Mind Numbing Freelance Work Marathon has finally ended, which means I’ll have some time to return to blogworld, at least for a few days. Now I’m counting the days until I move to Washington (I get the keys to my new place on June 30). I’m still recovering from the work (my last day was Friday). This particular job has affected my summer routine to a degree that I wouldn’t have expected, particularly when it comes to producing any fresh writing, including blog entries.
I’m pretty far behind in reading film headlines, but apparently, Neal Stephenson’s New York Times op-ed, commenting on the audience response to the new Star Wars installment has been making the blog rounds. The basic thesis seems to be that US film audiences are less excited about the science and technology in sci-fi films (a process Stephenson calls “geeking out”) and instead just want to “veg out,” to have a film that provides them with non-stop excitement.
I still haven’t seen the new Star Wars film, nor do I have any plans to see it, but Stephenson’s comments seem to miss the audience’s response, as I’ve understood it, to the film. Stephenson comments that
In sum, very little of the new film makes sense, taken as a freestanding narrative. What’s interesting about this is how little it matters. Millions of people are happily spending their money to watch a movie they don’t understand. What gives?
I’ll first mention that many viewers seem to be seeing the film out of a sense of obligation to their sense of nostalgia to the original triology, not necessarily out of any enthusiasm for the current film (or even the current trilogy), and the muddled narrative has been the source of many complaints.
But Stephenson’s more significant point is that “ancillary media” have led to the “geek out” material being taken out of the film itself, leading to a series of high points, the film as PowerPoint presentation of a larger narrative that exists primarily off the silver screen (in this sense, the new Star Wars trilogy seems comparable to the Matrix films), allowing people to “veg out” and enjoy the narrative ride, essentially rendering audience members passive before the story rather than active partcipants in it. As I’ve mentioned, I haven’t seen the film, but I’d imagine the emphasis on “vegging out” has less to do with an anti-intellectual or anti-science bias in film audiences than it has to do with the desire to provide the film with the widest audience possible, including non-US markets that may be less versed in Star Wars lore. But I’m not sure that it’s entirely fair to suggest that what’s happening is the complete “vegging out” of film audiences, or even what it might mean if we’re (whoever “we” are) submitting passively to Hollywood spectacle.
The famous difficulty of the film’s narrative suggests that some audience members have done their homework about the saga. The article privileges the film itself as the central text. Many Star Wars fans are familiar with the basic narrative already from books and fansites, and the film is a realization of that (in fact, Lucas has commented in several places that much of the material in this film was penned as early as the mid-1970s). My main point here is that it’s impossible to view the film in isolation from all of the other texts, whether created by Lucas, fans of the films, or by political thinkers looking to use the film as a shorthand for illustrating Republican Party excesses.
So perhaps rather than suggesting that Revenge of the Sith privileges the “veg out” mode over “geeking out,” I’d argue that it’s possible the film emphasizes (or tries to emphasize) some of the extreme tendencies of both modes.