Some years back I posted a piece about the four main reasons why prequel haters are prequel haters.
Today, I take on the nemesis called Darth Media. Let’s face it…the professional and semi-pro media, both geek-oriented and “mainstream” (a.k.a. “lamestream”), are horribly biased against the prequels and always have been. You know it, I know it. There are other films and filmmakers who are not treated kindly by the media or by film critics. Michael Bay doesn’t seem to garner too much respect, for example. But there is something about the Star Wars prequels in particular that really brings out the ugly. We got a taste of that just a couple days ago with a horrible article in the Wall Street Journal. The link is in piccolo’s comment to the Prequel Trilogy interview story. It is a biased piece of junk. The hack who wrote it didn’t bother talking to anyone who wasn’t a confirmed prequel hater. But the WSJ isn’t alone in running hatchet jobs.
The big question is, “Why?”
They Hate Lucas’s Guts
There is a very simple, obvious, overreaching reason for all of this and that is the media hates Lucas’s guts. They attack the prequels to attack him because they are his creations. Why do they hate Lucas? I’ll tell you…
1. “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How The Sex, Drugs, And Rock And Roll Generation Saved Hollywood”
Journalist and film buff Peter Biskind’s 1998 book celebrated the Hollywood upstarts of the late 1960s and 1970s but certainly had a jaundiced opinion of the films of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. It helped popularize a meme that movies were great until stuff like Star Wars came along, made films just about money, and quality went downhill. I remember arguing against this meme by pointing out that the first blockbuster king of the ’70s was Irwin Allen and his oeuvre of disaster films. Also big hits in that era were horror movies and yet no one blames William Friedkin for torture porn fare like “Saw” or the 10th “Paranormal Activity” flick. This meme also ignores that many of these film geniuses simply self-destructed on piles of cocaine and ran out of luck while others like Martin Scorsese kept cranking out the kind of films they’d always made for decades afterward.
What does it matter, though? In media world, once something becomes “conventional wisdom” it’s harder to get out than a blood stain on a white t-shirt. So this resentment against Lucas and against Star Wars for ruining movies was running high just as he unleashed his fourth Star Wars film to great hype and stores packed with stuff. It seemed like perfect timing to retroactively punish Lucas for something he didn’t really do. I believe this is a big reason why some of these critics were very harsh on TPM and dismissive of the rest of the trilogy as some kind of cynical cash grab.
2. Journalists Resent Success
I graduated from one of the top journalism programs in the U.S. though I am not a professional. I can tell you that some of the most bitter, envious folks you could ever encounter in life are in this field. There are a lot of things about the print, digital, and broadcast media that are not fair: cutthroat competition, frequent layoffs and buyouts (don’t go into media if you want a steady gig…it’s one reason why I didn’t stay), getting overlooked for promotions, ageism, sexism, you name it. I’d found the broadcast world in particular to be very much like show business; it’s all about what you can sell on camera and your looks. It doesn’t mean they’re not good at their jobs but there’s an indefinable “it” and charisma you need to have a shot at success along with of course, luck, opportunity, and a willingness to go anywhere and do just about anything to grab the brass ring. Because of that, a Yale graduate could be sitting there anchoring next to someone whose claim to fame is being Miss Kielbasa Festival 2002 and Miss Kielbasa Festival could very well be the one hitting the big time before the Yale grad. One has to weather the politics of the editorial board or station management and then the corporate politics of the parent company. And freelancers? It’s even worse. They don’t even get the benefit of a cubie and a severance package. Curiously enough people in that field are greatly drawn to power, like moths to a light bulb, but they resent wealth and success (so long as it’s not their own). Lucas made for a perfect pinata due to his billionaire status and his business success. It became easy to view Lucas as a “fat cat” CEO instead of as an artist. So you get memes and narratives about the prequels being the product of a privileged, out-of-touch evil capitalist who couldn’t connect with his proletariat fan base anymore, that he’s betrayed himself as a filmmaker.
