Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jedi Fail

Being a diehard fanatic Star Wars fan in this day and age is the nerd equivalent to being a Creationist. If you accept that shit without question or criticism then you are either an idiot or you're just willfully not paying attention.

I get it: pissing on Star Wars in this day and age is like kicking a three legged dog: the poor little bastard had enough crap dumped on his head. Get two geeks together anywhere, fill 'em up with booze and wait long enough, and sooner or later you'll hear about how Star Wars let them down.

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way: it's pretty clear to all of us now hat George Lucas didn't have any idea what the fuck he was doing. He'd waited too long, got too isolated by his own success, and got too rich and safe for the story he was trying to tell. He was a good ideas man and a lousy screenwriter, he lost characterization to spectacle, and he couldn't quite figure out if he was trying to reach a new generation that frankly ain't gonna give a fuck or if he was gonna keep pandering to the arrested development crackpots like myself. Somewhere inside the folds of these points are a million essays on the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire, but we'll get to those later.

Let's start with my number one problem with the new trilogy: it put the Jedi in center stage.

Being a Jedi wasn't a job title. Being a Jedi was a state of grace. It represented an abandonment of the self, a victory over base violence, and the ability to keep yourself centered and at peace when the everything around you slides into corruption and cruelty. It took Luke Skywalker three movies to get there and he didn't just do it by waving a lightsaber around: he did it by looking past the monster that his father became and saving the man inside.

Now look what a Jedi has become: a bunch of repressed, invincible eunuchs who wave swords around, fail to see the Sith forces EVEN AFTER THEY TAKE MEETINGS FROM HIM, and allow themselves get suckered into a devastating, morally compromising war.

Even Yoda came off looking like a schmuck. First off, that backwards talking bullshit worked just fine when he was on Dagobah dispensing Shaolin monk fortune cookie advice, but he came off sounding like that Pharoah guy from Mystery Men. Also, narrowing your eyes and looking suspiciously at Anakin or at Chancellor Palpatine as they wander off doesn't actually count for shit if you FAIL TO STOP THEM.

Let's talk about the crux of the story: Anakin's damnation. He falls to the dark side because he has a seeeecret love affair with Queen Flat Delivery, which is forbidden by the Jedi order for ill-defined, nebulous reasons. We're never told exactly WHY the Jedi order condemn romantic connections and in truth there really isn't any reason other than it's a source of cheap conflict.

It's probably my core problem with the Jedi code: too much of it is built around repression of emotion. The Jedi code . It's the difference between spirituality and religion: the isolated Jedi leaders were teachers, but get a bunch together and they become as corrupt and unwieldy as the Catholic church.

Put bluntly, Jedi aren't very interesting characters. They lack fire, they lack emotion, they lack everything that makes good drama. Blog help me for defending Anakin Fucking Skywalker, but he came alive when he learned Amidala was going to die.

When Anakin discovers that the person he loves is about to die, he wants to save her. The Jedi stuff him full of the same bullshit platitudes about acceptance and passivity you hear from every benumbed, doe-eyed spiritual leader. Chancellor Palpatine offers him a way to fight back. That's not corrupt, that's plain old fallable humanity. Don't go gentle into that good night, as better men have said.

Call me crazy, but I was on the Sith's side during the new trilogy. Sure, they were meglomaniacal tyrants but they were human. Give me Han Solo to Qui-Gon Jinn any day.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Adversary


I call Bullshit, sir.

There is a force of tremendous darkness loose in the bucolic lands of fandom. A dark worm at the heart of our kingdom, it's whispered voice seducing the young and naive towards it's ends. Legions of the tasteless and stupid turn their souls to his service. Based on false martyrdom and illusory promises he has build himself a kingdom of shadows, and his armies grow daily.

But there are those among us that recognize this villain for what he is. We see the effect among our people and we raise our swords against him. Though we are few in number and the battle seems hopeless, we see the villain behind the painted smile. We see the ruin, the devastation he has done to our people.

We have named him The Adversary.

You know him as Joss Whedon.

On Quality

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way: most of the TV shows he does isn't actually all that good.

Oh, sure, he can write a good script. And he has a team of marginally competent drama-club rejects working on his properties. But look carefully at his work and you see a certain heat-wave formlessness around them as characters and storylines are bludgeoned into awkward, distasteful shapes.

