The Moral Failure of 21st Century Film

I’ve been engaged in a really interesting debate about why and how Star Wars’ most recent film(s) seem to be fading in terms of being a major cinematic force today.

The current debate says its due to bad directing, bad writing, too much PC influence, too much cultural inclusivity, a failed moral relativism between the opposing forces behind the Force, etc. etc.

As some of you know, I’ve written blogs saying Star Wars was only great in the first movie because of the fairy tale myths layered into the story. Later films would never capture that glory. It’s why there are rising numbers of people now looking for the original Lucas 1977 film untouched and un-remastered. It stands as a reflection of Western Myth in all its adventuresome glory. And I have predicted more and more people would search for the untouched first film from years ago in as it not only encapsulated the ancient myth of Western Culture but the value system of America in 1977 without the morally ambiguous struggles and realism of later Star Wars movies and culture.

But here is something more I posted recently in this debate that relates to myth and morality.

I think this “new” struggle we see in recent Star Wars films, and all films the past 5 years, is simply the that younger is generation now questioning, fully, the complete fairy tale that is Star Wars from the perspective of the ardent Realism and Metamodern view they have now adopted. This idea that they see something morally perverse in recent film with the Jedi falling to the dark force raises questions in their mind of some deeper failure to resolve the fact that:

  1. They claim we are all both good and evil thus this conflict is meaningless, or
  2. Star Wars should be an allegory all the way or be stripped of all allegorical farce of good vs evil which they see as meaningless

Both are wrong. Where these arguments fail is that Human Beings are deeply moral creatures. We are good or evil, we are not morally relative. We choose and by choices help ourselves and our Creation or further its destruction. It’s that simple. And Star Wars was never an allegory though it rested on broad assumption that there were good and evil characters. In later movies that assumption got ‘muddied’ not by actors but by the shades of gray culture we have created today!

The key is understanding that the first Star Wars was made from the mythology of the hero-journey that’s been told for thousands of years. It’s simply a retelling of an old Western Trope. That fit perfectly with the Postmodern generation that made the first Star Wars in 1977 and which readily embraced the current structure of good and evil as a trope reflective of the counter culture, anti-government, anti-war rebellion that was taking place.

But the cultural phenomenon today is based on a younger generation that has had no authority or Vietnam War or Postmodern angst to challenge them. They had no ‘moral questioning’ our cause to reflect on or fight. This younger group is imbibed with a deep connection to Realism and the promises of technology as a savior to Mankind’s ills. And the old trope of good vs evil, Modern religion, and Postmodern moral relativism has been replaced with the horror of evil rugged individualism versus the goodness found in a global view of cultural oneness, resolution of conflict through non-conflict, and multicultural acceptance. But such social justice causes have nothing to do with the perpetual war in the Self for one’s own judgment of oneself.

There’s a strong emphasis in this latest Star Wars on inclusion, you will notice, with resolution of conflict being more important than heroism or fighting for the cause at stake. There is thus a complete rejection of the hero-journey motif in this new movie by young people today as valuable like it was in the 70’s, a time when self-discovery and later self-improvement of the individual was more valued.

Kids today are thus rewriting Star Wars, as they are all movie tropes, in the vein of a new groupthink, of one world belonging, of multicultural equivalency, the new value of good government that serves all, and pulling of opposition into a middle ground of peace and understanding….the opposite of who their rebellious, anti-authority Baby Boomer parents were in the 1960’s.

It’s simply culture changing as it will in cycles, reacting against the previous one as today’s is doing so strongly. And that’s exactly why the latest Star Wars is failing……its original premise has been completely undermined. These new fantasy films are about identity search and about them and their changing cultural views, not about Star Wars original mythological promise. But it is not about some new truth or Myth either, but a Metamodern reflection and rejection of the movies past, as well as the new Modernism of the Millennial Generation’s new cultural value systems that soon will replace our own.

It’s why we should listen to this new theme as alien as it is, as its valuable and has its own cosmology yet to be revealed in future fantasy movies. But sadly, it is devoid of mythological meaning. And thus its spiritually dead.

Kids today are rejecting the influence of Myth and Faith as valuable in art, denying the power of a Creator, assuming everything that triggers emotion or force in movies derived from some obscure allegory or chemical imbalance or unfair racist social past. They misunderstand the power of the irrationality of Fairy Tale in film of the past as they simply don’t understand it or the power of Mythical tropes found in Western Culture. Instead they seem to construct some failed allegory again in art or deny it ever needed to exist, both perverse views of which great artists like Tolkien rejected in his views of how to create imaginative works.

I don’t see moral relativism in either Tolkien or the first Star Wars. I see it much more in recent film, including this latest Star Wars movie. It is quite obvious in R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones works….where he has said that in his study of history for his books, he discovered Hitler loved dogs and therefore was not such a bad guy. We all know that’s a false moral equivalency.

