Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil: Outgeeking Bainbridge

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Outgeeking Bainbridge

Now, I'd never take on Professor Bainbridge when it comes to wine: I haven't the taste buds. And on corporate law? More fool me to challenge the guy who authors textbooks. But outgeeking? There we're on more equal ground. And I'm afraid that his accusation that George Lucas has sold the soul of Star Wars to the Democrats just rings hollow.

Basically, the good Professor is upset because:

...Lucas betrayed the basic story arc of the Star Wars mythology in order to score these cheap political points. In the original trilogy, Luke struggled against the absolutism of Obi-Wan and Yoda. It was Luke who insisted that there was still good in Vader, which Yoda and Obi-Wan rejected.

The betrayal in question is in having Obi-Wan say to Anakin, after the latter has muttered some you're-for-me-or-against-me line, "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes."

Now, I've not seen the movie yet, and to the best of my knowledge, neither has Prof. Bainbridge, but to my mind his internal critique doesn't hold up. Bainbridge spends a great deal of time talking about how an older (presumably wiser) Obi-Wan was still doctrinaire and absolutist in his consideration of the Force. But if we consider this Obi-Wan to be less mature than Alec Guinness (and who wouldn't), then the plot still hangs together. Obi-wan may just be full of it. And there's no "betrayal" for "cheap political points" so long as the elder Jedi isn't doing anything more than the lightsaber equivalent of Godwin's Law: you know the conversation's over (and someone's limbs are about to go) when somebody mentions the Sith.

So why are so many assuming that Old Kenobi needs to be taken seriously? It seems that the New York Times found political meaning in the film:

"This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause," Padm 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.

Dear goodness, we can only hope. I mean, if Democrats can't do better than Lucas's tin-ear for dialogue for their political bumper stickers, then I suspect the Republicans will get the geek vote. But now the New York Times has done the impossible: it's made me curious about the final Star Wars film.

Let's face it: Lucas is about as subtle as a chainsaw running through a screen door, at least when it comes to dialogue. I'd expect that even if Chewbacca were mouthing Bush-lite rhetoric, you wouldn't need to be Han Solo to figure out the reference. On the other hand, the New York Times could probably scan Beowulf and find hidden anti-Bush meanings.

So who is it? Is George L. taking on George B.? Or is this all a figment of the Times' fevered fantasies? Sadly, I'll have to see the film to find out, because when it comes to a conflict between the Lucas lack of subtext and the Greying Lady's determination to find same, we reach a level of difficulty almost equal to that of the Great Sci Fi Paradox: What happens when a bunch of clueless red-shirts, guaranteed to survive less than three minutes after a beamdown, meets a platoon of Imperial Stormtroopers, who can't hit a barn from inside it?


This article on a Cannes press conference might save you the trouble of going to the movie.
A wise man once pointed out that "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", and I think someone needs to remind Prof. Bainbridge that sometimes a trashy sci-fi B flick is just a trashy sci-fi B flick.....
The "wise man" was Freud, on the sometimes-noninterpretation-of-dreams. Less well known is his debt to Kipling. The original line went something like "Wine is only wine, but a cigar is a smoke."
I've noticed that people who are absolutist often think that they are nuanced. (Often because they know other people on their own side who are even more extreme, or have unexpressed feelings which are much nastier.)
TTP: I know it was Freud; I was under the impression that the quote was familiar enough that nobody (at least nobody well educated enough to be follwoing a first person narrative of American legal education) needed to be told who said it. :-)
Oh, perhaps I've underestimated folks. I was under the impression that a lot of people didn't know the source. Eh. Also I was trolling for the exact phrasing of the Kipling quote.
"Now, I've not seen the movie yet, and to the best of my knowledge, neither has Prof. Bainbridge..." And thus continues the conservative tradition of critiquing movies without having seen them. :)
If you notice, Dave, the above isn't a critique of a movie, but a series of questions about it. And having now seen the movie, if you want to carry water for Lucas's dialogue, I hope your back's pretty strong.

