As a modern Star Wars fan you can not help but read article after article about “toxic fandom” and how it is killing Star Wars. I have made two key observations on the debate raging online from my viewpoint as both a Star Wars fan and a participant in modern pop culture using the 1997 Simpsons character “Poochie” to show the issues being discussed by mainstream Star Wars fans are nothing new and it is the extremities of the right and left where the problems lay.
I am an avid internet researcher I need to be to do my job. A key part of understanding the internet is understanding the notion of identity and network culture online. How this plays into what is happening right now with Star Wars fandom is an intriguing story as there are many players involved in the Star Wars culture. When framing it within the notion of Henry Jenkins participatory culture, identity politics and social networks the canvas seems seemingly too complicated to ever resolve – but is it?
I know that is a boring introduction but I wanted to frame basis upon which I am founding my argument. You can agree or disagree if you like.
Let me start this by saying that I am a white male, the most despised kind of Star Wars fan if you believe the current news postings and social media commentary coming from LucasFilm and its supporters. But why? I, like many others, did not like a Star Wars film named The Last Jedi directed by Rian Johnson. In reality, all fans want are good Star Wars movies and the freedom to criticise when poor films and to laud good films. However, to criticise this film quickly became a problem that drove moral panic within the public sphere. Somehow all critical Star Wars fans became racists, bigots, and sexists in an endless array of articles online attacking them and defending The Last Jedi.
When reading these online articles and social media posts around the criticism of The Last Jedi I found two constant producers of toxicity within the Star Wars community. These are generally two very small sections of Star Wars fandom that the mainstream Star Wars fan base rejects – the alt-right, and alt-left commonly known as Social Justice Warriors (SJWs). The major issue with these SJW’s is they have seemingly embedded their ideologies into the creative process of Star Wars and in doing so gained an unwarranted position of influence.
LucasFilm and alt-left media outlets, went on to attack the mainstream Star Wars fanbase for rejecting their political ideologies in the Star Wars universe (just as mainstream Star Wars culture would reject and alt-right ideology). But let us take a quick look at the big picture before diving down the political rabbit hole and bring to the discussion the terms I mentioned earlier – ‘Participatory culture’ and ‘identity’ – and how they are directly affecting creativity in Hollywood.
There are two key problems, as I see them at present, within the creative environment of Hollywood.
Firstly, the economic mechanisms behind film production have led to:
- A focus on the release of movies based on pre-existing fan bases (i.e. Marvel and DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider).
- Endless film sequels (i.e.Resident Evil and Fast and the Furious) – a problem the gaming industry also has.
- Films being made which expand upon pre-existing film franchises via prequels, sequels, remakes and spinoffs (Star Wars, Transformers, TMNT, Star Trek, Harry Potter).
Secondly, we live in an era of ideological extremism directly linked to identity (identity politics). There are two extremes on the left and right of the conversation who today have open social platforms to voice their opinion where those who shout loudest, and form groups the quickest, creating a perception that these opinions reflect the current social discourse. Stifling debate and creativity.
Let us expand on this.
Hollywood’s lack of creativity
When is the last time an original screenplay took the world by storm? It has been a long time and that is the problem. Hollywoods default setting is to produce films and television which have a passionate pre-existing audience who actively participate in the culture via social networks. These audiences consume content, share it, and talk about it avidly. Perfect – it saves on marketing and is a financially sound decision – or is it?
There is one key problem with this strategy, you are also going to face high expectations of an active fan base that now commonly creates fan-based works against which your work will be measured against for its cultural authenticity – these are the expectations that must be delivered upon. If not the product will be criticised.
This is especially important within the context of Star Wars. A universe for that for nearly 20 years was ignored by its creators Lucasfilm. This empty universe was promptly filled with third-party and fan-based creations exploding to what is known as the “Extended Universe” (EU) within the Star Wars culture. The Star Wars fanbase was so loving and committed to the sandbox created by George Lucas that they filled this fictitious universe with their own creativity, bound by the lore and values of Star Wars, and by which they now mark others work – 2016’s short film titled “Rebel Scum” by Blood Brothers Cinema is just one example of this love and commitment.
Enter Disney and the NEW Star Wars. They instantly made a decision to disconnect from the EU so they could redefine Star Wars canon. Which was a correct decision as there were many conflicting stories within the EU that were too complicated to portray in Disney’s future films, television, and books. But this did not mean the quality of the films would not be judged against the fans well-developed EU expectations – as after all this was Disney’s first attempts at creating EU stories. Disney was in the EU and would be judged accordingly – like it or not.
The Force Awakens delivered (almost over-delivered) on fan expectations. While the film is a highly derivative, paint by numbers remake of the original Star Wars film released in 1977 it hit all the right chords – it was “Star Wars”, and it was the start of the hero’s journey which is the central pillar of the previous Star Wars story arcs the fans know and love.
Next was Rogue One. The first stand-alone film which also delivered on the look and feel of Star Wars and took us on a journey with a largely new set of characters that tied almost seamlessly with the original Star Wars film.
The Last Jedi followed. Fans were ready to continue on the hero’s journey with Rey, and be introduced to an older wiser Luke Skywalker – the most popular character in the Star Wars franchise. But something went wrong here … seriously wrong.
The Last Jedi became the ground zero of modern Star Wars films. It is the first Star Wars film to be overtly injected with identity politics by Lucasfilm management, the Star Wars story team, and director Rian Johnson.
The fans instantly rebelled against it – it was not “Star Wars”, and were quickly asking what has happened to Star Wars?
Ideological far left-wing politics had influenced creative decisions during the writing and filming of The Last Jedi.
