Episode 20: Ode to Iowa

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Just in time for the first contest of the presidential primaries, Agreeing Loudly Coast to Coast is back with special guest Justin Norris to discuss the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary.

Everyone’s on deck to share their favorite Iowa pop culture contributions, struggle through an Iowacentric sports segment, and discuss whether millennials are actually going to vote during the upcoming elections. In addition, Pat leads an exciting “Know Your Caucus Contender” contest that reminds us why we should have payed more attention in civics class. In addition, we manage to offend an entire generation of people and both major political parties.

Will this week finally be the week the censors shut us down? Listen to this week’s episode to find out! Or direct download it instead.

Intro 0:00-3:45

Pop Goes the Culture: Iowa Favorites 3:46-12:45

Sports Round Up: Iowa Edition 12:50-19:45

Millennial Musings: Will Millennials Vote? 19:51-32:40

Political Parrots: It’s Caucus Time 32:45-1:08:15

Outro/Where to find us :1:08:40-1:10:38

Hillary Clinton and the Perils of Reconstruction History

by Allan Branstiter

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I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t watched a Democratic debate/town hall/forum in several months because 1) no one can bury a primary campaign in plain sight better than Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, 2) life, 3) my heart belongs to Bernie Sanders, and 4) they’re boring. Who knows . . . maybe after Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire these things will liven up a little bit. I must be doing something wrong because 3.2 million people tuned in to CNN to watch this high-octane slog-fest unfold—making it the highest rated town hall (not debate) ever. Nevertheless, a candidate said something at last Monday’s Iowa town hall on CNN that almost makes me wish I had been watching.

In 2008, Barack Obama once said that his favorite book at the moment was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, a critically-acclaimed history of how Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet overcame political divisions and saved the nation. Obama’s use of Lincoln as model was safe and supported his argument that he would unify the country behind the cause of “Hope,” “Change,” and “Yes We Can!” Citing Lincoln also undermined Clinton’s argument that Obama was too idealistic and naive to be an effective president. Team of Rivals simultaneously gave Obama an historical precedent as the “Believer-in-Chief,” embedded his campaign within a centuries-old narrative of racial justice, and sold a ton of Democrats a book that they never got around to reading. Running for POTUS 101: Cite Lincoln because it’s safe, hopeful, and patriotic.

Last Monday, when asked which president she admires the most, Hillary Clinton answered “Abraham Lincoln.” Safe answer, boring answer . . . you’d think. But leave it to Clinton to fumble the ball on a Lincoln. Starting out, Clinton’s conjuring of Lincoln’s memory wasn’t bad. Heck, it even contained a well-known Lincoln quote:

“That’s what I mean, when you’ve got to do a lot of things at once what could be more overwhelming than trying to wage and win a civil war? And yet he kept an eye on the future. And he also tried to keep summoning up the better angels of our nature.”

Then she to a very old and very troubling interpretation of race and Reconstruction:

“You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive and I don’t know what our country might have been like if had he not been murdered. But I bet that it might have been a lot less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that it might have possibly back together more quickly, but instead we had Reconstruction we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow, we had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.”

Keep in mind that this is a Democratic candidate for President of the United States in 2016, not Donald Trump of the fake “River of Blood” Civil War monument. This isn’t even your crazy Uncle Gary who gets all his historical knowledge from cable television and Bill O’Reilly’s assassination porn. This is Hillary Clinton, Yale alumni, former U.S. Senator from New York, and former U.S. Secretary of State treading dangerously close to a neo-Confederate understanding of American history. So where does this come from and why is what she said troubling?

By arguing that Lincoln’s death opened the door to unreasonably harsh Reconstruction policy that served only to antagonize white Southerners hearkens back to an antiquated, debunked, and (frankly) white supremacist historical interpretation called the Dunning School. William Dunning, a professor of history at Columbia University during the turn of the 20th Century, argued that Reconstruction was a “tragic era” caused by a conspiracy of vindictive and intolerant Northerners who manipulated uneducated African American men and women into action against their former masters. To Dunningites, Reconstruction was a betrayal of Lincoln’s moderate stance towards the defeated Confederacy, as well as a tyrannical overreach of federal power.

In the end, Dunningites justified the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the violent overthrow of biracial state governments as an understandable reaction to Reconstruction. Ironically, they blamed the codification of Jim Crow laws in the 1890s as a necessary corrective to the intolerance of the left’s social justice agenda. Like Clinton, they argued that if radical Republicans and supporters of racial equality had only “been a lot less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant” the separation of the races wouldn’t have been necessary.

This interpretation became the dominant narrative of the Civil War era during the 30th Century. Anyone over the age of 50 probably learned it as fact during middle and high school. The Dunning School inspired and continues to inspire a nostalgic view of the South. Gone With the Wind (1939) is probably the most famous portrait of the values of the Dunning School; however, it was D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) that captured the romantic potential of the interpretation and led to the appearance of the Second Ku Klux Klan.

Undoubtedly Clinton opposes all things racist and related to the Klan or neo-Confederate ideology, and I’m not arguing that she’s a racist apologist by any means. Even D.W. Griffith had the best of intentions when he made Birth of a Nation. In fact, he went so far as to include included this placard in his film right before his section regarding Reconstruction:

What follows this well-meaning placard qualifying the heroic portrayal of the Klan and the savagery of the rapine black and mulatto field hand an objective but benign historical fact? Why, a quote from none other than then President Woodrow Wilson that in the face of liberal tyranny and racial disorder, “white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation . . . until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.” Such is the contradictory history of race in America.

Again, let’s make it clear—I do not believe Clinton is supporting the political ambitions of the Klan, nor does she harbor ill will towards nonwhite races (God forgive those who venture to condemn liberals as *a hush descends upon the room* racists). What I will argue is that Clinton’s privilege as white elite continues to inform her understanding of the past’s relevance to today.

It’s not like an alternative understanding of Reconstruction is so new that she could not be expected to know about it—W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction (1935) is 81-years-old and while mainstream academic historians have undermined the Dunning School convincingly for half a century. What we now know is that Lincoln’s death may have lessened the acerbic nature of Reconstruction politics in Washington, DC, but white Southerners would have still obstructed any attempts to extend the full rights of citizens to African Americans. As historian Eric Foner argues, “today, scholars believe that if the era was ‘tragic,’ it was not because Reconstruction was attempted but because it failed.” What prevented a quick and harmonious reconciliation after the Civil War wasn’t the inflexibility of radicals or the victimization of white Southerners, but the unwillingness of white supremacists to accept the legitimacy of black civil rights.

