Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"The Fetid Shit Stink Of Right Wing Power Fantasy"

Why A Man With 8 Unfinished Kickstarters Never Saw Star Wars But Hates It Anyway--And Why That Makes Perfect Sense



David Vs Goliath

I haven't seen The Trailer--there's not much point in rushing to watch a trailer for something your girlfriend will die if she doesn't see. A bedazzled pink Millenium Falcon on a wire hits me whenever I stand up in bed because it is always overhead, chasing a pink tie fighter on another wire and always pursued by a pink Slave 1. I have no choice.

With regards to Star Wars I am lazily optimistic but not terribly invested.

But One Man (read this in a very heavy In A World Voice), Is Not Pleased...






David got really upset that Star Wars was going to be at Disneyland:

"Right Wing Power Fantasy" is Reactionary Art Critic move #5 by the way, dating back at least to Max Nordau's "Degeneracy". 

I wondered if Hill was alone here, but no--here's vigilantchristian.org echoing his fears of Star Wars leading to a Fourth Reich...

Hill has been forced to interrupt his screeds to acknowledge some cognitive dissonance...
 ...but even then, he takes a licking and keeps right on ticking...

...and this is not even everything that comes up when you search "David Hill" and "Star Wars". Point is, the man's got big ideas and it takes only a few seconds to find them.

Well we all do.

But Here's The Kicker

For the love of God, Montresor.
"I'm mostly in it for the Right Wing Power Fantasy"

The Larger Point

Now of course what any conscientious reader will be wondering right now is either:

-Yeah dude, everyone already knows David Hill, game designer, RPG gadfly, avid advocate of online harassment, and Concerned Father par excellence with the 8 unfinished Kickstarters is not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, why should I care?
or
-Who is David Hill...and why should I care?

Maybe you shouldn't care--if you don't think that cool game stuff you want to play can come out of discussions about games we have online, you can probably stop now.

Anyway: this is about a much larger thing, it's about a way of talking about films and books and games that Hill advocates and represents but that goes wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy beyond him. 

Here's a weird fact: the fact that David Hill would repeatedly attack some movies without having ever seen them is 100% in line with the deepest underpinnings of the theory of art criticism that Hill and fellow RPG Drama Club critics subscribe to.

The method is:

1. Listen to a summary of whatever it is.

2. Assume the only message of the thing is that what happens in it is what should happen in real life.

3. Decide whether that would be good or not.

Since, in this PMRC-style worldview, a piece of media's message always baldly mirrors its elevator pitch, you don't have to look at it, and a story is only worth telling if it's worth imitating.

In this view, we are all those teenagers that got run over in the street after watching The Program. Machines doomed to live out only the awful destinies hack writers imagine.

So you can assess, say, Star Wars, and assess it over and over and over and over on multiple websites without ever experiencing it because "the" message is what matters--this has corollaries:

Message does not emerge from style. Messages do not differ from audience member to audience member. The way an actor acts cannot convey a message. The way a director directs cannot convey a message. The sets, designs, costumes and use of mise en scene cannot convey a message.  

100 plus years of film criticism, Pauline Kael, Cahiers Du Cinema, Susan Sontag--these things grown-ups notice about how craft and performance alter meaning and how audiences receive things--do not matter. That thing where someone might notice that Alan Pakula's use of geometry in camerawork slowly turns The Parallax View from an almost Fall Guy like dueling-banjos romp into a horror movie about the terror of physical space itself does not matter.

That moment where you--being sentient and self-aware--go through a thing with your brain and your snacks and drinks and then notice what happens to your own self and the selves around you after that experience? That thing doesn't matter. That thing social scientists do where they find out what people in bulk do before and after a possibly attitude-changing event? That thing doesn't matter.

Real experience doesn't matter in a mode of criticism built on finding out if you can spell out what you hate using the alphabet soup of somebody else's art.

What matters is you found a trope and you wouldn't want that thing to happen in real life, that makes the thing bad. This is the mode of criticism-via-plot-summary used when you see people decry D&D as being "about" racial genocide or go "BUY MY GAME WHERE YOU CAN FINALLY TELL STORIES ABOUT..." some big concept that is more interesting than the game itself will ever be.  