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From Nepal to China, We Search for Tibet

Maoist Protesters From Nepal to China, We Search for TibetIt was our last day in Nepal. We were spending it in Kathmandu trying to fit in some last minute sightseeing while running errands for the journey ahead. We were headed east to Tibet, the Land of Snows.

We gussied up for a last night out on the town. Just before heading out the door of our hotel, however, the front desk clerk suggested we rethink our evening plans.

“Nepal is closed tomorrow,” we were told in his broken, British-accented English.

As the doorman put a padlock on the front door and drew the shades of our cheery hotel, we soon learned we were on the eve of a massive political protest in Nepal. Maoist rebels were set to take over the cities the following day, shutting down businesses and shops and putting a halt on all taxis and buses. The last time a protest of this magnitude took place, Nepal was ‘closed’ for nineteen days.

We opted to have dinner in that night, but our plans to depart for Tibet the following day wouldn’t change. An early departure ensured we would make it out okay so at 3:30 a.m., in the stillness of the morning and the calm before the Maoist storm, we were picked up in a bus barreling towards Tibet.

The early morning drive was beautiful. We snaked around the valley of the Himalayan Mountains hugging a river gorge while passing through Nepali villages. Three hours later we arrived at the border town and sat down to a breakfast with the other travelers who’d be joining us on our adventure.

It was here we learned we’d be in good company for our eight-day journey in Tibet. Never have I met a more well-traveled and diverse group of people. From Botswana to Croatia, from Chile to Malawi and every place in between, these travelers came from nearly every corner of the globe.

Prior to approaching the border, we were briefed by our guide on what to anticipate. As expected, we weren’t to bring in any ‘Free Tibet’ apparel or Tibetan flags. But our guide extended the off-limits list. Any books or magazines criticizing China, any photos of the Dalai Lama, and god forbid, any China Lonely Planet guidebooks were out. The latter, we were told, is forbidden because they show Taiwan to be separate from China on the guidebook’s map. We were getting a taste of the absurd control and hypocrisy of the Chinese machine.

We said adieu to Nepal and were directed to begin the border crossing procedures, a process that would take a good part of our day. We crossed a huge bridge lined with Chinese soldiers carrying guns as tall as they were. At the end of the bridge were massive columns where more Chinese soldiers stood in permanent salute position under the enormous Chinese red flag flapping in the wind.

Flag From Nepal to China, We Search for TibetIt was a surreal experience. We were about to enter Tibet, a land I’ve read so much about and dreamed of seeing. What I found were the Chinese standing tall, proudly making their statement. There was no Tibet. We were entering China.

My first glimpse of the Tibetan people was here at the border. They were slumped over at the waist hauling forty plus boxes tied together with ropes on their backs across the border. Beside the Chinese in their finely pressed uniforms, the Tibetans were dressed in ragged clothing. They looked exhausted and beaten down. They were working like mules.

We began the inspection procedures at the Chinese immiration office. The thorough search of everyone’s belongings lasted all day. They searched through toiletries and clothing. They thumbed through books and magazines, and confiscated items they viewed as a threat. They tried to take away our CD of Enya-like Tibetan Buddhist chants we had purchased, and by the time the search was over they’d taken heaps of guidebooks away from our traveling cohorts.

The aggression and intensity of the search was invasive, and made us feel like we were losing our personal freedoms. Things I’ve taken for granted my whole life, like the freedom to choose what I read and what I wear, were taken away. It made me feel very uncomfortable and even a bit nervous. China was flexing her muscle and would remind us daily during our stay in Tibet that Big Brother is watching.

They say first impressions are often the truest. Well, when a photo of the fallen leader of Tibet or an inaccurate map of China pose such a threat, the Chinese seemed, to me, more petulant children than fierce rulers. With this in mind, I reluctantly entered China’s Tibet.

pixel From Nepal to China, We Search for Tibet

Comments (1)

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  1. Kristina says:

    so true. hope you still have a great time in tibet and china, even after this rather not-so-nice welcome at the border. look forward to follow your journey! viele grüsse, kristina
    .-= Kristina´s last blog ..// foto focus // street art in istanbul =-.