Thursday, June 22, 2006
The Fascist font of Star Wars
This is something I feel I should have known for a long time, but which I’ve only just found out. It’s one of those odd little nuggets you come across online: on this occasion at Jeff Atwood’s blog, who forwards comments by Suzy Rice, who designed the original Star Wars logo.
I designed the logo for the film, Star Wars with a minimalist directive from George Lucas: that he wanted “something very fascist” as to the film’s logo. … My work was for and about the main title, “Star Wars” (upon which the rest of the titling later has been constructed and which appears in the main titles of each Episode beginning with that first Episode IV release in 1977).
I’d been reading a book about German type design the night before my first meeting with George Lucas, a book that provided historical information about a few popular typefaces used today, how they developed into what we see and use in the present. And so, when George described what he wanted, I returned to the office and used what I reckoned to be the most “fascist” typeface I could think of as reference: Helvetica (Helvetika) Black. Helvetica is the contemporary family name of the typeface, and “Black” is a secondary font within that font family—a modified,
emboldened weight of the original, as is, similarly, an italicized version of Helvetica, “Helvetica Italic” and several others within the font family of Helvetica.
Helvetica is a relatively contemporary typeface, protected by Trademark owned by Linotype, that was designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger for the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. However, there existed an earlier typeface that was designed and put into use by Joseph Goebbels for the German Socialist Party, and it is Goebbels’ type design that is regarded as being the origination of what was later (re)designed by Miedinger and named as Helvetica.
[So], the forerunner typeface version, Helvetika, was designed by the dreaded Joseph Goebbels for use in culture-wide signage—road signs, license plates, “official” statements—to implement a standard of appearance by a government for purposes of both organizing and monopolizing culture through a uniform statement (uniformity of expression and style). Repetition with clarity in some circumstances and usage express an absence of difference, lack of variation. So, the modernization and redesign of Helvetica/Helvetika into acceptable use by this talented Swiss designer, Max Miedinger, rendered the earlier permutation of the Goebbels’ typeface—designed and used to enforce socio-political idealism—something quite akin to my eye and sensibilities for to fulfil the request by George Lucas for a “very fascist” logo for his film.
This seems to me interesting, in part because the Star Wars films are so charmingly blind to their own complicity with fascist ideology. What I mean is that Lucas thinks he’s critiquing fascism, or at least dramatising the fight against fascism. The bad-guy Imperials with their Nazi-chic uniforms and their ruthless ways and all that. But of course the real fascists here are the peculiar warrior cult called the Jedi, Lucas’s hero-figures, who wield power in an unaccountable and unelected manner; who are genetic supermen dedicated to the arts of war at the expense of messy human entanglements, like sex (which, of course, they are forbidden). Who, most of all operate in the service of an obscure, exacting and fundamentally mystical system of beliefs; one that privileges a transcendent ‘oneness’ (referred to with the Hitlerian, or at least Nietzschean, moniker ‘the Force) over the diversity and hybridity of actual life. Their devotion to this cause gives them, they believe, the right to override all other moral obligations. These same Jedi in the course of Revenge of the Sith attempt to murder the democratically elected leader and instead enforce rule through their mystical beliefs.
Still. Not to rant.
What I’m really interested in is the question of fonts. Can one have a fascist font? Or does that take the descriptor too far down the hierarchy of things to be meaningful? How far down is far enough? We can, clearly, call regimes fascist; belief-systems fascist; even, if some people are to be believed, major religions fascist. Perhaps it makes sense to call individuals fascist, although here I suspect the label is much more often misapplied than applied correctly. [‘Hey, man, my Dad won’t let me borrow the car tonight. He says I got to, like, tidy my room first. He’s being soooo unreasonable.’ ‘He’s, like, a fascist, man – no disrespect, but, he is.’ ‘Totally, dude.’ (Incidentally, this exchange is copyright Cardboard Gen-X-Cliché Incorporated and cannot be reproduced without permission)]. But does it make sense to call objects fascist? (A jackboot? A small rectangular moustache? A sock?) To call styles of clothing fascist? Can there be a fascist sex-act? A fascist thought? Alright, alright. But a fascist font? Or is that, as the saying goes, un font trop loin? [That should be des fonts trop loin, I think; but that would spoil the gag. And it is a gag. It’s perhaps the most obscure Nazis-therefore-WWII-related gag the Valve has ever hosted. But still.]
