Saturday, December 30, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Themes

Everything That's Wrong with 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

There's too much going on in the new Star Wars movie. That sucks.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theaters, and you all have to go see it or it might not make the $800 million it needs to break even. Presumably, most of the movie’s profits will be made over the holiday vacation from families who need a break from each other. I saw it last night since I don’t have a family.

The Last Jedi is a long, bewildering movie with too many characters and an overall message that’s either unclear or just stupid. It’s also funny, visually pretty, and surprisingly weird—but the plot is too cluttered, feeling like the product of dozens of very talented people disagreeing with each other and making bad compromises.

I don’t know if the movie can be described as having a plot, but here’s what happens: General Leia—once Princess Leia—is evacuating her troops from their secret base as the bad guys close in. (Her sideways promotion from Princess to General is the kind of fake promotion that people give instead of giving raises. Leia was always a boss.) Poe Dameron prank-calls the bad guys to distract them, and proceeds to blow up some evil spaceship turrets. It looks great, like the dog fight at the end of Star Wars: a New Hope.

Then, Poe disobeys orders to return to base and calls in a squadron of bomber ships, which fly in and explode like a domino effect. This sequence pulled me out of the movie: The Rebels have been at war for many decades and they haven’t learned to fly far enough apart so they wouldn’t blow each other up? It might seem like nitpicking, but The Last Jedi is full of moments where things don’t make sense and supposedly smart characters make dumb choices.

Meanwhile, Finn unceremoniously awakens from the coma he was in at the end of The Force Awakens and runs around in a see-through plastic suit, squirting liquid in all directions. At this point, it was the strangest thing I’d seen in a Star Wars movie (wait until later), which was pretty cool. He asks where Rey is, and we cut to her on that Irish island holding out Luke’s old lightsaber to the man himself. After a long pause, he takes it and throws it over his shoulder, which caused the audience to laugh and released some tension.

For some reason, Luke now acts like a jaded, pessimistic dick who wants to forget about all the Jedi stuff. Mark Hamill has publicly said that he thinks his character was written badly, and I agree, but he’s still a lot of fun to watch. Rey bugs him to train her, he curmudgeonly refuses, but eventually gives in.

The main villain is still Kylo Ren, and when we first see him he’s talking to his evil boss Snoke. In The Force Awakens, we only saw Snoke projected on a giant scale, and a popular fan theory arose that he was actually teeny; in The Last Jedi, though, we find out that he’s just a normal-sized, bad-CGI-looking video-game guy who hangs out in a beautiful throne room.

As Rey continues to follow Luke around the island, we see a giant creature standing upright with what appear to be very large testicles but are actually bosoms (or udders).This is the strangest thing I’ve seen in a Star Wars movie, as Luke milks the giant beast and messily quaffs the beast’s milk. The island is also home to these very cute, Furby-like creatures called Porgs; later, we see Chewbacca roasting one over a fire, while other Porgs watch on and cry over the loss of their friend. That was also really weird. There’s another giant space battle in which General Leia gets blown out into space; it seems like she’s dead, but then she regains consciousness and floats back into a spaceship, which is also really weird.

Her job’s taken over by Admiral Holdo, who’s portrayed by Laura Dern. (Carrie Fisher completed filming before her passing last year, but it does seem like Dern’s role fills in for shots they couldn’t get to.) Holdo (and Leia) repeatedly tell Dameron that running away and surviving is better than fighting and sacrificing human lives, which is the big message of The Last Jedi—a message that comes across as murky and possibly dishonest. After all, the franchise isn’t called Star Peace.

After the second giant space battle, the good guys use hyperspace to escape the bad guys —but the bad guys immediately follow them, and the good guys can’t use hyperspace again because they’re running low on fuel and will be stranded if they do. How and where do you fuel up a colossal spaceship? I always imagined that these giant space ships had some sort of giant nuclear reactor powering them. Maybe that sounds like a nerdy complaint, but imagine someone saying that they couldn’t drive their submarine because it had a boot on it. Did they drive the Death Star to a giant gas station?

Finn—in the middle of the second Star Wars movie he appears in, possessing almost no defining traits besides cowardice—tries to run away from the good guys’ ship and is arrested for desertion by an annoying character named Rose. They discover that they need to go to a casino-like planet to find a codebreaker so that they can avoid being tracked by the bad guys, which kicks off The Last Jedi’s most unnecessary plotline.

The planet they go to has big band music and rich space people playing sci-fi slot machines. They meet Benicio Del Toro—sorry, DJ—who helps them in jail and betrays them soon afterwards. Arguably, The Last Jedi would be a lot better without this entire plotline and all the characters involved, which is pretty shitty because the plotline also contains the only three actors of color in the film.