Keep in mind that many in the media view themselves as iconoclasts because it brings them attention and makes them feel brave taking on the big and powerful. Lucas in their minds is establishment and they feel it’s their jobs to “destroy” the establishment because they get a lot of clicks and pats on the back for doing so.
3. Lucas Isn’t Fond Of Them
An introvert’s introvert, Lucas has always treated press interviews the way most of us regard root canals: necessary but extremely unpleasant. Yes, the current Mrs. Lucas is an occasional t.v. commentator/contributor, he his chummy with some media types like Bill Moyers, and he’s been on friendly terms with personalities like Oprah Winfrey and Jon Stewart. But Lucas has overall been very critical of the media for a long time. He once made a comment that journalism is all about copying what everyone else is saying or writing (see below). When he isn’t promoting anything, he’s pretty much dead to the press unless somebody from TMZ just happens to catch him on the street or something. He’s more likely to skydive into an erupting volcano than ever agree to talk to any of the geek/internet press.
Remember what I said earlier about “conventional wisdom?” The media thrives off of “conventional wisdom” because it eliminates the ground work of finding out what’s actually happening. Today’s media is 24/7 and that puts tremendous pressure to put something out with less time to get it done. Plus with cutbacks in newsrooms, there are fewer resources to check for accuracy. So everybody along the way slacks on stories: editors, producers, reporters. Nobody fact checks. So the media has come to depend more and more on memes and narratives that frame a story and then it finds a few examples to support that narrative or meme, then calls it a day. I wish I could say this only happens on amateur blogs but I’ve seen it happen over and over with professional media. Also, I find that opinion often pads out content. Opinion and analysis are fine, in their own context. But I see it all of the time in “news.” Or opinion is passed off as “news.”
In that spirit of laziness, there’s also a tendency to follow the herd. They will repeat the same ideas and the same angles everyone else has used. Part of it is because these guys all live in the same places and associate with the same circles. Part of it is because that in spite of their education level, they’re not terribly curious. Geek media or entertainment media has a bunch of people immersed in pop culture but they can’t put any of it into context. They like to post provocative things to get attention but what they don’t want is real disapproval. Everyone knows what happens to the few souls who attempt even the faintest praise of the prequels, so they rarely break from the anti-prequel angle. Also, whenever someone from the straight news side of things wants to seem “with it” while writing about stuff like Star Wars, that person will often look to geek media for the right cues.
Whatever the reasons, laziness persists because there are rarely any consequences for that laziness. Even if it results in a big scandal, like what happened to “Rolling Stone” last year, there are shockingly few consequences.
The Media Believes The Fans Are On Their Side
There are other franchises and celebrities not well-regarded by geek culture yet the professional media wouldn’t say an unkind word about them in interviews or articles. Why? Because they know the fans would rain hell on them and not buy the mags, click on the links, or share the pieces.
But the media feels more than comfortable to bash away at the prequels, even to this day. Why? Because they know the “fans” at the least do nothing and at the most agree enthusiastically with the piece and spread it around like an STD at Spring Break. Media opinion influences fan opinion which in turn influences media opinion. Repeat, rinse. If you don’t believe me just check out the comments on these articles if they allow comments. A writer is going to think his piece is validated if he gets a lot of hosannas from bashers who agree with him.
It also bears noting that the media is now dominated by Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers, who are more likely to buy into the “Lucas raped my childhood” mindset.
Star Wars fans should be ashamed of themselves for their complicity in this problem. It’s not enough to mumble something about how you don’t like it when they bash the prequels but keep subscribing to magazines or visiting sites that do it routinely. What would make you upset enough to at least comment on the piece or send in a letter to the editor? Whenever they do get upset about a media piece, it’s often very selective so it becomes easy to blow it off as just nerd rage.
So those are the basic reasons for media prequel bashing. In closing, here’s a cathartic tune about the media (that’s not “Dirty Laundry”):