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Proof that there are second acts in North American lives (or at least in Québecois ones): Ghyslain Raza, last seen eight years ago swinging an imaginary lightsaber around in the notorious Star Wars Kid video, is now president of a nonprofit organisation dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Québecois town of Trois-Rivières.
Back in 2002, a teenage Raza recorded a video that would become one of the most popular viral hits of all time, and one of the first cautionary tales in the debate about privacy on the Internet. In it, he swung a golf ball retriever around as if it were Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and accompanied his movements with muffled sound effects. Four classmates discovered the video and distributed it online. It spread rapidly via e-mail and Internet forums, reaching millions of viewers — a great feat in the pre-YouTube era.
News outlets reported that Raza was so ridiculed for his activities in the video that he slipped into depression and had to take time off from school to seek psychiatric care. His family sued the families of the classmates who leaked the video for $250,000, then settled out of court.It's somewhat reassuring that he lived that down and got on with the rest of his life. I imagined one's options in such a case would have been to obliterate all traces of one's identity, move to somewhere that didn't have internet access in 2002 (outer Mongolia perhaps, or the depths of the Amazon jungle) or else become an embittered alcoholic.
Using Star Wars as a metaphor for the real world isn't merely for Microsoft/RIAA-hating Slashdot penguinistas; witness Star Wars Modern, an at once illuminating and slightly odd blog by Brooklyn-based sculptor John Powers. Keenly interested in art and culture and steeped in modernism (in the aesthetic and philosophical sense), Powers nonetheless uses Star Wars' good-vs.-evil dualism (which, he argues, came from the heavy mood of Nixon/Vietnam War-era America, with the new counterculture against The Man) to partition the world into Jedi and Sith.
And like Nixon, the Sith perfectly represent a particular strain of American authority: Cold Warriors. Not just the violence and paranoia of America’s anti-communist foreign policy, but their repressive and absolutist domestic policies: “Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the communist party?”
Even the world building efforts of the cold warriors were perfectly embodied by Lucas and his crew. The top-down Utopian art, architecture and urbanism of the Cold Warriors were elegantly re-imaged as the Deathstar.The Sith, we learn, are those who want control and chains of authority, and fear chaos above all. They include among their ranks Richard Nixon (obviously) and Le Corbusier (which stands to reason; he was a proponent of centralised architectures of control and dedicated his 1935 book/manifesto The Radiant City "To Authority"). The Jedi, meanwhile, are the dissenters, he lists them as "Phreaks and Yippies; draft resisters and Feminists; Diggers and Black Panthers", and places Martin Luther King and Rem Koolhaas among their number. So not too far from the Penguinheads' Jedi-Sith dichotomy (RMS and Linus are Jedi, while Darth Gates, patent trolls and the forces of Big Copyright are Sith; where Steve Jobs and Ayn Rand stand is a matter for lengthy, intractable flame wars), only with a better sense of aesthetics.
(It seems that what Lucas may have contributed to culture here is a catchy two-word name for the cultural schism of the second half of the 20th century, for the collapse of the power of authoritarianism from 1945 onwards, and the Empire striking back from the 1970s onwards, and the underlying motif of order vs. chaos, authority vs. freedom (which recurs in a lot of cultural artefacts of the time—Discordianism, for one, and the plots of much of the fiction of the time). Perhaps "Sith" and "Jedi" are catchier terms than "authoritarianism" and "freedom" or less bound to a specific time and milieu than "the Man" and "the freaks"—at least, in a world where science fiction and other geeky niches have broken into the mainstream.)
Anyway, Star Wars Modern has a number of interesting (and somewhat lengthy) posts on various topics falling in the area between Modernism and Star Wars, such as the portrayals of art and artists in Hollywood films, the Hollywood serial killer archetype as studio artist, and a three-part back-and-forth debate, triggered by an apocryphal account of Goebbels having designed the original Helvetica, about (small-f) fascism and modernist typography.
Michael Rakowitz, a US artist who previously created car-shaped tents for reclaiming parking spots as living space, has an exhibition at Tate Modern. Titled "The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one's own", the exhibition draws connections between the history of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Western pop culture, such as professional wrestling, the G.I. Joe figurines and the history of science fiction, from Jules Verne to the Star Wars series.