Anyway: there’s a cool part where Rey goes into a hole in the ground and sees awesome psychedelic stuff, as well as a beautiful ground battle that happens on a salt-covered red planet. But the rest of The Last Jedi is bland mélange of explosions and disappointment. The bad guys keep using weapons that take a long time to power up before firing, Luke seems to die unceremoniously by disappearing into the air without warning, some other bullshit happens, the movie’s dedicated to Carrie Fisher, and that’s the end.

It’s easy to imagine the Star Wars franchise as a vast playground of infinite possibilities, but everything that’s happened in these largely weak and forgettable films since Return of the Jedi has revealed how limited Star Wars’s scope actually is. Capturing the feeling and tone of the original three films has stymied a lot of highly paid pros. The original Star Wars movies were simple stories with simple characters exploring richly designed locales. The protagonist of this new trilogy is supposed to be Rey,but we still haven’t learned enough about her, as The Last Jedi dedicates more time to other characters who don’t seem as important.

The reason George Lucas decided to kill the character of Ben Kenobi midway through A New Hope was because after the characters escaped the Death Star he had nothing left to do. The Last Jedi is supposed to be analogous to The Empire Strikes Back, but it actually has more in common with Return of the Jedi, which most Star Wars fans consider the weakest film of the original trilogy. IfRotJ had focused on the freeing of Han from Jabba’s Palace and Luke’s confrontation of Vader, it would’ve been a better movie—but instead, it dedicates too much time to the forest planet of Endor, where a teddy bear army unconvincingly conquers a giant armada of well-armed space soldiers.

Similarly, The Last Jedi could have used less characters and less shit happening. Poe, Finn, Rose, DJ and Holdo were all unnecessary characters with pointless plotlines that added nothing but took away a lot. So far, the only character with any depth is Kylo Ren. Will Rey get a personality in the next movie? I guess we’ll find out.

Why ‘The Last Jedi’ Is The Worst Star Wars Movie Ever

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is an egregiously bad movie: Poorly written, badly directed, lazily acted, and bombastically grating in both sound and image.

This review contains almost all possible spoilers to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a bad movie. It is not a bad Star Wars movie, but objectively speaking, as a film, it’s a bad movie. Not only that, it is an egregiously bad movie: Poorly written, badly directed, lazily acted, and bombastically grating in both sound and image. It is, put bluntly, the worst Star Wars film since George Lucas’ own unfortunate prequels.

To be fair, to hold this opinion places a person in something like a minority of one. The critics have been, by and large, rapturous, with Peter Travers of Rolling Stoneexemplifying the critical consensus by saying the film is “simply stupendous, a volcano of creative ideas in full eruption.”

There are, of course, two possible explanations for this: The critics are stupid or have been paid off by Walt Disney’s dark lords. These appear to be the only solutions to the problem, because “The Last Jedi” is not simply bad, it is incompetent on the most basic level.

Another Star Wars Second Act

The film, of course, follows its characters through the standard Star Wars second act epitomized by the beloved “Empire Strikes Back”: Everything goes to hell and the ragtag fleet of good guys desperately tries to escape from all but certain destruction while, elsewhere, a young would-be apprentice struggles with the nature of his or her nascent powers.

To give a cursory overview of the needlessly convoluted plot: Princess (now general) Leia Organa leads the aforementioned ragtag Resistance fleet in a desperate escape from the evil First Order. Ace pilot and Han Solo stand-in Poe Dameron favors an aggressive approach to the situation. Leia and a hapless Laura Dern with purple hair attempt to dissuade him, somewhat unsuccessfully.

Poe rebels, and persuades former stormtrooper Finn and his love interest Rose to undertake a dangerous and needlessly complicated mission that ultimately goes nowhere. All this culminates in a series of climactic confrontations, each one louder and more CGI-laden than the last.

Meanwhile, the desperate Rey (played by Daisy Ridley in one of the few competent performances) attempts to persuade the self-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, in the other competent performance) to return to the fight. Despite coming off as a grizzled, surly, vaguely suicidal old man, Skywalker finally (apparently on the advice of a disappointing cameo from Yoda) sees the light and (sort of) hurls himself into a frenzied light saber duel with his wayward apprentice Kylo Ren that he (sort of) wins and then (sort of) dies.

