The Long View 2005-05-16: Culture: High, Low, & Holy
I remember the hot take in 2005 was that Episode III was a brave blow against W's imperialism. Does anyone still care, in light of how much the movie has been panned?
Looking at the data, I'm a little surprised at how well Episode III reviews:
It was more popular with critics than fans, but top critics, as defined by Rotten Tomatoes, were far more critical:
I liked the animated series The Clone Wars far better, put out by Lucasfilm between 2008 and 2014. It kept the space opera feel, but managed to make Anakin Skywalker a likeable human being, which is more than the two movies released about the same time could do. It also filled in a bunch of gaps in the storyline and created a whole set of memorable characters.
The nerds at IMDB seem to agree with me, ranking the animated series higher than the movie.
Culture: High, Low, & Holy
One suspects that the most interesting thing about the latest and last Star Wars movie, The Revenge of the Sith, is that many people have chosen to see it as an attack on American imperialism in general and the Bush Administration in particular. For instance, A. O. Scott of the New York Times praises the film to the skies, saying that it is even better than the first Star Wars film. He says this about its political content:
"This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause," Padmé observes as senators, their fears and dreams of glory deftly manipulated by Palpatine, vote to give him sweeping new powers. "Revenge of the Sith" is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes." You may applaud this editorializing, or you may find it overwrought, but give Mr. Lucas his due. For decades he has been blamed (unjustly) for helping to lead American movies away from their early-70's engagement with political matters, and he deserves credit for trying to bring them back.
Meanwhile, the reviewer at The Weekly Standard, which would be the flagship of the pro-Palpatine press if you accept the interpretation of the Times, was less pleased. John Podhoretz ends the first paragraph thus:
The tale of woe it really tells is that of George Lucas himself, the final chapter in the sad degeneration of a vital, vivid, and highly amusing moviemaker into a dull, solipsistic, and humorless incompetent.
Then he gets nasty, but not about politics:
Lucas had more than a quarter of a century to figure out why Anakin Skywalker went bad. And here's what he came up with: Anakin is afraid of losing his wife Padmé in childbirth...The president tells him about the Dark Side of the Force, and how it can be used to bring people back from the dead. Anakin decides he wants in...Back in 1977, we were told in the original Star Wars that Darth Vader "was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force"...But the Darth Vader we see at the end of Revenge of the Sith hasn't been seduced. He's been tricked. He's not a villain. He's a schmuck.
If this is politics, it's more fun than the Senate filibuster, since researching it will involve tasty popcorn.
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Meanwhile, that Spengler at Asia Times persists in offering Benedict XVI musical advice. In his latest, Why the beautiful is not the good, Spengler applauds the apparent eagerness of the the new pope to take the path not traveled, to embrace the late Baroque and even Romantic musical styles against which the Church in the 19th century set its face:
Benedict hopes for "a sacred music [that] bequeaths joy and a higher type of ecstasy which does not extinguish personality, but unites and thus liberates", and for musicians who "will ask: how can that be accomplished?"
The path that the Church did attempt to take, the revival of chant, was objectionable on several levels:
When it turned upon the artists of the 18th-century classic, the Church set in motion a tragedy with frightful consequences. Rejecting the operatic style in sacred music, the Church as a corrective reached back to the plainchant of the low Middle Ages. Its musical doctrine formed part of a broader effort to recreate a tranquil Age of Faith undisturbed by the storms of secular modernism. But no such age ever had existed, and the plainchant of the 19th century was not a revival but a fabrication. The modernists merely proposed to invent the future, but the Church did worse: it invented the past.
To that I might say that the music of Solesmes may be no more medieval than the Houses of Parliament, but there is such a thing as good Gothic Revival.
Be that as it may, Spengler is at pains to point out that the Church's discountenance of the Baroque was not irrational, or necessarily even mistaken:
The beautiful, within the Catholic "theology of aesthetics", forms the earthly visage of the unearthly good. Yet the good is not quite the same as the beautiful. High culture betrayed the interests of the Church almost upon its birth during the late 15th century, and again during the classical German period. On both occasions the Church responded time and again by clipping the angels' wings...It is well for Benedict XVI to think of the angels in heaven playing Mozart for their own enjoyment, as he has said, but it is just as easy to imagine the devils in hell doing the same thing. In the afterlife, Mozart would be composing for both of them,
Spengler's point is that the music that Benedict wants now will need, not just musicians who have great gifts, but musicians who are also good men:
Of all the Catholic writers, J R R Tolkien understood this point perhaps the best. His high-Elven master smith Feanor created the Silmarils, three jewels of astonishing beauty, and went to war when they were stolen. His defect was exceeding pride in the work of his hands. The tragedy of the Elves to some extent is the tragedy of the artists. Ultimately it is the virtues of the humble Hobbits rather than the magnificence of the Elves that will prevail.
Yes, but was there a single decent symphony orchestra in the Shire?
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Here is a medley of reasons from Mark Steyn for disliking multiculturalism, the chief of which are (A) it conceals a growing ignorance about foreign societies and (B) it conceals from Western elites the true weaknesses of their own societies:
Where are the Hollywood foreigners today?... If you were to compare 2004’s output from Hollywood with 1944’s, you’d think a once thriving culture engaged with the world had suddenly developed a total aversion to foreigners...
One might point out that Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s was filled with refugees, as well as actors who left small, national film industries for better opportunities in America. But this point is unobjectionable:
To the political left, multiculturalism was embraced as a philosophical escape-hatch from the election results: if all your ideas are unpopular with the majority of people within your jurisdiction, then it makes sense to argue that they’re so universal they need to be introduced transnationally...
Here is the novel bit:
[W]estern governments made multiculturalism an indispensable part of their sense of their own goodness. In reality, Canada and western Europe needed immigrants because of their own terrible combination of unsustainable welfare systems and deathbed demographics. As China and India follow South Korea and Taiwan, and Iraq and Ukraine follow China and India, immigrants will stop coming.
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Anyone with the least interest in esoteric studies, or indeed with general intellectual history, must bookmark the Internet Sacred Texts Archive. It is astonishing. The Confucian Classics, PLUS the Talmud, PLUS complete texts from Charles Fort; there is even the text of the Worm Ourobouros! You can buy a cheap CD ROM that contains, literally, the wisdom of the ages.
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I don't know quite what to make of the most recent Simpsons episode, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star. Bart, for his many sins, is sent to a Catholic school; he and Homer eventually try to convert. The truly odd part is that the school was coeval with a Bing Crosby movie. The clergy were Irish (Liam Neeson played the priest); the nuns whacked the students' hands with rulers; children were taught to say Grace in Latin; Catholics were not supposed to eat meat on Friday. Since Neeson starred, there was at least one person involved in the production who knew how anachronistic all this is.
On the other hand, if we believe other episodes of The Simpsons, the women on Brazilian television shows for children wear thong bikinis, the toilets in Japanese hotels give restaurant recommendations, and French vineyards use American exchange students as slave labor.
That is all made up. Isn't it?
Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly