Why Star Wars is Set in the Past

Posted: October 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

A video version of my article titled “American Graffiti is a Science Fiction film set in the Past”

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What is Star Wars about? Well if you ask George Lucas it’s about mythology. It’s a modern mythology given to us in that pivotal time between the late 70’s and early 80’s. The 70’s were a dark time filled with nihilism and violence. In fact the 70’s was often referred to as the decade of violence. Movies like Death Wish characterized this gritty landscape. America I guess you could say was a bit hung over from the Vietnam war as well as all the sex drugs and rock and roll. I wouldn’t know because I was born the same year that Return of the Jedi was unleashed into theaters. Old George on the other hand would know because he was at Altamont as part of the film crew on the Maysles brothers’ documentary Gimme Shelter when Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang during a Rolling Stones performance of Sympathy for the Devil. All the footage shot by Lucas that made the final cut allegedly is some footage of the moon looming overhead like the Death Star as the audience is entering the concert. Altamont was supposed to be like a symbol of the death of innocence that the hippie/psychedelic counter culture experienced at that time.

What is the actual story behind Altamont? Rolling Stone Magazine reported that it was during Sympathy for the Devil that played as Hunter was killed but Gimme Shelter portrays it as Under My Thumb that provided the soundtrack to his death. Gimme Shelter presented the sequence of events deliberately out of order even though this was billed as a ‘Documentary Film’. The excuse given for this as Dave McGowan’s Weird scenes Inside the Canyon points out was for marketing purposes: Charlotte Zwerin, explains to Salon.com some thirty years later, the climax of the movie always has to come at the end: “We’re talking about the structure of a film. And what kind of concert film are you going to be able to have after somebody has been murdered in front of the stage? Hanging around for another hour would have been really wrong in terms of the film.” So which song was it? Sympathy for the Devil or Under My Thumb? Exactly how reliable is any of the information we are given? The footage provided in the documentary is inconclusive that anything happened. Any footage that might have existed was supposedly stolen. The Hell’s Angel that allegedly stabbed Meredith Hunter was acquitted of the murder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Death of Meredith Hunter at Altamont has become a dark folklore in the counter cultural movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Some have even characterized the death of Hunter as a ritualized murder, with Mick Jagger in the role of Satan. This was a folklore delivered by mass media and you have all these paradoxical things going on with the actual accounting of events. Gimme Shelter effectively blurs the line between reality and fiction by calling itself a documentary but altering the continuity of events for entertainment purposes. Does it matter whether or not Sympathy for the Devil or Under My Thumb was playing at the time of his death? Perhaps but only in the emotional impact that it might have on the viewer and to the people directly involved. Meredith Hunter took on mythological qualities for he was not just some dead hippie but he was a symbol. He was an archetypal figure that expressed the mood of the country in late 1969. This play between reality and fiction has a powerful psychological impact on the individual as well as the collective unconscious. The mood of the entire counter culture changed its outlook from being hopeful in the days of Woodstock to being dark and cynical in a matter of months. It was folklore delivered by the mainstream news and the Gimme Shelter documentary that was able to create such a shift. Of course that wasn’t the only story that caused this shift in mood as the Manson family were supposedly running around killing people that same year but it served as a sort of death nail for hippie hope. It was all a decent into nihilism from there. What does any of this have to do with Star Wars you ask? George Lucas would make a career of blurring reality and fiction as well as playing with mythological archetypes within the cultural memory. Lucas is attempting to change mans image of himself by tapping into the memories of the past while simultaneously rewriting them.

Lucas’s first hit film American Graffiti was released in 1973. This was a film about teenagers who had just graduated high school in the early 1960’s. Although this was a film about the early 1960’s and attempted to capture the authenticity of that time period it was really geared to audiences in 1973. The movie contained many of the tropes of the late 50’s and early 60′ from the cars to the music to the dress styles. Because the movie was so popular it had the ability to emphasize certain things about that time period and at times even re define it. It was a mass produced film that shows us a mass produced culture. Everything from the music to the cars to the dress and locations like the dinar created the illusion of that time period. It’s a film that is both trying and not trying to be historically accurate at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film kicked off a 1950’s nostalgia movement. All of a sudden you had oldies stations on the radio and Happy Days was on TV. This influx of 1950’s themed media helped to redefine that decade in the minds of many. It didn’t necessarily redefine history but it warped it. Children growing up in the 1970’s perceived the 1950’s through the lens of Hollywood. People who did live through that time have their memory warped because of the nostalgia aspect. They focus on the good things and forget about the faults of that time period. The early 1970’s in comparison was an unstable period of time with the Vietnam war going on, the widespread protests, the oil embargo, Altamont and a plethora of other media and world events created a sense of pessimism and a need for people to want to return to a better time period. The 50’s nostalgia movement provided that escape for people that wanted to run away from the 70’s.

Americans tend learn and remember selectively which is how American Graffiti was able to become so popular in 1973. There was a propensity to remember shallow material things while ignoring the deeper level of personal experience. The viewer is given the ability to become a spectator of the past in a vague and generalized way. People with painful memories tend to have the desire to shed them whereas those who live in a vacuum tend to invent new memories. Material objects become fetishized unencumbered by the past and the film can therefore insert new memories through the cars, the music, clothes and set pieces. The characters might go through struggles that the viewer might be able to relate to but they are generalized enough for one to comfortably keep their distance. Because it is only a two hour film you only are able to get a window into who these characters are. They become like cardboard cutouts that people can idealize on their own terms which is why the narrative seemingly darts around aimlessly. The film is like a dream of the past which supplied the archetypes which would be important in this revival.