Maybe this is one of those mysteries of modernist art and design that we Gen-Xers can never understand. Looking at Eliot’s “Waste Land” drafts with Pounds notes all over them, I think, “I can only pretend to get modernism.”
The best I can offer is that the Helvetika font is now associated semiotically with fascism. Is it inherently, of itself, apart from historical context, fascistic? Ask a modernist.
The artist who drew the logo comments (at least, someone purporting to be her does).
The monstrous-looking Fraktur typeface which is often used as a vaguely Nazi graphic (e.g. on heavy metal album covers), was going out of fashion already in the XIXc. It was revived by the Nazis, but in 1941 was declared to be Jewish. No joke. (Fraktur was designed by one of the Holy Roman Emperors).
Of course you can have a fascist font—if only in the same way that we normally associate certain formal styles to certain historical/political/philosophical movements.
Just think, for example, of the debates over the structures of the new WWII memorial in Washington D.C. Or the way that we describe certain forms of realism as “socialist.” Or how we casually—but not unmeaningfully—talk about particular architectural or artistic styles as “romantic” or “democratic.” No big deal whatsoever, even if such labels tend to stand in for more interesting and detailed analyses.
Finally, in semi-defense of Lucas, please recall that the most explicit “fascist” reference in that first film comes at the end, with Lucas’ visual allusion to Triumph of the Will. And that scene shows a celebration of the Rebellion, who work against the Empire and celebrate that “ancient religion” of the Force and the Jedi.
I know this post isn’t about Star Wars and fascism, but it bears mentioning: I think the calcified Jedofascism (Heh. Indeed.) you’re seeing in the prequels is partially just relative decadence and partially willful Imperial misrepresentation - the Jedi have a lot more in common with Tolkien’s wizards (Gandalf and particularly Radagast the Brown, the nature-lover who feeds clearly into Qui-Gon, WOW am I dork or what) than that. They don’t will power but have it thrust upon them; cf. ‘We’re here to protect you, we can’t fight a war for you’ or whatever it is the one Jedi says to the girl in that one movie.
Also: Fonts! Nazis! A noticeable Spenglerian undertone! Sweet.
What’s more interesting, perhaps, than the question of whether a font can be inherently fascist is the fact, in light of this history, that helvetica now signals all things sleek and hip and chicly new.
I love the font myself, my blog is set in it, but this gives me a bit of pause. Not because it’s inherently bad to use a font that Goebbel’s designed, but because I’m now wondering what exactly it is that I love so much about it - and why it’s become the house font of the contemporary culture of design… What do we see in it today - why do we like it, and what did Goebbels see in it yesterday. There is the possibility of transvaluation, no doubt, but taste isn’t entirely arbitrary either…
Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention, Adam. It’s a fantastic question....
Credit David Brin?
Jonathan: you’re right; Brin has been arguing that Star Wars is fascist for a long time, not least in this book; and very wittily too. He’s not the only one, neither.
Waxbanks. My friend Robert Eaglestone, in an email to me, makes some really knockout points about Jedofascism.
I agree about the Jedi, of course. And you neglect the worst thing, the way the Jedi embody the (racist) division between one form of intelligence (pure biological life) and the other (slave robots, ‘we don’t serve your kind here!’, who clearly have freewill in Star Wars). Jedi can simply knock down robots (no force) and no one can mind (robots are Star Wars homo sacer). And it’s also the case that the very worst baddies (the ones with no redeeming features, not even the courage of a character like Grand Moff Tarkin (who at least announces ‘Abandon the station? Ridiculous!’ when his life is threatened) are in effect miscegenated—the half-machine half-organic baddies Vader and General Grevious. Luke is punished by being given a robot hand, and you know Anakin is becoming a bad’un for the same reason.
AWP: thank you!