Take a look at Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Originally a trim, tidy, harmless little fanboy hodgepodge of nifty monsters, martial arts, and teenage drama, the show became ugly and unwatchable. Buffy became a completely unlikeable mess, competent in battle but mean-spirited and ornery to the people she cared about, she got shoehorned into unlikely romances with murderous pretty-boy Brits WHO TRIED TO RAPE HER, she made irrational choices that were clearly foisted upon her by writers who were trying to appease some mewling fanboy/girl contingent, and eventually degenerated into a series of nickel-and-dime battlefield speeches and an all-talk-no-walk lead villain.

There's always been something kinda strange about the relationship Sarah Michelle Gellar had with The Adversary. Reading between the lines of some of her interviews, you get the sense that she was unhappy with the way her character was forced to progress. I'm inclined to agree with her. The direction Buffy's character arc took couldn't really be called anything but sick. It's as if The Adversary demanded that her character be dragged to the mud, to be stripped and beaten and demeaned until there wasn't anything left in her.

Also, all his characters sound the same. From Buffy to Firefly to Astonishing X-Men, The Adversary has the same comedic delivery, the same rhythm. After awhile, you tend to lose character and story to this kind of forced cleverness. No one actually speaks in the labored, clipped way that his characters do. It's cute at first, but after awhile it becomes like nails on a chalkboard.


Moving on to our next point, The Adversary's perversity. You ever notice that every story he conjures up involves a vulnerable-yet-vicious little girl who is only allowed to be so tough?

Buffy, River, Willow, (probably) Echo. Listen to The Adversary in interviews and he'll tell you that he's attracted to his character's strength. Yet none of his characters are actually all that strong. Sure, they're competent fighters in the comic-book worlds they inhabit, but once you get past their fictitious ability to do harm to other beings, the characters are wrecks. Willow is a supernatural junkie, River is a babbling lunatic, and Buffy fights with this world-weary misery, offering her life over and over unwillingly, because she has to.

The ability to speak didn't make Jar-Jar Binks intelligent, and a supernaturally-gifted ability to fight doesn't make your characters strong. It's in the ability to stand tall, to embrace challenge, and to accept defeat gracefully that makes a person strong. The Adversary's female characters fail on all these counts, and this need to degrade his characters seem to be consistent in his work. That, my friends, is perverse.

The feminist claims that people keep laying on The Adversary's doorstep are false. His female characters all tend to fall apart under duress. Buffy, in particular, never actively embraces her duty, acting through the entire series like some pissy Vietnam draftee, griping about how unfair it all is. The males, on the other hand, are competent, collected, wise, and able to overcome whatever the world throws at them, usually with grace and humor. Malcolm Reynolds has his ruthless sense of independence, Giles has his battle-hardened wisdom, and Angel has his brutally forged sense of ethics.

So, what do the female characters share? A specific body type. They're all petite, they're all finely featured, and they're all worshipped by the camera's voyeuristic gaze.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the way River's feet are followed as she moves around a battlefield. Take a look at Faith's predatory sexuality. Take a look at Astonishing X-Men's focus on Kitty Pride and the introduction of the new Japanese teen girl Armor. And, most tellingly, take a look at the recent gawdawful Buffy comic book series.

In every issue there is a fanboy moment. Dawn bathing. Xander falling into a box of her oversized panties. Buffy's elaborate sexual fantasies. "Don't mind me. I'm just thinking of sex with Daniel Craig. Or a three-way with Spike and Angel." Or perhaps the best fanfic moment (and believe me, the entire comic book series reads like fanfic) Buffy having her first same-gender sex experience with one of her Slayers.

Look, I'm not a prude. But I can tell when someone is indulging a sexual fantasy. The Adversary has creative control over his work in the comics. When you have 22 pages to tell a story and you highlight elements of the character's sexuality without any particular service to the story, you're just servicing your inner fanboy. Which is fine once in a while, but EVERY FUCKING ISSUE? Christ, why don't you just cut to the chase, insert yourself in the book, and have all those lanky, nubile young women rubbing up against

This is not a tribute to the strength of women. This is the same bad girl comic book crap you used to read in the early nineties. It's lusty and it's tacky and it does no one any good.


I won't lie and say that I haven't enjoyed The Adversary's work. I have more of an issue with his reputation. You want to be fixated on vulnerable-yet-vicious girls? Fine. But let's not dress it up as some noble undertaking on behalf of the opposite gender. Dude's a fetishist, not a crusader.