There is also, to further unnecessarily complicate matters, some form of psychic connection or astral projection between Rey and Kylo Ren that ultimately leads her to conclude (for reasons never quite explained) that there is the proverbial “still good in him,” sending her off to the lair of the evil Supreme Leader Snoke (a poor replacement for the emperor) in a bid to save Kylo’s soul. That also leads to an anti-climactic nowhere after Kylo, for reasons left unknown, kills Snoke and installs himself as supreme leader.

If You Thought the Story Was Bad, Check the Execution

Even a cursory reading of the above reveals a plot so convoluted and bloated as to exhaust the potential viewer. (It is also the reason for the film’s impossibly inflated running time of an excruciating two and a half hours.) But the story is further laid low by the stunning incompetence of its execution.

To name a few of its many flaws: The script is laden with clichéd dialogue that is, at times, simply excruciating. Finn and Rose go on a mad pursuit to find a codebreaker and their entire quest ultimately leads nowhere, leaving the plot thread dangling before the perplexed viewer and wasting almost a half-hour of screen time. Luke’s angry alienation is reinforced at every point before he inexplicably has a change of heart and shows up to save the day.

Snoke is displayed as massively powerful and capable of effortlessly reading minds, but is dispatched with a simple ruse from Kylo Ren, who appears to kill his revered mentor for no particular reason. The entire story is based around a slow-speed pursuit between ships capable of light speed. All of this is semi-explained through remarkably long monologues that fail to move the story forward but continue ad nauseum.

The plot is further degraded by its pointed failure to follow up on the various story points set up by its predecessor, the wonderful “Force Awakens.” One of the best was the mystery of Rey’s parentage, which seemed to promise an exploration of the Jedi’s typically convoluted bloodlines. We discover, however, in a belated revelation, that her parents were “nobodies” completely unconnected to anything remotely interesting.

Second is the nature and origin of Snoke, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, shrouding the grotesque monster in mystery. “The Last Jedi” reveals that he did appear out of nowhere by providing no solution to the mystery. Last was the nature of Kylo Ren’s rebellion against his mentor Skywalker and the founding of the “knights of Kylo Ren.”

This plot point is dispensed through a single flashback in which Skywalker, completely out of character, tries to kill Kylo, inciting Kylo’s understandable resentment. His presumably slow descent into the Dark Side, turn to the First Order, and the knights of Ren themselves are left to the imagination. Considering the quality of the film, this may be for the best.

Campy Humor to Best the Originals

Perhaps the most egregious misstep, however, is the film’s ridiculously campy humor, which debases and degrades the proceedings to a remarkable degree. The picture is filled with childish attempts at “Guardians of the Galaxy”-style jokes, like a bad prank phone call between Poe and a First Order ultra-fascist, Luke tossing a light saber indifferently over his shoulder, and an exposition-laden conversation with a tangential character that takes place, for some reason, in the midst of laser-gun duel.

The Ewoks also appear in spirit in the form of the Porgs, a bizarre cross between owls and penguins whose only purpose is being cute and silly and selling merchandise. The problem with this is not merely that the jokes are bad (which they are) but that they make the entire film seem to be a self-referential spoof akin to “Spaceballs” (if less successfully humorous).

The Star Wars films always had funny moments, but they rarely descended into outright camp. “The Last Jedi” seems to be enjoying undermining itself, as if telling the audience “Look at all this silly space opera, and look how silly you are for paying to watch it.” The result is an insult to the intelligence that would be more grating if the rest of the film were not equally so.

None of this, however, seems to have dissuaded audiences. “The Last Jedi” looks set to be a massive hit, which should only confirm the omnipotent Disney in its further plans. J.J. Abrams’ return to the franchise for the third installment may promise a resurgence, and previous attempts such as “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” were at least competent and at best highly enjoyable.

Can Disney Keep This Up Without Exhausting Us?

Nonetheless, “The Last Jedi” seems to promise a dark future for Star Wars, especially as director Rian Johnson has been tapped to develop a further trilogy. Indeed, the question arises as to whether Disney can, as it plans, release a Star Wars film a year without exhausting both audiences and the franchise itself. With billions of dollars already invested, they may be forced into the attempt, but it seems likely that further incompetent exercises in infantilizing the audience are likely to become more common than attempts to marry quality to blockbuster trappings.

Yet there is a deeper and more depressing phenomenon at work in “The Last Jedi.” Paul Schrader, the legendary writer of “Taxi Driver,” once dated the decline of American cinema to the release of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The beloved film, he said, is simply a bad movie.

Indeed, the case be made that it is merely a series of action sequences strung together on a thin storyline before ending with a literal deus ex machina. Much the same is the case in “The Last Jedi,” and now, it seems, the series that effectively founded Hollywood’s current blockbuster obsession is not immune to becoming one of its victims.