Again the American left is confused. National Socialist Germany was not fascist. Italy was Fascist. The two regimes and ideologies are quite distinct. For instance there is no Fascist Italian analogue to German National Socialist anti-semitism. I know American leftists have kept up the Stalinist tradition of using fascist to describe Hitler’s Germany because they do not want to mention the word socialist in National Socialist. But, honestly that is what they called themselves.
I’d speculate that it’s about as possible to have a fascist font as it is to have a fascist screwdriver. Or a fascist automobile design—cf. the VW beetle. Often what the originators intended or imagined the design to imply winds up just not being very significant, especially when it’s appropriated for uses that would have horrified the fascist sensibility. The best way to gauge if the appropriation of Helvetica by the contemporary culture of design is troubling is whether or not that culture has significantly fascist traits (and who knows, maybe it does, but I think it’s a stretch).
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… *grits teeth* in defense… *grits harder*... of George Lucas: the Jedi are much more identifiable with a loose medievalism than with fascism. (Their clearest lineage in terms of pop culture archetypes are the esoteric kung fu masters of the HK chop-socky screen, mixed with E.E. “Doc” Smith’s far more fascistic and clearly eugenical Lensmen.) Yes, all sorts of undemocratic mysticism and asceticism there, but it seems a little curious to call them the “real” fascists by comparison to the figure of Palpatine and his dedicated mobilization of war fever and fuhrerprinzip in the undermining of democratic legitimacy (by the time of RoS he is far beyond being an “elected” leader).
Eagleton’s point about the expendability of droids and the moral tone given the cyborg is convincing to a point—one thinks of Obi-Wan saying Vader is “twisted and evil” because he is “more machine now than man”—but he presses it too far IMO. Vader, for instance, turns out clearly not to be one of “the very worst baddies,” and in fact he winds up being the hero of the series. The VWB role is reserved for Palpatine, who has nary a hint of the cyborg about him.
I am told that before WWII, the Nazi ethnic Germans in the Czech Sudetenland distinguished themselves by wearing white socks.
I have never seen a Star Wars film, BTW. Someone else took my son to them. Nor ET, nor Close Encounters, nor Indiana Jones.
I am a print elitist like you wouldn’t believe.
Otto Pohl: I know American leftists have kept up the Stalinist tradition of using fascist to describe Hitler’s Germany because they do not want to mention the word socialist in National Socialist.
Totally, dude! And they kept calling North Vietnam “communist” despite the fact that it wasn’t anything like Russia and described itself as “Democratic.” Dastardly!
Otto, I have my doubts about Adam’s membership in the American left; that said, I don’t think the association of socialism with National Socialism matters that much these days. I can call myself a socialist without anyone assuming I’m complicit in a tradition which stands acrest the short, slippery slope to The Final Solution. I worry about that as much as, say, the average neoliberal worries about his or her ideological complicitly with slave-trading. But that’s just me.
Also, I think conversations about fonts incredibly germane, since when John was out in Irvine, we spent hours talking about fonts. Prepare yourself for a complete--and completely fascist--Valve redesign in the near future.
Scott says; I don’t think the association of socialism with National Socialism matters that much these days.
I don’t think it mattered much in those days, either. At the very least, one might expect a history PhD talking about Nazi Germany to be aware that the regime was legendary for false and manipulative propaganda, and that in view of this it might be less than helpful to talk about how they “called themselves” socialist as though this in itself proves something. (Of course, one might also expect such a person to know that the assessment of Germany as fascist goes a long way beyond the “American left.")
Scott, I think that putting The Valve in Fraktur would make a powerful, memorable statement.
I second that. Everything in Fraktur, with certain keywords picked out in Helvetika.
Incidentally, I’m curious as to how I might go about joining the American left. Would I have actually to marry an American leftie? Or would a few year’s residency earn me my Scarlet Card?
I was not arguing that Nazi Germany was socialist in the sense of being Social Democratic or Bolshevik. I was noting that they were not Fascist. Italy was Fascist. The difference between the two regimes and ideologies is immense. Or do you really believe that Mussolini had death camps? The practice of calling Hitler’s Germany “fascist” got real legs from its adoption as a term by the Soviet government under Stalin. It did so to avoid the word socialist. Communist Parties in the West followed the tradition. People who use the term “fascist Germany” are using a term with alot of Stalinist ideological baggage. What is wrong with using the term Nazi to describe Hitler’s Germany? Why not strive for accuracy?
