Fear and the Dark Side
Yoda: "Remember, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny."
- Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
If there's one underlying theme that emerges from the 2016 Election Year, it's the use of fear to promote problematic narratives. For many Americans, the fear is real: fear of terrorism, of mass shootings, fear of economic instability. In a 24-hour news cycle, online news, and the perpetuation of "fake news" on social media, it's become difficult to separate fact from fiction.
The sensationalist nature of the media cycle - one of the evils of having a media that relies on revenue, ratings, and clicks - means that mass shootings perpetrated by Muslims get significantly more coverage (despite fewer incidents) than ones committed by Caucasian males. This, despite the fact that the latter are often committed by those adhering to truly dangerous ideologies: whether Christian religious extremism (Robert Dear, who killed 3 people and wounded 9 others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado) or white nationalism (Dylann Roof, who murdered 9 people in a black church in South Carolina).
Kernels of fear pervade the story of Anakin Skywalker, who would grow up to become Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies. As a young slave, Anakin must have experienced abuse and trauma not portrayed on screen. He is separated from his mother, and fears for her constantly, only to return to find all his fears realized when she dies in his arms in Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The same fear - for the safety of his pregnant wife, Padmé Amidala - leads Anakin down a dark path that strongly parallels many of the choices we make every day as Americans. Just as Vader craves more power to ensure the safety of his family - only to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that ends up killing his family - so too have Americans acquiesced to a powerful national security state, subjecting ourselves to mass surveillance, infringements of our privacy, and dangerous threats to our fundamental rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. In the process of protecting ourselves - in costly wars we should never have fought and international entanglements we should never have entered into - we have created the manifestation of our own fears. And the cycle continues.
Only in 2016, we've done something far more dangerous. We've allowed the dark side of the Force to take over, and while - like the Galactic Senate in the Star Wars prequels - our Congress is dysfunctional and the establishment on both sides of the aisle is ineffectual, what we have no is far worse. Ladies and gentlemen, with the election of Donald Trump and his cabinet of white supremacists, Islamophobes, anti-Semites, and ultra-nationalists, we've handed over the reins of power to Emperor Palpatine.
It's time to Jedi some shit up.