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During Reconstruction, conservatives (Northern and Southern, black and white) argued that radicals needed to show more forbearance towards those who sought to limit the freedom of former slaves, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants. They supported so-called “Black Codes” that stole black children from their parents and forced into “apprenticeships” under white planters. They denied blacks the ability to relocate in order to find higher wages and better working condition. White conservatives also chaffed when black legislators argued that the practice of leasing black prisoners was unconstitutional. To Reconstruction-era conservatives, these acts of racial injustice were a moderate and forgiving compromise that would maintain the racial status quo, while paving the way towards national reconciliation.

On January 22, 2016, a self-identified white “moderate” called into the Diane Rehm Show and said that while he never thought he’d ever vote for Donald Trump, the “changing demographics” of the country were turning him into a supporter. Showing the forbearance advocated by “respectable” people, the journalists on the show that day commented that the man sounded “so reasonable” and that his ideological moderation implied that he was (and by extension Trump’s supporters) primarily motivated by factors other than race and a perceived loss of white privilege.

I bring up this final point because it served as a fascinating moment when “moderation” bridged the divide between a man who fears a brown take-over of America and several white liberal members of the press. This sense of unity is made possible by a failure to reject antiquated and racially apologetic understandings of the past. While made in passing and without malice, Clinton’s misconceptions about American history allow racial discrimination to hide beneath a guise of well-meaning liberal white folk and their emphasis on unity, reconciliation, and respectability. What suffers is true justice—whether it be economic, gendered, or racial justice.

To the unaware, she sounds so reasonable and moderate. But as Ta-Nehisi Coates once stated, “the idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion.” One might include those who find their words sprinting ahead of their understanding of history, as well.

PS—Evidently a ton of people going nuts about whether or not the question “Which of our previous Presidents have inspired you the most?” was a plant. Nuts, I tell you.

The Ridiculous Notion of the “Business & Industry” Candidate

 

by Troy M. Olson

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After the article: check out the Iowa-centric “Agreeing Loudly” Flagship Podcast. 

It is safe to say we’ve all underestimated the popular appeal of Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States. Left, center, or right, inside or outside the beltway, Main Street, Wall Street or Evergreen Terrace – anyone who pays nominal attention to American politics has to be somewhat surprised by his recent political fortunes. We’ll find out this week just how much that appeal in the polls translates into actual results of course, but we’ve all been just a little bit wrong about Trump.

What I’m interested in taking a look at is not so much the story this week but what the story and Trump narrative could be looking forward. Thus far, Trump’s candidacy is the closest you can get to the “internet comments” running for President. On one hand, his candidacy has been characterized as George Wallace-like in its level of cynicism. On the other hand, as Carson Starkey pointed out this week on Twitter: “Strange times when both parties feature candidates demanding fair trade, higher wages, and economic mobility.”

People forget that the ’68 Wallace candidacy featured similar xenophobia for one group (segregationists and white supremacists in the South), but economic populism for another group (working class voters in the North). Wallace carried the staunch segregationist hold-out states of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia. He was competitive in border states like Tennessee, Kentucky as well as the eastern old confederacy states of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. But where else did Wallace play outside of the South? The rust belt. Industrialized and working class states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana. With Trump as GOP nominee, this type of campaign can only take him so far. This is why I think any ultimate Trump candidacy, especially once the larger GOP establishment gets involved, will be based first and foremost, on his life spent in business. In other words: Willard Romney 2.0 Real Estate Edition.

If you are hoping for a third consecutive Democratic administration, this is a good thing. After all, how is President Willard Romney doing? Every time the GOP has trotted out the so-called “business & industry” candidate that candidate has lost and lost badly. Donald Trump, if he is the GOP nominee and if they take his message in that direction, will go into the dustbin of losing Presidential campaigns. He would be better served strategically by playing to his strengths. Many of Trump’s supporters consider him like themselves: the “unpolished” or non-political “outsider” who disdains “political correctness.”

For someone who inherited a real estate fortune via contacts, businesses, and eventually, the Trump estate itself, this is a remarkable feat that Romney could have never pulled off.

Prior to Trump, Romney and GOP establishment attempted to position Willard as the problem-solving, turnaround artist of the private sector during the 2012 Presidential Election. Romney had spent most of his career in private equity; an impenetrable and unexplainable profession disdained by most voters from both sides of the aisle. Romney came off as overly patrician, too East Coast for a modern day GOP nominee, and compounded this image with his tone deaf 47 percent gaffe at a private fundraiser in front of millionaire and billionaire funders, who did not seem to appreciate the irony that they were the biggest recipients of “welfare” in the country in the form of tax cuts, subsidies and giveaways to choice-industries, friendly inheritance and estate tax laws, and immediate access to the best accountants and tax lawyers in the country to take advantage of every last rule in our convoluted tax code.

Prior to Romney, Herbert Hoover was elected President in 1928 during an age where so-called serious people thought that “boom and bust” business cycles were a thing of the past. Hoover was an actual good version of the “business & industry” candidate image. Coming from a considerably more humble background, Hoover really did “bootstrap” himself upward to the extent that exists in a time when upward mobility, at least for those who had access to it (i.e. White Males), was actually more viable. Hoover had considerable success in the mining industry and was Secretary of Commerce during the 1920s. It seemed sensible to the GOP “Dukes and Earls” of the day to select Hoover to succeed Calvin Coolidge.

Less than a year into Hoover’s first year in office, the stock market crash, the Great Depression began, and it was the humble-pie background Herbert Hoover that played the role of the weak, apathetic, or ineffectual leader in history just prior to a great leader, FDR. Hoover’s philosophy that the economy will run and reboot itself, and that government should take little role in influencing the economy or ensure the economic security of people, fit in well with the “roaring twenties”, but became a tone-deaf, do-nothing figure during the early years of the Great Depression. It was FDR, the New Deal, and massive amounts of Government spending and Keynesian economics that characterized the years when conventional wisdom would have told us that a “business, industry, and economic” leader is needed to have a “calm and steady” hand. FDR was not only patrician, but his politics most resemble Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders today. How things have changed.  

 

So why have “business & industry” candidates or leaders fared so poorly? Mostly, it’s a complete fiction. There is no such “business” experience that prepares anyone for the U.S. Presidency. It can be part of a larger story, but it cannot be the story. Most business experiences create a knowledge of that specific industry, but not how other businesses might work and certainly not how macroeconomics works. Call it the Specialists vs. Generalists problem. 