Re Star Wars as fascist vs. medievalist-wannabe in the mold of Tolkien (see Peter’s comment): IIRC, Brin also takes JRRT to task for proto-fascistic leanings. Semi-facetiously, I think he even argued for Sauron as the more democratic-liberal leader—what with the many, varied units allied together in his army against the pale-human-only “good” side.
Otto: “fascism” in its current usage is an appellation for an international wave of ultra-nationalist, anti-communist and anti-democratic sentiment that made its appearance between the two World Wars. Saying that only Italy officially called itself Fascist is trivial; the term became more generalized than the Italian movement precisely because the various movements it’s applied to shared a number of ideological traits and tendencies.
Obviously this doesn’t make such movements uniform, and I have no idea where you’re getting the notion that applying the term to both Italy and Germany means claiming the two were exactly equivalent. To state that Italian fascism was a much less extreme beast than its German cousin seems to me an utter commonplace of WWII scholarship and popular history, the sort of thing most North American children at least are taught in grade school.
Oh no! Helvetica! Reminds me of the time I found out that Lionel Hampton was stumping for Nixon. Hampton’s music was so cool!
I’m sympathetic to Slack’s defense of Lucas.
Benzon: Reminds me of the time I found out the Lionel Hampton was stumping for Nixon.
Hampton did this? For real? Say it ain’t so…
Don’t know whether he actually stumped. But he was a supporter. I was crushed.
You need to understand. In my adolescence I’d bought a recording of Hamp’s big band and it was very very important to me. Cat Anderson on Le Chat Noir was so thrilling I couldn’t believe my ears. And then years later I heard Hampton and his big band LIVE. Hampton must have been closer to 90 than 80, but he and the band swung like a mutha! It was incredible.
All that soul, for Nixon?
Hitler’s art is on the net. It didn’t strike me as very distinguished, but there are no warning signs (unless you count the “banality of evil"). I’ve seen it psychoanalyzed as pathological, but that was really tendentious.
His schoolmate, Wittgenstein’s architecture looked awful—straight-edge functionalism.
W & H probably barely knew each other, but they must have met in the halls. There’s a tremendously cheesy book out about their supposed relationship.
One central tenat of Nazi ideology was racist and eliminatist anti-semitism. Where is the Italian analogue? Nor do I find an Italian analogue for the emphasis on racial purity of the “Master Race.” In fact the whole racial purity, eugenics and genocide side of Naziism is almost completely lacking in Italian Fascism. It is these factors that makes Naziism distinctly horrible. They distinguish Hitler’s Germany from the far less vile run of the mill nationalist dictatorships. There really is not much in common between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
Fascist Italy was closer to authoritarian nationalist regimes like Antonescu’s Romania, Franco’s Spain and Salazar’s Portugal then it was to Nazi Germany. Even Revisionist Zionism as espoused by Jabotinsky is closer to Italian Fascism than fascism is to Naziism. Brutal regimes to be sure, but very different from Hitler’s version of a 1000 Year Reich with no Jews, Gypsies, and a few surviving Slavic slaves ruled by a purified Teutonic race.
The reason fascist is used to describe Nazi Germany is a hold over from when Stalin and his followers used it. Most people probably don’t think about the ideological origins of this misuse of languages. But, the original reason for this terminology was to avoid the “word” socialist. I am not claiming that Naziism is socialist. Merely that Soviet socialists did not want to even make reference to the word with regards to Hitler.
I’m happy to go with the notion that a font can be redolent of what has come to be termed ‘fascist’, and the Star Wars typeface probably qualifies, but the word has become so deeply entrenched in quotidian usage as to become near-useless, phatic even.
On a slightly different tack, and I dare say I’m on shaky ground here, is there anything intrinsically wrong with admiring fascist typefaces, architecture, etc? It seems fair to suppose a fascist aesthetic struck a few chords with its adherents at the time and rather unlikely that the crimes perpetrated under its aegis can wholly strike out the partially somatic response a person can have to the art. Personally, I think Casa del Fascio is almost beautiful. A guilty pleasure perhaps.
