Snoke & Mirrors

In film and literature, there are types of characters who when paired shed light on each other’s traits. You may have heard or may remember discussion of Foils: characters pit against one another to bring their contrast into relief. But there’s a rarer character pairing that performs a similar task, and can be harder to spot: The Mirror.

Literary Mirrors are similar to their real-life counterparts: rather than contrasting, they go through parallel arcs. Like repetition in poetry, mirroring emphasizes character features and the morals of the stories mirrored. The kind I’m interested in for the purposes of this essay is the Mirror whose job it is to reveal another character’s secret motivations by living through their past in front of us: they are the younger version of an older character, making all the same mistakes. The Operative from Serenity is, I believe, our window into Shepherd Book’s past: a high-ranking Operative who lost faith in the Alliance, and so sought out a different belief.

For the purposes of this essay, however, we won’t be discussing Serenity. For my first episode, we’re going to delve into Supreme Leader Snoke and the banality of corporate evil.

The Last Jedi answers the question of Snoke’s identity and the entire First Order’s banal, uncreative existence by showing rather than telling — if you understand world history and can spot Snoke’s Mirror.

The first World War, bloody and wanton, made domestic manufacturers of the Industrial Revolution an obscene amount of money once they added weapons manufacturing to their repertoire. Many companies wealthy enough to manufacture weaponry or sell oil were in America, with some major exceptions. Around the same time, eugenics rose in popularity and several of these industrialists, wealthy on the backs of generations of free labor during slavery or from the pseudo-slave labor of union-free America in the prior centuries, found its inborn exceptionalism narrative alluring. Those born rich are always drawn to narratives of genetic or destined superiority because it eases the guilt of their ill-gotten gains.

Germany, punished asymmetrically for a war that by definition took thirty-two to tango, was in a recession unheard of before and only eclipsed by Greece in the last decade. Greece too produced a fascist (read: authoritarian-survivalist) movement that infiltrated their government masquerading as a political party. Fascists are apolitical and will take on whatever the current doctrine of fear-based populism and maneuver it around to fear of an Other and praise of an imagined True Citizen. Hitler then built a war machine in an economy that couldn’t afford to feed its people, solidifying the Nazi rise to power. How? –By accepting funds from American industrialists, corporations, and the like who feared the spread of Communism, because Communists had shown a propensity for killing the rich.

Henry Rockafeller, American Railroad, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and Fred Koch built the Nazi war machine and launched another World War. If the Jews, the only liberal ethnicity that rivaled the economic prowess of Protestant Americans, got killed, all the better. With his gold lame bathrobe and his alt-Right neofascist army built from scratch, with his lack of Sith affiliation, Snoke is a Dark Force user only in it helped him amass a fortune warmongering.

He is the independent contractor that built the Death Stars.

A wealthy industrialist weapons dealer who funds and profits from both sides of the war, the biggest fish in the pond of Canto Bight. Strong with the Dark Force, but not Sith. Purer–someone who worships nothing but power. A collector of war memorabilia including Darth Vader’s helmet (and likely Luke’s lightsaber, which was a MacGuffin in the earlier drafts whose DNA is still throughout The Force Awakens).

In lieu of an Empire and a Rebellion from which to profit, Snoke manufactures a new fascist regime. Recruits are likely core planet Humans born far enough after the prior two wars into prosperous peacetime to have the privilege of romanticizing the Empire and whom the new, inclusive community of the New Republic threatens. Their numbers are illusory, however: they kidnap and brainwash children for their armies. Sidious’s clones likewise inflated The Empire’s numbers until recruitment through intimidation, ignorance, and normalization became so easy even Luke himself was ready to join the Stormtroopers in the original film. We likewise know now that early film of the Nazi army featured hundreds of extras in uniform to give the impression of the inescapability and unilateral acceptance necessary to recruit. The Nazis as well as current Far Right extremists likewise use childhood indoctrination to artificially propagate an otherwise self-defeating, logically fallacious movement. Star Wars simplifies in metaphor, as usual.