These failed self-centered ideals encapsulate the fallen moral relativism of the Baby Boomers perfectly and why we have film like this today. This view is very much a recent phenomenon of more modern Postmodern generations today and the movies they created to explain away Mankind’s morality and evils. But it fails. I see in the first Star Wars a definite separation of good and evil in the first movie and a question, with moral relativism cropping only up in later films simply because a generation ago there still were valid ethical and moral constructs left in society to question, as flawed as they were. Today we do not despite the crimes and violence surrounding us.

The first Star Wars accepted the premise in 1977 that a Death Star meant death of life and therefore was Evil. No, the Force was not a yin-yang moment but a moral separation based on choice, not necessary unity. I think that makes the first movie closer to Tolkien’s Christian view of Melkor in the Silmarillion as a Lucifer-like, fallen angel who was but an agent of Illuvatar sent to temp the Noldor and by their failed choices meet their doom and retreat from God.

Art of the past saw moral choice and myth and faith as not artificial philosophical constructs to be debated or debunked, but Human Truths to be joyously revealed through film and books. But all this begs the question: Why are we seeing this change now?

I think the irony of people seeing and questioning all this today is that Western Culture is more morally corrupt and confused than ever in 2020, though we have more money, a safer society, and more educational choices. We see this problem in our current American President right now and in lots of political movements, radical religion, and fiction.

2020 is a time of complete moral abandonment much less a decadent period for failed artistic expression. There is a lot of ‘devolution’ going on spiritually. So I don’t think this process of moral relativism had fully evolved in 1977 as it has today. We seem to be ok shucking religion for science, but have then lost our way in the power of art to spiritually and emotionally move us because of a loss of the moral constructs that our faith once supported.

I think it’s why as writers we feel trapped….we long for an easy answer to morality in our books but cannot naively go “back” to the Tolkien world-view, that there is a Christian line drawn in the sand between what is right and wrong in the world (there being truly evil people). The world we have today shows we have evolved to a point that we are all accepting of our own “Shades of Gray” and yet not really ‘Fallen from Grace’, fully. We seem to have tasted of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil but are ok not choosing the path having gained that knowledge. Thats the opposite of what forms the basis of Christian freewill and choice in many stories of the past but which seems questioned today. To our youth today, Evil and Good to many reside on the same muddied plane though they accept the moral legal structure and laws that channel their behavior.

That is why I both celebrate yet shudder at the new generation questioning Star Wars today….they see the flaw in the yin and yang of the Force and the Jedi story now, but the answer they pose to that conundrum just leads us closer to being even more morally gray.

They thus rationalize everything in the past as some failed Christian allegory, or as being moral perverse, without seeing the context within which those moral plays were written years ago. They miss the spiritual freedom of choice in past characters. That choice to join or fight against evil to them is hypocritical. But they don’t see its power compared to today’s suffocating groupthink where popular pop cultural opinion and judgement has contained all their artistic and imaginary powers to write good story built on the viable conflict of good versus evil that exists in all human hearts, much less their own.

So many now refuse to see the old Myths that gave life to the first movie, but instead desire to tear down such ideas as immoral artifacts and art of the past without seeing the inner beauty and cultural messaging of that era, instead stripping all moral or religious questioning from all art as if they were judges, priests, or God.

Without knowing or seeing their own flaws (which a coming mid-life crisis will reveal) they condemn film and writing without letting art stand as art on its own flawed feet. They then push new films that are even more confused by this new moral relativism and demand resolution when they have created the very unimaginative raw paradigms in movies and books today they seem to hate that ban all denouements and resolves in their stories.

Refusing to see the universe as moral choice and themselves as moral beings, they hide from life and all faith which exists if not for its own purpose, some greater one. Denying all this they destroy artistic expression which now falls under the realm of science not faith or under the power of an act of expression or Creation. The statues may fall of past Gods, but they simply resurrect new false ones to themselves.

Morality and Myth exist in the same universal breadth of Human experience. If kids today want to assign them to the scientific explanation free of philosophy then they exist in psychology. For they tune the Human mind toward understanding of itself and his actions, if not its art and survival. They then through magical movies and books draw in others to the wonder of life.

Stripping religion, morality, and myth from Humanity thus strips power from that medium and leaves it unfulfilling forever. Therefore, until we return to irrational fairy tales and myths in film and the Arts, respecting the spiritualism of the past in seeking to understand our own symbols, psychology, and depths, we will never create another powerful fantasy film ever again in today’s culture, I sadly predict.

And that’s dangerous….we are drifting away from the spiritual culture we once had in 1977. Sadly, no one yet today in 2020 can see the spiritual gutting and destruction we are doing today by both judging works of the past unfairly while continuing to create new unimaginative writing, film, and art free of Myth and Morality today. Until they are educated and enlightened by History and its beauty and meaning, we now enter decades of a soulless age whose hollow entertainment will bring no succor to the agony of our own long-denied, immoral lives.

– the Author

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