Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Siths among us

Revenge of the Sith: Concerning Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, President George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI

“Only a Sith thinks in absolutes” - Obi-Wan Kenobi to Darth Vader

An early review of Revenge of the Sith, the final installment of George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, appeared in Sunday’s The New York Times http://movies2.nytimes.com/2005/05/16/movies/16star.html?8hpib

It’s a very positive review of a film which completes a cycle that opened the weekend our first child was born, and ends the spring he got married and finished graduate school.

But it’s precisely because I have children that the Lucas film most on my mind now pre-dates even the first Star Wars.

When it opened, the ads for American Graffiti asked “Where were you in ’62?” As it happens, I was in that high school graduating class. And parallel with the uncertainty of picking a college then, and the awkwardness of first dates, and the embarrassment of being caught with a fake ID, there was such a breathless sense of optimism then.

In 1962, President John Kennedy held out the vision of a ‘New Frontier’ that promised expanding opportunity, that invited individual best efforts, and that foresaw a footprint on the moon. Pope John 23rd threw open the windows of the Vatican (aggiornamento) to let fresh air in to halls that had been too silent 20 years before. And Bob Dylan croaked, “But for the sky there are no fences facing.”

And now the center falls apart. I do not comprehend how, in the arc of my adult life, we traversed from such optimism to such grim prospects. Is this the legacy of our generation, to leave a world with such reduced horizons?

With a stroke of a pen, a Bush-blessed judge wipes out the pensions of 100,000+ United Airlines employees, with other defaults certain to follow. A lawsuit against the State of California maintains it’s unconstitutional to withhold any coastal land from private development. Nothing – not the environment, worker safety, community health, the common weal, nothing – can impede the god of the free market.

The new pope has written that only Catholics will be saved, and his new head of the Office for Orthodoxy, the former Archbishop of San Francisco of all places, says homosexuality is an intrinsic disorder. (Oh really, dear! And who designed all those fierce lavender chasubles for Lent and Advent?)

How did it happen that on our watch stiff-necked, stonehearted dogmatism replaced affable compassion, and property rights came to trump human rights?

However it happened, what we see is the triumph of fear over hope; of spinmeisters setting the have-little’s against the have-less’s; of uncertainty and warp-speed change creating a desire for certainty and absolutes. And whither will we wander?

So back to Star Wars, what does myth have to teach us about our time and circumstances?

How much more direct can it be than in Sith when Padmé Amidala, the wife of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and the mother of Luke and Princess Leia, observes timid senators handing all power to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine thus making him Emperor: "This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause.”

The power of myth to speak to the contemporary events was there too when J.R.R. Tolkein wrote prophetically in the late 1930s of the threat to the shires from a rising evil in the East, and of a power so absolute it would ‘rule them all and in the darkness bind them.’

And it’s in Harry Potter’s struggle to break free of the Muggle world, where the letter crushes the spirit and dull-wittedness is a civic and moral virtue. And let’s face it, the Muggles are all of us who think in red-state and blue-state terms, preferring to score points off each other than confront our common adversary, an ever-shrinking clique of grinchly gremlins whose hearts are two sizes too small.

And it’s even there in the long-ago story of Arthur: king that was, king that is, king that will be again. (The Broadway musical Camelot [The Once and Future King] is how some still remember the Kennedy years.) Forced by destiny and his own frailty to war with his best friend, Arthur cries from the heart “Merlin, how did I stumble into this agonizing absurdity? Make me a hawk so I can fly away!”

So now we ‘boomers,’ raised in optimism and prosperity, approach retirement and the prospect of our own agonizing absurdity: that our children and theirs will live crimped lives paying off the trillions in debt run up by this imperial administration; that faith in things unseen is simply a vehicle to assert our superiority over all others in the global village (a view not limited to the Catholic church).

But like Arthur we cannot fly away from this, nor should we try.

Rather, the greatest gift we can give now, under these present circumstances, is to assume the role of wise elders. To keep alive the awareness that all is cyclical, and this too will pass if we will it and work for it, and that hope is symbolized by green for a reason: what was still is, and will bloom again.

As Merlin was to young Arthur, as Obi-Wan to Luke, Dumbledore to Harry, and Gandalf to Frodo, so in the second act of our adult lives we should keep alive – vividly, visually and verbally - the was-ness and the will-be-ness of hope, optimism, integrity, composure and compassion. And set out markers that are straight and true for those children and grandchildren now setting out on their own way, path, search, tao, journey.

So then let us go fo’ward with great vig-ah, and instill in the young a healthy skepticism for those who grasped the reins of power from under our noses, striking their pretentious poses of piety and patriotism.

May our children be blessed with the wit to know that a true and living faith is not found in servile obedience to a catechism. And a signature on a loyalty oath is not the mark of a patriot.

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be…


Blogger Stephen A. Fuqua said...

Tom, that makes your son and me the same age (except I was still in the womb when my mother saw what was then simply titled "Star Wars"). I'd like to think that pre-natal exposure helped set me up in the world.

By the way, you might have more comments if you configured blogger to allow anyonmous comments. As is, only those of us who have blogger accounts can add comments.

I would personally list Bill Moyers as one of those wise elders whose lead we should strive to follow. And add Jared Diamond as another. At least elder compared to me =).

9:20 AM  
Blogger The Bookman said...

Your anti-Catholicism is a touch strident.


12:27 PM  

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