6 Reasons The Jedi Would Be The Villain In Any Sane Movie

6 Reasons The Jedi Would Be The Villain In Any Sane Movie

Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Kit Fisto -- they were our heroes growing up. With their lightsabers and Force pushes, the Jedi battled evil and made the galaxy a better place. But did they really? Here are six things about the Jedi that ... look, we're really sorry about this, but we're about to ruin your image of Kit Fisto.

6  The Jedi Mind Trick Is Fucking Terrifying

Early in the first movie (and this counts for both "firsts"), we're introduced to a Jedi mind trick -- a way for Jedi to manipulate others. It's explained to viewers that The Force gives "power over the weak-minded." Apparently, being stupid in the Star Wars universe is a serious enough crime that your free will can be taken from you by some dick wizard.

The thing is, there's no real indicator of what the Jedi mean by "weak-minded." It's not just stormtroopers who pulled Tatooine checkpoint duty. Powerful monarchs are apparently susceptible, while mob bosses and junk salesmen are immune. When you think about it, the "good guy" Jedi ability to control minds really seems to work only on the exact minds it shouldn't.

When you think about it more, you realize those incompetent stormtroopers that let Obi-Wan drive through the droid checkpoint were almost certainly killed later by their supervisor. We doubt Darth Vader would have taken, "Some old guy vouched for those robots," as an excuse. And while on the subject, would they even remember? A Jedi mind trick is probably like getting blackout drunk. Later that day, those two stormtroopers were being pulled into the air by their throats and shitting into their plastic armor with absolutely no idea why it was happening. It might have been nicer to just run them over with the landspeeder, Obi-Wan.

And that's the thing -- it's never made clear the limits of this power, either in its scope or where it's appropriate to use. In Episode II, Obi-Wan runs into a sleazebag named Elan Sleazebaggano (no, really, Elan Sleazebaggano). Elan tries to sell him a drug called "death sticks," which would have the stupidest name ever put on a page of a screenplay if it wasn't sitting there next to the words "Elan Sleazebaggano." Obi-Wan uses his Jedi mind trick to tell him to go home and rethink his life.

But wait ... if that works, it raises a question: Why not do that all day? Wouldn't that eventually cut galactic crime by around all? Couldn't you save billions more lives a second if you had a TV show where you mind-tricked viewers into being good rather than cutting a bad guy in half every few weeks? But that just brings up the larger point ...

5  The Jedi Have No Official Policies, Regulation, Or Accountability

If you sat down and watched all six Star Wars movies, you might have some vague notion of a Jedi Code. It seems like they should have one, right? They certainly wouldn't train people and Muppets to control minds and crush throats without giving them strict guidelines on when it's OK to do those things, would they?

If there is some kind of Jedi Code, it seems to be a loose suggestion at best. In the prequels, Qui-Gon Jinn doesn't follow the code, and the only consequence is not being allowed on the Council. Is that even a punishment? The Jedi Council looks like Sam Jackson and a room of radiation-poisoned dildos, and they seem to have all the political power of a U.N. ambassador's wife's book club.

Is there a system in place for when a Jedi starts doing whatever the hell he wants? For instance, if one of them were to mind-trick his way through a police checkpoint to get to a bar where he cut your arm off during an argument ... is there someone you can call? In Episode II, after Obi-Wan casually flings himself into space traffic, it's up to Anakin to steal a car and save him. Is that the Jedi Code? Grand theft speeder? He doesn't flash any kind of Jedi badge -- the owner of that car can simply suck it, courtesy of The Force.
In Episode III, Anakin seems to go against the Code pretty hard when he mutilates and murders Count Dooku. He even mentions several times that dismembering and decapitating people in cold blood isn't the Jedi way. And then what? There's no investigation ... no paperwork. Anakin doesn't have to turn in a report, but you know the Jedi Council heard about it. Even if they weren't clairvoyant wizards, the galaxy's worst forensics investigator would have figured out the murder weapon was a lightsaber and given them a call.

Compare this to our world, where you have to go through months of applications just to sell tacos out of a street cart. But, we guess the system works for them. After all, when in these movies do you ever see a Jedi go rogue and start causing problems for everyone?