Snoke’s manufactured fascism is then also designed to cause a similar result. He buys stormtroopers, corrupts a Vader, hires a Tarkin, and builds a Death Star. Snoke, Kylo, and the First Order are neither creative nor interested in originality or expression. His only interest in attacking the Republic is to produce another Rebellion he can charge for weaponry and ammo even as he is the one they fight.

Snoke dies at the hands of Kylo Ren as Kylo’s true Dark Side conversion, as Kylo was always the Dark Side’s true believer and avatar. Like Snoke uses the Dark Side as a tool to serve his own purposes, the Dark Side uses Snoke to resurrect itself in a new age. No longer a child pretending at evil, Kylo destroys both his father figures and literalizes the confidence game Snoke began only to make money. The third in the series will necessarily see Kylo wreak a far more original brand of havoc through the galaxy now he is past the point of redemption.

Rey’s humble, unrelated origins serve multiple purposes. First, it returns The Force to the surrounding, binding energy field of Yoda’s luminous, non-crude beings. The inclusive Force not tied to innate birthright. This not only undoes the damage of Lucas’s midichlorians and the trope of family lineage that birthed a dangerous boomer-millennial “specialness” obsession but also brings us back around to the original Star Wars, before Vader was Father, when he was the embodiment of an unknown evil and Luke was an everyman. Rey is any of us. The reveal of her mundanity returns us to the antifascist, anti-eugenic themes of the first movie. Last, it sets her at full odds with Supreme Leader Snoke. Romanticizing the Rebellion in her heart but without ambition or avarice, Rey is likewise unconnected to the earlier stories in any large way (though her family members lived through the original events in some capacity). The Force chooses her when it awakens as the exact Yin to Snoke’s Yang, a humble, poor, abandoned counterpoint to his wealthy, connected evil.  TFA even reflects this in Rey’s casting. Where every other cast member was an established actor, Abrams and company picked Daisy Ridley from a pool of thousands of unknowns. It sends the same message as Anakin’s lightsaber choosing Rey: Star Wars belongs to everyone, no matter the birthplace, bloodline, gender, or class.

The Jedi, likewise, had gone from a benevolent, balanced monastery to an elitist, ascetic, blind-to-their-own-misdeeds, omnipresent force by the prequels. Luke, in trying to resurrect a past he could not have understood, was doing the same thing as Snoke–trying to bask in glory not his own. His ultimate failure and dark, fearful interpretations of his own prophecy (self-fulfilling, like his father before him, with his visions of Padme) are clues to this innocent-seeming wish’s Dark Side nature. We must always be present where we are, not lost in the future or attempting to revive our Vasoline-lensed memories.

Advertisements

Update

There were definitely physical withdrawals. I just wasn’t cognizant of them. It shouldn’t surprise me; the first time I quit smoking I didn’t connect my rage and annoyance with everything and the hot flashes to my lack of nicotine. This was… worse. Without Facebook, I became joyless, nihilistic, and empty. My brain seemed to seize on occasion as I sank into a nihilistic hole that threatened to physically incapacitate me. I lost all meaning.

I got on antidepressants, the only thing that seemed to help. But the adjustment period was mania — I became cavalier, with no thought to consequence or the feelings of others, beholden only to the way I thought things should be, and selfishly defiant of anyone who didn’t agree, including people I cared about. I crossed several lines, and rather than deal with the moral implications, I split my personality down the middle into two completely different personas. One that continued as I had been prior, and one that did whatever it wanted when no one who knew that person was around. When the dust cleared, I broke up with someone who loved me, and whom I continue to love, but with whom it hadn’t been working out for some time on my end. Not because I was hurting, but because it wasn’t right, and I had been betraying her in several ways, and because, well, I just didn’t have any joy left.

Then I found some. I’m feeling better. But also… I’m back on it, if only a little.

