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Jack Solomon

Good Grief!

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Oct 29, 2015

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 and Luke O’Neil at (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.

Andrea A. Lunsford

Gifts from the Past

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Oct 29, 2015

Now that I am at least semi-retired, I am taking advantage of every chance to visit new places and to reacquaint myself with places I’ve been before. Recently, I had a chance to spend ten days in London with three friends: we rented a place on Horsemongers Mews Lane and set about visiting old haunts like the British Museum and British Library, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern and Tate Britain, and the Globe. We took in two plays, walked some 90 miles all told, and rode endless other miles on the Tube.


One highlight of this visit, however, was completely new to me. Under the tutelage of claymaker and artist Julia and archaeologist Mike, we took a walk along the Thames foreshore, at a very low tide. What a wonder awaited us! Mike and Julia sent us off in different directions, telling us simply to gather up anything that “looked interesting” to us. So we fanned out, with our plastic bags, and some 30 or 40 minutes later came together again with our treasures. Mike explained that the Thames is indeed a treasure trove of history, offering up fragments from 2000+ years ago on one shore and from Roman times forward on the other (well, that’s an oversimplification, but we were on the “Roman” side, where so much has been excavated over the centuries). Between the two of them, Mike and Julia identified everything we found, from a tiny Japanese kewpie doll that was “probably made last week” to pipe stems and bowls from the 18th century, lots of glazed pottery from the medieval period, and tiles used in Roman buildings. Here are a few of the pieces I collected:
Lunsford Blog 10 29 15 - Gifts from the Past - Combined Photo.PNG

I couldn’t help wishing that I had a group of my writing students with me to join in the fun, and I wondered what local sites might hold historical artifacts, ones I could engage students in gathering and studying and writing about. There was something magical and powerful about holding a tile that had once decorated a Roman home, or part of a teacup used in Chaucer’s time, something that pulled me back through history and connected me to it in a very visceral way. And it occurred to me that students might even be able to do archaeological “digs” in their own homes, writing about artifacts from their childhoods, or from their parents’ or grandparents’ time.


Such connections with the past seem especially important in our throw-away, dash-from-one-thing-to-the-next world. Our students can benefit from making these connections, writing about them, and speculating on what artifacts our civilization will leave behind for someone a thousand years from now to happen upon.