Mr. Trump may know real estate, he may know the deal, he clearly has proven to be a great marketer of himself, but he is no business expert, and certainly no economic expert. His campaign has been razor thin on specifics, but lets look at two of them:

First, the “wall” and Trump’s plan to deport 12 million people. In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe, resulting in a considerable loss of “soft power” and respect around the world, his deportation and construction of a wall at the U.S. – Mexico border would also wreck the U.S. economy. Very few U.S. citizens are competing for the same jobs undocumented immigrants are currently doing. This labor shortage in these jobs would have a very real effect on the economy creating a “demand” problem.

Second, Trump’s proposal of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports is a pure economic fantasy. The resulting effect would not be aid to the manufacturing sector, but rather would be importing fewer goods period, which would then result in a loss of manufacturing jobs. A “supply” problem. People forget that the U.S. still manufacturers a great deal of goods, but we do it after importing cheaper raw materials, from countries like China. Trump thinks he is getting the best “deal” and doing good for American workers with this proposal. If he seriously believes that, who knows… but I always argue ignorance is more forgivable than cynicism and pandering to fears and prejudices. This proposal could have other negative effects that spill over into geo-politics. China would seek new trading partners to do business with and the second largest economy in the world would grow more isolated from the largest. Increasing tensions with China is the last thing the U.S. or China should seek in the 21st century.

Like Romney and Hoover before him, Trump would fail miserably as a “business” or “economic” expert candidate. Because he isn’t an expert at either. He is like most of us, a specialist.

Public leaders with high aspirations and ambitions should seek to be good generalists as much as possible, with a decent grasp of not just politics, but history, economics, philosophy, and the law as well, starting with the U.S. Constitution, a document I imagine Mr. Trump has never read all the way through.

The real qualities worth looking for in a President, the qualities that are transferable throughout history: leadership, judgment, and character. 

A subject for another day, perhaps further along in the primary season once we have more clarity.

 

 

Episode 19: The Search for Bill

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This week Agreeing Loudly runs into some technical difficulties when Bill decides that charging his phone and telling time is insignificant compared to the power of his wife’s birthday.

In what some people are calling “the worst podcast ever” Pat and Jered have a vibrant discussion about the future of Hispanic Millennial voters and whether or not presidential debates really matter. Fortunately, Bill uses his mad computer science skills to teleport in for the second half of the episode to lead a Pop Goes the Culture segment focusing on Agreeing Loudly’s most anticipated movies of 2016.

After sitting through that nerdtastic discussion, Pat bring things back to reality with a sports discussion including NFL predictions, Ronda Rousey’s acting chops, and other hot sports topic from the previous week.

Can Pat and Jered hold a discussion without Bill? Will Lebron James destroy this podcast once and for all? What am I talking about?

Listen to this week’s episode to find out! Or direct download it instead.

Intro 0:00-2:00

Millennial Musings: Hispanic Millennials Rising 2:00-8:50

Political Parrots: Do Debates Matter? 8:53-25:00

Pop Goes the Culture: Most Anticipated Movies of 2016 27:26-41:40

Sports Round Up NFL Predictions and Ronda Rousey Acting 41:47-57:35

Outro/Where to Find Us 57:37-59:42 

Sarah Palin, PTSD, and the Survivor-As-Hero Myth

by Allan Branstiter

IMAGE: BRANDI SIMONS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

This past Tuesday, half-term governor Sarah Palin endorsed fellow reality TV star and demagogue Donald Trump for president of the United States of America. That same day, her son Track, an Iraq war veteran, was arrested for drunkenly assaulting his girlfriend with an AR-15 and attempting to prevent her from reporting it to the police. At a press conference the next day, Sarah Palin addressed “the elephant in the room” and used her son’s alleged domestic violence incident as a platform to blame Obama for not supporting the troops, especially those with PTSD.

“My son, like so many others,” she explained, “they come back a bit different. They come back hardened, they come back wondering if there’s respect for what it is their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military have so sacrificially given to this country.” Remarking that she could “related with other families who can feel these ramifications of PTSD and some of the woundedness our soldiers do return with,” she then turned to Obama as the root of the victimization of American veterans. “It starts from the top,” she concluded, “the question though, that comes from our own president, where they have to look at him and wonder, ‘Do you know what we have to go through?’”

In the days since, many veterans have rejected Palin’s statements. Liberal critics wuickly condemned her overtly partisan manipulation of veterans issues, while others (like Bill Maher) argued that Track’s actions were the product of poor parenting, not combat trauma. Some [see 1, 2] have even gone as far as to argue that Track Palin never saw combat and, therefore, is lying about having PTSD (recent studies have shown that 31% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD, including many who never saw combat). While the response to Palin’s remarks has been almost exclusively negative, she is tapping into a perception among conservatives that Obama and Democrats neither care or understand the military or veterans.

Whether or not Track Palin suffers from PTSD remains unknown. As a veteran who has been treated by the Army and the VA for anxiety issues in the field and at home, I’d hate to attempt to diagnose Palin from afar. However, there are some lessons to be garnered from Palin’s statements that have not been addressed by most observers, namely where her statements come from and their effect on public perceptions of veterans. Most people on the left side of the aisle have dismissed Palin’s remarks as a bald-face and shameless attack on Obama. And yet Palin is tapping into several less obvious ideological and cultural strains regarding the role of veterans in American life.

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"Survivor Heroes" emphasized the victimization of veterans at the hands of abusive civilians while romanticizing revenge, violence, and mental trauma.
“Survivor Heroes” emphasized the victimization of veterans at the hands of abusive civilians while romanticizing revenge, violence, and mental trauma.

Sarah Palin’s statements tap into a long-standing view of the veteran as a “survivor hero.” According to historian and attorney Eric T. Dean in his study of mental trauma during the Civil War and Vietnam War, this mythic image emerged during the antiwar protests of the 1960s and gained additional meaning during the 1970s. Dean points out that by the Reagan presidency, “it became common in the United States to view the Vietnam veteran as beset by a wide range of problems and betrayed by his fellow citizens and government.” This image of the “survivor-as-hero” who fought a war they were not allowed to win and then attempted to piece their lives together in an ungrateful society was popularized by portrayals of veterans like John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) in First Blood (1982), James Braddock (Chuck Norris) in Missing in Action (1984), and the entire cast of A-Team (1983-1987). While cinematic notions of the Vietnam veterans as damaged by war gained notoriety in essentially antiwar movies like Taxi Driver (1976) and The Deer Hunter (1978), the growing popularity of “survivor-as-hero” myth resonated with the “New Patriotism” of the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, the “survivor hero” myth was extended to a new crop of veterans returning home from the First Iraq War. While Americans repeated many of the mistakes from Vietnam in the country’s intervention in the Middle East (for example, believing that technological superiority, a destructive air campaign, and a ground invasion would allow the United States to secure a quick and inexpensive total victory), they were determined not to abuse this new war’s veterans as they believe they had done during Vietnam. Yellow ribbon campaigns were widespread and new “Welcome Home” festivities were planned for Vietnam veterans and Persian War veterans. The ground war in Iraq was quick and relatively bloodless, and friendly-fire incidents and growing rumors of Persian Gulf Syndrome failed to dampen the public’s belief that the victory had healed the old wounds of the Vietnam era. “It’s a proud day for America,” the elder Bush proclaimed, “and, by God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”

