Our Sponsors

Monday, December 28, 2015

In defense of 'Star Wars' and other childish things.



Dear Mr. Linker,

I don't expect you'll be terribly concerned with my opinion of your recent op-ed piece on the decline of 'more adult forms of art' under the boot of the Star Wars franchise. I am, after all, one of those awful people who's endangering the future of serious drama and painting and dance and music: I am a professional maker of geek-stuff.

When my work day begins, I will find myself subtitling anime, helping to organize a Doctor Who convention, or (on a rare morning when I'm feeling particularly destructive) writing a sci-fi piece of my own. That's what keeps the lights on and the guinea pigs fed in the Dennison household. So I can understand if this is not coming from what you would consider a fair or informed venue.

But I should probably toss out a couple other things: I'm a medieval scholar. I'm studying fencing. I'm teaching myself to play electric bass, the next step in a literal lifetime of music training that includes classical piano, opera, and Baroque composition. I was raised by a NASA engineer and a ballerina on a mix of MGM musicals and Marx Brothers. My geek interests do not, nor have they ever precluded, any sort of 'adult' (just say it -- valid) art.

Before I get too far, okay, I'll acknowledge. You mean Star Wars. You mean Hollywood pushing a large franchise steeped in nostalgia. You're distressed not because these things exist, but because they are so big. (I'm positive it's not nearly this cut-and-dried, but it is what your article is about.) You are, for some reason, terrified that thousands of years of more valid art will be forgotten and swept under the rug because we are so inundated with this childish space opera. And you're under the impression that you are one of the few members of some sort of lean, rebellious New Athens watching the rest of the world fall to the curse of being happy and distracted while the real stuff, the good stuff, gets ignored.

I could argue that art is subjective. I won't, because if you had any chance of believing that you wouldn't have written this piece.

I will argue that it is ultimately harmful to rate the 'adultness' and 'validity' of art by its age. While things become classics for a reason, the history of the arts is not some vast cathedral of quiet, serene thinkers gifting us with their talents. Shakespeare was obsessed with dick jokes and wrote the first 'your mom' joke. Gilbert & Sullivan and Offenbach were sarcastic bastards who got it out onstage. I'm not even going to go into Mozart or Aristophanes. Many of the things considered fine, great, high, valid, adult... are ultimately childish. Not in the same way, certainly, but through the lens of history we forget that some of the greatest, most lasting art is childish at its core.

Let me tell you about my history with Star Wars. I'm a fan, but not a huge one -- my escapism of choice is Doctor Who. But I do love it, I get childishly excited about it, I hop up and down in line at the theatre. I'm a 34-year-old woman doing all this, mind. Do you know who got me into it? My uncle. My uncle, former AP writer, former film studies teacher, one of the most intellectual human beings I know. Also one of the silliest and most fun human beings I know.

Three of us went to see The Force Awakens together: myself, the aforementioned uncle, and my aunt -- one of the few living practitioners of traditional faux bois. We cheered, we shouted, we acted like absolute excited children the entire time. And then we went home to our writing and our art.

Scratch the surface of this audience. Will you see man-children who've never once heard Stravinsky in a performance hall or fondly stroked the pages of Ulysses? Yeah, sure. You'll also find high intellectuals who were taking a break from writing their dissertations. Artists with arthritic hands escaping for a couple hours. Musicians, composers, dancers -- the people who create the very things you believe the popularity of a sci-fi franchise is destroying.

I'm so pleased that you want to see your young Linkerling grow up into a fine, stable human being. But to hope he outgrows the things of childhood? To pray that, by the time he's 17, he's left behind the thrill of watching intergalactic swashbuckling? That's not a fate to wish on anyone. The people who remember the magic of their childhoods, who allow themselves to enjoy and revisit it, go on to be hopeful, accomplished people. And when the real world gets too big -- as it is wont to do -- a return to the fantastic can cure a world of ills.

In conclusion: rest easy, Mr. Linker. The popularity of Star Wars will not destroy this world. You are not, as you seem to fear, in a dwindling sea of sanity. The greats will live on forever. Even the ones you dismiss as childish.