Positive Force

maxresdefault

The recent release of The Force Awakens has split my Star Wars friends down the middle. Those who were disappointed are understandably downtrodden, given their previous excitement, but many who loved the film are annoyed by the sudden break in fan solidarity. I don’t understand why. Over and over again in my news feed I see laments by Awakens enthusiasts that some people just want to be “negative.” I see questions like, “why can’t we all just appreciate different takes on entertainment?” While I enjoy the Star Wars franchise, it isn’t my fandom like superheroes are. The debate resonates with me, though, because I see these critique-silencing tactics used regarding my superhero films as well. They betray a bizarre insecurity, display basic logical fallacies, and can hide behind a self-righteous pseudo claim to positivity.

Anger at someone for not agreeing with you on a film’s value, especially when the studio is moving ahead with sequels, is really rather silly. After the ticket sales of The Force Awakens, not even the threat of a Death Star attack would stop Disney from continuing the story. So why can’t people who have genuine critiques of the film voice them? Is your own fandom so fragile that you can no longer enjoy a film if people say mean things about it? If anyone has a right to be upset at critics, it’s the fans of aborted franchises like Superman Returns or The Lone Ranger. But you don’t hear us crying out for more “positivity” in the comments of every poor review. Perhaps that’s it. Maybe you’re actually afraid that such voiced evaluations will cause your film’s sequels to be abandoned. That’s the case I suspect with the indignant fans of movies like Man of Steel and Ninja Turtles, though it would take a special kind of insecurity indeed to fear such a fate for Star Wars.

Fear and logic don’t mix, which explains why fear perpetuates logical fallacies in a debate, specifically the ad hominem and straw man fallacies. The ad hominem fallacy attacks the one making the argument instead of the argument itself. It betrays one’s inability to refute a statement or stance. They instead resort to personal attacks. Irate genre film fans LOVE using the ad hominem fallacy. They say things like, “You just can’t accept change. You can’t let go of George Lucas, Christopher Reeve, Tobey Maguire” or whoever. These attacks not only betray an inability to refute a criticism, but they also reveal a child-like exasperation with opposition in their emotional lashing out. Isn’t learning to coexist with different opinions an elementary milestone?

The straw man fallacy often goes hand in hand with these attacks, as it involves falsely representing the opposition to be easily knocked down, like a man made out of straw. This one takes the same type of comments to an even more schoolyard- like mentality with comments like, “Wah! Wah! Wah! The movie isn’t like the original!” Even more insidious, though, is the combination of the two fallacies that crops up in phrases like, “You just want to complain. I’m so tired of all of this negativity! Stop trying to see the bad in everything.” Now suddenly any honest criticism is “negativity.” This ploy should come off as absurd (do the ones leveling it, then, also shake their pom poms for the Star Wars prequels, Superman IV, or Spider-Man 3?), but the words negativity and positivity have such weight today that we often respect them even in their misuse.

The desire to remain positive is admirable. With the amount of malicious intent on the internet today, we should strive to be more positive toward one another. Here’s the key, though: Being positive doesn’t mean abandoning our opinions or refraining from the use of our analytic skills. It means expressing our opinions and arguments respectfully. Avoiding any and all critique of a film is easy. It’s also lazy. Discernment in art appreciation requires energy for analysis and some debate, but it pays off! Learning how a film operates, understanding the choices made in its creation, and knowing specifically why you support or dislike the effect it has on you, enhances the enjoyment film as an art form.

Another thing that requires energy is the ability to agree to disagree. It’s practically nonexistent in online forums today. Respecting someone’s viewpoint doesn’t mean you share it or admit less of a hold on your own. When you agree to disagree, you simply respect another’s right to decide on their own viewpoint. Lashing out and attacking is intellectually and emotionally adolescent. And responding in kind makes you appear just as inept at understanding and expressing an argument. The oft chosen solution of carefully avoiding statements or views that might trigger such conflicts isn’t remaining positive. It’s intellectually sterile. Embrace your right to voice your taste and opinion, but embrace other’s right to do the same. Critique, analyze and debate! And take hold of true positivity by respectfully expressing yourself in the process.

Lone Believers

original

Suspension of disbelief is a lost art among today’s moviegoers. Even in fantasy and adventure films, modern audiences scrutinize each scene with a taste for verisimilitude (the appearance of being real). And, sadly, this is the extent of their critical engagement. Deeper themes and messages are lost in the confusion of taste for artistic merit. Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger fell prey to such an audience upon its release. The film is criticized for being too unbelievable when ironically its message is a warning against slavish adherence to realism.

Many complain about the film’s narrative structure. An aging Tonto tells the story of the Lone Ranger to a child in a 1933 San Francisco fairground. The young boy interrupts often, and young Tonto in the story breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge him. Realism audiences become nervous when unsure of what to believe. They want narrative authority. In the end Tonto’s story makes sense with the convergence of plot points, but details like the peanut bag (the boy gives it to old Tonto for young Tonto to later place in the grave of a ranger) emphasize that the main story truly is Tonto’s account and not an objective flashback of events.

And the theme of fantasy versus reality doesn’t stop there. Tonto, as a child, decides the white man who slaughtered his people is a wendigo, and he dedicates his life to finding justice. He is guided by visions and “the great father’s” plan, yet he is aware of his delusional state (he hopes the sound of the approaching scorpions is just another sound in his head). When he finally achieves his goal, he tells the murderer of his people “All these years I think you are wendigo, but no, you are just another white man.” The details of his belief weren’t important. The truth was in the strength of his faith and the destiny it gave him.

Likewise John Reid is guided, from convenience at first, by Tonto’s assertion that Reid is a spirit walker, one granted special powers for having been to the other side and back. After the disillusionment of his own faith in government to provide justice and correct its own corruption, he adopts Tonto’s outlandish perception in sincerity. “I am the spirit walker,” he affirms before attempting to shoot the gun from a villain’s hand on a faraway train. “I can’t miss.” And he doesn’t.

The story requires suspension of disbelief, perhaps most of all in the heroic and climactic battle on the trains. This requirement is nothing new for heroic adventure films, but The Lone Ranger’s audience complained that John Reid, who’d been away at law school in the east and hadn’t fired a gun in nine years was somehow still able to ride and use a whip and pistol effectively. Tonto’s heroics, too, appear effortless, as after stealing the train, he simply acts by providence, throwing silver that happens to lie next to him, using a ladder that miraculously lands him safely on a another train before shattering, and so on.

“How unbelievable! How unrealistic!” audiences cry. Tonto and The Lone Ranger become successful heroes merely from having faith in their destinies! They have certain skills, of course, but only when they acknowledge their individual responsibilities does fate propel them forward. Tonto sets out to atone for leading the white men to the silver near his tribe, and John Reid stops waiting for justice from a corrupt system and begins to enforce it himself. The film’s message isn’t that we should hunt wendigos or become masked vigilantes. The message is that how society sees us doesn’t matter, nor does how realistic it sees our chances or how useful our abilities. What is important is how we see ourselves. And when we couple that acknowledgment of individual talent and responsibility with a belief in something greater (be it justice, the Great Father’s plan, or whatever), our destinies will find a way.

The Lone Ranger isn’t a film for everyone, just as hero stories aren’t for everyone. They require faith in the universality of their metaphor. Our response to them is based on a willingness to see ourselves as heroes. They ask each of us how we see our place and purpose in the world. As though anticipating its own critique from an incurably realist society, The Lone Ranger ends with the young boy asking Tonto, “So, the wendigo, nature out of balance, the masked man, it’s just a story right? I mean, I know he’s not real, was he?”

Tonto looks down with a smile and replies, “Up to you.”