The “survivor-as-hero” myth largely went underground during the 1990s, but the specter of Vietnam loomed large in American political life. Americans largely stopped thinking about veterans and the effects of war; however, films like Forrest Gump (1994) continued to portray Vietnam veterans as victims of historical circumstances, while taking a somewhat ambivalent yet nostalgic view of the cultural and social conflicts of the 1960 and 1970s. Racial discord was boiled down to pithy lines like “Sorry I ruined your Black Panther party” and “Mama used to chase coons off the porch with a broom,” while Gump’s relationship with the slain black soldier, Bubba, embodied the Boomer’s belief that they, as a generation and regardless of race, had been victimized by an era they struggled to understand. Misunderstood by society and left to wander the backroads of America in search of meaning, the film ends with the proposition that love (especially in the case of Lt. Dan and his Vietnamese wife) and capitalist enterprise allowed the Vietnam generation to overcome their victimization.

Before and shortly after September 11, 2001, the efforts of Tom Hanks, Steven Speilberg, and Stephen Ambrose presented a heroic image of World War II’s veterans that altered the “survivor-as-hero” myth. In their film Saving Private Ryan (1998) and the miniseries Band of Brothers (2001), the trio presented an image of World War II veterans as righteous warriors fighting and dying for liberty and their comrades-in-arms. These works not only allowed civilians to claim a sense of “true” understanding of war, but an empathetic sense of appreciation for the experiences of veterans. I remember pastors preaching about sacrifice, quoting Hanks as he whispered “Earn this” to a bewildered and potentially undeserving Matt Damon—who served as a stand in for the American people writ large. Inspired by these films and the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Americans adopted a version of the “survivor-as-hero” myth that emphasized the heroic traits of veterans, while aligning all anti-war critics as abusers of troops.

After 9-11, it became easy for Americans to conflate what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” and Time’s “The Next Greatest Generation.” When the U.S. invaded Iraq again in 2003, Americans imbued my generation of veterans with a sense of patriotic and godly virtue. Media sources scoured the front for anecdotes to link the Second Iraq War with the heady memory of World War II. Battlefield baptisms in Kuwait served to link our war to the perceived godly mission and religiosity of our predecessors. Online videos of surprise homecomings gained millions of views, while various Americans (veteran and civilian) promised to give us the hero’s welcome the Vietnam generation was not afforded. Meanwhile, Vietnam vets ate their own in 2004, when the Swift Boat Veterans for Peace helped torpedo John Kerry’s bid for president and called into question the acceptable definition of “veteran.” Meanwhile, the “survivor-as-hero” myth returned in full force as the public began to fixate on what they saw as a growing veterans crisis of unemployment, PTSD, domestic violence, and suicide. Despite the welcome home celebrations, the pro-soldier country music songs, and the widespread insistence that veterans enjoyed the full support of the American people, the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran came to be regarded as a psychiatric victim.

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The "survivor-as-hero" myth has conflated generations of veterans, producing a view that veterans are both traumatized and exceptional.
The “survivor-as-hero” myth has conflated generations of veterans, producing a view that veterans are both traumatized and exceptional.

As Palin’s statement shows, who one believes is truly victimizing veterans depends largely on where one stands politically—clearly, the former governor blames Democrats and Obama in particular. While her willingness to blame the president for her son’s PTSD is disturbing and outrageous, it is important to understand that she is tapping into a extremely widespread and long-standing view of veterans as victims. As described above, Palin and the Right’s view of the veteran as a victimized “survivor hero” dates back to Vietnam.

The experience of the Vietnam War has created a view on the Right that all American veterans are suffering psychologically. To Palin and her ilk, veterans have been continually victimized by Democrats who never served in the military (while those who have are tarred as “fake veterans”). Rather than actually understanding the experience of veterans and PTSD, Republicans would rather repeat a well-worn myth that veterans are constantly in crisis. They blame the government and liberals for putting political interests above the welfare of soldiers (see: Benghazi) and ignoring veterans upon their return home.

What I find most unsettling about Palin’s remarks isn’t so much the fact that she uses PTSD to not only excuse her son’s actions, nor is it her blaming it on President Obama. What bothers me, and what I hope to remedy at least partially here, is the inability of many on the Left to understand why she would make such remarks and why so many on the Right accept them as truths. Since Vietnam, veterans and PTSD have slowly combined to popularize the view of the former as victims. Since 9-11, PTSD has transcended its definition with DSM Manual and become a cultural phenomenon. How people think about PTSD—its causes and effects—are largely shaped by the wholesale adoption of the “survivor-as-hero” myth into American political discourse. During the 1960s and 1970s, psychiatry used PTSD to criticize the military’s attempt to “salvage” traumatized soldiers in order to return them to combat. Later, PTSD was used to attempt to understand war’s effect on the individual soldier and create a more skeptical view of war. Today, PTSD is shaped largely by popular culture and the political Right, and images of veterans silently suffering from invisible wounds has become a useful political football. In most cases, I believe, Republicans have proven to be much more adept at exploiting the myth of the victimized veteran than Democrats.

In modern wars where there are relatively few American casualties, PTSD has become a kind of fetishistic totem. Burdened by the guilt of downplaying and stigmatizing mental trauma among servicemembers, the military has now attacked PTSD with a vengeance. Their response has been confused at times, ranging from over-diagnosis to inaction. Despite the military’s shortcomings, much of the blame for the “veteran’s crisis” is laid upon the Department of Veterans Affairs—an entity seen by most Americans as simultaneously bloated and underfunded. For their part, veterans have been all too willing to blame the VA for the failure of the government to live up to its obligation to their welfare.