And to agree with an earlier comment, the Jedi are fascist only in the same, diffuse way that so much is. They’re clearly far closer to some kind of pre-modern monkish order (forgice the vagueness, but it’s Lucas’ not my own) as distilled through Lucas’ confused, pick n mix mentality. More interesting, perhaps, is why a Jewish director (even with that particular brand of American Jewish secularism) is so obviously in thrall to the visual tropes of Christian history. Maybe it just looks cool. Like fascist fonts.
The best way to gauge if the appropriation of Helvetica by the contemporary culture of design is troubling is whether or not that culture has significantly fascist traits (and who knows, maybe it does, but I think it’s a stretch).
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it. I’m not saying that Rem Koolhaas fantasizes about the Final Commission. But the cool modernity of the font, the anti-ornamentalism of it, functionalism, clarity - what appeals to me (and contemporary design culture) also appealed, apparently, to Goebbels. And this bears some thinking thru, no?
The Nazi’s oscillated quite a bit between gnomic Volkism and cool futural functionalism. Swastika / the Concentration Camp. Race consciousness / technology. Fraktur / Helvetika. Just worthy of consideration…
Apologies for returning this thread to Star Wars per se, but I have to take issue with Robert Eaglestone’s quoted assertion about the racial inferiority of droids in the films. Luke’s partial machinisation is surely Lucas’ bludgeoning way of saying ‘look, he’s like his dad.’ papa turns out to be a hero, of course. As for the ease with which Jedi cast aside robots, I assume we’re talking about those in the last few films, in which case these infantry-like machines don’t exhibit any freewill to my recollection. finally, and surely most saliently, Lucas clearly has a special place in his heart and narrative for R2-D2, the least anthropomorphic-looking of the two lead droids. and given R2-D2’s status as a fan favourite, it seems the audience share Lucas’ feelings.
To be honest, I’m less trying to disabuse anybody of the idea that political readings of the films are possible, merely that given the aforementioned nebulousness of Lucas’ texts, the sheer glut of tropes, images and borrowings, it’s near-impossible to parse his constructions.
Oh, and Eaglestone’s deployment of the word ‘racist’ is a fine example of the flippancy with which its corollary ‘fascism’ is bandied about. (Are the droids really a race? And if so, given their apparent anatomical differences, surely they consist of races?)
Now what about those Ewoks and their embodiment of Lucas’antediluvian, Thoreau-esque urges?
What I want to know is does Otto use Helvetica?
Stgermain: to stand up for my friend Bob. Surely the droids in the first movie function qute precisely as slaves (beings with intelligence and free will and so on who are bought and sold for manual labour), and that in doing so the film taps into a long tradition of American representation of slaves. The line from the barkeeper when Like tries to bring his droids into the bar (’we don’t serve their kind here!’) is one deictic indicator of this. R2D2 and C3pio in particular perform ‘slave roles’ in the dubious Gone with the Wind tradition (the brave one, the cowardly one). Now Lucas clearly has a lot of affection, and a lot of use for his droids; but then a lot of slaveowners had a lot of affection for their slaves too.
I’d also say Bob is right in the other stuff he says. Saying that the droids in the first two films ‘lack free will’ doesn’t seem supportable; they’re soldiers after all, they follow orders. Their problem is that they’re not very good soldiers; and the prequels are in a sense about the replacement of inferior army stock with a ‘racially’ superior clone army. Bob’s point is that the Jedi can manipulate droids with their minds (pushing them over in the prequel films; but also eg levitating R2D2 in Empire Strikes Back); but they cannot do the same thing with organic life. Organic life possesses ‘the force’; it’s somehow intrinsically superior. Likeable as the droids might be, they’re simply not on the same level as us.
And calling Vader the ‘goodie’ of the series is surely disingenuous. His redemption at the end is the least convincing cinematic volte-face I can think of. Throughout the main trilogy he’s the embodiment of evil. That’s his point.
