Power of Ideology

No, I’m not talking about the suppression of the Bush war memo from July 2002. I’m talking about the reason that a movie almost everyone agrees to be a disappointing special-effects reel with leaden dialogue, improbable plotting, and formulaic directing will nonetheless make zillions of dollars in gate receipts.

It occurred to me as Margaret was compiling another catena of continuity problems, contradictions, and confusions, that the reason the movies will do well has much to do with George Lucas’s capacity to propose a compelling ideology much more than a believable cosmos or a well-engineered motion-picture franchise. I’ve read several times that Lucas actually believes in the myth he’s telling, and that assent provides the only reason I can possibly acknowledge for being able to bear looking at the most recent three movies. For a true believer, there are good reasons that Darth Vader doesn’t recognize C3PO and R2-D2 when he sees them in The Empire Strikes Back; there are good reasons that the apparently “liberated” proletariat must be kept under constant heavily-armed surveillance; there are good reasons that “full employment” includes large numbers of long-term unemployed workers, or that the public rationale for a massively destructive war keeps changing.

If you buy the ideology, the contradictions dwindle to irrelevance, and the glories of the cause you espouse far outweigh the incoherences your cause engenders. Star Wars doesn’t need to make sense, because Luke Skywalker’s triumphant torpedo shot justifies it.

(Might this also apply to church politics?)

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I know what you’re trying to say, but I think you’re slighting the depth and power of the human desire to see the story finished. The act of investing in a narrative is a profound thing. It’s not just about “ideology” or triumphant torpedo shots.

  2. Well said, Patrick; I’ll certainly go to see the story complete.

    But that longing for closure points to what I mean about “ideology”: not “misguided ideas that other people have (from which I’ve providentially been delivered),” but “the underlying sense that there’s a way things belong, things hang together, such that apparent inconsistencies matter less than the satisfaction of our hunger for meaningfulness.”

    In other words, I agree entirely with your assertion that “[t]he act of investing in a narrative is a profound thing,” whether that narrative be the Star Wars cycle, or the American narrative of the eventual triumph of liberal democracy and free market capitalism, or the Soviet myth of the liberation of the proletariat by an advance coterie of enlightened despots, or the Christian myth [I use the term without prejudice, as I believe this myth to be true] of the consummation of all things which will set right all wrongs, will end misery and affliction, and bring joy and peace to God’s people.

    In that light, my closing remark about Luke’s torpedo shot is meant as a metonym for the closure in question — it’s the ending in which Lucas successfully persuades viewers to invest.

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