Since Vietnam, veterans’ expectations for government assistance ranging from employment, education, medical care, and mental health have increased. Many veterans view themselves as a privileged class due to their collective sacrifice and their continued suffering. In the past, many benefits were limited to those who were physically disabled due to wounds. Since most veterans today were never wounded or even engaged in direct combat, there has been a tremendous amount of pressure (rightfully and wrongly) to expand the definition of sacrifice to include more veterans. Incapable and unwilling to criticize veterans for agitating for more benefits, the American people have embraced the “survivor hero” myth. As a result, we’ve reached a point where every veteran is seen as noble victim entitled to reparations.

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Literal and figurative.
Literal and figurative.

In 1944, sociologist Willard Waller argued that “the veteran is always a powerful political force, for good or evil, because others cannot protect themselves from him. He has fought for the flag and has absorbed some of its mana. He is sacred. He is covered with pathos and immune from criticism.” For decades, conservative Americans have not only imbued veterans with the mythical power of the flag, they’ve also come to think that some of the very same mana has wiped off on them. Empowered as the true defenders of an oft-victimized class of citizen soldier, these hawks are free to characterize wars and those who fight them in terms of their own pleasing.

Veterans are just as culpable as folks like Trump and Palin for the politicization (and commodification) of PTSD and vets more generally; however, there is little incentive for them to challenge the “survivor-as-hero” myth. Just look at the cultural prevalence of anti-liberal (imagined or actual) “survivor heroes” like Marcus Lutrell and Chris Kyle.

The myth of the “survivor-as-hero” myth imbues all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines with the title of “veteran,” regardless of whether they saw combat. Military service is now seen as a “sacrifice,” even though many people continue to view enlistment as a net positive and a chance to gain upward mobility. The myth not only offers veterans with a heroic sense of themselves, it has also provided them with material benefits. Let me be clear, the damaged caused by wars, physically and psychologically, are very much real and often ill-served by the military and the VA. However, the extent to which veterans, their families, and their organizations exploit the “survivor-as-hero” myth to use the image of the victimized veteran in order to cudgel their political foes or position themselves as a kind of new minority class is not above criticism.

The fact remains that a large number of Americans believe that Obama and liberals are inflicting harm upon the country’s veterans. The fact remains a large number of veterans and their families believe that Palin is speaking on their behalf. The fact remains that the Left continues to fail to critique the “survivor hero” myth in any meaningful way because they hope that they, too, will one day be able to reap its rewards. The fact remains that Left-leaning veterans organizations continue to fail at providing a counterpoint to groups like the VFW and American Legion—groups dedicated to using this myth to privilege veterans over other groups. Until we can discuss this myth’s place in American history, culture, and political discourse, those sharing Palin’s sentiments will continue to wield influence over the nation’s foreign policy and view of military service. Failing to take on the myth of the victimized veteran robs vets of their agency, denies the important role they play in our political decisions, and fails those who need assistance the most.

 

Episode 18: Geek Mode

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After an extended holiday break and a couple of special episodes, Agreeing Loudly Coast to Coast returns to establish some normalcy in your podcast listening lives.

Jered, Pat and Bill discuss whether Millennial employees are more or less ethical than previous generations, the Bernie Sanders surge, their most anticipated shows of 2016, and some sports related chaos involving the divisional round of the NFL playoffs and WIAA’s #tauntgate.

Will the Coast to Coast Kids inspire a new generation of loud agreement? Will Pat survive another nerd-filled discussion? Will the podcast be sued out of existence by the WIAA and Donald Trump?

Listen to this week’s episode to find out! Or direct download it instead.

Intro 00:00-3:54

Millennial Musings: Ethics in the Workplace 3:55-11:36

Political Parrots: The Bernie Surge 11:40-26:18

Pop Goes the Culture: Most Anticipated Shows of 2016 26:25-41:15

Sports Round Up: NFL Predictions and WIAA’s #Tauntgate 41:34-54:09

Where to Find Us/Outro 54:15-56:48 

Conversations with the Ghost of America’s Future Past

America's Future Past

by Carson Starkey and Troy M. Olson

The following takes place during the hottest summer on record in the year 2028, breaking the previous record set all the way back in 2027.

On a lonely park bench, somewhere in between Main Street and Evergreen Terrace….

Carson

I suspect that President Rubio’s third round of tax cuts will be as popular as his first two. Who would’ve thought that voters would tolerate combined giveaways of seventeen trillion dollars over four years? And the Iran War? I mean, damn, fifteen trillion over ten years? Again, that seemed unthinkable after what should have been public relations catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But I suppose when we relied on such roundly unpopular candidates like Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo to oppose Republican policies, we got the outcomes that we deserved. I hope Presidential candidate Cory Booker and his Vice Presidential pick Mark Zuckerberg fare better.

Troy

Right. I keep thinking back to a bet I made with a longtime friend, he is a huge history buff and always thought my insistence that there would be a war with Iran was ridiculous because it lacked an appropriate and likely instigating event. But what was the Gulf of Tonkin? WMDs? It’s frustrating to see how incredibly bright people are not prepared rhetorically for what the powers that be want to actually do.

On the subject of Zuck, I think he would be a good strategic pick, although certainly a poor symbol and torch carrier for his generation. Or perhaps the perfect symbol? Simple electoral math tells us that adding up the Northeast and West Coast still gets you a loss. I do appreciate that he is more willing to espouse progressive values openly though. Booker has always been far too cautious. Afraid of offending people. It all started so promising for him with “Street Fight”.. sigh.

Carson

Well, Zuckerberg isn’t really a liberal. He gets in front of a reporter and spews meaningless word salad about innovation. He doesn’t really have a worldview. He has a set of opinions that he thinks are stylish at any given moment. And he believes deeply in “meritocracy” because America rewards people like him. Which is why he and Cory Booker sponsored lots of grift machine charter schools in Newark, New Jersey. Excuse my ferocious concept for Zuckerberg.

Troy

Agreed. I’m not saying Zuck is a great leader of people or anything. In fact, he is not particularly great at anything other than creating a multi-billion dollar company based around the principle that we should all be “peeping Tom’s.” That’s a hard sell, or maybe it’s not a hard sell at all… but credit where it is due.

I have personally observed one success story in charter schools, and it is pretty clear over the last few decades that one success story is all that grift needs to keep up the well-oiled machine running.

Carson

I sure wish that Democrats in the Senate had fought harder to oppose President Rubio’s nationwide privatization plan for metropolitan water supplies. I guess Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer had other priorities than protecting people from lead poisoning. It is a damn shame that so many had to die.

