Response to "The Bittersweet Dramatic Irony of Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars"
December 29, 2012 at 1:44 am #27490
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The stories about the Jedi in the Clone War do lionize the war, and, if the Jedi were wiped out fighting a hopeless war, I would be more inclined to support the Greek Epic interpretation of the stories.
But they don’t die fighting gloriously. The Jedi who are fighting get summarily shot by their own soldiers. Episode III shows their deaths rather like it would show a Redshirt dying. No grand struggle, no dying words, just the pew-pew of a laser gun and a whole lot of dead Jedi.
Under the Greek Epic interpretation, despite, or because of, all of the Jedi’s awesome powers, only a war could make them great and give them glory, by virtue of permitting them to die.
Yoda denies this interpretation. When Luke goes to Dagobah asking after “a great warrior”, Yoda responds that “Wars not make one great.” After all, all of his friends who went off to war did not get to die gloriously, they got shot in the back by their own men. Yoda and Obi-wan even go to climactic fights against the Emperor and Darth Vader, respectively, only to end not in death, nor even victory. None of the Jedi got a glorious end. They die like Redshirts.
What is it about the Clone Wars that caused the Jedi to get demoted to Redshirts? The fact that they were not acting like Jedi. Because the article is right, there is something glorious in watching the Jedi struggle. Glorious, but not Jedi-like. We watch the Clone Wars, and there is excitement, and adventure, but as Yoda says: “Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” During the Clone Wars, Anakin becomes one of the heroes of the war, despite the fact that he’s not a very good Jedi. He does not have the patience of a Jedi, he desires more power, he is reckless. The Jedi Masters recognize this, and do not believe he is qualified to be a Master himself. But instead of keeping him away from battles until he has developed the temperment of a Jedi, they keep sending him out. Why? Because there is a war on, and Anakin is really good at being a warrior, even if he is not so great at being a Jedi.
This reflects the Jedi Order’s capitulation to the exigencies of the war. They are all becoming a little reckless, a little bellicose, because that is how they fight the war. And that is why they died. They stopped being Jedi.
The article says “Yes, the conflict is completely manufactured by the Sith. But that big-picture stuff doesn’t matter–even within the show, nobody really explains or cares about what either side is fighting for.” The article is correct, the “big-picture stuff” does not diminish our enjoyment of it, and the Jedi who are fighting do not get caught up in it.
However for Jedi, whose job is to be a diplomat and a priest, who are supposed to be, as Obi-Wan Kenobi says, “the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic”, their job is absolutely to get caught up in the “big-picture stuff.” The Jedi did what Palpatine wanted them to do, out of devotion to the Republic. In doing so, the Jedi got caught up in the Greek Epic paradigm, forsaking the big picture involvement and losing their status as guardians of peace and justice. The role of the Jedi should never have been to be fighting as Generals against separatists–planets seeking independence. It was their job to peacefully end the conflict.
Instead, there efforts were spent fighting, and they played into the hands of Palpatine, and helped precipitate their own destruction. When Luke comes to Yoda displaying the same eagerness that Anakin displayed, Yoda tries very hard to impress upon Luke just how un-Jedilike that attitude is. Luke (eventually) learns them, which is why he gets to survive.
But there is a reason that the Clone Wars evokes the Greek Epic paradigm, despite the fact that the Greek Epic paradigm leads to negative ends, and a denial of it leads to positive ends.
The point of telling the story of the Clone Wars after telling the story of the summary execution of the Jedi at the hands of the soldiers they were leading, is to evoke the glory of the struggle in the mind of the viewer in explicit juxtaposition to the knowledge that the war is a farce, and that the Jedi’s deaths will not be glorious. It turns the story into a tragedy.
The purpose, it is my understanding, of tragedy is to understand how, by making completely understandable choices, people can find themselves in truly terrible positions, rather than happening upon a person in an truly terrible position and assuming that they must have made some bad choice, and further, hopefully, allow us to not make those same completely understandable choices. The Jedi fight a war they should have been working to end peacefully, and they pay the price for it.
We need to see that that the tragedy can strike even those who are supposed to be wisest, so that we are on guard for the siren’s song of the Greek Epic, and know full well that the rocks of inglorious death await us should we follow its compelling tune. Watching the Clone Wars is a great way to lash ourselves to the mast, and indulge the excitement and adventure we may crave, to hear the siren’s song, in a way that prevents us from sailing in to the rocks.December 29, 2012 at 3:04 pm #27494
What is their alternative? If they don’t join in then the only way they can avoid a fight is go away. Retreat to some remote, uninvolved planet. Planet Wookie perhaps? Whatever their ideals, pacificism doesn’t seem to be one of them.
The Jedi are idealistic, not stupid. Any death is bad, glorious or banal. They just could not sit it out.
BTW, have you thought about what the Jedi were actually doing during that time? Before getting mired in the war they were quite aware of the Republic’s failings as well as the Sith. I would put it to you that they were already working for the overthrow of the old corrupt regime, just not a violently as what actually happened.