The soundtrack was one of the most important elements as it is very powerful in inducing nostalgia. It sold millions of copies which lead to things like 50’s diners where you could select oldies songs, eat a burger and fries while drinking a milkshake. I remember going to car shows in the 1990’s where they had a 50’s diner setup and the old cars looked very similar to those depicted in American Graffiti. They would often be tuned to an oldies radio station which provided an immersive experience for this artificial dream like environment.

This formula would go on to be repeated by director Richard Linkater in his hit 1993 film Dazed and Confused. The film gave a similar treatment to the 1970’s that American Graffiti gave to the 1950’s. Dazed and Confused used a similar non linear narrative structure in dealing with teenagers around the same age as the one depicted in American Graffiti. The film relied heavily on material objects such as cars, music, clothes and set pieces. Dazed and Confused did for audiences in the 1990’s a similar trick that American Graffiti did for audiences in the 1970’s as there was also a 70’s revival in the 1990’s.

And now here in 2018 there is another movie called the mid 90s directed by Jonah Hill that appears to be attempting to capture that time period  like American graffiti and dazed and confused did. I haven’t seen it yet but from the previews it seems to be trying to capture the aesthetic and atmosphere in similar ways as the other two films did only with a bit more of a linear narrative.

Time becomes an immersive bubble which one can escape to. The 50’s revival in the 70’s became authentically inauthentic in that the presentation paid close attention to visual details but only gave a surface level understanding as to the mindset of the people and conveniently ignored some of the uglier realities of that time. Perhaps this is why people often have disdain for that time period. Whatever was phony or superficial about the actual 1950’s became exaggerated and magnified with its subsequent revival in the 1970’s. Whatever we perceive as the 1950’s in our time is very much influenced by the revival of it in the 1970’s. I remember going to car shows in the 90’s and thinking to myself “I bet this is more 1950’s than the actual 1950’s”. This was because the tropes of that decade had been ingrained in the culture for several decades. The 1950’s at that point was over 40 years old. I suppose if one were to re examine the 1950’s and they emphasized some things and de emphasized others one might come away with a totally different perception of that time period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right around the same time that American Graffiti was based (1962) there was a project in Massachusetts known as Plimouth Plantation being constructed. This was an outdoor museum based on the reconstruction of the pilgrim village in 1627. It featured houses, a fort meetinghouse and a replica of the Mayflower arrived from England in 1957. During the 1960’s the entire village was recreated using many researchers such as archeologists, architects, naval historians as well as graduate students from Harvard to attempt to replicate the village from 1627. The guides wore costumes and only spoke seventeenth-century English. As a visitor you wouldn’t be understood if you used modern terminology to ask a question. A time period is redefined as an immersive space and reduced to a theme. If one can do this with the past than this can also be done with the future as well.

In a 2015 interview with Charlie Rose, George Lucas said that he likes to think of himself as a “60’s guy” which would make him a self identified baby boomer. Baby boomers like to think of themselves as present minded and future-oriented. In the 80’s there was a 60s revival going on which created an interesting paradox where there was a remembering of the future as seen in the past. Because people in the 60’s were trying to break from the past and change social norms there was a tendency to want to destroy the cultural memory in order to change these social norms . By the time the 80’s rolled around people from the 60’s were nostalgic for the past so this nostalgia was often delivered through science fiction in order to fill this need. History’s third dimension has always been fiction.

Star Wars being a modern mythology brings up a lot of questions about the nature of storytelling because Star Wars is like a catch all for mythological archetypes and mysticism. It takes from eastern and western folklore and attempts to give us a contemporary mythology through the medium of cinema. It is extremely vague but very specific at the same time. Science fiction by its very nature is future oriented yet at the same time Star Wars is set in the past. It takes old themes and archetypes that have been in the collective unconscious for many centuries and retrofits a science fiction theme with high technology on top of it.

From 1977 onward Star Wars has been an exponentially expanding universe that has been created in the form of Films, Books, comics, television shows, video games, as well as a plethora of conventions and other Star Wars themed meet ups. The wide amount of media available as well as its popularity has created a totally immersive environment. One could spend an endless amount of time immersing themselves in the Star Wars universe. There are endless amounts of character arcs to follow, politics to look into, a completely made up history, extremely detailed ships and weapons to admire, as well as the structure of different militaries and armies from uniforms to military rank. Although the Star Wars universe is filled with technology that doesn’t exist and fantastical things that couldn’t possibly happen in real life it’s still very much grounded in the past from the mythological themes to the look of the military uniforms. These things felt advanced and new yet familiar at the same time.