Troy

Protecting people used to be the base level of governance and the state. I’m starting to think all those crazy anarcho-libertarian casuals from college were right. That being said, they are far too insufferable to give credit to. And of course, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Speaking of Schumer, it would be nice if the now-40 year old hipster class would show up during the primary. If we can’t get a progressive and advocate for working families elected in the state of NY the party is truly hopeless. Let the soul searching begin.

Carson

The hipster class talks a good game about social responsibility because they pay for useless shit at Whole Foods. At the same time, they were voting for Daley Jr., Rahm, Hillary, and Schumer. Ask them to pony up for infrastructure or housing integration, and they retreat to platitudes about freedom.

Troy

Right. We diagnosed the problem years ago. We need a better team, but what choice is there? We have no choice but to appreciate the last few white males that still vote for the Democratic Party. It speaks to the power of white privilege that even in their mathematical irrelevancy they still hold sway.

Carson

If only they could be appraised of their situation accurately. Illinois has produced some weird statewide results in the last two decades. Surface lefties in the Senate, but ultra-conservative Mayors and Governors.  Tammy Duckworth has become Durbin’s protege. They’ll have at least two more Republican Governors.

Troy

The sad reality of midterm leftist apathy.

Carson

And a Daley has reclaimed the city as rightful Irish property.

Troy

Ha. We could probably via political Dukes and Earls and economic royalists who fund them, make a map of the privatization of the United States. Replace Chicago with the “Realm of Daley”, etc.

Carson

So many errors. So little party building. Trusting Vice President Castro to take on immigration reform in 2017-18 was also a complete failure, but having that be plan-A, B, and C was the real failure. Too many articles and activists spouting off about “demographic inevitability” after the 2012 election.

Troy

All of this makes me think back to the final year of the Obama administration, if only we knew then how good we had it. And if only the political impacts of his Presidency did not blind millions of American leftists and young people to the importance of party building. Too much emphasis on the Presidency, at the expense of party building. In addition, an irrational belief that the other party saying crazy things will deliver you the Presidency in perpetuity when two-hundred plus years of American history says otherwise. All the wrong takeaways and lessons learned.

Carson

Amen.

What you just read may scare you, I know it scares me.

However, there is still something we can collectively do about it.

We can change the future…. if we try.

The Grift Machine: Episode I – Publicly Funded Sports Stadiums

Taxpayer Funded Sports Stadium Cartoon

by Troy M. Olson

The Rams franchise is heading back to their original city of Los Angeles, leaving the city of St. Louis behind and loyal fans crushed. All of this after the city of St. Louis promised to fund $150 million with more public funding to come from the state of Missouri.

It was a competitive offer and a large amount of the commentary since has been centered around how betrayed these fans feel (understandable) and how the National Football League and their team owners have behaved dishonorably in rejecting that deal to move the Rams to Los Angeles, one of the largest media markets in the country, who have been without an NFL franchise since the 1990’s.

What is lost in all of this is how this is actually the first time in a long while where the most amount of people in these stadium negotiations and deals have won out. Who are these winners? The public.

While it may not be consolation to dry the tears of Rams fans watching their 1999 playoff run on repeat this year, the city of St. Louis now has $150 million more they can allocate toward infrastructure, public safety, utilities, sewer maintenance, public projects, parks, and other areas that are “essential” features of what services are demanded and expected from the taxpaying public. Furthermore, the state of Missouri has millions more to spend on schools, health services, social services, roads, bridges and other infrastructure updates and projects. Those features are societal “needs.” Having an NFL franchise playing in your city, as nice as it is, is a societal “want.”Even that is being generous. Because like so many “grift machines” in American life today, a majority of people do not “want” this.

Simply put, owners have pitted the interests of sports fan’s love for their teams against the interest of the public. In nearly every case, the vocal minority of sports fans have got their way, political leaders could take credit, and the public loses. But the real winner every time is ownership and the league itself. Using threats to relocate the beloved franchise if demands for stadium financing are not met, owners have a stacked deck against both fans and the wider public. In any other factual scenario, especially one between two private actors, we would call this extortion. But since in these instances we have a public entity, either the municipality where the stadium is or would be located and the state potentially contributing funds – it would be fair to call this extortion and misuse of public funds.

It would be one thing if sports stadiums had a positive economic impact, but they don’t. In fact, public subsidies in the form of welfare checks to billionaire sports owners have a negative impact on both the area economy and the budget. Nine out of ten economists agree that public subsidies for sports stadiums is bad. Considering that economists have far less consensus building than scientists do, this agreement among academics and policy analysts is pretty strong.

This is just the latest in a long line of unfortunate episodes of taxpayer funded sports stadiums either in whole or part. Like so many other in American life today issues, it is tantamount to another round of welfare checks to billionaires that goes under-reported, unnoticed, and not acted on by leaders. What makes this issue particularly grating is that this theft of public dollars for private profit is seemingly bipartisan a lot of the time. Big city Democratic mayors and Democratic and Republican Governors have time and again, helped to broker deals to help billionaire sports owners finance new stadiums with public money.

Why? No intellectually honest or accurate assessment could stress the economic benefits, is the answer political? Support from the public? Once again, no.

Most polling for specific publicly funded stadium proposals have not been supported by the public. 69 percent were against public funding in one poll. The most friendly one I could find was in the city of Buffalo, perhaps the most hardcore and loyal football fanbase for an NFL team. The public was split 50/50 on the issue. There simply is no empirical evidence that the public supports taxpayer subsidized stadiums.

For decades the conversation has revolved around team ownership and the league interest, which has been placed ahead of the fans who have in turn been placed ahead of the public interest. For most other issues of heavily public subsidizing of big business, liberals and Democrats are up in arms over it. They have been silent, however, all too often over this issue. But it is the same principle at work. While many Democratic leaders have cowered in the face of billionaire owners threatening to move the team elsewhere, the leader of the party has finally called for some common sense on the issue. He would be right.

For the NFL specifically, the 16 stadiums that held opening games this year saw 3 billion dollars in public funding that will only enable the team ownership to increase the value of the franchise, raise ticket prices, alienate fans and hurt the integrity of the sport, and ultimately, end up with us all right back at the same place, asking for a new public subsidy in twenty years or so. It is time to end this “grift machine.” 

In curbing a world-class, well-oiled, “grift machine” – half-measures like referendums are not the way to go either, because it allows the entrenched interests an opportunity to use their deep pockets and influence the referendum, just like the Koch brothers and many other billionaires use their deep pockets to unduly influence the electoral process in the United States.

