 20s, or in their early 40s: just the right age to have formed basic opinions with the first or second Star Wars trilogy -- both of which were hugely popular sets of movies.

In other words, a significant number of people who have taken up protesting against corporations and other large entities are just the right age to have been influenced by a story about a small cadre of people who somehow manage to take down an Empire -- and those people are, by and large, the people who saw that done on the screen, and then spent some time recreating that over and over before moving on to do other exciting things (via their action figures.)

I've joked off and on about how Star Wars is the basis for Western Civilization, but it just may be true. This article notes that in the past, fairy tales and folk tales were both spun off into erotica and other "unauthorized" editions and also mirrored (and presaged?) the changing of society. Some historians credit "Paul Bunyan" with being a story that actually began and was passed on to inspire French Canadians during a rebellion in 1837. In the 1830s, in America, Daniel Boone passed from actual person with actual things he did to a vine-swinging, bear-killing superhero. That, of course, coincides with the need to continue settling and exploring America, and maybe people wanted to read about a man who could do that because they were doing it, or maybe they did it because they read about it.

It's something to think about: Nobody's sure how we get our attitudes about stuff and junk (to use the highbrow term), so it's not absurd to think that the belief that camping in a park in New York City can help topple Bank of America comes from being an 8-year-old watching as Luke shoves the targeting computer aside and still nails that shot.

And with that, here's today's question, worth 34 points:

What did Qui-Gon Jinn disguise himself as to protect Baroness Omnino five years before the Battle of Naboo?

A. A Tusken Raider.
B. A Senate Guard.
C. A bounty hunter.
A wookie.

Commenter number two gets today's 10 point bonus.

PS: My thinking about this was inspired by Grumpy's post on Occupy and dystopias. Read that here.


Grumpy Bulldog, March Madman said...

I'll guess B.

Rusty Webb said...


Rusty Webb said...

Hey! I was commenter number 2! I get 10 points. If by some miracle of miracles the the answer was Wookie then I get... well, however many points the question was worth.

AND, since I've already won the prize, I get to post again without fear of penalty.

And I did want to post again because I do go straight to the question, answer it, then go back to read the whole post. So duplicate posts from me is probably a common thing. That being said, if you went to Target and saw rows of Star Wars toys lining the aisles then you were way ahead of me. I just got those goddamned stupid coupons.

Andrew Leon said...

Too late to the party today. That's what comes of having to go out and replace a backpack for one child and get a softball helmet for another.


I think the reasons that Star Wars resonates with us are even more fundamental than the things you're saying, not that those things are wrong. I think they're not wrong. But I do think it goes deeper. Lucas patterned his story on a lot of Joseph Campbell's research and what it means to be a hero and what, exactly, is the journey of a hero. These ideas go back thousands of years, and I don't think we've shaken those off, yet.
We continue to apply these ideas culturally and Star Wars is still the story that is speaking to us.

As for merchandising, it didn't much exist before Star Wars, but it did exist. I had a Six Million Dolar Man doll and his spaceship. Maybe a couple of other things. There were some super hero dolls, too. I had a Spider-Man (still have that one somewhere). Yes, they were all dolls. Action figures were really invented with Star Wars, and that's when it really became a thing.

I'm sure I have more to say, but I have to go make dinner.

I'll try to answer the questions by the end of tomorrow. And I was going to ask how you felt about me bequeathing my copy of Dead God on someone else, so I'm glad you suggested it. I'm going to offer it in tomorrow's blog post (assuming I get it finished).