Star Wars is a dreamy mixture of fiction and reality that draws countless parallels to different cultures, wars of the past, philosophical concepts as well as mysticism, mixes them together in a soup and sprinkles in concepts of transhumanism and other concepts for the future. Star Wars as a kind of heterotopia where all cultures and religious ideas are mixed There are many accents and customs of both humans and aliens that parallel real life cultures and people. Star wars ran into a few controversies because of these similarities were a little too close to their real life counterpart such as Jar-Jar Binks and the Neimoidians from the trade federation in Episode-1 (1999).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars has always defined itself by the duality that exists between the Jedi and Sith. There are many Kabalistic and mystical concepts buried within its structure. For example in Episode 4 A New Hope (1977) there are two suns setting on Tattoiene with Luke standing there symbolizing the duality that exists in the Star Wars universe. Specifically the Apollonian and the Dionysian principles as Apollo and Dionysus are both sun gods. The Sith are the Apollonian while the Jedi are the Dionysian which creates a split in the consciousness of the Star Wars universe and thus constant turmoil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Original film uses Joseph Campbell’s 10 step hero’s journey and contains Carl Jung’s theories regarding the shadow self as a template. Jung specifies that “the less [the Shadow] is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” Jung takes the stance that the shadow must be incorporated into the psyche or else it will grow like an infection that allows darkness to fester. The mythology of the mentor is offered to help navigate this difficult path but usually disappears part way through the story as is seen in the character Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). The Hero must learn to stand on their own.
The Jedi take a stance that is similar to the Manichaean philosophy of Asia in regards to the view of evil. They believe that it must be suppressed or else the world will fall into darkness which means that the ego must in turn be suppressed as well. The Sith on the other hand are an expression of the unrestrained ego which is controlling nihilistic, and psychopathic. The Sith are slaves to their own desires while the Jedi are slaves to a code. Problems and conflicts always result from either too big an ego or too small an ego. Integrating the ego properly is something that is very difficult to do because everything is so dysfunctional in this universe.

Throughout the course of Star Wars there are many allusions to wars of the past. There were many parallels to World War I and II in the Original Trilogy for example in terms of the visual style. The uniforms, helmets, weapons and equipment were all modeled after real life equipment only modified or exaggerated to fit the science fiction setting. Stormtroopers were supplanted from the German Storm troopers of WWI that eventually became the SS in WWII. There are many variations on the M1 helmet on both the rebel alliance as well as the empires forces. The E11 blaster is based off the Sterling SMG and the T21 Blaster is based off the Lewis gun. In the original Star Wars film some of the weapons are actually less recognizable weapons from WWII due to budget limitations. There are hundreds of equipment and weapons that borrow from something in real life. At times Star Wars even plays out like a World War II film. In fact Lucas interspliced dogfight sequences from the film The Dam Busters as placeholders for the Death Star run while putting together a rough cut. I remember watching an episode of That 70’s show once where the character Red Foreman who was a Korean War veteran went to watch Star Wars and he hated the first half of the film but when the dog fighting scene came on he really enjoyed himself. This was because the film was able to tap into his subconscious mind with vague visualizations of a time gone by.

Science fiction is driven by technology inherently by the genre that it is. American Graffiti is like a science fiction film with technology that already exists. The music and the cars were able to steer the culture in ways that would have thought to have been fantastical in an earlier era. The cars that certain characters drove defined their personality. The machine became an extension of who they were. Much like how clothes define a person’s interests and lifestyle so does the machine. Bob Falfa in American Graffiti is similar to the character Han Solo in that they are both defined by the vehicle they drive (both are played by Harrison Ford). For Bob falfa its his Black 55 Chevy and Han solo it’s the Millennium Falcon. John Milner (Paul Le Mat) who sees Falfa as his rival drives a Yellow 1932 Ford Coupe Hot Rod with a chopped top. The car was specifically picked by George Lucas because of its chopped top. The bright yellow and the exposed engine made it one of the most iconic cars in the history of film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The light versus dark scenario that Lucas would later become famous for was on display at the end of the film with the Black Chevy pitted against the Yellow Ford. The Yellow Hot Rod beat the Black Chevy off the starting line but the black Chevy’s power caught up to the 32′ hot rod. Just as Bob Falfa’s Black Chevy was going to pull away he spun out into a ditch. Falfa and Laurie Henderson (Cindy Williams) were able to escape just before the car burst into flames. Which is somewhat reminiscent of the ending to Revenge of the Sith (2005). The Hot rod won because light always beats dark. Bob Falfa stands there looking at the smoldering wreck that used to be his car as if he has lost a piece of himself and he was looking at his own mortality. Bob Falfa wasn’t a bad guy per say but he was kind of a jerk riding around with Steve Bolander’s (Ron Howard) girl and all. Before the drag race Bob was cocky and never thought anybody would be able to beat him. He had never thought of his Chevy ending up as a smoldering wreck or that he himself could die. In the mean time John Milner is bummed out even though he won the race because he knew that Falfa was going to pull away but his friend Terry fields (Charles Martin Smith) tells him that it doesn’t matter because he “got the bitchinest car in the valley”.

John Milner: He was pulling away from me just before he crashed.
Terry fields: You’re crazy! You creamed him from right off the line.
John Milner: Shit, Toad! The man had me. He was beatin’ me.
Terry fields: John, I don’t know what you’re talking about. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. He might as well get a wheelchair and roll himself home. Man, you got the bitchinest car in the valley. You’ll always be number one. You’re the greatest.