There ought to be an Act of Congress; the National Fan Protection and Professional Sports League Integrity Act. This act should lay out a framework to end the possibility of public funding for sports owners or ownership teams unless there is an opportunity for the team to truly become public. Because while teams are (except for the Green Bay Packers, the best franchise in professional sports, and I say this even as a Viking fan, because lets be honest, we’re all jealous of the Packers) privately-owned, they have many public features and become an integral part of many communities. The ownership should reflect this. Or at the very least, public money should not be subsidizing private profit.

Until this day comes, however, and I won’t hold my breath, political leaders (big city Mayors and Governors of both parties) owe it to the public that elected them to serve to say “no” to these taxpayer subsidized stadium boondoggles, even if special interests or a loud minority of sports fans lobby otherwise. It is not that complicated. All it takes is saying “no, pay for it yourself.” All it takes is a little political courage. A quality that is lacking in many political leaders and policy-makers today.

This has been the first in a series of articles on “Grift Machines” that will cover issues that are not necessarily at the top of the National Conversation, but exhibit many of the attributes of what is not working well for the public in terms of policy, economic impact, fairness, and efficient outcomes. 

 

 

Episode 17: Belated Best of 2015

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Now that 2016 is officially underway (let’s be honest, those first two weeks don’t count), the new and improved Agreeing Loudly Coast to Coast crew is ready to reflect on what they liked most about 2015. Jered, Pat, and Bill discuss their favorite moments from politics, pop culture, and sports during a special weekend morning conversation.

What moments, events and media were impressive enough to make the Agreeing Loudly cut? Will Jered be able to stay awake during this episode? Can Pat put aside his distaste for Jered’s favorite hobbies? Will Bill be able survive once the beeping doors of death cut him off from the life giving California rains?

Listen now to find out the answers to these questions and more! If downloading is more your thing download it here!

Intro 0:00-2:15

Millennial Musings: Best of 2015 2:20-13:15

Political Parrots: Best of 2015 13:17-37:39

Pop Goes the Culture: Best of 2015 37:44-1:06:07

Sports Round Up: Best of 2015 1:06:15-1:18:53

Outro/Where to Find Us 1:18:55-1:21:11 

The Hero’s Journey: Meta, Myth, and The Force Awakens

by Troy M. OlsonThe Hero's Journey

First of all,

“Calm down, nerds!” – Wife of the Year runner-up (because my wife won this year)

An amazing response from opening night when a new-to-Star Wars audience member was asking her husband a question related to the expansive and unfolding Star Wars universe and three twenty to thirty-something year-old males in the row behind hyperventiliated and attempted to hush her.

Second of all,

Thank you, Devin Faraci.

And finally, my review:

I enjoyed The Force Awakens, especially upon further viewings.

While it is great to see so many general audience fans excited again for the future of the Star Wars film mythology, canon, and universe; it is mildly annoying to see so many so-called “fans” make non sequitor attacks against the creator of this mythology and film series, George Lucas. There are very few public figures in recent years who have endured more unfair, unrelated, and hyperbolic criticism than the man who created the Star Wars franchise, among other things he has accomplished. At least when political figures are criticized, there are often big things (rights, liberties, livelihoods) at stake.

But I did enjoy The Force Awakens, and the following will focus on what I thought was “good” about it, as well as a passing mention to a few areas that I thought were “bad.” The “ugly” portion has little to do with the film and more to do with certain aspects of the fan base (whether diehard or casual, it’s hard to know exactly).

This film did exactly what the first Disney-era Star Wars film needed to do. First things first,

The Plot:

(Spoiler Alert!! But I feel like there should be a limit to how long someone should be able to play that card).

Act One: the Set-up of the Political Situation in the Galaxy

Poe Dameron puts (Princess Leia) plans into a droid, BB-8 (R2-D2), who goes on a special mission to find Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Ben Kenobi), who has vanished/been in exile for many years. Along the way, the droid stumbles upon our new hero, Rey (Luke Skywalker), on the desert planet Jakku (Tatooine), who then runs into Finn (Han Solo), and they go on an adventure together, eventually leaving Jakku (Tatooine) behind.

Act Two: the Mentor and the Passing on of Knowledge

Our hero Rey (Luke Skywalker), receives mentorship from an older character, Han Solo (Ben Kenobi) who is our connection to the past few decades of events which have occurred off-screen (building of a New Republic and the rise of the First Order or in the case of the original film, the events of what became the prequels).

Before we enter the lead-up to the climax of our story, Han Solo offers our hero, Rey (Luke), a job working with him on the small crew of the Millennium Falcon.

Act Three: Destroying a Super-weapon

The good team, the Resistance (Rebel Alliance), which is more diverse and in touch with nature, and follows the Light Side of the Force, fights against the “machine” Government — the First Order (Galactic Empire), who secretly follow the Dark Side of the Force.

To protect their central base from certain doom after a frightening demonstration of the super-weapon destroys the Hosnian System (Alderaan), Starkiller Base (the Death Star) is attacked and a narrative time-lock is placed on the climatic battle of good vs. evil. Once the plasma of a nearby star is gathered into Starkiller Base, it is ready to fire (once the Death Star clears the planet, it is ready to fire) on our heroes.

The Good:

This is probably the funniest Star Wars film yet. The new characters were great, especially the series’ new protagonist, Rey, portrayed by Daisy Ridley in her first feature-length film. The other new main characters, Finn and Poe, were also wonderfully portrayed by John Boyega and Oscar Isaacs. Everything that was new worked very well in terms of character. Even BB-8, like R2 and Chewbacca before him, worked well in its ability to convey emotion to the audience without any dialogue that the viewer can readily understand. It speaks to the solid, universal, mythical foundations that are at the core of this unfolding saga. While it did not immediately jump out to me on the first viewing, I also am now digging the new Darth Vader, Kylo Ren.

So while the new characters, especially Rey, worked well for me, arguably, a more scrutinized portion of the film was always going to be how the beloved “legacy” characters were handled.

For myself, the most important character isn’t even a character, rather it is the score of John Williams, who is the Mozart of film scores.

The score to The Force Awakens did not immediately jump out at me, although it works really well within the story. After further viewings, I’m happy to report that at 87-years young, Johnny “Baby” (note: John Williams calls everybody “baby” and because he is a jazz musician, that is awesome) still has it. The score was wonderful and operated as its usual companion piece to what has always been a cinematic and visual treat (2D version that is, the 3D version, like all 3D films is just too distracting for me, but I digress).

The characters in the story were handled with the outmost care and respect. Most important, the story decisions made sense. Han Solo was great. The film is elevated to another level the minute Harrison Ford as Han Solo again enters it. Like many of the new characters, Solo was charming and funny. In a way, this is the most Han Solo we have ever seen him. While previous films alluded to his exploits and overall scoundrel-ness a great deal, this is the first time we see him in the middle of an adventure like that on-screen.

