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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A Year and Months Gone Bye

Me and Joseph8 e1297441079118 A Year and Months Gone ByeI’m researching future job prospects but continue to dwell on the past as Eddie Vedder begins talking to me. Not me in the figurative sense. I mean me. “Into the Wild” was the soundtrack for a large part of our around the world journey and now all the emotions of the last 500 days of my life are rushing to and through me. One month is not enough time to digest and reflect on the experience of a lifetime, I think to myself.

Laura defined so well in her “Homeward Bound” article our mutual feelings of what this experience has meant to us. We were both acceptably unprepared for our re-entry to American society. We returned during the holiday season, and with it, to all of America’s pomp and splendor: packed shopping malls, over-the-top Christmas decorations and Starbucks’ red and white holiday-themed cups.

NYC e1296840782484 A Year and Months Gone Bye

My Brother Tim and I in Times Square

So why then was I so shocked not to be shocked upon our return? At first, I thought it was because our first taste of American soil came in the form of JFK’s international terminal, itself a cauldron of the world’s people. We boarded the train from JFK out to Queens and then rode the subway into the heart of mid-town, only to fully re-engage with our American selves smack-dab in the heart of Times Square. That would surely give us the shock we were expecting and a definitive end to our long sojourn, right? Surreal – yes – but shocking, no. Surely then, an incredible “Rainman” suite at a nice hotel courtesy of my business traveling-brother would provide the culture shock that we knew awaited? Still, nothing. And the up-scale Manhattan steakhouse where he took us to celebrate our homecoming? Wonderful rib-eye, but no culture shock.

Obviously this trip was different in that we never fully immersed ourselves in one culture and language. We were on the move the entire year, like chameleons, constantly changing our colors to fit into our new surroundings. Although we felt at home in certain places, our average country-long stay of three weeks would never be enough time to let our roots grow anywhere.

Zambia3 200x300 A Year and Months Gone Bye

Hanging with the kids at Mazabuka Orphanage

And so it begins. It’s now been four weeks since we arrived home and we’re in transit again, only this time, not to some unexplored and exotic new place, but to visit family in Charlotte. The change in atmosphere is making itself known to me. The comforts of home and the same place to lay my head each night is now feeling uncomfortable. Home is where the heart is, so the saying goes. But my soul lies elsewhere. It’s been exiled to the many places we called “home” throughout our travels. It’s spread out among the friends and people we met along the way and somehow has yet to catch up with us.

A very good friend emailed me with two months remaining in my 14 month around the world journey. “Who have you become as a result of your travels?” she asked. The same hard question I’d been asking myself all year long. The problem was I didn’t have the answer. In many ways, I feel supremely sure of who I am, what I want and what I’ve learned. But in many other ways, I am more conflicted than ever before.

I feel I have opened my world but have closed my mind. I am more judgmental, not less; critical of others when I should be more accepting; angrier when faced with perceived ignorance and less filled with a desire to educate; less empathetic to the concerns of those close to me when I should be more. Why? I simply don’t know.

I wish I could finish this by saying something uplifting and grand instead of feeling the way I do. But life and emotions are not always dictated the way we want them to be. And for now, that will have to be OK.

pixel A Year and Months Gone Bye

Comments (6)

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  1. hamptin inn says:

    Having such a kind heart for the people at the orphanage really touched my emotions. I’m really sensitive to that topic coz I’m an orphan myself. Thanks for posting!
    hamptin inn´s last [type] ..Bailes De Arcos

  2. Brady Stump says:

    Enjoyed the read.

  3. I can see how being aboard for so long can change how other things actually effect you. So often people ask where is the culture. They are used to the thing in other places there is not really anything that is going to cause culture shock here.

  4. Tracy says:

    I’ve just run across your blog, as it looks when you’ve ended the start of your journey. This is a very interesting post. I’ve spent long periods of time in Kenya only to return to the midwest with the same feelings you have very eloquently expressed in this post. Especially to arrive home at Christmas. Yikes. Our country seems to value acquisition and our culture unfortunately is quite anthropocentric. It is hard to reconnect.

    Thanks! Such a great post.

  5. Micah Brennan says:

    This was really good. I can tell you were in AP in high school. I am surprised tho that this wasn’t on your radar during your whole trip because I think it would have been in the back of my head the whole time.