Stgermain: to stand up for my friend Bob. Surely the droids in the first movie function qute precisely as slaves (beings with intelligence and free will and so on who are bought and sold for manual labour), and that in doing so the film taps into a long tradition of American representation of slaves.
In Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy (both the manga and anime) the issue of robots as slaves and as a stigmatized race is explicitly an issue, addressed time and again in various ways. Astro is constantly trying to gain respect for robots. This trope is deeply embedded in Japanese popular culture.
FWIW, the Kubric-Speilberg flm AI has a debt to Japanese anime and manga. At one point Kubric had asked Tezuka to be the film’s art director. And the Pinocchio story is there in Astro Boy four decades before AI.
Bill (hope that’s okay), I’d agree wholeheartedly that the droids are reified and enslaved in the first film, but this apparent racism (though as I say, I’m unconvinced by this glib use of the word) is principally given over to the inhabitants of a rural backwater, Luke’s home and a (mid-Western American?) place he explicitly states he wishes to leave. Similarly, the barkeeper is set-up with all but a flashing neon sign as a lowlife, criminal sort, as is Jabba, another slave-dealer (killed by the enslaved Leia). For sure, there’s something condescending in the implication that Luke’s comparative kindness to the droids is indicative of a nobler spirit, but condescension is almost the defualt setting of the patriarchal structures at play all through the films (obi-Wan to Luke and Anakin, Liam Neeson’s character - sorry - to Obi-Wan, and so on).
It’s case of Lucas wanting to have his cake and eat it, perhaps, but it seems rather extreme to suggest a racist divide between organic and mechanical life. I’m more at ease with the Jedi as ubermensch full stop. Bear in mind that as much as they can cast aside droids, they can control the minds of other, less spiritually endowed, lifeforms (e.g. the ‘these aren’t the droids you’re looking for’ Storm Trooper). It could just as easily be argued that having the force only renders an individual superior if they’re a Jedi. When allied to the dark side, it makes for asthma and bad skin, and without it you’re just cannon fodder in groovy armour.
Not sure what’s being said when you suggest the droids in the first two films (I mentioned the last three, the new ones) have free will but are soldiers. A textbook definition of the perfect mentality for infantry, surely. Their ineffectiveness as soldiers is simply by comparison to the all-conquering Jedi and their mates.
I didn’t say Vader was the goodie, but a goodie. Sorry to be pedantic, but an important disctinction.
And as for Lucas’s poor scripting in what you rightly term an unconvincing volte-face, it’s neither here nor there. Narrative elements can’t be dismissed simply becuase they’re poorly executed. Under that logic, all the films tread quicksand.
Sorry, my mistake. Last post was addressed to Adam.
Getting back to whether or not Helvetica is a facist font, if the designation is to be anything more than a contingent historical association, it has to be based on the intrinsic meaning of the visual forms. And that raises a whole mess of sticky questions.
For one thing, if Helvetica has inherent political implications, then all fonts should have such implications. What are they? Are all Helvetica-like fonts also facist? Are some more facist than others? Since one of Helvetica’s distinctive features is the lack of serifs, are we thus assured that no font with serifs (e.g. Times Roman) is facist? Are such fonts thus anti-facist, socialist, democratic, republican, what are they? What are the characteristics of anarchist fonts?
Quoth Bill: All that soul, for Nixon?
That is seriously tragic. I’ve been a Hampton fan since I could walk, but that’s almost in “I renounce thee and all thy works” territory.
Quoth Adam Roberts: And calling Vader the ‘goodie’ of the series is surely disingenuous. His redemption at the end is the least convincing cinematic volte-face I can think of.
Yet the whole of the prequel trilogy is basically built around it. I can’t blame you if you’d rather forget most of the prequels, of course; I know I would. (Along with those damnable Ewok suits in Return of the Jedi. I swear to Bob I can see the f*cking zippers on those things...) But Lucas did, it seems evident, invest a lot of his later energy in trying to render a “complicated” picture of Vader more convincing. No similar gestures with Palpatine, who is always either a smooth con man or a cackling monstrosity.
Quoth Otto: One central tenat of Nazi ideology was racist and eliminatist anti-semitism. Where is the Italian analogue?