I’m reading this book–The Master and His Emissary. It’s about the hemispheres of the brain, the obsession I already had that led me to quit Facebook to begin with. It’s confirmed everything I was thinking, but it also explains my withdrawals. An atrophied Right Hemisphere with its dopamine source removed becomes a nihilistic, joyless heap. Add antidepressants, and mania is natural–still dividing everything, including myself into categories, still uncreative and low on empathy, but now, happy about it… Until I adjusted. The problem is, how do we stop this? Do we all have to go on meds, and if so, how do we not let this drift from Ministry of Truth dystopia to a World State Pharma dystopia?

Death and the Meme

In order to understand why the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is in fact, not “rapey”, we must go all the way back to the myth of Hades and Persephone, sometimes nicknamed “Death and the Maiden.” A fantastic play and Roman Polanski film (IRONY) also use this title as a reference to the myth but features an inversion of the genders, text, and subtext to craft a story of revenge both sensual and political. Rape is definitely a theme in that story, and there is certainly reason enough to reference this myth when dealing with such themes. It’s clear from the films he chose that Polanski saw women as powerful creatures brought low by cruel men, and how that pity may lead someone to destruction and resentment of the female is another discussion altogether. We’re here to talk about a Christmas song.

The original “Death and the Maiden” myth tells how Hades, lord of the dead, kidnapped his bride, Persephone, and brought her into the Underworld. Her enraged mother, Demeter, blights the earth with cold and famine on condition of seeing her daughter returned. This continues despite the pleas of other gods until Zeus tells Hades to return Persephone. He does so, but secretly sends her with seeds of the pomegranate. The pomegranate, carnal and chambered like a bloodied heart, is the original Fruit of Knowledge, as there were no apples in the lands where these myths were written. Tasting of food binds Persephone to Hades so that she must spend a third of the year with her husband. When she is away from her possessive mother, we are punished. This is why in winter, it is cold outside, if you will.

“Death and the Maiden” is where the tradition of carrying one’s bride over the threshold, symbolizing the death of the bride’s previous life with her parents through a ritualistic “kidnapping,” originates. It can be seen as a repeating motif throughout art history in countless paintings and repeated whenever a monster picks up a woman draped in white: think Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, all the way to The Force Awakens. If it doesn’t happen in one way or another, possibly even reversed, in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, I’ll be surprised. And it is echoed, in a lighter form, in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Is it a coincidence that this is a winter song? Probably. But in a Jungian way, it may be the subconscious repeating an archetype it doesn’t know it possesses.

The key to understanding, contextually, what is going on, is to understand the place of such stories in history, in ancient gender roles, in politics, and in honor-based cultures, which most conservative wartime cultures like that of Ancient Athens or WW2 America (1944 to be exact) are, almost without deviation.

Persephone ate the seeds willingly. Demeter was no fun to be around. Gods of death, for obvious reason, are often portrayed as possessive and jealous–people’s experience of death and the impossibility of bringing back the dead inform this. But there is a recurring arc of the possessive parent throughout archetypal stories, as well, and it is a right of passage to be “taken” or “freed,” as the case may be. Like Rapunzel, Persephone is her mother’s captive. Hades, “kidnapping” her, frees her from innocence, chastity, childhood, and the shackles of parental overprotection while saving Persephone face with Demeter because it was all “against her will.”

Throughout honor-based cultures run by patriarchal ideals, the Maiden is forced into the role of eternal virgin followed asexually by Motherhood, and then thanklessly, to Cronehood. A father, in this case, the entire Patriarchy, does not want to know how he gets his grandchildren — but make no mistake, a mother character can also be a patriarch.

In the Forties, to have a woman struggle against an implied sexual interlude, but only to struggle lightly, was for her to consent. There is a game being played — sex is never mentioned, and she feigns innocence because to be forward would be to imply a further depth. When culturally a woman hides 90% of her experience, to be forward is to say one is essentially a prostitute, because you’ve implied there’s 90% more beneath that layer. So everyone knows the song is about a seduction, and about the fact that she must let him seduce her, or else everyone, not just the man in the song, would be put off. When she asks what’s in the drink, it isn’t a roofie. She’s implying it’s spiked with alcohol, or stiffer stuff than her usual — because otherwise, she wouldn’t be in the process of consenting. “What’s in this drink?”, the very line many have latched onto as the “rapey” section, is the moment of consent on her part. By establishing an audible excuse for her future behavior, she’s sent the signal that she’s willing while simultaneously saying that this isn’t something she makes a habit of doing.