4  The Jedi Don't Care About The Republic Or Democracy In General

If you sat through the prequels, congratulations! Suffering builds character! Well, during those character-building hours, you may have noticed the Jedi were fighting for the Republic. So they're on the side of space democracy, right?
Not exactly. The first image we see in the Star Wars timeline is them going to negotiate the trade route. Why are these unelected, erratic sorcerer cops who are barely even accountable to their own Jedi Council in charge of this? Why wasn't a representative of the Senate with them? Sending two armed men with no economic or diplomatic training to a trade negotiation seems like something a gang would do, not a democracy.
So they aren't big fans of democratic procedures, but what do the Jedi think about the Senate itself? Let's look at a quote from the end of the prequels, when Mace Windu and Yoda discuss the growing threat of Palpatine.

Ki-Adi-Mundi told them, "If [Palpatine] does not give up his emergency powers after the destruction of Grievous, then he should be removed from office." That seems reasonable. And then Mace Windu goes, "The Jedi Council would have to take control of the Senate in order to ensure a peaceful transition."
Yeah, these champions of galactic democracy decided to stage a military coup to ensure a "peaceful" transition. And it wasn't their last, desperate choice. Taking over the government with lightsabers was their very first idea. So maybe it wasn't a heat-of-the moment mistake when Obi-Wan took Ponda Baba's arm off in Mos Eisley. Because it seems like cutting off arms and telling everyone in the room to screw themselves is a Jedi's go-to move under any circumstance.

It's possible the Jedi were so far up their own asses with their ideals they really thought they could peacefully take over the Senate. Fine. But when they found out Palpatine was a Sith Lord, by cleverly noticing that he's so obviously a Sith Lord, they decided not to tell anyone. Instead, Mace Windu said, "He's too dangerous to be left alive!" and they went in swords lasing.
They didn't get a warrant, Senate approval, or verification of any facts. They went in to assassinate a man with as much care and oversight as a punk band firing their drummer. Jedi Council, you spent half the movie complaining about your powers not working and your vision being clouded. And suddenly now, when it has to do with murdering the leader of your government, you're certain you have it all figured out? Are you even listening to yourselves, Jedi?
But that just brings up another point ...

3  Jedi Have No Non-Lethal Options

It's clear Jedi are quick to murder. But even if they wanted to peacefully deal with someone, Jedi don't carry handcuffs. Or tasers. Or pepper spray. We know stun guns exist in this galaxy, so why not carry one? If a 6-year-old can build a C-3P0, someone should be able to rig up some kind of net gun or sleep Frisbee. Maybe a lightsaber that simply hurts rather than eviscerates?

The closest thing we see to a non-lethal move from a Jedi is about 20 minutes into The Phantom Menace when Qui-Gon Jinn puts his hand on Jar Jar Binks' shoulder and makes him pass out. Let's ignore the damage this does to the compartmentalization of nerd brains by introducing the Vulcan nerve pinch to the Star Wars universe. What it means is that Jedi have the means to poke a guy to sleep even when they have goofy-ass never-before-seen alien physiology. They simply never use it as a method of conflict resolution; it's only something they use to shut up their annoying friends.

In Attack Of The Clones, Obi-Wan uses himself as bait to catch the bounty hunter Zam Wesell. His plan, in its entirety, is to stand by the bar, wait for her to stick a gun in his back, then chop her hand in half. We're not saying he was wrong, exactly. We're simply saying there were maybe a few ways to bring in the suspect without hacking off a part of her. It's very telling that while her fingers were still flying through the air, Anakin says to the bartender, "Jedi business."

What's really weird is that the Jedi don't feel bad about any of this. Not only because they live in a universe where you can replace Jedi-removed limbs with robot parts, but because ...

2  Jedi Are Trained To Feel No Remorse Or Pity

Throughout the movies, we are constantly hit with how the Dark Side is about anger, hate, fear, insecurity, dry mouth, diarrhea, VCR repair -- it's bad, and obviously so. So when we see any of the Sith fight, it's either cruel like Dooku, lustful like Maul, or sadistically cheerful like the Emperor. The Jedi, however, fight with nobility. They never seem to be having much fun during their sword fights. Yoda's fighting style is 80 percent front flips, and he still manages to look bored.

But, then again, how often do you see the Jedi show regret for those they fricassee? We never saw Luke wonder about the widows of the Death Star. We know those robots mowed down in the prequels were sentient. They joked, laughed, made sarcastic quips ... they even feared death. Did any Jedi so much as blink as they cut them down? Or any enemy for that matter?

These are supposed to be enlightened peacekeepers. How enlightened can these people be if they can sleep at night as easily as they cut people in half? There isn't a single line of dialogue in these movies dedicated to the guilt a Jedi might feel for killing thousands, maybe millions of people.
Furthermore, the Jedi don't seem to care about collateral damage. In Return Of The Jedi, Luke blew up a "pleasure barge." Some of the passengers were probably just nice Tatooine couples on their honeymoon. A lot of the employees were slaves. Max Rebo and the Max Rebo Band were probably on that boat! That's like killing the Ace Of Base of space, Luke!

