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Real Threat of 'Clones' Is Its Campy Perspective

June 03, 2002|ROGER KAUFMAN

Although many critics have cruelly attempted to destroy it, "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones" is actually a breathtaking cinematic achievement. By synthesizing epic archetypal themes with gut-churning special effects and the gay theatrical tradition of high camp, George Lucas has created a potent and disturbing commentary on our own bloated and blind American society.

Just as Oscar Wilde skewered the hypocrisies of the Victorian bourgeoisie while providing them with irresistible entertainment, so Lucas has used his formidable imagination to show us that the supposed pillars of American culture have fallen into shambles, while a growing, unconscious group-mindedness, systematic wastefulness and destructive militarism are rising toward a terrible, inevitable crescendo.

It is no accident that Lucas and his most obvious gay character, Jar Jar Binks, have been so pummeled in the press, in ways that could be seen to parallel Wilde's public humiliation upon the discovery of his homosexuality. For many in modern America, the truly subversive and frightening import of a very campy "Attack of the Clones" is deeply threatening, provoking intensely defensive reactions, which can be seen, for example, in Kenneth Turan's withering review of the film ("When We Last Saw Our Heroes ...," May 13) and columnist Patrick Goldstein's recent slam against Lucas ("Seclusion Has Left Lucas Out of Touch," May 21).

Much of what these two writers say must literally be reversed in order to achieve a more accurate appreciation of "Attack of the Clones"--and is more appropriately used in its original form to describe the writers themselves. Thus, Turan's claim that the new film "doesn't have much of a heart" indicates his own coldness toward its deeper meaning. And Goldstein's statement that the film has "no soul or spirit" sounds like it could be more truthfully a projection of some unexamined emptiness and alienation in him. Surely it does not describe the awesome experience of watching "Attack of the Clones" for those who more fully appreciate the film.

What Turan, Goldstein and many others have failed to understand is that the style of dialogue and acting in "Attack of the Clones" is intentionally campy, a subversive mode of performance that gay people have used for centuries to express their outsider perspective on the dominant culture.

Exemplified by Wilde in his own colorful personality and such plays as "The Importance of Being Earnest," camp has been described by writer Joshua Glenn as "engaged irony." It is a unique and incisive way to expose problematic human behaviors while simultaneously having empathy for the subjects of the critique. Now it has achieved a new kind of meaningful prominence in "Attack of the Clones." Although camp is often humorous, it can also be unsettling, even dark, and always has something serious to say at heart. In "Attack of the Clones," Lucas uses camp in subtle ways to comment on the attitudes and actions of his characters.

The young lovers Padme and Anakin may be courting one another on the far-off planet of Naboo, but it is our own culture's cliched honeymoon images of Venice and Niagara Falls that Lucas is visually quoting here to bracket the romance and to tip off moviegoers that he is being campy. When Padme tells Anakin that "I truly, deeply love you," they are immediately greeted by an arena full of jeering sentient insects, another Lucas tip-off to viewers about his true intent: ridiculing their irresponsible descent into unconscious union.

The lovers' dialogue is purposely lifted from soap operas and Harlequin romances to highlight the stultifying cultural effect of this attitude toward romance. Here Lucas is exposing the destructive machinery of an American culture that coerces human beings to blindly imitate and conform to smarmy, shadowless images of heterosexual romance, with terribly destructive and soul-killing results. Our heroine Padme finds herself soothing and eventually marrying a budding mass murderer.

Likewise, in modern America so many people get married and have children without realizing that they barely know themselves or their spouses, with insidious consequences.

Lucas does not limit his critique to unconscious heterosexual romance, but also uses subtle styles of camp to highlight the imperfections of our most beloved Jedi knights in their role as leaders. Even the spry new digital Yoda, who knows something is terribly wrong in the galaxy, cannot see that he is being played like an old puppet by his supposed ally, Chancellor Palpatine. Likewise, we modern Americans allow our "elected" chief executive to claim "sole superpower" status against a so-called "axis of evil" and witness now another corporate-military-industrial buildup that rivals even the imagined one portrayed in "Attack of the Clones."

At the same time, Americans consume and pollute at a rate far beyond the planet's ultimate capacity while paying only lip service to protecting the environment.

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