The license plate on the Yellow Hot Rod reads THX-138. The plate is a reference to Lucas’s 1971 dystopia science fiction film THX-1138. One can only speculate as to why Lucas decided to put THX-138 on the Ford Coupe but perhaps it is the raw mechanical appearance of the exposed engine that guided this decision. The film THX-1138 is the name of a member of an underground slave society where gender is completely neutral and everything is a mechanical, artificial, manmade environment. Lucas explained that this film was a reaction to the hopelessness he felt in the early 70’s. There is one scene that stands out in particular where THX-1138 (Robert Duvall) gives a confessional to a machine. This is reminiscent of the Hal 9000 in Stanly Kubrick’s 2001 a Space Odyssey with the cold computerized voice telling him “My time is yours. Go ahead.” There is an image inside of a booth that has a backlit picture of a bearded man reminiscent of Jesus Christ. The camera angle shows the right eye of the illuminated Jesus like figure when THX is confessing and when he is complete There is a clip that shows that everything he’s saying is being recorded. The camera returns to the booth with a different camera angle with the right eye of the illuminated Jesus covered and the left eye showing. The computerized voice says “Blessings of the masses, Thou art a subject of the divine, created in the image of man, by the masses, for the masses, Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill, Work hard, Increase production, Prevent accidents, And… be happy.” It is also interesting to note that THX Ltd. was a company that Lucasfilm developed for totally immersive theater quality speakers and the logo would appear at the beginning of many films in the 1980’s and 90’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The idea of man merging and being replaced by machines is being played with. The human role of a religious figure or leader that you could go to for blessings and spiritual advice is now replaced by an automated machine. This idea is continued in American Graffiti because a race that would normally be run by ones legs is now replaced by the automobile. In The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) right hand is cut off by Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) and replaced by a mechanical hand. In Attack of the Clones (2003) Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) has this same thing happen to him at the hands of Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). This motif also appears in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1928) as the black-gloved prosthetic hand of Rotwang, suggesting a soul divided against itself. A legacy passed from father to son when he chops Luke’s hand off, and back from son to father when Luke does the same thing in Return of the Jedi. Darth Vader is more machine than man which allows us to ponder the question of “what is a soul?” For example if you have a hammer and replace the handle and later on you replace the head is it the same object? Darth Vader is a window into this question. When Luke asks him about his original name of Anakin he replies “That name no longer has any meaning for me”. Darth Vader at that point had rejected his human self in favor of the machine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Clone Wars (2004) Anakin Skywalker takes the trial of fire where he has a vision in a cave. It is of himself as a cave painting and his mechanical hand is helping his friends and family. Suddenly the vision becomes dark where the hand begins to consume everything around it including those it once helped and as we all know Anakin Skywalker eventually transformed into Darth Vader. In The Empire Strikes back Luke Skywalker has a similar visionary experience when he is being trained by Yoda in which he sees Darth Vader and cuts off his head. The head explodes only for Luke to see himself in the helmet.

The Idea of humanizing machines is further explored in the relationship between C3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and R2D2 (Kenny Baker). The basic relationship between the two was lifted from an Akira Kurosawa film titled The Hidden Fortress (1958). It is about a general and a princess behind enemy lines in feudal Japan, fighting their way to safety with the help of two bumbling peasants. These two peasants provided the blueprint for C3P0 and R2D2. Machines are often terrifying to people but these two droids are provided as comic relief to contrast the human drama. Comic relief is often provided to ease tensions around something that is found to be uncomfortable or scary and yet two bumbling robots going around the desert provides a benign quality to them. The look of C3P0 is also borrowed from the robot double of Maria (Brigitte Helm) which appears in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. C3P0’s character is notably feminine as well.

There are also scenes between Luke and R2D2 in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke converses with R2D2 that are reminiscent once again of the relationship between the Hal 9000 and Dave Bowman in a Space Odyssey. Luke talks to him as if he is human partially to keep his sanity due to the isolation of space.

The Light Saber crystals which power the Light Sabers are also alive. This is another way of connecting people to technology. Just as Bob Falfa and Han solo are connected to the vehicles they drive Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader have the same connection to their Light Sabers. The Sith actually torture the crystals before they use them which gives them their red color. The Jedi fill them with light energy making the blades blue or green illustrating the light versus dark theme that the series is famous for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of The Empire Strikes Back Han Solo is frozen in a block of carbonite which seems to be a reference to the Monolith depicted in 2001 A Space Odyssey. The Monolith is thought to be the alchemical stone of transformation. The Monolith is the same dimensions as the film’s orientation to the screen, meaning that it was in fact the film itself that contained the transformative property in the alchemical process. Stanley Kubrick is thought to be the father of Star Wars because of the visual language of space that he perfected in A Space Odyssey. Han solo frozen in a block of carbonite appears to be a dark homage to the Monolith and the dimensions of the carbonite box appear to be the same or very similar to the black stone in 2001. As the carbonite box is kicked over and it slams on the grated metal you get a close up of Han’s face as he fully realizes his predicament as a prisoner.

Stanly Kubrick is the stuff of legend with modern folklore which has arisen about the many aspects of his career with widespread rumors that have made their way into the mainstream about him directing the faked Apollo moon landings. The footage of the Apollo moon missions, from the footage of the shuttles attaching and re attaching, to the footage of astronauts bouncing around playing golf on the moon looks very similar to the visual techniques that Kubrick employed in 2001 that ranged from stop motion animation to scotch light screen backgrounds that utilized rear screen projections. This visual language is continued in Star Wars as well as a plethora of other science fiction films. Steven Spielberg another big science fiction director happened to live on lookout mountain as a UFC student during the mid to late 1960’s. Lookout Mountain contains a very large military film production studio that developed both the Apollo Moon Mission footage as well as the nuclear test footage. Spielberg would go on to collaborate with George Lucas on the Indiana Jones films. The combination of the films and film making techniques employed by Kubrick, Lucas, and Spielberg would go on to shape both the film industry going forward as well as our contemporary perceptions of science and history.

