Did You Observe the Same Content?

First, my apologies for failing to post on Saturday. It was a weird day.

Second, this blog will make its official non-endorsements for the presidential campaign on Saturday.

Third, actual post content.

So, this is another post dealing with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it is also about Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie. The movie is a travesty that is only watchable as satire, and even then it’s not that great). One could be forgiven for wondering what these two things have in common, beyond having “star” in the name, and the answer is this: that both are heavily criticized, albeit from differing ends of the politicocultural spectrum, for concepts, ideas, and events that are nowhere to be found in the content or are badly misunderstood, while simultaneously having some elements that are worthy of criticism.

What sparked this was an infographic I saw a couple of days ago comparing Rey from TFA and Luke from ANH in an effort to explain why Rey was a Mary Sue–and, from the comment section below, the implication that the reason she was so written was due to…FEMINISM (dun dun duuuuuuuun). Now, my thoughts on Rey’s status as a “feminist” character can be found here, but suffice it to say that I do not believe she is.

However, this is an entirely different question from whether or not she is a Mary Sue (here defined as a wish-fulfillment character who can do no wrong), particularly as compared to Luke Skywalker. This is an entirely valid comparison to make, and said infographic has some reasonably valid criticisms in the matter–for example, pointing out the differences in initial reaction on the part of certain characters to Rey and Luke, although I think said difference is slightly exaggerated. For that matter, Rey’s insta-gunslinging skills when attacked by stormtroopers are slightly questionable, and missed completely. (Although Luke also has some of those…)

Even so, some of them are bughouse nuts. For example, in comparing Rey to Luke, it mentions that Rey takes down four guys, while Luke gets whacked by Tusken Raiders. This would be grounds for a charge of comparative Sueness, except for the part where the former event never actually happened. What happened was that Rey beat up two unarmed sneak thieves of comparable height and weight with her metal stick.

Others take something that happened and rip it entirely out of context. For example, the claim that she knows more about the Millennium Falcon than Han does overlooks the salient point that Han is not a mechanic, and never has been. Rey, on the other hand, is. It would not be surprising that she would know more about the mechanics of the matter, and one should note that she doesn’t even question the idea that Han should fly it if he iis on board. Now, if she were better than R2-D2 at mechanical matters, this would be a valid point, but that idea is never presented to us. Then there’s the claim that the first time she flies, ever,  she outflies TIE fighters, whereas when Luke is sent on the trench run in ANH, he was “flight experience.” The fact of the matter is, however, that if you watch the movies, Luke and Rey both have experience flying ground speeders, and one should note that Rey never fires a shot while flying the Falcon. Then, of course, we have the “Beat Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel and does stuff with the Force she shouldn’t be able to do.” First, we don’t really know how much training it takes to do anything with the Force (remember, the EU is gone); second, Kylo Ren relies more on raw power than skill (seriously, Darth Maul would have had him for a snack, and Obi-Wan would have taken him to the woodshed); third, as someone else pointed out, Rey never does anything she hasn’t already seen someone do.

I could go on here, but you should get my point. This then brings us to Starship Troopers.

Again, there are a lot of things that can be said against the work–its view of life as a never-ending Darwinian struggle for existence, for example, and the interesting question of whether the franchise should be limited to former soldiers, its militaristic overtones, and its tendencies to drive its points home with a sledgehammer–but much of the criticism is bonkers.

For example, the claim that it is a “fascist” work. One can say a lot of things about the society Juan Rico grows up in, but fascist it is not, unless one believes all non-communist societies are fascist. There is no racism, dissent is tolerated, there is no sign of a charismatic supreme leader, and there is voting–it is simply required that a person put their neck on the line before they can help decide which direction the ship of state should sail. While there is public corporal punishment for heinous offenses, and the military uses tactics that could be described as “area bombing with infantry”, I find it rather  difficult to believe that a flogging is more cruel than sticking someone in prison for years on end, or that Britain and the USA were fascist states during World War II.

I have also seen claims that it portrays a “military democracy,” which it manifestly does not–the military itself works the same as any other military; claims that the book agrees with the notion that one should not actively train a dog to be housebroken and then shoot it if it’s not housebroken, when it is being used as a comparison to how the court system dealt with juvenile offenders after they became adults, and a negative one at that.

Again, I could go on, but I trust the point is well taken. Both of these works experience criticism that is not simply a matter of interpretive difference–e.g., is The Force Awakens a feminist movie, does Starship Troopers  promote Social Darwinism–but is the product of failing to engage with the actual content of the work instead of what one believes the content of the work would be if it were badly written/advocating for one’s particular ideological bogeyman.

This in and of itself would not be much of an issue, were it not for the fact that engaging in those sorts of criticism tends to weaken the percieved validity of criticisms with an actual basis in reality, and the fact that this also tends to bleed over into how people observe events in real life, as can be seen whenever someone discusses why they hate Candidate D or R with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns, and you realize how frequently it comes from things said candidate never actually said or did, or things that were taken violently out of context.

I should not have to explain why this is a bad thing.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness


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