Weekend Reads: Star Wars & Toxic Fan Culture, the Search for Dark Matter, Understanding Flat Earthers, M*A*S*H & more

Also: A kung fu movie legend, American and Japanese culture, a new music streaming service, the royal wedding, and alexithymia.
Rose Tico
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico

After subjecting her to months of racist and sexist comments, some Star Wars ​“fans” have apparently driven actress Kelly Marie Tran (who played Rose Tico in The Last Jedi) off Instagram. ​“One fan-run Twitter account does not a solid source make, so we can’t say for sure that Tran really did delete her Instagram posts because of harassment. But we do know there’s been some pretty vicious racism directed at both Tran’s character Rose and at Tran herself.”

In Tran’s treatment, Charles Pulliam-Moore argues more needs to be done to shut down vitriolic fan behavior. ​“There’s the idea that explicitly addressing a fandom’s bad behavior could have the unintended effect of backfiring and ultimately end up hurting a movie’s bottom line. But by ignoring it completely, studios (or other entities) send the message to the rest of the fandom that the abuses fans are suffering at the hand of their peers is not a concern.”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Rian Johnson
The film that apparently ruined the Star Wars franchise

Why do some fans become so filled with hate and vitriol in the first place? ​“Everyone has a right to opinions about movies. Everyone has a right, I guess, to throw those opinions in the face of the people who make those movies, though it does seem at minimum impolite. Everyone has the right to ask transnational entertainment companies to make the movies they want, and if those companies don’t respond, to stop giving the companies money. But harassment, threats, jokes about someone’s race or gender?” I love being a nerd but I’ve really come to hate nerd culture.

Is American culture going the way of Japanese culture? “[Japan’s] Lost Decades represented a ​‘turning away from outward expressions of fashion.… The idea of personal fulfillment became the product, with things like foods, dining out, and leisure experiences rising to the forefront.’ If this sounds familiar, it is because the same pattern is now repeating among America’s millennials. Some call it the ​‘experience economy.’ Others call it ​‘post-materialism.’ But this great turning inward in the face of economic uncertainty could just as accurately be called Japanization.”

Chinese Super Ninjas
The super ninjas themselves

Sean Gilman reviews some of the best films made by legendary kung fu director Chang Cheh. ​“An extraordinarily prolific director, credited with 76 films during his 1967 – 1982 heyday at the Shaw Brothers studio, Chang was the defining director of the era, establishing many of the dominant modes of the wuxia and kung fu genres, as well as launching the careers of dozens of stars, choreographers and directors.” Chang directed one of my favorite kung fu films of all time, Five Element Ninjas aka Chinese Super Ninjas.

Members of The National and Bön Iver are starting a new ​“artist-directed” music streaming service. ​“What that means is that People — the platform — will not be a home for big exclusives, for must-listen Mondays, for tomorrow’s hits today. It’s a place where artists can place their unfinished work, their ephemera, the stuff that doesn’t fit into their main body of work, but which they feel has worth.”

Outer Space
What’s in all of that space?

Scientists have been looking for dark matter for decades, and they’re no closer to figuring out what it is. ​“Time and time again, these experiments come up empty handed. Most recently, the scientists at the XENON1T experiment, a literal ton of super-sensitive liquid xenon, didn’t find the signal they were looking for after a nine-month search. Nor has the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland, managed to turn up anything. So, you might wonder, what are we looking for and why? And why are the world’s physicists so deeply divided about what ​‘dark matter’ could be?”

Why, in the face of science, engineering, and common wisdom, do people become Flat Earthers? ​“The reward is existential solace. This, I came to understand, was the real draw, the thing that could make, say, an unemployed clerical worker drive twelve hours, alone, from Michigan to Raleigh. To believe in a flat Earth is to belong not only to a human community but to sit, once again, at the center of the cosmos.”

M*A*S*H
The gang of the 4077th

My son recently used his lemonade stand earnings to buy me two M*A*S*H DVDs for Father’s Day, which a) shows that I have great kids and b) is as good a reason as any to share this article I wrote about the classic TV series. ​“M*A*S*H wasn’t just a great comedy; it was also a thoughtful and touching exploration of the human condition, and as an added bonus, features an extraordinary depiction of publicly living out one’s faith in a fallen world.”

Why were Americans, of all people, so fascinated with the royal wedding? ​“By all rights, Americans shouldn’t much care about the nuptials of the second son of a long-deceased foreign princess and her husband, the heir apparent of Britain, but the numbers tell a different story: 29.2 million Americans tuned in to watch the wedding, with many more viewing it afterward on streaming services. The verdict is in: We care, not just about Harry and Meghan’s love story, but about royalty itself.”

People with alexithymia have profound struggles with identifying and describing their emotions. ​“Happiness isn’t the only emotion that Stephen struggles with. Excitement, shame, disgust, anticipation, even love… he doesn’t feel these, either. ​‘I feel something but I’m unable to distinguish in any real way what that feeling is.’ The only emotions he is familiar with are fear and anger.”