When the Star Wars films were re released in 1997 Lucasfilm made several changes to them including adding CGI characters and changing the events slightly. One of the most infamous changes was to the original Star Wars film in the Mos Eisley Cantina where Han Solo has a dispute with a bounty hunter named Greedo (Paul Blake). In the Original 1977 version Han shot greedo when he threatened him. Greedo never got a chance to fire a shot. However in the 1997 version of the film Greedo shot at Han first and missed him thus giving Han the proper justification to shoot Greedo. Lucas said that the change was for the children. This change cause a split in the fan base where you have purists who say that Han Shot First and others who say that It was ‘officially’ changed so it’s what is referred to as ‘cannon’. There have even been efforts to restore the original films to high definition (720p) online such as the DeSpecialized edition because people want to watch these films as they were originally made. Star Wars attracts a strange kind of nostalgia for the past that professes to be progressive. The gritty and dirty lived in science fiction sets that the Original trilogy is so well known for was a remnant that the people of the 70’s were trying to shed. Star Wars offered a beacon of hope in a nihilistic time and now people want to go back to that gritty time because it somehow feels more real. This I suppose is a similar paradox that a lot of baby boomers feel when they are reliving the sixties.

Star Wars was a postmodern breaking apart of history the first time it was released due to the generalization of mythology and mysticism as well as the many visual references to similar things in real life. The ‘Specialized Edition’ of Star Wars only continues this breaking apart of history. I think Lucas might have been playing around with this concept in American Graffiti with the character Wolfman Jack. Wolfman Jack with his scratchy voice and trendy music delivered through the radio became somewhat of a cult figure with one of the characters saying that her parents won’t let her listen to his show but she listens anyway. This is indicative of the invasion of technology and the insidious nature of the radio because it is near impossible to shield people from its invasive influence. The Wolfman has a wild and charismatic sense of freedom but also carries with him a dark and mysterious perhaps even sinister element. Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) Goes to the radio station looking for the Wolfman to deliver a note to him and encounters a disc jocky:

Curt Henderson : Are you the Wolfman?
XERB Disc Jockey : No, man. I’m not the Wolfman. Wait a minute.
[puts in a tape]
Wolfman Recording : “Who is this on the Wolfman Telephone?”.
Diane : “Diane”.
Wolfman Recording : “How you doing, Diane?”.
XERB Disc Jockey : That’s the Wolfman.
Curt Henderson : Where is he now? I mean where does he work?
XERB Disc Jockey : The Wolfman is everywhere

Curt explains that he’s trying to get in touch with a girl and the Wolfman offers him a popsicle and tells him:

XERB Disc Jockey : It’s early in the morning. – Damn. I can’t talk for the Wolfman… but I can tell you one thing. If the Wolfman was here, he’d say, “get your ass in gear” The Wolfman comes in here occasionally… bringing tapes, you know, to check up on me and what not. And the places he talks about that he’s been… the things he’s seen. It’s a great big beautiful world out there. And here I sit… sucking on popsicles.
Curt Henderson : Why don’t you leave?
XERB Disc Jockey : I’m not a young man anymore. The Wolfman gave me my start in the business, and I like it. I tell you what. If I can possibly do it tonight… I’ll try to relay this dedication in… and get it on the air for you later on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curt leaves and while he’s leaving he notices the Disc Jockey is in fact the Wolfman. It was like he had a split persona. His radio persona and his real life persona. This is illustrated by the use of the recording. This confusing duality is similar to the split between the ’77, ’80, and ’83 versions of the Star Wars original trilogy and their re releases in ’97. The split in the star wars universe itself is also illustrative of this point with the creation of the Jedi and the Sith. There is a Wolfman in the Cantina scene in the ’77 version of Star Wars but he has been cut and replaced with another alien in subsequent versions of the film. Whether or not this was an intentional reference to the Wolfman can only be speculation but none the less the connection is striking when you look at Lucas’s work as a whole and what the Star Wars universe has become. There is a split between what is called Legends material and what is Cannon so you have two versions of a pseudo universe that is completely fictitious and made up and yet you can have endless debates about what is real and what is not when in fact none of it is real at all. I suppose this is the multiverse theory that Michio Kaku talks about.

And of course there is that other franchise you might remember and that is Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones was an archeologist who went around the world making wild and fantastical discoveries all while being chased by bandits and giant boulders. It reminds me of an article I read a while back titled Why Are There Underground Jesuit Caves in Europe Filled with Egyptian and Islamic Art? Which details a network of caves that is filled with replicas of artifacts from cultures all around the world complete with pictures. Some of these replicas were indistinguishable from anything that I had seen in a museum or learned about in a text book. The next time I was in my local museum I noticed they had a window where you could see the workers touching up the artwork that was on display with modern acrylic paint. In fact all of the old artifacts were touched up with the acrylic paint. I thought to myself “Maybe old Indiana Jones himself swung in here and brought these things for everyone to see. There are rumors that Steven Spielberg is gonna ride a dinosaur into town next week”. It kinda made me think that maybe in a hundred years people will think the events of Star Wars was real. The way that some people talk about it and the fact that it has such a detailed history it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. I wouldn’t doubt that the pseudo events in the Star Wars universe becomes interwoven somehow with actual history since history seems so malleable anyways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So in conclusion the films of George Lucas provides a window into how history and memory actually works. Memories and history are not static but instead it is a collage of visuals and events that is constantly changing and mutating in order to accommodate for the present. This is the paradox of efforts such as the Despecialized Edition of the original trilogy because Lucas had been making changes to these films almost immediately after their release. This reality is almost impossible to escape because not only is history being changed by contemporary culture but we do it to ourselves. People are always looking for a way to perfect the past in order for their lives in the present to make sense. Inconvenient memories are discarded and replaced with an idealized nostalgia. Lucas has stated in several interviews that he makes changes to the original trilogy because he can see all of the flaws in the films and it makes him cringe. He states that he can see the duct tape and glue holding the sets together but perhaps it is that duct tape and glue that gives the original films their charm. This can be an important lesson for people to simply understand that history is not perfect and can never be perfect so we might as well embrace the ugliness along with the good and just let the past be the past. It’s also important to understand that what were told about history is not always the truth but a legend and we need to accept that.