Think of this… Yoda is blessed with the long view. He will work in plans that take generations to achieve. The Republic is too massive to remake in an instant so he does his usual kingmaker thing and works behind the scenes. I’m quite sure he has to inform the Council about these plans otherwise they’ll screw them up on him. That means the Sith will know about them eventually. When Anakin shows up, the Sith move, co-opting the plans far before the Jedis are ready. The Jedis are off balance and ill prepared. It’s just too soon. The whole thing crumbles leaving the Sith in charge. Yoda retreats and has to make new plans.
BTW, what IS Yoda? It’s amazing how incurious the rest of the Republic or the Empire is about him. Jedi mind trick? I’ve always thought that he’s an agent provocateur for a planet of Yodas. Or even an Empire of them. He’s sent into the Republic to control or destabilize it before it gets into their space and cause problems. Considering he’s just one guy, he’s pretty damn effective in destroying both the Republic and the Empire and nobody really cares.January 4, 2013 at 10:39 am #27553
I guess as someone who’s fairly on the left, the Separatist Alliance seems like a very compelling villain – a mix of corporations, banks and other industrial concerns all of whom find the ‘regulation’ by the Republic problematic – and thus victory would mean the galaxy’s wealth held in the hands of the twelve or so people on the Separatist Council and the labour of the people exploited forever. The Republic is corrupt, but it’s a democracy that clearly has standards of human rights inside its borders, and lots of regulation – in essence, something like the European Union (for the purposes of this discussion. Ignore my article from today where I argue it’s like the UN/NATO).January 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm #27555
“the fact that the Greek Epic paradigm leads to negative ends, and a denial of it leads to positive ends.”
This seems like a huge stretch. Wars, imperialism, patriarchy, hero-worship, domination of the weak by the strong, and the effort to convince the strong it is all for their own good all predate the Greek Epics.
I’m not sure what you see as the terrible consequences of “Greek Epic paradigm,” and I don’t know what you assume would take its place were it not to be there.
“the rocks of inglorious death await us should we follow its compelling tune”
There’s an internal contradiction here — because you frame inglorious death as bad, and yet appear to see “glory” as a destructive fraud. If glory is so bad, why is being inglorious also bad?
And if you’re saying “If you buy into the Greek Epics, they will kill you,” well, that doesn’t seem to match up with experience. I don’t think there’s a demonstrated higher mortality rate among people who read and enjoy _The Odyssey_.
The big issue of course isn’t that the Greek Epics do or don’t have bad parts — of course they do, and we have accomplished a lot of things culturally as peoples of the Earth that make us wiser and lead more pleasant lives than Homer’s buddies did.
But I’m skeptical that diametrically opposing them is necessarily a strict improvement — that this is an issue that rests on a single continuum.
Is it more that you are afraid of dying (as most of us are, ‘natch)? Because I don’t think politically discursive opposition to the Greek Epics is going to accomplish much in that direction.
“The purpose, it is my understanding, of tragedy is to understand how, by making completely understandable choices, people can find themselves in truly terrible positions, rather than happening upon a person in an truly terrible position and assuming that they must have made some bad choice, and further, hopefully, allow us to not make those same completely understandable choices.”
At least in my view, tragedy is not primarily an instructive form — it does not exist to teach you how to live. Lessons on how to live can be found in tragedies, sure, but they are just one component of the overall piece, which tends to have a very different purpose.
I tend to see the purpose of tragedy as both social and existential — by sharing in the experience of the characters onstage and recognizing the patterns they go through, the audience is provoked into a reaction that connects them with each other and makes them more aware of their own relationships with their lives (and deaths).
The notion is not “Oh wow, I want to be like Oedipus,” it’s “Oh wow, I _am_ like Oedipus. We’re all like Oedipus.” And not to revel in this, but to be afraid of it and have pity of each other for it and try to use it as a means to transcend our narrow understandings of ourselves.
Of course, there is also a big jump here between Epic and Tragedy, which are not necessarily the same thing. Ostensibly, the purpose of an Epic is to provide cultural foundation for a society, so it is more social than a tragedy.
And in this sense, the purpose of the Iliad is not, as Belinkie put it in his original article, to talk about how awesome it was to fight in the Trojan wars, despite its pointlessness. Remember where the Iliad starts and stops.
The Iliad is about how Achilles gets to the point where he lets Priam take Hector’s body and give it a proper burial. That is the climax of the story — not the fall of Troy, but the improbable act of mercy that follows it.
It does this in a mature, robust way that is not a sugar-coated morality tale, but an exploration of many of the greatest heights and deepest lows of human experience, coming to the final conclusion that, even as we literally murder each other, as we are wont to do on this brutal world, there is in our mortality a call for mutual recognition, kindness and respect.
I’ve heard — but can’t source, sadly — the notion that the Iliad is about the journey from the individual to the society, and the Odyssey is about the journey from the society to the individual — and that they are complementary takes on the fundamental ways we view one another. I find it pretty compelling.
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