The exhibition takes up a handful of rooms in a small sub-gallery on the ground level of Tate Modern. On the walls are illustrations (traced from various sources) with explanatory text, shedding light on various episodes which are, if the artist is to be believed, tied into the tangled web of this history. We read about Gerald Bull, the Canadian scientist who, seemingly influenced by the writings of Jules Verne, strove to create a giant cannon capable of hitting the Moon (or, indeed, closer targets) for Saddam Hussein; of the impact that a screening of the Star Wars film had on Saddam's then adolescent son Uday, who, a decade later, would design the uniforms of Iraq's paramilitary Fedayeen, whose helmets were modelled almost exactly on that of Darth Vader. (Rakowitz provides four helmets for comparison: the two mentioned, along with a samurai helmet and a WW1 one.) We see prints of fantasy-art posters which were found in Saddam's palaces, and other (North American) fantasy artwork which had been plagiarised for a novel said to have been written by Saddam and published before his capture. We learn of Adnan Alkaissy, the Iraqi pro wrestler who moved to the US in the 1950s and fought under the name Billy White Wolf in the US, before returning to Iraq and becoming a national champion of the regime, only to flee for the US and resume his career and old identity when his popularity threatened the regime, and the impacts the wars in the Gulf had on the characters and plot lines of US pro wrestling.
The title of the exhibition comes from the Baghdad victory arch erected by Saddam Hussein in 1989, in the form of two cyclopean hands holding crossed swords. The arch is ever-present; one wall at the entrance to the exhibition is covered with photographs taken by US soldiers posing in front of it (including a Sergeant Slaughter, who shares his name with one of the aforementioned wrestling characters), and the main room (which is visible from outside through glass) has a replica of the arch, with plastic Star Wars lightsabres, and the helmets of the vanquished at the hands' base being made of melted together G.I. Joe toys. A monitor in the corner plays a YouTube clip of troops marching through Baghdad to the Star Wars Imperial March.
The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one's own is showing in the Level 2 Gallery at Tate Modern until 3 May; entry is free. There is more about the exhibition here.
Tattúínárdœla saga, an Icelandic saga telling the story of a fatal conflict between a father and his treacherous son, on which George Lucas' Star Wars films were based:
The story as presented in George Lucas’s films represents only one manuscript tradition, and a rather late and corrupt one at that – the Middle High German epic called Himelgengærelied (Song of the Skywalkers). There is also an Old High German palimpsest known to scholars, later overwritten by a Latin choral and only partly legible to us today, which contains fragments of a version wherein “Veitare” survives to old age after slaying “Lûc” out of loyalty to the emperor, but is naturally still conflicted about the deed when the son of his daughter Leia avenges the killing on him.
Lúkr is saved from drowning by the intercession of Leia and Hani’s men in the Þúsundár Fálkinn. Following this memorable climax, there is an extended lacuna in the manuscript, and the action picks up again with an episode wherein Lúkr rescues Hani and Leia from the corrupt (and grossly obese) Danish merchant Jabbi, a rather comical figure on the whole, and this entire incident is probably to be reckoned an interpolation from a later chivalric saga. Unfortunately the saga shows its repetitive nature at this point, and we once again learn that Veiðari is building, under the auspices of Falfaðinn, a great ship to be named Dauðastjarna in meiri. At a great feast, Lúkr and Hani swear that they will kill Veiðari and Falfaðinn, burn Dauðastjarna, and conquer Kóruskantborg. Their boasts are considered binding and the sworn brothers lead several warships loaded with men to the position of the Dauðastjarna. There Hani is assisted by what the saga describes as “birnir” (literally “bears,” but in context probably to be understood as “Shetlanders” – the German version confusingly seems to understand these as actual bears) in his great assault on Falfaðinn’s fleet, but Lúkr is captured by Veiðari and brought to an audience with Falfaðinn.