John and I(Chris)have a rather enlightening discussion with Adam Miller about his article, “The Human body in relation to the Heterotopia”

http://hoaxbusterscall.blogspot.com/2016/08/john-adams-afternoon-commute-w-adam.html

http://www.theageoftransitions.com/podcast/13-adam-miller-interviews-trans-resister-radio

The Modern and Postmodern world has been defined by the spaces that have been created mostly in the urban environment. Spaces are much like personas in that they are constructed. Our actions within a space is limited by the way in which that space is produced. In many cases that space is produced by large moneyed interests and the government. Persona is constructed similarly, which means that our spaces and identities are not always our own. Michel Foucault wrote an influential essay in 1967 titled Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias. A Heterotopia unlike a Utopia is not all good and unlike a Dystopia it is not all bad. He described the Heterotopia as being a layered, dynamic and changing space. They are marginal spaces for the individual to construct a persona. They are both mental and physical in nature much like a phone call or a reflection in the mirror. Spaces are created by humans but humanity is made by its spaces so it is like an echo or a feedback loop. The dynamics of ourselves and the spaces we inhabit are interconnected. Heterotopias are impermanent in that they are not in a fixed state of being much like a boat, a tent or an airplane they are easily moveable. In such a dynamically changing environment memory, identity and humanity itself are all called into question. In this essay I plan on looking at three artists that play with the idea of Heterotopic space.

The first two of the three artists works that I am going to analyze is a piece called Solaris by Rachel Wilberforce a British photographer and installation artist. The name Solaris is most likely a reference to the 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky film of the same name. Solaris is a re-imagining of Britain’s oldest amusement park. It makes use of Neon lights from the original site re-configured into sculptural forms inside arcade style glass casing. The site had been abandoned and in decay for several years until Wilberforce decided to revive it. The identity or persona of the park has shifted due to this revival.

This is very similar to the plot of the Solaris film which deals with an astronaut named Kris Kelvin who leaves earth to visit a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet draws on the energy of the crew and makes a realistic conjuring of people from their past. For example the astronaut’s wife appears on the ship. Even though she looks real in every way, she is simply a product of his memory and not the real person. This is similar to what Wilberforce is doing with the amusement park. She is trying to conjure a nostalgic memory of the amusement park by using the original lights from the park to make the sculptures. This is ultimately a memory of a time gone by though. The artist is most likely too young to remember when the park was in operation. This installation then transforms and shifts the cultural identity and memory of what it once was. Although it may be similar in feeling and appearance it is not the same place it used to be. The park was also opened in 1880 originally which leaves a large span of time in which it was in operation. An amusement park is constantly going through changes and updates as it needs to constantly shift its appearance in order to draw in new audiences. What era the neon lights are actually from is not explained. Much like the subconscious mind the installation has no sense of time. There is just an awareness of a time gone by but the specific reference point is not actually there.

In the film Solaris Kelvin the astronaut becomes aware of the fact that the image of his wife is only a construct of his own memory and that it is not real in any way. The more time he spends with the image that Solaris creates for him the further he distances himself from the reality of who his wife actually was. Our memories of people and places may be realistic to us but they will never be totally accurate. There are two things at play: The first is that we create an idealized vision of that person. No matter how hard we try to be objective this is always in play. We can only pull one memory out into the conscious world at a time so we often tend to prioritize the good over the bad or the bad over the good. The other is that you can’t be with that person or place all of the time which means that you can never totally know a person or place simply because they do things or have done things that you’re not aware of and they will behave slightly different around different people and in different situations.

This plays into the effect that the amusement park creates. For those that were alive to remember it when it was functional will only have a vague memory of how it was at best. It is not possible to see every square inch of the place even if you’re a keenly observant person. There may have been changes and modifications that people might not be aware of. Events may have taken place at the park that not every person could possibly be aware of. The amusement park is not necessarily about providing an accurate vision of reality though and neither is the installation Solaris. In a sense it seems to trivialize the accuracy of what memory is. The lights are set up in such a way as to create a sense of jumbled confusion. A sort of bubbling up from the subconscious mind is the impression it appears to create. It is about nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia but is ultimately an empty experience.

The film Solaris reinforces this idea because at the beginning of the film Kelvin is seen burning all of his work and personal photos of past memories before his journey into space knowing that this is most likely the last time he will ever see his family alive. The film concludes with the astronaut reuniting with his father but as the camera pans out the viewer is then made aware that he is actually on the planet Solaris. The astronaut chose to live in a fantasy of idealized memories instead of reality. Much like the amusement park reality becomes trivial. The accuracy of the memory is not important. The nostalgia that the installation creates is the point of the art.