A prime example is the Mother Jones story Hill references above --it contains no science linking Star Wars to militaristic attitudes, it just points out Star Wars kicked off a spike in awesome toys and dares the reader to make the leap to so...Reagan, Nicaragua, right? Right? Conveniently ignoring that the post-Vietnam era saw such a massive drop-off in military recruitment and US enthusiasm for overseas engagement that we now have mercenaries do most of the work for us. Pentagon officials frequently discuss the difficulties of waging war in a post-Vietnam environment yet, oddly, never talk about the delights of doing so in the post-Star Wars era--with which it almost entirely coincides.

The '80s wartoys that the article laments (StarWars, GI Joe, Voltron...) were lavished on a generation of teens less willing to go to war for their country than any previous one...
Bizarrely, military recruitment keeps going down even though
they keep making more Star Wars stuff.
Probably out of sheer coincidence, that drop-off between 90 and 98 coincides almost exactly with the Star Wars generation reaching recruitable age. An eight year old who had a Hoth playset in 1981 would be an 18 year old telling the Gulf War, George Bush Senior, and the hippie parents who sent his approval rating through the roof to go fuck themselves in 1991. Star Wars kids didn't turn into whitebread patriots, they turned into riot grrrls and invented Lollapalooza and bought hip hop by the ton until it was the most popular music in the world.

Is that a bad metric? Is it unfair? What would be a good one?

These questions don't matter in the world of "message" criticism. Things aren't things--they're "Stories About..." topics. And how you feel about the topic tells you all you need to know about the thing, relieving you of the burden of having to know about the thing.

This mode is freakishly common in RPG discourse neither despite- nor because of- the fact it's totally intellectually bankrupt but because it's a fun way to make the critic seem wittier and cleverer than what they're criticizing. Check me out I'm noticing HP Lovecraft is "Some dude fearing otherness in Connecticut", I am the cutest nerd. 

In reality, art is not reducible to its themes. If it were, there'd be no need for it: once you believed the right things you could give up on art.

The levels of complexity present even in the dullest work of art are impenetrable to these folks (or they pretend they are. Ask them about some murdercentric media they like and they're suddenly Roland fucking Barthes). To take only the example near to hand--Star Wars was envisioned by Lucas (and seen by many of his generation) as a pro-Viet Cong allegory of the Vietnam War and by later film critics as a film whose stylistic choices alone (big budget epic heroic fantasy) undermined this subversive message and then by still later critics and Occupy activists as a film whose stylistic choices (bricolage and diversity=good guys, cleanliness and corporate uniformity=bad guys) reinforced a leftist message but then so wait gun control and on and on...

They're all wrong (the only consistent message Star Wars has been proven to have sent en masse to the public is "more Star Wars and more things like Star Wars") but at least they saw it before spouting off. 
"Awmm soopuw ekthighted about the Wight Wing Powuw Fantasy"
It goes without saying the messages people take from Star Wars are manifold not because Star Wars is such a many-splendored thing but just because it's a thing at all. Experience isn't simple and the way the world's 6 billion humans process any two hours worth of made-up stuff is even less simple. My point is an interpretation by someone who hasn't experienced a thing--or, more generally and extending to people besides David Hill--topical broadbrush criticisms that could have been made by someone who hadn't even experienced the thing are a fucking pox.

If the thing someone says about the thing could've been said about the Netflix blurb of the thing, the thing they said isn't smart, and they aren't smart, and they make the conversation worse and slower and everybody should start ignoring them.
Mandy with her tie fighters. As a disabled bi feminist immigrant sex worker,
she's obviously in it for the right wing power fantasy.

You can pretty much cherrypick anything until it sounds like shit if you want. I could say David Hill's beloved Vampire is basically about pretending you're better than everyone else because you're a sexual predator (or folkloric and metaphoric interpretation thereof). But I wouldn't because I realize that would be stupid and shitty and reductive and, if you think of games as important or the people who create them and enjoy them (for a wide variety of legit reasons I can't even begin to catalogue) as real humans--profoundly unempathic. People like what you don't like and you don't know why and you're too scared to go outside of your tinkertoy vision of what's wrong with the world and to enter someone else's head long enough to find out.
Chicken Little Criticism needs to stop and the people who promote it need to stop being supported by the RPG community in any way. You don't get better games or better gamers by accusing your fellow humans of making or loving fascism based on a TL;DR.