Not far from Han Solo is the always-loyal Chewbacca, who shines in this film and serves as an almost R2-D2-esque role in being the sidekick that helps our main characters get out of trouble time and time again.

Princess Leia, although a little light on screen time (I will get into this more later), was very much the character I imagined her to be at this age. She is a fighter and a scrapper, not a Princess or a completely political-figure. It also alluded nicely to the fact that she is very much, still a Force-sensitive and is in tune with the Force, even though she may have never trained as a Jedi officially (does anyone really anymore?). Leia still has it, and her banter with Han, her estranged partner, is both short and snappy (a la Empire). Carrie Fisher does a solid job, especially considering she has not acted in awhile. Beyond the film though, pretty much every statement she made during the press tour was priceless. If you haven’t seen her one-woman show or do not know too much about her when she isn’t playing a space Princess, do yourself a favor and embark on a tour of her witticism.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the continuation of Star Wars without Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The first draft of the 1973 screenplay was titled “From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker” for a reason. Luke’s story or hero’s journey may be over, or passed on to the next generation, but that does not mean his character arc is over. Probably one of the most controversial choices in the story was going to be the way they handled Luke one way or another. At least for this film, I have to say that they knocked this one out of the park. As much as I would have liked to see more of Luke, I completely understand this design decision. When a friend   and co-writer of mine and I were talking about what the story of Episode VII should be, we had trouble coming up with a serviceable story with Luke in it. He overwhelmed the narrative because of the heights we left him at in the previous chronological installment (1983’s “Return of the Jedi”). It makes sense to take him out of the narrative in the present sense and turn him into the over-arcing “MacGuffin” of the plot. Because of his importance via absence, this story decision works really well for this film, and also sets up the next two films in the “sequel trilogy” really well.

Speaking of plot devices, in 2015, “meta” was all the rage. From “Jurassic World” having a character reference how the first park (movie) was the “real deal” to The Force Awakens having C-3P0 referencing people wondering about “his red arm” and how he got it (hint: that was directed at the audience). There were so many fourth wall-breaking references that I lost count. So lets just go macro with it. Each of the major returning characters was in large part, written from a real-world perspective of how the audience sees each actor.

This movie isn’t just the first Star Wars film with the original cast since 1983, for many hardcore fans it was the first time seeing these actors again. It doesn’t matter how many times you remind everyone that Carrie Fisher has been one of the most successful script doctors in Hollywood, and is a very successful memoirist. Or that Mark Hamill has been a very dynamic and prolific voice actor, etc. To so many fans that operate at the pop culture surface level, the tag line of “where is Luke Skywalker?” could very well be “where is Mark Hamill?” Princess Leia being a discredited noble within the New Republic (not the once-solid, now professionally mediocre policy journal but the current intergalactic government situation in the galaxy far, far away) could be seen as a commentary on her being Hollywood royalty (Fisher is the daughter of two movie stars of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”), which she shunned to be a writer and fighter. After all, being the offspring of Darth Vader would have its political obstacles, so it would make more story-sense that Leia is not a viable political figure in this galaxy anymore.

My favorite meta commentary is that of Harrison Ford, the only original star that never seemed to love his or her association with these movies. “You’re Han Solo” asks our heroine Rey, “I used to be”, replies Ford, I mean Solo. It’s super corny, but it is in-season and it works very well in this film. Because like the original film, we need a Star Wars in our lives. It is fun. It can be deep if you want it to be, but it can also just be a fun and thrilling adventure. The world is depressing enough at times. We all deserve to go into the theater and go on a journey into our imaginations.

Star Wars is successful because it taps into a very deep and psychological human need, not just to be entertained and delighted, but it speaks to our need for mythology. Our need to explain and understand the world.

The most important question I had going into this as a film fan, and a Star Wars fan, the question that needed to be answered in the affirmative for me to enjoy it was: Does The Force Awakens feel like a genuine continuation of the enthralling and endlessly compelling mythology told via the medium of film, as created all those years ago by George Lucas?

For me at least, it did feel like the genuine continuation.

The Bad: 

LA Times has one of the more negative reviews of the film I have seen and they bring up some interesting points. I don’t want to stress the bad too much, it has been repeated elsewhere by people who get paid to make these observations or opinions. I’m a film and Star Wars fan at the end of the day, so I’ll keep it brief (note: my version of brief).

No surprise given my deliberate description of the plot, The Force Awakens is highly derivative. It is so derivative that Lucas should have probably been given a “Story by” credit in addition or instead of the “Based on characters created by” credit. Speaking of Lucas, now that he has settled into a Gene Roddenberry post-season 2 of Next Generation-role, I could not help but notice the lack of the distinctive visual styling with shot composition and inventiveness, as well as the world-building of the narrative (mostly in terms of the stakes at hand: what are the politics? factions?)

Part of the weaknesses could be a course-correction gone too far. The more likely scenario though, the film was trying to replicate the original Star Wars as much as possible, and years of subsequent releases of further information and detail of this beloved galaxy have blinded us to the fact that if you just sit down and watch the original Star Wars without any other knowledge of anything, it is very similar to how little information you get in The Force Awakens. Chalk it up to perception and the “mystery box” at work.

The Ugly:

Nothing to do with the actual film itself was ugly, however:

The marketing campaign was cynical in certain aspects (constantly reminding fans of all the practical effects used, etc.), certain segments of the fandom’s treatment of Lucas continues to be embarrassing to watch, and some in the media picking up on the most negative aspects of Star Wars fandom is unfortunate (example: a few lone trolls and hateful people saying outlandish comments knowing the gullible and clickbait-based internet news media will pick it up).

The Bottom Line: 

Ultimately, who cares what I say, because the results and bottom line speaks for itself. This new Star Wars film is the most successful since the original Star Wars. That’s right, it may be blasphemous to say it, but The Force Awakens is already more of a phenomenon than The Empire Strikes Back, objectively speaking. Although, the original will no-doubt still hold the top spot (and probably always will).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Box Office Mojo: The Force Awakens broke the all-time domestic record and is on track for top-2 or 3 worldwide all-time record. It recently surpassed the adjusted for inflation box office of The Phantom Menace to become the 2nd most successful Star Wars film at the box office but has some work to do to top the original Star Wars, which itself has benefitted from re-releases to be fair.

Academy Awards: will likely become the most nominated Star Wars film since the original film.