The Top Ten Sci-Fi Films That Never Existed takes apart what went wrong with various sci-fi films which did exist:
There was a movie that perfectly captured the Douglas Adams experience, the combination of bitter sarcasm and sharp imagination, the droll British wit and whale-exploding slapstick that infused his novels. And that movie was Shaun of the Dead. That movie was not, unfortunately, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a movie that floated around Hollywood for about 20 years before it finally appeared in theaters as a flat, lifeless, americanized lump that was mostly hated by people who liked the book and loathed by people who hated the book.
Everyone remembers the exact moment when they realized that their Phanom Menace sandwich was filled with shit. For me, it was the scene on Tatooine where Qui-Gon is talking and Jar Jar is snatching fruit from the bowl with his tongue, eating like an insect. Annoyed, Qui-Gon reaches out and snatches his tongue out of the air and holds it in his fist while he talks. That was when I realized I was watching a cartoon.
So what happened? The Chicago Cubs, that's what. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. Why? Because Cub fans sell out Wrigley Field every game, regardless of how bad the team is. Management makes money regardless of whether or not the team is winning, so why bother? Likewise, studios think video game fans will pile into the theater on opening weekend regardless of whether or not any effort was put into the film. Will that change? Come ask me after I've seen the Peter Jackson-produced Halo.
I have a theory. There are two eras for the Hacker Movie genre. Pre-Matrix, hacker movies were always horrible and always box office poison (see Hackers and Johnny Mnemonic) that only appealed to a tiny segment of geeks. After The Matrix in 1999, every hacker movie was unfairly compared to The Matrix (incuding that film's own sequels, but we'll get to that in a moment). In neither era could you get the money to make a movie like Snow Crash. If you want your $150 million monster to get made, it'd had better be something with such universal appeal that even grandmothers will go see it. No hacker movie will have that and Snow Crash least of all:
Video of the day: a lot of photos of stickers with a Che-as-Stormtrooper image stuck to urban surfaces of various sorts, edited into a video and set to a scratchilicious DJ Shadow-esque breakbeat mix of the Imperial March from Star Wars:
I wonder: is this commentary on the totalitarian nature of Cuban Communism, in the way that the French Che-as-riot-cop posters were, or just a random collision of pop-cultural iconography?
A look at English subtitles on a Chinese pirate version of Revenge of the Sith. Curiously enough, the subtitles seem to have been translated from the Chinese translation by someone with All-Your-Base-level English-language proficiency, who somehow didn't think of checking them against the spoken dialogue. Which is how we end up with "Revenge of the Sith" becoming "Backstroke of the West", a fighter pilot saying "He is in my behind", characters using the word "fuck" randomly, and, best of all, "Jedi Council" translating as "Presbyterian Church".
The best summary of the Star Wars franchise I've seen:
So this ordinary, middle-class American male walks into a bar. "Gimme a beer, whatever you have on tap," he says, slapping down a fiver. The bartender, smiling, reaches below the bar, audibly unzips his fly, and a moment later produces a tall glass that looks suspiciously as if it might be full of warm urine. But our guy is a trusting soul, and he gulps it down anyway. Big mistake. He retches, curses, and then storms out, furious.
Three years later, the same guy walks into the same bar and asks the same bartender for a beer. No problemo , says the barkeep. Zzzzip . Handed what again looks like something better suited to a specimen jar, the guy barely even hesitates. Down the hatch it goes, and then halfway back up the hatch again. Tears of rage are shed; a lawsuit is threatened. Exit the dude, livid.
Three years later, the same guy walks into the same bar and asks the same bartender for a beer.
You're waiting for the punch line. It's not a joke, I'm afraid. It's a parable. The guy is you, the bar is the neighborhood multiplex, and the third steaming glass of piss you're about to be served with a smile is called Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith.
For God's sake, don't drink it.