Carnivals and amusement parks are very similar in nature. There is a temporality about them. They are constantly changing with the times in order to adapt to the demands of the changing landscape. Even though an amusement park is a permanent structure there is a temporary nature about them given that the parks are always being updated and the materials they are built out of are not meant to last for a long time. This is only emphasized with the idea of the traveling carnival. I doubt that many people in 1880 thought that the Dreamland park would still be in some kind of operational form. Amusement parks are not built to last. This is a symptom of a modern era. Things are made for temporary enjoyment and not meant to last. The amusement park is like a microcosm of this larger societal narrative. This is in stark contrast to notions in the past where a structure such as a church was built for a specific function and meant to last for decades and centuries. In the modern era things are often built for one reason but then the purpose shifts to something else depending on what the demands are for the particular time period. This is the case with the amusement park. Although the function is similar it is not the same. The original intent was to build rides for temporary enjoyment and now it serves not only as a place for rides and other things that are only temporary but it also feeds into a nostalgic aspect within people. It is like a museum of temporality. This obviously has a psychological effect on people as is demonstrated in the film Solaris where the astronaut wants to go live in a fantasy world rather than deal with the grief of losing his loved ones.

The space station featured in the film Solaris is like a Heterotopia in that it is very isolating even though everything is connected to the main body of the ship. When Kelvin first arrives on the ship the crew members don’t even great him. This is most likely a byproduct of the fact that each cabin of the crew members are kept separated from one another. The affect that Solaris has on them is to create individualized spaces that are tailored to their personalities. This is like a microcosm of a large multi-cultural metropolis. The metropolis draws together people from multiple parts of the world from different social strata into one location. The irony in this is that a large city has a tendency to isolate people from each other because everything is hyper individualized. Everyone lives in their own separate apartment, has their own car, owns a television, a personal computer, a smart phone, and people often work desk jobs in cubicles. Every aspect of life is personalized to your particular lifestyle. Solaris is very similar in this way. People spend most of their time with their imaginary ghosts constructed for them by the planet Solaris rather than with each other. Watching the film gave me the eerie feeling that I was riding on public transportation trying to make conversation with someone on their smart phone and getting a cold look from them as if to say “who are you and why are you trying to talk to me?”.

This seems to be a byproduct of modernist living. We are sold on the idea that all this technology is bringing us closer together through the internet, through multi-culturalism, through our cell phones and all the other modes of modernist living. But it actually has the opposite effect of pulling us apart and creating a narcissistic fantasy world in its place. It has actually disconnected us from the social fabric and replaced it with something artificial. The space station in Solaris is a perfect metaphor because the world in which they live is completely constructed artificially and has physically removed the astronauts from the natural world.

This feeling of dis-connectivity created by all of these modern modes of living obviously has psychological effects on people. The feeling of isolation and living in increasingly artificial environments changes the way that people think and relate to the other people around them. A lot of people have a hard time adjusting to these new environments and modes of living and often times develop mental disorders as a result. People abuse drugs, they develop strange phobias, and compulsive habits. Some people can’t handle all of these abrupt changes in living and cultural standards and become suicidal as a result. This is personified in the film Solaris when Kelvin arrives on the space station and learns that one of the astronauts had committed suicide.

The film makes use of the contrast between the natural world and the sterilized futuristic style of modernist cities and manmade landscapes. There is a section of the film where Tokyo is used as a backdrop for a futuristic city on earth. Some have criticized the film for this because it was a contemporary landscape at the time. But this was most likely Tarkovsky saying that the future is already here. Tarkovsky disliked large cities saying “I can say that I love nature. I don’t like big cities and feel perfectly happy when I’m away from the paraphernalia of modern civilization.” Tokyo is often the center of modern and postmodern ideals because of the high technology that is present in that particular city.

The word Solaris is derived from solar which refers to the sun. The sun is connected to the left brain in many ancient cultures. The left brain is where modern science is derived from. By calling the planet Solaris it means that the experiences of the astronauts are being controlled by an outside force which is a pure left brain ideology. Although the visions of the astronauts appear to be real they are ultimately synthetic just like the environment they are being immersed in on the space station. A Heterotopia is described by Foucault as being a place of otherness where norms of behavior are suspended. By suspending norms of behavior a new norm of behavior can then be brought about. This is where Transhumanist ideas can then be introduced. Transhumanism is the idea that the human body can be altered, changed, and ultimately upgraded through the use of modern technology. The first stage of Transhumanism is to alter the space in which we are immersed. This will eventually lead to the human body being the space which can be altered and changed. The driving idea behind Transhumanism is a similar idea to that of the Heterotopia: To break down the constructs of gender, race and class in the same way that a Heterotopia breaks down collective identity by blending man with machine.

This brings me to the third artist’s work that I am going to examine. This artist goes by the name of Stelarc. His work is Transhumanist in nature. Most of his art pieces center around the idea that the human body is obsolete. In 2007 he had a fully sized ear that was created with his own adult stem cells surgically transplanted onto his inner forearm. The name of the project was EAR ON ARM: Engineering Internet Organ. This was a project that he had worked on for 12 years. THE EAR ON ARM was not only an aesthetic design but one that was supposed to be an operational implant that is connected to the internet. The microphone would be on at all times which means that someone in any part of the world with an internet connection can log onto a website and stream the audio that this device picks up at any time. This aspect of having it connected to the internet was very important to him. On his website he writes “the biological body is not well organ-ized. The body needs to be Internet enabled in more intimate ways.” He also writes of the project: “This project has been about replicating a bodily structure, relocating it and now re-wiring it for alternate functions. It manifests both a desire to deconstruct our evolutionary architecture and to integrate microminiaturized electronics inside the body. We have evolved soft internal organs to better operate and interact with the world. Now we can engineer additional and external organs to better function in the technological and media terrain we now inhabit.”