Congratulations, you’ve discovered that Italian anti-semitism was less intense and central than its German counterpart, and that Nazism was distinguished by its intense commitment to racism*. But since this is absolutely bog-standard WWII popular history, I find it hard to believe that you seriously think no-one else has noticed this. (Hint: when political theorists talk about “fascism,” they don’t talk about Untermenschen philosophy as one of the main unifying elements. Think maybe there’s somethinig more going on there than just uncritical echoing of Stalinism by “the American left”?)
(* Of course, the various fascist regimes and movements of Europe, while not committed to anti-semitism and racism to the same degree as the Germans, were hardly opposed to it either. Almost all of them, with one notable exception, participated in the Final Solution—in fact Antonescu’s regime was the largest non-German contributor. Italy’s role was comparatively small but hardly negligible.)
My Dad used to say that Nazism was so awful it gave fascism a bad name. The German instance was so extreme that it makes it hard to think about the more “normal” versions of fascism or to recognize that fascist ideological themes have a powerful appeal to intellectuals to this day, though usually under new names. Much of the writing of the Neo-cons, especially the works of the apologists for a Greater America, is highly reminiscent of the rhetoric of early 20th Century French and Italian rightists, which is not to say that they can be dismissed as freaks.
Adam Roberts are so wrong it’s hard to know where to begin. My two main points are these: (1) nobody ever said Star Wars was “critiquing fascism.” The movie quite obviously is about imperialism and about the battle between a “republic” and an “empire”, which is not the same thing as fascism. (2) Roberts are irresponsible in labeling this and that fascist without ever defining what the word “fascist” means.
So, more on my first point. First, Lucas’s film very obviously is an anti-imperialist movie, because all the bad people are imperialist and all the good people fight for the “republic.” We know that Lucas was against U.S. imperialism during the Vietnam War and that he wrote Star Wars with this in mind, and we know that because he said so. The republic is democratic and civically virtuous. The tradition invoked repeatedly in all the Star Wars movies, especially during the senate debates in episodes two and three, is the 17th and 18th century Atlantic republican tradition. One of the hallmarks of this tradition was its worry that commercial imperialism (like the “federation” that we see in episode one of Star Wars) would corrupt its citizens, and the Jedi are supposed to be paragons of the civic virtue, liberal arts education, etc. that writers in the 18th century believed were essential for preserving the republic. The Jedi knights are not fascist because they do not govern. Rather, they serve and are governed by the Senate. In contrast, under the empire, the emperor and Vader use the “force” to govern. One of the confusing things in the movie is the mixture of royal bloodline and democratic politics, but actually this mixture was common in the 17th century republican tradition theorized by people like James Harrington in the 1640s, 50s, and 60s.
That said, I’m sure everyone would agree with Roberts that there are a lot of problems with Lucas’s articulation and illustration of classical republicanism, but that doesn’t mean his film is “complicit with fascist ideology.”
Second point, what is a fascist ideology? Roberts doesn’t seem to know. Wikipedia defines it reasonably as “a radical authoritarian political philosophy that combines elements of corporatism, totalitarianism, extreme nationalism, militarism, anti-communism and anti-liberalism.” Is the Jedi council authoritarian? Is it nationalist? Is it corporatist? Clearly it is none of these things. One could argue that it is militarist, but to do so is absurd – obviously the military is a military, but that doesn’t make it militarist. All militaries are authoritarian, but that doesn’t make them fascist unless the military is also the government. Likewise, religions are not fascist unless they govern countries, and they don’t.
Lastly, Roberts asks a stupid question when he says “can one have a fascist font?” Obviously, there is nothing inherent in the font that is fascist. Rather, it—like the uniforms worn by the emperor’s offices—is only “fascist” because it alludes to historical events, and that’s pretty clear from the blog that Roberts quotes. Roberts seems not to understand the difference between “allusion” and “essence.”
What ultimately concerns me about Roberts’s comments is that they repeat a very common practice among right-wing nuts like David Horowitz who accuse liberals, leftists, and political correctness of being fascist. So, here we have a movie that explicitly attacks the Bush administration (blatantly in episode three, more subtly in episode two – one of the scenes cut from episode two would have made the criticism more clear), and what does Roberts do? He says Star Wars is fascist.