The detachment isn't just our imagination -- it seems to be an important part of the Jedi doctrine. Yoda routinely speaks to Anakin about removing connections with people, accepting death as a part of life, and basically separating oneself from any emotional links. Keep in mind Yoda says these things when he's talking about Anakin's girlfriend and his mother, who they left on Tatooine to be a slave. And if he can get that detached from his family and girlfriend, imagine how little he cares when he's murdering his enemies and the innocent people standing near them.
Speaking of innocent people destroyed by the Jedi ...

The Jedi Abduct Children

The Star Wars universe doesn't have very many children in it. In fact, the first one we meet grows up to cut all the other ones we meet into pieces. The only thing we really know about Star Wars kids is that, if you're born with Force powers, the Republic takes you away from your family. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn tells Anakin's mother that if he had been born in the Republic, they would have taken him early for Jedi training. How early isn't made clear, but in Attack Of The Clones we see a room full of blindfolded toddlers practicing with lightsabers.

So these children are taken from their homes, or in Anakin's case purchased, and given deadly weapons before they know how to read. It seems ... irresponsible. And to support that point, we're going to pick on Qui-Gon Jinn again. This man threw a boy in a dangerous pod race in some kind of ridiculous spaceship repair scheme even George Lucas didn't seem to understand. After he miraculously survives that, Qui-Gon drops him in a war zone with only the advice, "Watch me and be mindful."
That's not a helpful tip for a 9-year-old going into his first gun fight. That's something you say when you're teaching him how to eat an artichoke or convince his mother you need a bigger TV. And if you've seen the movie, you know Anakin's "mindful" move is to hide in the cockpit of a working starfighter and immediately bumble into the war. Which seems like a great time to remind you: If you ate a pound of shredded newspaper, your shit would write a better movie than The Phantom Menace.

So that's their system, in a nutshell: They take children who are too young to have developed any empathy, moral reasoning, or critical-thinking skills, and raise them in the way of the Jedi. This involves disconnecting from the rest of society, developing supernatural abilities, and declaring themselves to be above any and all laws. We're wondering if, every once in a while, a Jedi wakes up in the middle of the night and says, "Wait, am I in a cult?"

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hillary is playing Stalinist game - "find the culprit"

Žižek, Dolar, & Zupancic on #MeToo, alt-right & Trump

Deconstructing class antagonism?

Like a Thief in the Night: The Actuality of Communism

Žižek at the 'European Angst' conference Goethe Institute

Sign a contract before sex? Political correctness could destroy passion

In the West, at least, everyone has become massively aware of the extent of coercion and exploitation in sexual relations.

However, we should bear in mind also the (no less significant) fact that millions of people on a daily basis flirt and play the game of seduction, with the clear aim of finding a partner for making love. The result of the modern Western culture is that both sexes are expected to play an active role in this game.

When women dress provocatively to attract the male gaze or when they “objectify” themselves to seduce them, they don’t do it offering themselves as passive objects: instead they are the active agents of their own “objectification,” manipulating men, playing ambiguous games, including reserving the full right to step out of the game at any moment even if, to the male gaze, this appears in contradiction with previous “signals.”

This freedom women enjoy bothers all kinds of fundamentalists, from Muslims who recently prohibited women touching and playing with bananas and other fruit which resembles the penis to our own ordinary male chauvinist who explodes in violence against a woman who first “provokes” him and then rejects his advances.

Female sexual liberation is not just a puritan withdrawal from being “objectivized” (as a sexual object for men) but the right to actively play with self-objectivization, offering herself and withdrawing at will. But will it be still possible to proclaim these simple facts, or will the politically-correct pressure compel us to accompany all these games with some formal-legal proclamation (of consensuality, etc.)?

New thinking

A recent, politically-correct idea is the so-called “Consent Conscious Kit,” currently on sale in the US: a small bag with a condom, a pen, some breath mints, and a simple contract stating that both participants freely consent to a shared sexual act. The suggestion is that a couple ready to have sex either takes a photo holding in their hands the contract, or that they both date and sign it.

Yet, although the “Consent Conscious Kit” addresses a very real problem, it does it in a way which is not only silly but directly counter-productive – and why is that?

