Friday, January 19, 2018

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know

I understand perfectly the human tendency to get deeply involved with fiction.  When you're talking about a story, it's natural to take the background conditions as given.  But this fangirl post on Star Wars, by Emily Asher-Perrin, from crosses a line.  The title is "The Rebellion Won Because They Treated Their Droids Like People."
The Separatists, the Empire, and the First Order all have poor track records when it comes to treating any non-human with even basic decency, to say nothing of empathy. The Empire in particular has a track record of enslaving other races, so it’s hardly surprising that they would fail to view droids as worthy of consideration. But the detriment of this philosophy becomes plain as binary sun daylight when you realize all it has cost them ...
Admittedly, in the interest of balance Asher-Perrin admits that "Even the heroes have their own prejudices to overcome in this regard."  But she concludes:
There’s still no question about it. If the “bad guys” of Star Wars actually bothered to think of droids as sentient beings worthy of attention and consideration, they’d have won every single war. It wouldn’t have been difficult either; just let their own droids develop personalities and treat them like crew and soldiers and operatives. Listen to what they have to say, particularly when they make note of some weird droid hanging around a datacore.
Guess we should just be real grateful that they never thought of that.
I won't ask who "we" are, who should be grateful that the bad guys were so clueless about the droids.  I have no stake in the outcome of these movies, other than that of any spectator following a storyline.  The issue is that Rebellion won because their creators, the writers of the franchise, wanted them to, just as the Ku Klux Klan in Birth of a Nation triumphed over the nasty, uppity blacks because their creators wanted them to.  Imagine someone writing that the blacks in Birth of a Nation were crushed because of their obvious moral faults, their rebellion against American Christian values: if you want to beat the Klan, don't lust after white women.

Birth of a Nation, of course, is based loosely on American history.  It sides with the resurgent white racist reaction that rehabilitated the Confederacy for most white Americans, hence its immense popularity; it was in box-office terms the Star Wars of the first half the twentieth century.  (Another big hit, Gone With the Wind, inhabited the same American imaginary; I take it that's no coincidence.)  Star Wars is a completely imaginary world, which frees it even more from the constricting bonds of reality.

Am I saying that Star Wars is the same as Birth of a Nation?  Of course not.  I'm saying that what happens within a fiction proves nothing about the real world, and that a different story can prove the opposite.  The droids in Star Wars have roughly the same dramatic function as the house-elves in the Harry Potter series.  The Wizards treated the house-elves badly, but they still beat Voldemort.  What does that prove?