The alt-left environment does not lend itself to creativity – their views are rigid and unforgiving, and stepping outside of this paradigm – even for active SJW proponents – instantly makes you the other – an outsider. They failed time and time again to be able to communicate their messages, or debate topics, without screaming down at those with alternate points of view. Totally incapable of rational debate and quickly falling into name calling and trying to drive a moral panic through the mainstream fanbase.
This inability to communicate rationally seems to have stemmed from the cultural backlash of the left after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States when their worldview collapsed around them. How did they react? They lashed out with name calling and failed to listen to genuine criticism or offer a genuine alternative, they could not understand their own flaws or how to build a better version of themselves to ensure that would not suffer the same fate next election. They started a cultural rampage that has spread into Star Wars.
The Last Jedi was to be a victim of this behaviour.
LucasFilm and Rian Johnson made a bad Star Wars film, they injected real-world politics into an escapist sci-fi narrative for children. It did not meet the standards set out clearly in the Star Wars EU culture and fans (the vast majority of) criticised the film based upon this. The reaction from Lucasfilm and its creative team was astonishing to say the least.
Members of Lucasfilm lashed out calling fans who don’t like The Last Jedi – racists, sexists, bigots, man-babies and failed to listen to genuine criticism of the film. All of their angst targeted at white men, ignoring criticism from anyone outside that paradigm. What do they think of critics of other genders, races, and sexualities? Lucasfilm has never addressed this.
It was Lucasfilm who injected toxic language targeted at the bulk of the Star Wars fan base, all in response to some noise coming from the alt-right minority – not from its core fans. Lucasfilm incorrectly identified the two groups as the same. Star Wars discourse was hijacked by the left and the majority of the fans who did not like The Last Jedi labeled as toxic.
The alt-left feel the need to amplify their ideas and messages within anything they can get their hands on and for good reason. They are creatively bereft. Unable to create any entertaining original content that can successfully carry their social message to the mainstream. So they attach themselves like parasites to pre-existing cultures like Star Wars to gain a vehicle for their messages much like Poochie in The Simpsons.
The “Poochies” of pop culture
The alt-right have for a long time, and rightfully so, been labeled racists, bigots, sexists and have been ostracised from the mainstream pop culture. Their only outlet to spew their disgusting bile is the free platforms provided by social media and again usually hijacking discussion surrounding popular mainstream cultures.
Similarly, in a modern pop culture, we find alt-left SJW’s.
For the purposes of this argument, I am using The Simpsons reference to the character “Poochie”. A character found in a Simpsons episode from 1997 where the creators of the show cleverly parody marketers and producers who want to add in an ill-fitting character to meet a perceived need to freshen The Itchy & Scratchy Show for modern audiences (watch videos embedded below and imagine it to be the Lucasfilm creative team). “Poochie” is rejected by The Itchy & Scratchy Show fan base as it just does not fit their expectations. Sound familiar to The Last Jedi?
SJW’s are currently the “Poochies” of modern-day pop culture – tokenistic, unneeded, unwanted and unwelcome within creative environments.
However, when “Poochie” ideologies are ignored or criticised they quickly spew hateful bile at those who oppose them and stick alt-right labels on everything that is not “them” creating toxic environments.
Director Rian Johnson is a perfect example of this. He has positioned critics of The Last Jedi as white male “manbabies”, racists, bigots, and sexists. Deflecting and stifling any debate over the quality of his film as anyone seen criticising it was now labeled by Lucasfilm under these terms. This is a disgraceful position for Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm to hold, and a driver of much of the toxicity as it pushes the discussions about the film to the far-left and far-right margins.
Another example is the recent activation of Disney’s leftist media partners in the commentary surrounding why Kelly Marie Tran, who played the character Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, removed her Instagram posts. There has been no official word still on the motives behind this, although YouTuber The Gospel According to Mark with a Cee has brought to light an interview with GQ from March 2018 explaining how she manages such issues on social media which seem to contradict the current media story, and if the reasons being reported are true I fully support Tran against these disgusting alt-right trolls. However, strangely Lucasfilm has not quickly responded to these rumours or affirmed if they are true or false. Either way, the actress is now unwittingly in a bad position not of her own making – she is just doing her job. However, how now do we move forward critically if her character is written poorly in the next Star Wars film without it being toxically labeled by the alt-left?
You see the problem here.
Add to this, inflammatory statements made by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy that the ‘force is female’ and explicitly stating that she does not feel the need to cater new Star Wars films towards its male audience and you can see the problem with adding political agendas within Star Wars narrative. The funny thing is that what Kennedy said is actually true – popular characters such as Princess Leia, Ahsoka Tano, Sabine Wren, Hera Syndulla, Asajj Ventress and Rey (up until The Last Jedi), have been widely accepted by its mainstream “male” Star Wars fan base so Lucasfilm should not need to adjust anything at all.
It is the alt-left SJW ideology currently creating toxicity within Star Wars culture – a toxicity that needs to be removed. The main core of fans watch on in disbelief and asking “how did this get into our culture? And how do we get rid of it?”
The Star Wars fan base quickly removes unwanted elements and has already booted the alt-right to the fringes, and is rejected alt-left ideologies by not going to see Solo: A Star Wars Story. The fan base did so in mass and will continue to do so until they see alt-left SJW politics removed from the Star Wars universe. The open wound which is The Last Jedi will not heal until those responsible are removed and replaced with trustworthy people who will make sure that this will never happen again.
This is what happens when you don’t meet the audience expectations of Star Wars fans. This is all you need to do to make money.
So, for now, we dance in victory as we take the first steps in pushing SJW’s to the outer rim of Star Wars culture. They will still be free to spew their bile just like the alt-right, and we will be free to ignore them. Creative freedom and fan participation will flourish again in a diverse Star Wars sandbox freed from of the shackles of extremism.
Good bye “Poochie”. Yub Nub!