Tuesday, December 27, 2016

‘Rogue One’, politics, and creators

2016 has been the year in which, yes, even Star Wars screenwriters feel the need to lecture and bloviate about politics (from a fashionably leftwing perspective, of course):

“On Nov. 11, Rogue One writer Chris Weitz launched a barrage of anti-Donald Trump tweets that mirrored what many in Hollywood had posted on social media in the wake of the presidential election.But several messages took the crusade further, injecting the new Star Wars film into a divisive political debate: "Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization," wrote Weitz. Added fellow Rogue One scribe Gary Whitta, "Opposed by a multicultural group led by brave women." Both men changed their avatars to a Rebel insignia with a safety pin, a reference to the symbol of solidarity with persecuted groups that has spread following the election.”

As Stephen King observed in his 1986 novel, It, “Politics always change. Stories never do.”

Never mind that Stephen King has since forgotten his own advice, regularly making a jackass out of himself on Twitter. Star Wars is a tale that goes back to the mid-1970s. It has nothing to do with the petty, redundant battles of identity-group politics that now obsess so many of us. 

I was somewhat surprised to see that not all of the Hollywood talking heads were nodding compliantly. Some of them realize how short-sighted the onanistic Twitter storms are:

Responses offered a predictable split between cheers for the activism and jeers toward Hollywood liberals. What Disney and Lucasfilm might not be thrilled about is that a Trump "Empire" versus Hillary Clinton "Resistance" narrative might alienate the 61 million-plus voters who backed the real estate mogul — a group too large to ignore when a company is in the tentpole business. 
By wading into polarizing waters, might the Rogue One writers hurt its box office? That's a question being asked all over Hollywood."When you're trying to get a big movie out, you want to be as agnostic as possible. You want to be able to appeal to everyone irrespective of their political beliefs," says comScore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. 
"If it's a Michael Moore movie, go for it. Or Dinesh D'Souza. Then your currency is controversy. But if you're producing something for the masses, your currency is not controversy. It's get the movie out to the broadest possible audience."

As the above paragraphs suggest, a filmmaker or a novelist has little to gain by outright, public posturing on current events. With the acknowledged exceptions of overtly partisan political pieces (i.e., films by Moore and D’Souza) few creative works are likely to be enhanced by their creators spewing out political cliches on Twitter.

There is a time and a place for political debate—but political debate should not be ubiquitous. Star Wars, I would submit, need not be a narrative about Hillary, Trump, Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison, Barack Obama, the Alt Right, safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc. (I hope it isn’t, anyway.)

If the screenwriters did their jobs well (I haven't seen the movie yet), viewers will be enjoying Rogue One long after the melodramas of 2016 are distant memories.

Remember what Stephen King wrote in 1986: Politics are inherently temporary. Good stories transcend the temporary dramas of politics.