The underlying idea is how a sex act, if it to be cleansed of any suspicion of coercion, has to be declared, in advance, as a freely-made conscious decision of both participants – to put it in Lacanian terms, it has to be registered by the big Other, and inscribed into the symbolic order.

As such, the “Consent Conscious Kit” is just an extreme expression of an attitude that grows all around the US – for example, the state of California passed a law requiring all colleges that accept state funding to adopt policies requiring their students to obtain affirmative consent — which it defines as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” that is “ongoing” and not given when too drunk, before engaging in sexual activity, or else risk punishment for sexual assault.

Bigger picture

“Affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement” – by whom? The first thing to do here is to mobilize the Freudian triad of Ego, Superego, and Id (in a simplified version: my conscious self-awareness, the agency of moral responsibility enforcing norms on me, and my deepest half-disavowed passions).

What if there is a conflict between the three? If, under the pressure of the Superego, my Ego say NO, but my Id resists and clings to the denied desire? Or (a much more interesting case) the opposite: I say YES to the sexual invitation, surrendering to my Id passion, but in the midst of performing the act, my Superego triggers an unbearable guilt feeling?

Thus, to bring things to the absurd, should the contract be signed by the Ego, Superego, and Id of each party, so that it is valid only if all three say YES? Plus, what if the male partner also uses his contractual right to step back and cancel the agreement at any moment in the sexual activity? Imagine that, after obtaining the woman’s consent, when the prospective lovers find themselves naked in bed, some tiny bodily detail (an unpleasant sound like a vulgar belching) dispels the erotic charm and makes the man withdraw? Is this not in itself an extreme humiliation for the woman?

The ideology that sustains this promotion of “sexual respect” deserves a closer look. The basic formula is: “Yes means yes!” – it has to be an explicit yes, not just the absence of a no. “No no” does not automatically amount to a “yes”: because if a woman who is being seduced does not actively resist it, this still leaves the space open for different forms of coercion.

Mood killer

Here, however, problems multiply: what if a woman passionately desires it but is too embarrassed to openly declare it? What if, for both partners, ironically playing coercion is part of the erotic game? And a yes to what, precisely, to what types of sexual activity, is a declared yes? Should then the contract form be more detailed, so that the principal consent is specified: a yes to vaginal but not anal intercourse, a yes to fellatio but not swallowing the sperm, a yes to light spanking but not harsh blows, etc.etc.

One can easily imagine a long bureaucratic negotiation, which can kill all desire for the act, but it can also get libidinally invested on its own. These problems are far from secondary, they concern the very core of erotic interplay from which one cannot withdraw into a neutral position and declare one's readiness (or unreadiness) to do it: every such act is part of the interplay and either de-eroticizes the situation or gets eroticized on its own.

The “yes means yes’ sexual rule is an exemplary case of the narcissistic notion of subjectivity that predominates today. A subject is experienced as something vulnerable, something that has to be protected by a complex set of rules, warned in advance about all possible intrusions that may disturb him/her.

Remember how, upon its release, ET was prohibited in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark: because it’s non-sympathetic portrayal of adults was considered dangerous for relations between children and their parents. (An ingenious detail confirms this accusation: in the first 10 minutes of the film, all adults are seen only below their belts, like the adults in cartoons who threaten Tom and Jerry…)

From today’s perspective, we can see this prohibition as an early sign of the politically-correct obsession with protecting individuals from any experience that may hurt them in any way. And the list can go on indefinitely – recall the proposal to digitally delete smoking from Hollywood classics…

Yes, sex is traversed by power games, violent obscenities, etc., but the difficult thing to admit is that it’s inherent to it. Some perspicuous observers have already noticed how the only form of sexual relation that fully meets the politically correct criteria would have been a contract drawn between sadomasochist partners.

Thus, the rise of Political Correctness and the rise of violence are two sides of the same coin: insofar as the basic premise of Political Correctness is the reduction of sexuality to contractual mutual consent. And the French linguist Jean-Claude Milner was right to point out how the anti-harassment movement unavoidably reaches its climax in contracts which stipulate extreme forms of sadomasochist sex (treating a person like a dog on a collar, slave trading, torture, up to consented killing).

In such forms of consensual slavery, the market freedom of the contract negates itself: and slave trade becomes the ultimate assertion of freedom. It is as if Jacques Lacan’s motif “Kant with Sade” (Marquis de Sade’s brutal hedonism as the truth of Kant’s rigorous ethics) becomes reality in an unexpected way. But, before we dismiss this motif as just a provocative paradox, we should reflect upon how this paradox is at work in our social reality itself.