Persephone ate the seed willingly. Eve ate of her pomegranate first. A woman’s role in the Forties was to put on a shadowplay that the man was in control, sexually, to save face with her parents and the outside world. But we all know a threshold doesn’t hold thresh, that the monster is more alluring than the suitor waiting at home, and that the woman is who spiked her drink in the first place.

Facebook Withdrawals, Pt. 4(?)

Day Something Or Other

When there’s something cool I find on the internet, something really cool that I’d never seen before and think other people haven’t seen before, something like this:

Something I know a particular subset of people would think is cool, I want to share it with them, I want to feel cool doing it, and I want them to like it. I want it instantly, I want it NOW and I can’t because I’m not on Facebook. There are people I don’t actually hang out with but am maybe better friends with in an online capacity. Does that mean we actually like each other, though? Or do our left-brains connect? Do we connect on the basis of keeping our right-brains slightly active while others’ atrophy in a world of words and typing? Why do I need other people to think I’m cool? Why do I need other people in order to think I’m cool?

The people I would share this with will never see it because there isn’t going to be a “next time I see them.” This upsets me. I’m not sad; I’m not angry. I’m frustrated to a level that felt like this belonged in the withdrawals category.

I rejoined The Old Reader, because something about Feedly bothers me and I don’t use it. It’s the way the feed works. It’s difficult and clumsy when it comes to getting rid of what I’ve already read or had no interest in. The Old Reader is closer to original Google Reader in that it makes it rather simple and fast to comb through the sites I want to be in touch with that day, skip from article to article, and hide those I’ve read already. Also, it still had all my Google Reader sites in it from when I first tried it back when GR went away.

Something I noticed: 98% of the blogs I’d been following all stop around 2011-2013. Using this infographic, I’m going to say this is after the much-ballyhooed alterations to our Newsfeed in 2009. You know, the “Popular Posts” change, cascading to several other timeline algorithm changes over the next two years. It’s the one where you have to consciously change it back to chronological (a much less addictive, less reductive, less manipulated way to experience the site) every day, or few hours, or few days seemingly at random, or it would silently revert to Most Popular setting. I have a sneaking suspicion there’s a connection to the drop-off of blogs and the Most Popular setting and the increase in Facebook addiction and, you guessed it, the 2016 electoral cycle. Maybe 2012 was the end of the world, after all.

Without any real scientific research to back this up, I have a sneaking suspicion there’s a connection between: the drop-off of blogs, the Most Popular setting, an increase in Facebook addiction and, you guessed it, the 2016 electoral cycle and its surrounding chaos and general inability of the Western populace to tell reality from their own information bubbles.

Maybe 2012 was the end of the world, after all.

Facebook Withdrawals, pt. 3

Day 5

No signs of physical withdrawals. Just the mental — reach for something that isn’t there (a phone, a tab); a longing to share things with only antiquated outlets like email or Google Plus to reach out with.

As I misspelled something today it occurred to me that the displacement of the letters might be related to brain hemisphere activity. I’d typed “Westwordl” instead of “Westworld.” The displacement of the D and the L could imply that my left hand was moving faster than my right (the D is on the left side of the QWERTY keyboard). It would be interesting to have a keystroke study done to see if consistent kinds of misspellings and so-called internet slang all sprang forth from Right- or Left-brain dominance being exacerbated by internet usage.

Facebook Withdrawals, Day Two

Day Two

Mental acuity clearly has taken a hit. Without social media, every few minutes I feel stranded without any idea what to do with myself, even as I do other things. Very similar to nicotine mental addiction. Every few minutes, I would forget what to do with my hands. In this case, I forget what to do with my mind. It’s going to take some time to rewire. Without real physical withdrawals, though, it’s not so bad. Well, no physical withdrawals apart from a tiny attention span that is growing but still not very useful for anything except facebook.