Those people who worked on that thing? They're people. They deserve an "innocent until proven guilty" just like everyone else--if you want to claim they're so stupid that you know more about what their art says to people than they do, you need to do better than "Well that's what I heard!".

The only right wing fantasy here is David's and it's a very old one--the fantasy of using art to parent the world.

15 comments:

  1. Waitt a minute someoe, anyone, thinks Star Wars is a right wing powerfantasy? I'm baffled, I'm not a Star Wars fanboy, but I justcan't imagine how somebody can be so out of touch to make such a statement

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    1. Yep, some do. It reminds me of the satanic panic in the Eighties. Some people don't know or forget that Star Wars was targeted back then right along with D&D and heavy metal. I remember this local access televangelist who my friends & I used to watch for laughs who said the Force in the trilogy was synonymous with "the forces of Satan." I've had trouble taking "adults" seriously since then.

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    2. It makes perfect sense if you think of "right-wing" and "power fantasy" as curse words, like "goddamn sons of bitches." They express emotions, not propositions.

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    3. Ragtag bunch of heroes with different aliens defeat power mad racist nazi evil empire.

      Yeah. Totally a right wing power fantasy.

      He also never played Kotor2. As is obvious. While the movies constantly say that falling to the light or dark side is permanent. You can clearly see it isn't. As even darth vader repents in the end. (As shown by him showing up as a light side ghost with kenobi and yoda). And in kotor2 you have a few... interesting characters, not really dark nor light side.

      And it totally corrupts children. I totally wanted to move shit with my mind when I was young. I mean... become a patriarch, oppress minorities, and solve all my problems with violence.

      I am a big fanboy (I know how much turbolasers a ISD has ;P) and he is pretty wrong in so many ways. Esp when you take the expanded universe into account. In which there are a lot of examples that break most of his complaints.

      But yeah, doesn't know what he is talking about.

      And... aren't there large groups of right winged people complaining about how the new star wars isn't a right winged power fantasy?

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    4. His ideas are not worth that much analysis.

      He could be Spot, Fucking On. and it would still be an example of a stupid, irresponsible thing to say because he hasn't seen it.

      That's all that matters: no matter what position he takes he's still talking out of his ass.

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  2. so royal power fantasies about hereditary despotism and princesses are ok fantasies (set not in usa) but starwars bad -plenty of volumes interpreting fairy tales sexual psych and class issues - plenty of vanilla things about all mass produced fantasy but they are still better than fantasies of religion

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    1. "power fantasies" are dumb.

      Inventions are awesome. All good fantasy and sci fi is full of inventions.

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  3. Definitely read your post with interest. Definitely want that pink stormtrooper outfit for my (almost) 6yo daughter. And for some reason, I want TIE fighters. That came out of nowhere, but there it is.

    Personally, I think for me, as a first-generationer (saw the original Star Wars/A New Hope/Episode IV when I was six myself), I think the beauty of the films for me at that age was that I could see myself - or a more awesomer version of myself - in many different characters.

    And I definitely know scores and scores of people whose interest in martial arts was basically born from "this is as close as I can get to being a m'f'ing Jedi. So I'm going to to that."

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  4. As a younger, less wise man, I've spouted off on things I didn't know shit about. What I learned from that experience can be summed up in this quote "It is better to remain silent and be thought to be an idiot, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."
    I have made a pledge to myself that I will not comment on a topic unless I have experienced it myself.
    Also, to hate a movie that much is incredible, but to hate a movie HE HAS NOT SEEN that much is ... beyond description.

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  5. This provided several morning-coffee-spit-takes. Just when you thought David Hill couldn't get any more ridiculous...Great stuff on how to deal with this kind of PRMC bullshit. Nice.

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  6. I have a lot of trouble taking people who say 'toxic masculinity' serious. But that might be because I saw some of jonathan mcIntosh tweets

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  7. "a piece of media's message always baldly mirrors its elevator pitch you don't have to look at it, and a story is only worth telling if it's worth imitating."

    Excuse me, but aren't you missing a comma or something?

    "a piece of media's message always baldly mirrors its elevator pitch, you don't have to look at it, and a story is only worth telling if it's worth imitating."

    ReplyDelete