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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Raise the Red Lantern

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Disneyland or Xi'an, China? I can't really tell...

China is all about impressions, first impressions especially. At this they succeed gallantly. But, if you take a peek behind its curtains, you just might find that China is not all that it is cracked up to be. In place of this great Wizard of Oz, we were left with the impression that a weak, insecure man (a little Chairman Mao, maybe?) was pulling all the country’s levers.

“I think if we were to visit the country China at Disneyworld’s Epcot Center, it would be eerily similar to the China we’re experiencing here,” remarked Laura in the final days of our visit. I could not agree more. It is no wonder that China limits visitors’ stays to 30 days. It seems that each day longer we stayed in China, we began to see past the pretty facades of hastily-erected new structures and started to notice the fissures. Even without China’s artificially advantageous exchange rate, everything seemed and felt cheap, and not in a good way.

Our introduction to China came in the form of Tibet’s euphemistically named “Friendship Highway” and the newly-completed and very impressive Lhasa-to-Beijing railroad. After discovering what the Chinese government had done to the ancient and historical Buddhist religious center of Tibet, we were not too surprised to see greater(?) development when we arrived to Xi’an, the midway point on our transcontinental trip. Xi’an is most widely known for the famous Terracotta Warriors, and dictated, in large part, our decision to visit this classic, walled city.

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The Dallas Cowboys' "Jerryworld" can't compare to China's Terracotta Superdome

Trekking out to where the Terracota Army resides, we were first greeted by a barrage of tacky souvenir shops and a Subway fast-food restaurant (to be fair, many American landmarks begin this way,too). As we made our way to the Superdome-like structure that houses and protects the Terracotta Army, we had to walk a seemingly-endless slab of concrete. While the structure housing the thousands of statues gave great thought to keeping out potentially ruinous sunlight and still allowing natural light, it still seemed “too much” in terms of its grandiosity.

This theme of making a strong impression was evident all around the city of Xi’an. The city walls, ancient even by European standards, are an incredible sight to see. Tourists and locals are permitted to ride atop the extremely wide city walls and take in a bird’s-eye view of the city. All around us as we rode, we saw cranes knocking over the old and building the new. Only the new was meant to look old – that’s the weird part. Instead of protecting the original structures or working to refurbish them, the Chinese government seemed to have decided that it would be cheaper, easier and faster to tear down and build from scratch. So, as much as I was absolutely blown away by how advanced China’s infrastructure seemed to be, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it will last.

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Riding bikes atop Xian's city walls in its circular park

Also, what will be the cultural (and emotional) repercussions of China’s modern advances at the sacrifice of its history? Since Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, a new generation of Chinese has been born without understanding, or at least physically recognizing, one of the world’s richest and most historical cultures. How will these children and grandchildren of the Revolution fully understand the importance of building a sustainable modern society when their parents and grandparents were forced to abandon and crush their very own?

In many ways, through my verbal and written critiques of the Chinese, I feel hypocritical. The first Americans did painfully little to preserve Native American art, cultures, traditions and worse yet – peoples. As a country we’ve done much to denigrate our environment. But, it’s because of these mistakes why I expect more from a developing country like China. Learn from our mistakes is what I’m asking.

I guess if our visit to China taught us one thing, it would be that one month is way too short to understand its past and too long for us to want to understand its future. The facades may fool you at first; they certainly did me. But stay long enough, and you’ll come away with more questions about China’s future than you had when you arrived.

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Comments (2)

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  1. roundwego says:

    @Brock – Absolutely. China’s not all terrible. We both really enjoyed the Muslim quarter of Xi’an. It’s a really unique neighborhood with excellent food and markets. Would highly recommend going to a noodle shop there for lunch or dinner. Also really enjoyed the hutongs, or back alleyways, of Xi’an. Lots of character and very convivial.

    Lastly, because China is governed the way it is, it is capable, very unlike our befuddled Congress, of making tremendous changes at any second. All of the rickshaw taxis in parts of Beijing are electric, not gas. I thought this was awesome and showed that China now understands the importance of protecting their environment and using sustainable resources.

    Oh, their karaoke bars and culture is a sight to be experienced.

  2. Seems like your trip to China was a bit disappointing. Was there anything you were pleasantly surprised by?
    Brock – Backpack With Brock´s last [type] ..Five Things To Do And See In The Newcastle, UK Region