The internet is like a virtual Heterotopia where everything is connected to the web and yet it is made up of separate spaces of ‘otherness’ known as websites. With this project Stelarc is incorporating the human body into this web thus making it a Heterotopic space. Much like a multicultural Heterotopic city the Human body becomes a landscape where things can be built upon and layered in an arbitrary way like you see in cities like New York or Hong Kong. This idea of becoming a cyborg connected to the internet is similar to seeing a McDonalds inside of a 400 year old church. In a large city as well as the internet you have many spaces of otherness within the Heterotopia but all are connected to the main body of the city or the web. With projects such as EAR ON ARM the human body becomes no different than any other space in the Heterotopia.

People have become fascinated with the idea of improving the functionality of the human body in a technical sense but it is somewhat arbitrary in that one has to stop and ask the question Why. Why is it important to ‘improve’ upon ourselves in a purely technical sense? This ignores all the other complex aspects of what it means to be human. It reduces us to being purely mechanical in nature. If we’re just simply machines then what is the point of being human in the first place? Is there any room for creativity in this environment or are we simply reduced to ones and zeros like a computer? The breakdown of gender, race and class is all celebrated in this type of environment but nobody seems to have a vision as to where all this will lead. There is just a vague notion that humans can evolve above and beyond what it means to be a human being. The Transhumanists have a logo of H+ but there is not a very concrete idea of what that means (at least in the public eye). The EAR ON ARM project ran into some complications as the original microphone that was inserted into Stelarc’s arm became infected. This can serve as an unintentional metaphor for the idea of Transhumanism and how their ideas on the human body is incompatible with nature and is completely unbalanced. The body’s reaction to the microphone is that of rejection and not one of integration.

The idea of the Heterotopia is sold to us as a place of non homogeneity but at the same time the idea of breaking down cultural norms is celebrated as a good thing. This starts to become a contradiction because if all different cultures are brought into one place those individual cultures then begin to break down simultaneously. Once these things break down a new homogenized world begins to emerge. In this world of hyper individuality the individual ironically becomes secondary. Bodies are just nodes in a network that serve a specific function. This goes against the original design of the human body which is capable of math and science as well as art music and literature. The idea of being a well rounded person who is proficient at all these things is thrown out the window in the world of the Heterotopia as the Heterotopia demands a proficiency in one specific function. This puts human beings at odds with the structuring that this type of society demands because of the highly compartmentalized nature of it.

The true nature of art is that it acts like the mannequins you see in a department store window with different clothes on. The owners of the department store want you to come inside, buy the clothes and ultimately wear the clothes. With this in mind the EAR ON ARM project is normalizing the idea of modifying the human body and integrating it into the internet which is a machine like environment. The ear on arm project is attempting to reinforce the idea that we as human beings are obsolete and that it is acceptable to build on top of the human form in order to improve its functionality. It also reinforces the idea that we need to adapt to this new emerging world of technology by increasing our connectivity to it. The fact that his arm became infected by the invasive microphone also normalizes this as being just part of the lifestyle of adapting to this highly technological world that is being built up.

The metaphor of the mannequins in the department store also applies to the other two works of art that I have examined. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris presents us with a model of a futuristic Heterotopia. Even though he is outspoken against the idea of a highly technological and compartmentalized world divorced from the natural world. He is showing us a working model both to normalize this in the minds of the average citizen and what to expect for the controllers of the society. Life on the space station is not much different than what it is like to live in a modern city. People are unfriendly and disconnected from one another. A simple ride on public transportation will confirm this. When you see everyone’s head buried in a smart phone and not interacting with one another it is clear that most people do not want to live in reality. The world of the smart phone is not real but people choose that ‘reality’ over the real world much like Kris Kelvin chose to live on Solaris at the end of the movie. The Heterotopic compartmentalized spaces of the modern world are often idealized worlds that are ultimately an illusion as well as unbalanced.

This brings me back to the Rachel Wilberforce piece also titled Solaris. The amusement park becomes a place of refuge for many people. The nostalgia it brings is that of an idealized reality and the simplicity of childhood. Even though this nostalgia is ultimately fleeting and temporary, it is that fleeting and temporary nature of the nostalgia that the modern Heterotopic society feeds off of. The temporality of that reality makes it very easy to present new ideas to people that they would not normally accept if they lived in a more stable world that was not so dynamic and changing. The Transhumanists would most likely not be taken seriously, but in a dynamic and changing environment the idea of completely changing oneself becomes a natural progression. They do not realize that they are giving up their humanity or maybe they are aware of this but are being sold on the idea that it is perfectly appropriate to do so. The idea of the Heterotopia feels more like a shell game than anything else. The ones who are aware of this seem to either be outnumbered simply by marginalizing them and putting them into a Heterotopic compartmentalized space or they choose to bury their heads in the sand and embrace the fake reality even though they know it is not real. Either way the idea of the Heterotopia seems just as temporary as everything within it and it is simply a stepping stone to a new reality. What that new reality is seems rather dystopic unless people stop and think about where this is all leading and begin to reject it.

References

Michel Foucault, (1967) Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias [available at http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/foucault1.pdf%5D

Websites for images, essays, resources:

Rachel Wilberforce: http://www.rachelwilberforce.com/solaris/

Dave Nostrand, (2014) Solaris (1972) Analysis- Cinema salor: http://cinemasailor.com/2014/01/14/solaris-1972/

Stelarc: http://stelarc.org/?catID=20242