Slavoj Žižek is a cultural philosopher. He’s a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University, and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Greensboro Massacre 1979

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Tesla activates world's biggest battery

Friday, December 1, 2017

US nuclear stockpile is world's second largest

Instant preplay of the Amazon bidding war

Some of the city officials who have been most shameless in their spending on stadiums are now groveling to attract Amazon, writes columnist Dave Zirin.

November 30, 2017

Comment: Dave Zirin

November 30, 2017

THE TERRIFIC podcast Citations Needed, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson, call it "lotteryism"--the grotesque process where local and state governments bid for Fortune 500 companies by offering billions of dollars in tax breaks in the hopes that they will relocate to their cities. The most high-profile example of this right now is, of course, Amazon. Politicians across the country are offering absurd packages to attract the new "Amazon HQ2" headquarters. These enticements will gut services for those who depend on public schools, hospitals, public transportation and basic infrastructure. This is not to say that Amazon won't bring jobs to these cities. It is making promises of thousands of permanent hires. But the pound of flesh being offered for these jobs is frightening.

Chicago has said Amazon could keep local income taxes levied on the company's employees, a total estimated at $1.32 billion, according to the Seattle publication The Stranger. New Jersey has offered a staggering $7 billion in tax breaks. Boston has offered to have city employees be privatized workers when doing work under the auspices of Jeff Bezos' empire: his own army of the underclass. Southern California is offering $100 million in free land. Fresno is offering to "place 85 percent of every tax dollar generated by Amazon into a so-called 'Amazon Community Fund.'"

This would give Amazon control over where our taxes flow, which undoubtedly would be in the direction of its own well-compensated employees--think parks, bike lanes, condo development--creating a new model of gentrification, directly subsidized by traffic tickets, parking meters and regressive taxation of the poor.

Fresno's economic development director Larry Westerlund told the Los Angeles Times, "Rather than the money disappearing into a civic black hole, Amazon would have a say on where it will go. Not for the fire department on the fringe of town, but to enhance their own investment in Fresno." Sure would suck to have your home on fire if you live on the "fringe of town."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THIS IS little more than corporate theft, in collusion with often Democratic Party-led governments. And publicly funded sports stadium scams and Olympic bidding wars laid the groundwork for it. They have normalized the idea that our tax dollars exist to fund the projects of the wealthy, with benefits trickling down in ways that only produce more thirst.

Chris Heller wrote a terrifically detailed report for the Pacific Standard about stadium funding in which he estimated, "Over the past 15 years, more than $12 billion in public money has been spent on privately owned stadiums. Between 1991 and 2010, 101 new stadiums were opened across the country; nearly all those projects were funded by taxpayers."

As Neil DeMause, author of Field of Schemes said to me, "More recent corporate leaders have no doubt looked to the billions of dollars lavished on sports teams and decided to up their ante."

You can see this in the cities that have offered the most gobsmacking giveaways to Amazon. Chicago is still paying off renovations to the White Sox Cellular Field, more than 25 years after it opened, as well as the Chicago Bears' home of Soldier Field. According to the Chicago Tribune, "Nearly $430 million in debt related to renovations at the ballpark and a major overhaul of Soldier Field, including $36 million in payments owed this year."

Then there is Southern California, where San Diego voters rejected pouring over a billion dollars into a new NFL stadium for the Chargers. Los Angeles then took the team and is paying $60 million to pay for roads and "infrastructure" for a new facility that was supposed to be privately funded. Los Angeles has also pledged $5.3 billion to host the 2028 Olympics, a number, to judge by past Olympics, that will balloon. It is doing so despite having the highest number of chronically homeless people in the U.S. and, according to the U.S. Census, more people living in poverty than any other major U.S. city. It is also telling that Sacramento, the state capital, is where $272 million is being paid in taxes for the NBA Sacramento Kings' new facility. If the Kings leave before the 35-year lease is up, that debt will still need to be paid, just as the people of Oakland will be paying for the Raiders' stadium for years after the team moves to Las Vegas.

Then there is Boston, which tried to ram through its own multibillion-dollar bid for the Olympic Games. Even though its bid was beaten back by activists, the heavy-handed efforts by politicians to sell this to the public has normalized the playing field upon which cities compete against one another. They don't compete to see who has the lowest poverty rate or the fewest people behind bars. They compete for businesses and the affection of 21st-century plutocrats, who promise prosperity yet deliver it only for themselves, newly arriving executives, and whatever politicians might be greased in the process. Our love of sports laid the groundwork for the madness of "lotteryism." We're the frog in the slowly boiling water. And they are not content merely to cook us. We're also their dinner.

First published at