I don’t know whether to consider that withdrawal, though. It’s clearly the effect of using the tech, as opposed to the effect of not using the tech. It’s just become apparent without it. The advantageous part of quitting now is that the symptoms of withdrawal had already become an everyday thing for me. Every second between facebook had become a slog of scatterbrained difficulties, perhaps exacerbated by working a register at a restaurant where all of my meatspace interplays had reduced to forty-five-second bursts with people I’d never see again. My temper was short, my ability to calm down lessened — all symptoms I’d noticed from nicotine withdrawal. So if I’m going to be in constant withdrawal unless literally using it, and using it 100% of my day is not a possibility, quitting is quantitatively the same.

(In case you haven’t noticed, when I’m stressed and my mind is taxed, my vocabulary goes up ironically. I have trouble thinking of simple ways to convey ideas, and start spouting a lot of fifty cent words and using textbook syntax.)

It occurred to me that many of my more nonsensically vile interactions over the past year or two were very similar to when I’d quit smoking at the same time as a friend. We’d get into an altercation instead of conversations because both of our brains were taxed, leading to: 1) incapable of communicating properly (both telling and listening accurately), 2) going straight from misunderstanding to unbridled rage, and 3) not being able to expel said rage once begun. We’re all on a drug, and going through the phases together. There are very few sober people to help us rehab from social media and with so many addicts both enabling one another and discouraging quitting, we may be in for more striking breakdowns of the social order because of our loss of grip on reality and our own temperaments.

In summation: symptoms of algorithm addiction (it’s not the social media, it’s the underlying algorithm that has mutated into a habitual form [the end goal of all products in a capitalist system is to create addiction]) I’ve so far diagnosed:

1) shortened attention span
2) inhibited thinking
3) detachment from 3-dimensional space
4) inhibited person-to-person empathy
5) increased label/stereotype identification, ie tribalism correlated with source of dopamine hits as opposed to actual physical identity (Rachel Dolezal, as a for instance, might be the end result of having more black friends on facebook than white)
6) shortened temper / burnt out dopamine receptors no longer capable of compensating irritation chemicals

Synthesize this information with the symptoms you’ve seen around you, especially in Western culture broadly, but also in personal interactions both on- and offline. I think you’ll find you have experiences that have almost no other explanation.

Facebook Withdrawals

Quitting Facebook for Lent

Day One

I find my phone in my hand randomly without reason. I stare at it for at least three seconds before I realize there’s nothing I could want to do with it. Where before I used to take it out to do something else and then realize I was on Facebook instead and had forgotten the original intent, now I realize some of those times might have not been “other reasons I’d forgotten,” and that my hand and eyes and subconscious had taken out my phone and checked Facebook all on their own. Feeling even better about doing this.

In the moments where I take out my phone and stare at it, there is a strangely existential panic eerily similar to cigarette withdrawals in physical sensation yet emotionally more like not answering the phone when a lover who is bad for you calls. I’m also reminded of my adolescent freakouts when the internet stopped working and I couldn’t get on any of my chatrooms, which reminds me that I’ve been using some version of social media as long as I’ve been smoking. This has the potential to get very intense before it’s over.

Philosophical: the rise of identity politics entered my mind as I contemplated a near-violent real-space incident from Monday, the 27th. The fact that facebook, whose hold is certainly greatest in the West, hits the dopamine centers associated with human connection but provides no long-term connections with other individuals can be directly linked to the loss of individual empathy and the rise of empathy with labels. When one is connecting in short bursts all day with fifty to a hundred people, the brain must rewire to associate that connection with broader categories. One doesn’t connect with black friends; he or she connects to blackness. One doesn’t connect to Republican friends, one connects to Republican-ness. People who read Salon. People who comment on certain YouTube channels, etc. When someone criticizes the label or the umbrella through which the label connects — a facebook group or a webpage or a blog — the entire group jumps to defend themselves, or at least those who identify with the label the most. If men are criticized, anyone who thinks of himself as a man feels the need to chime in and say “Not all men…”