No, this isn’t about the new Peanuts movie (though that deserves some attention too); it’s about the #BoycottStarWarsVII campaign on Twitter, which began to get media attention in places like the L.A. Times, the Hollywood Reporter, Esquire Magazine, and The Daily Show on October 20. I do not know what the status of this thing will be by the time this blog appears—indeed, according to Fruzsina Eordogh at motherboard.vice.com and Luke O’Neil at esquire.com (among others), the whole thing was a wildly successful "troll" and should never have received so much attention in the first place. But at the risk of feeding some trolls (especially a couple who call themselves "Lord Humungus" and "End Cultural Marxism"), I want to address the matter semiotically anyway.
The gist of the boycott's "complaint" is that the new Star Wars film is committing a sort of ethnic cleansing (the word being used is “genocide”) against whites because the movie features a black male lead and is directed by Jewish director J.J. Abrams, who, as the Twitter feed doubles down on its racist calumnies, is part of an international Jewish conspiracy against white people. Yes, that’s what is really appearing: look at the “discussion” for yourself to see—if you can stomach it.
Given the problem posed by “Poe’s Law” (the precept that things are so goofy on the Internet that you can’t ever be certain whether someone is being ironic or wacky), it’s hard to tell whether the trolls trolling the trolls here are serious or not, but for my part, I am inclined to think that at least some of them are. Here’s why.
When set into a semiotic system, the #BoycottStarWarsVII caper can be seen to bear a number of the markers of the real thing—especially in the claiming of victim status by white supremacists. If you look around the Internet you can see a lot of this sort of thing. Consider, for example, a report from the September 19th issue of the Richmond Times Dispatch, which describes a stunt by a group called the Virginia Flaggers (this is a NeoConfederate organization that specializes in promoting the public display of the Confederate Battle flag) who recently chartered an airplane to carry a banner declaring "Confederate Heros [sic] Matter". This was not a hoax.
Or consider the blatant, Goebbels-like anti-Semitism in the #BoycottStarWarsVII Twitter feed. This also can be found all over the internet. For an example, I'll provide a link to an anti-NeoConfederate blog hosted by Professor Brooks Simpson of Arizona State University, who specializes in exposing the activities of various NeoConfederate organizations. Have a look at the exchange, in a screen shot captured by Simpson, between Kevin Levin (another anti-NeoConfederate Civil War blogger) and someone calling himself "Battlefield Tramper." This too is no hoax.
But pointing out that the Twitter flap reveals the existence of virulent racism in America isn't much of a discovery, of course. We already knew that. What I want to look at next is the fact that it is a new Star Wars film that is the site of such an eruption.
Part of the reason that a group of committed Internet trolls chose this movie, of course, is that the franchise has been criticized before on racial lines. Jar Jar Binks, Ewoks, Wookiees, George Lucas himself, have all been the subject of racial controversies. But that only accentuates the point I want to make here, which is that Star Wars attracts so much cultural attention because this fantasy saga of endless warfare between the forces of good and evil has become one of (if not the) defining narratives of contemporary American culture. If the ancient Greeks had the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Rome had the Aeneid, the Star Wars narrative has replaced that of the American Revolution (I was raised on Paul Revere; now it’s Luke Skywalker) in American consciousness. That the saga eschews history for fantasy, and substitutes simplistic conflicts between moral absolutes for the complexities of contemporary life, is a fitting reflection of a society that knows little history and is riven by uncompromising ideological divisions. It is no wonder that, in such an environment, Star Wars itself has become a battleground, with contending forces competing for the rights to the narrative.
And then again, Star Wars has made so much money that it can make every news blip related to it a news mountain: because in a society wherein money increasingly becomes the sole measure of everything, anything having to do with the great money makers is newsworthy. And this new episode in the unending Star Wars saga is going to make a heck of a lot of money, "boycott" or not.