In the mid aughteens – I want to say 2016? – I attended a benefit gala at the Natural History Museum for god knows what. Truly, no idea what the night’s money was going to fund, and you could not pay me enough money in the world to hunt down the image that would place me on the step-and-repeat that night with my ex-husband, especially since it’s not even me in the photo but his former female co-anchor. Honest mistake!
But it definitely was one of those New York events that draws in a strange hodge-podge of coastal celebrities, and at one point I found myself in talking about “Going Clear,” the Scientology documentary from Alex Gibney, with a small group of people that included Henry Kissinger, Ronan Farrow and George Lucas.
After a round of general praise for the HBO series, George was the only one who had yet to chime in, and, genuinely curious, I asked if he had any insights.
George Lucas is a very slow, deliberate talker. “Well…” he began, “I may be uniquely qualified in my perspective here, as the only person here who founded both a religion and a cult.”
“Oh, like the Jedi and Sith?” I asked.
Everyone gave me a weird look, except for Kissinger, who, despite talking to me for twenty minutes prior, hadn’t worked his way up to eye contact. “I mean, Star Wars,” he qualified. The dinner bell (gong? chime?) dispersed the party soon after, and for the next two or three years, I was left turning that answer over in my head like an elusive riddle of a bearded space Sphinx. (So like, Yoda, I guess.)
Having seen the 1988 documentary “The Power of Myth,” filmed at LucasRanch, I’d believed Star Wars was more Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces” than biblical allegory. And also, like…come on. The Jedi Order is the most beloved cult in modern fiction. Give me a break.
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A few years later, Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” came out in theaters, and I finally understood: while Lucas may not have doubled down on the midi-chlorians for tax-exemption purposes, terms like “fandom” no longer seemed adequate to describe the zeitgeist of zealotry. And like Pizzagate did for MAGA and Q-Anon, the backlash against Star Wars normalized a radicalization of discourse that was deeply divorced from reality and steeped in blatant misogyny, racism and homophobia. Rey became synonymous with Mary Sue – a term originally understood to be a self-insert character in fan fiction – redefined henceforth as a female character who was seen as being too inexplicably powerful.
Unsurprisingly, this was also the rise of the red-pill and incel culture movements, where the same breed of angry, misanthropic nerds blamed women for their involuntary celibacy. And not, you know, the fact that they’d open every first date by launching into a tirade about Kathleen Kennedy.
Even as Disney+ launched with the first hit Star Wars series “The Mandalorian,” we never regained the antediluvian innocence of pre-TLJ discourse. Sometimes I want to blame Red Letter Media and South Park as the obvious bookends of this phenomenon of Internet toxicity, but in reality both stand as much as nuanced satires of the type of people who have rage-strokes about the logistics of imaginary space fighting as they are critiques of the movies themselves.
So who is to blame? Is it the algorithms for incentivizing rage-clicks? The politics of Donald Trump? Corporate Disney shills? Arguably, this is one of the few times where the blame rests almost solely on content creators themselves. Of course, fandom absolutely should involve a level of criticism. Unquestioning fandom is just fanaticism.
Take Star Wars Theory, aka Niatoos Dadbeh, a Canadian YouTuber and anti-SJW crusader who became the main character on whatever-we’re-calling-Twitter for multiple weeks in a row; a surprising feat considering how much of his brand has already been built on terrible takes. But it was a bridge too far when he attacked “Andor” as “An-bore,” not only because the Tony Gilroy series was widely lauded as being the most daring and original Star Wars entry since the original trilogy, but because the main characters were mostly men.
But getting that hate engagement is still promotional material for channels like Dadbeh’s, and he could have probably waded through it just fine had it not been for a reactor named Simon Davies resurfacing messages of an editor asking for credit on a video he’d worked on, only to be told in what I imagine is extremely Don Draper voice *that’s what the money is for!*
Now, I’m not sure the rates this Star Wars channel is paying out, but…no. Just no. Hollywood manages to both pay editors and put their names in the credit…hell, that’s why the MCU has mid and post-credit scenes! So you stick around to at least acknowledge the wall of names that it took to bring the feature to life.
Is it surprising that someone whose whole identity is having toxic takes would treat other creators — because make no mistake, that’s exactly what editors are, as are graphic designers, musicians, and any one else who contributes their time and craft to a piece of content – with such disregard? No, but it’s still disheartening to see.
It’s just more proof that when it comes to certain subjects – religion, politics, and apparently lightsabers and wookies – bad takes are rarely self-contained flukes, something to be chalked up to difference of opinion or taste. When you monetize your brand based on not just negativity towards something you ostensibly loved enough to find passion about, but with the added contextualization of some parroted “go woke go broke” rhetoric, you’re not just doing yourself a disservice. You’re undermining the whole damn rebellion.
NOTED BY LON HARRIS
Rage Bait Works… But At What Cost?
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