Could this be the worst album ever recorded? A Star Wars Christmas album from 1980, forever debunking any claims that the Star Wars franchise once had a pre-Jar-Jar Golden Age. This album has everything; C3PO and R2D2 singing duets, lots of jingling sleigh-bells and sugary strings interspersed with Star Wars sound effects, corny comedy routines from "droids" and wookies, inane dialogue, the obligatory extra-large helpings of schmaltz, and if that wasn't enough, a young Jon Bon Jovi leading a high-school choir. (via bOING bOING)
Today in Alternate History is running a Halloween edition today:
n 1961, Stalin's body is removed from Lenin's Tomb, only to bring its foul curse upon all of Russia. It creeps across the streets of Moscow, draining the essence from unfortunate comrades, using their energy to fuel its undead existence. It is finally stopped when an Egyptologist, a spunky Red Army soldier and a beautiful young nurse from Moscow People's Hospital destroy the ankh that was keeping it alive.
in 1987, Joseph Campbell, explorer of ancient myths, dies and is buried in Honolulu, Hawaii. That night, he appears in a dream to George Lucas, who conceives a new trilogy for his Star Wars saga based on the tales that Campbell brings to him from the other side; but, he has to tone down the Gungan that Campbell speaks of, because its horror is too much for an audience to take.
Spare a thought for Ghyslain Raza, probably better known as the "Star Wars Kid" (though not to his friends). He got his Warholian 15 minutes when some classmates stole a videotape of him mimicking a Star Wars character, digitised it and uploaded it to the internet. The armchair bullies of the world soon smelt blood in the water and started doing their own masterly remixes of it, adding titles like "Dork Clones" and artistic enhancements such as sounds of flatulence. All this fame was too much for Ghyslain, who was forced to drop out from his private high school. It is claimed that he "will be under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time" and may be obliged to change his name to have any hope of a normal life.
Meanwhile, the four classmates who digitised and posted the video were last seen in an Internet chatroom plotting ways to get an iPod donated to Ghyslain redirected to them (they, and not that dork, are the ones who really deserve it, the reasoning goes; after all, they launched the video into the net, and all he did was carelessly leave a video tape lying around). (via NWD)
I have finally gotten around to the copy of Iain Banks' The Crow Road I picked up in an Oxfam in Islington last year; on page 61, I found the following quote:
`I'll tell her for you if you like,' Droid offered (there is an entire generation of Andrews with the shared nickname of Droid, post Star Wars).
That's funny; there was rather a lot of Andrews around when I went to university (one reason I became referred to primarily by my initials and Andrew here became known as "cos"), but I don't recall any of them being called Droid. And these were computer science students, of all things.
Presiding over a memorial service commemorating the victims of the attack on the Death Star, the Emperor declared that while recent victories over the Rebel Alliance were "encouraging, the War on Terror is not over yet."
"We will continue to fight these terrorists, and the rogue governments who harbor them, until the universe is safe, once and for all, and the security of the Neo-New Cosmik Order ensured."
And then there's this analysis of Star Wars, in which the Empire is good (if somewhat heavy-handed in places, though never without justification) and the Rebels are "an unimpressive crew of anarchic royals who wreck the galaxy so that Princess Leia can have her tiara back".
Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It's a dictatorship people can do business with. They collect taxes and patrol the skies. They try to stop organized crime (in the form of the smuggling rings run by the Hutts). The Empire has virtually no effect on the daily life of the average, law-abiding citizen.
I wonder whether such an article would have been written before September 11 2001. Or whether the problematically Al-Qaeda-like nature of the Rebel Alliance will bite into the Star Wars franchise's profitability. (via bOING bOING)
Clearing things up: George Lucas has stated that Jedi knights are not celibate, and may have active sex lives. Note that this only applies to the Jedi knights in the films, and not the self-styled variety you see on the net.
Emperor/clothes: You've probably heard the hagiographic claims about how the Star Wars films are drawn from that deep well of primal archetypes and myths going back to Homer/the Upanishads/Joseph Campbell. Well, that's rubbish. They're mostly a knockoff of pulp sci-fi ideas, though surprisingly many people don't see that, blinded by the hype or the desire to see Star Wars as one of the Great Stories.
Campbell's approach can give any adventure story, from "Bulldog Drummond" to "The Perils of Pauline," a place in the pantheon. In fact, his acolytes are hard at work doing just that with such movies as "The Matrix" and "The Wizard of Oz." It adds up to little more than a party game for drunken grad students, or a smoke screen for filmmakers covering their tracks.
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