Didn’t Deleuze point out that all fonts are fascist? Also, all movies?
Steve, you please us. Here at Adam Roberts we are delighted finally to be recognised as the hive-mind group-being that we are. ‘Adam Roberts are so wrong ... Roberts are irresponsible ...’ yes, yes, yes.
“The Jedi knights are not fascist because they do not govern. Rather, they serve and are governed by the Senate.”
‘Serve’ in the sense of ‘try to murder the democratically elected Senate leader when they don’t like him’? It’s a specialised sense of serve, certainly, but not one outwith the possibilities of political discourse.
Similarly, to quote waxbanks from above: “They don’t will power but have it thrust upon them; cf. ‘We’re here to protect you, we can’t fight a war for you’ or whatever it is the one Jedi says to the girl in that one movie.” And indeed when Yoda reveals himself as generalissimo of the clone army (‘Around the survivors a perimeter erect!’), flying in with his Vietnam-helicopter-spaceships and blasting hither and yon, he’s
certainly not fighting a war.
I think Steve is going overboard with the accusations of Horowitzianism. But:
‘Serve’ in the sense of ‘try to murder the democratically elected Senate leader when they don’t like him’?
This really is just wrong, I think. The Jedi try to kill him when they find out he’s amassed massive non-democratic power under completely false pretexts and thereby undermined the Republic. At that point he has the form of an elected leader but not the substance, which is kind of an important distinction.
WOW!!! This is over a year old, but I came across it by accident. I must say, no one who has posted(including the author) is even a Star Wars fan. Way too funny! You people debated something of which you knew nothing about. How do I know that? Well, any Star Wars fanatic knows that the Jedi philosophy is based on Asian philosophy, such as what monks study. Gee, never knew that monks were fascist. HAHAHA
Furthermore, Palpatine was NOT a democratically elected ruler. He used the Dark Side(RE: Force mind control)on those in the Senate and Queen Amidala in Phantom Menace. Have you even WATCHED the prequels? Holy Empire do you ever crack me up!
Thanks for the laugh! I think I’ll send all of my 600 Star Wars Myspace friends here, so they can laugh at the blatant idiocy as well. ;)
P.S. You know just as much about Star Wars as Maureen Dowd. LOL
P.P.S. Jim Harrison is another one who’s lost on several points he tried to make. (sighs...)
As a philosophy professor, I object to the the blatant idiocy of glossing ‘Asian philosophy’ as ‘such as what monks study’. Ahem.
Are prequels like jonquils, Narcissus jonquilla, family Liliaceae?
Lots of Japanese monks were Fascists. It’s been an embarassment for Japanese Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama has confessed to having had German sympathies during and after WWII, based on his relationships to individual Germans. The film “Seven Years in Tibet”, about the Austrian mountaineer Henry Harrer (who tutored the Dalai Lama), tanked when it came out that Harrer had been a dedicated Nazi.
confess o having no interest in Star Wars crap.
Hush, John Emerson, don’t you know that 600 Star Wars fanatic MySpace friends can’t be wrong? (What are you trying to do? Start a Clone War?)
Pardon me, I forgot:
ARE YOU PEOPLE SERIOUS?
Good grief! I’ve never read such garbage.
Rosie! Behave! I mean it!
Pretty soon this thread will have been necro’ed as much as the “Consensual Incest in The Novel” thread.
Right now, it seems that sexual deviants have a slight edge on Star Wars fans.
There need to be a new comment on this thread.
I have read one or two star wars books, and in them it seems to me that the Empire is portrayed as somekind of humans-are-superior racism and thus being partially built on support of human´s willing to subjugate other races of the galaxy.
That is of course not in the movies explicitly, although the space ships of the empire are very human with no deviations. It´s an interesting debate you guys have here.
The first time I saw stormtroopers, I knew they are inspired by German soldiers in WW2.
It is continued with Indiana Jones series where Indy’s enemies are again mostly Nazi.
I guess Nazi Germany is classical example of a powerful bad guy organization
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