Saddam as Darth Vader: New Scientist and Tate Gallery Ponder Connections

Over at New Scientist, a fascinating article on a fascinating Tate Gallery, London, exhibition about the effect of pop culture–particularly Star Wars–on the late Saddam Hussein.  At first, you chuckle.  Then you hear some of the parallels–and you may still chuckle.

Saddam had an unpublished fantasy novel (which I’m dying to read now!  Can you imagine that hitting the market–a Fantasy novel by Saddam Hussein??) and a few more than coincidental leanings towards the dark figure.  However, from the article in New Scientist, the threads are thin.  I would have loved seeing more than a few stretches of metaphorical underpinnings to Saddam’s tactics and beliefs.  While the helmets are a nice touch; as they prove to be Vaderish, so are WW2 gasmasks….  and we aren’t making Hitler/Darth connections (though I would say that Darth was modeled after Hitler, obviously— Brown Shirts and Stormtroopers, no stretch there).  Since the Darth mask was most probably modeled on a gasmask, I think the Gallery is taking a bit of liberty to say that Saddam had a Darth-fetish.  

Consider this point the author, Jessica Griggs, makes:

Could this all be coincidence? Perhaps, but you’ll be convinced otherwise once you’ve read about Sadaam’s private militia’s uniform. Before his son, Uday, handed over control of the Fedayeen Sadaam (translation: “Saddam’s Men of Sacrifice”) to his younger brother he wanted to give his father something to remember his work by. So he presented Saddam with their new uniform: black shirt, black trousers and a ski-mask over which a strikingly Darth Vader-esque helmet was placed.

It seems more likely that Uday had a Star Wars ideal in mind for his father–since there are few other instances of Star Warsian artifacts.  The upraised swords is, at best, coincidental, made more science fiction-y by the artist who makes the swords into light sabers.  The “lurid” fantasy posters are from a different genre of literature.  The fact that the artist is a friend of the person who designed the poster for Star Wars is called a streeeeetch.  The paintings in Saddam’s “Safe House” were both by a fantasy artist.  The link here. 

It’s a stretch to see these fantasy paintings connected to Darth Vader of science fiction.  Yep, Saddam might have been a fan of fantasy/science fiction…but beyond that is the artist’s license. 

It is not unbelievable that science fiction pop culture might have an influence on dictators.  Certainly their heroes have a powerful pull on the Western World; couldn’t their powerful dictators be enamored by fellow dictators?   Since few of them survive in Science fiction past their novel series, I don’t think ANYONE would want to model an empire on them.  

Unless, of course, you can make sure that you have no plucky twins, rescued and hidden at birth, lurking somewhere in the galaxy, ready and waiting to upset your glorious domination.

Now, I want to see the article on Saddam Hussein’s fantasy novel.

Bringing Star Wars to the Research Station: Part I

Part I:  A New Thought

And now you will witness the full power of this        
         station….” General Tarkington, Star Wars: Episode   
         IV, A New Hope



Bronwyn Goodwin shows the power of the X-Wing Fighter kite at KLRS
Bronwyn Goodwin shows the power of the X-Wing Fighter kite at KLRS

As a science fiction writer embedded now as a science writer at a northern research station, I thought my job was pretty clear: bring northern science to a larger audience through whatever means were at my disposal.  Blogs, Facebook, press releases, radio series.  But then I found out that a few people there had not seen Star Wars.   Suddenly, my best, natural personality came to the fore.  I had a new mission: Bring science fiction to scientists.


While science fiction might be easily dismissed by those working in scientific fields, it is often the first place that the average person learns about scientific concepts like graviton waves, geodesic folds, Dyson spheres, and quantum mechanics.  It can also be a first introduction to Shakespeare, to history, to world cultures, and to understanding the alien—those different than us.  But it is also a huge asset when it comes to igniting the imagination about science and about the future.  In this way, fiction about science, or even science writing, aids the cause of science—by compelling the average person to both think about science now, and think about science as part of our future.

Star Wars: a New Hope was aptly named.   In 1977, it transformed the movie industry, making possible special effects that matched our imaginations.  And it also introduced science fiction to the masses of non-science fiction readers—making science fiction mainstream.  Star Wars was nominated for 10 academy awards, and won six of them, including Best Musical Score.  Of course, everyone reading this knows this.  We grew up with Star Wars.

But Bronwyn Goodwin, age 8, did not, and neither did her mother, Sian Goodwin, both raised at a Research Station.

This is hardly to their disadvantage—imagine having brilliant scientists traipsing through your living room on their way to amazing science exploits, and having your dad be the pilot that takes them up to many of the highest peaks in North America.  But they missed what turned out to be a seminal cultural event in Western Culture.  Star Wars entered into our collective psyche in the eighties and has re-emerged in many forms—whether it’s Reagan’s Star Wars defense system, or the idea of being “turned to the dark side” as a reference for negative behavior.  The characters are well known to us—Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2. 

But there was a certain glee in bringing Star Wars to two people who had never been exposed to it.  And eventually, the audience at the research station grew…

Continued in Part II….

Star Wars Barbershop: Moosebutter and Corey Vidal

Corey Vidal and Moosebutter were nominated for the People’s Choice Awards for Vidal’s video rendition of Moosebutter’s song. Moosebutter is an acapella group, and they took several of John William’s soundtrack themes and wrote Star Wars lyrics to them. What’s ironic, now, is that whenever I hear John Williams’ Indiana Jones theme, I think of Star Wars—“Fly the Fal-CON through an as-ter-oid!” and when I hear Jaws, I think, “Wooooo-KIE, Woooooo-KIE; Some-one get this walk-ing car-pet.” Fitting, perhaps, because John Williams is identified with Star Wars —and while we may remember all these great themes, I wonder if when we hear them, we say: Williams also wrote the Star Wars theme. Notice that Moosebutter doesn’t sing anything from Star Wars but you feel as if you’ve heard that theme too. An Aural Illusion, or an Aural Allusion. Hmmm.


Corey got a lot of flack for lipsynching to Moosebutter’s song—but if you look at Youtube right now, there are hundreds of imitators of Vidal’s video. Though scolded for being unoriginal, Vidal brought a new form–the Brady Bunch Look Four Part Harmony Video. He deserves credit for the form, as well as the idea to take Moosebutter’s song and put it in a popular venue like Youtube. In many ways, Vidal has bumped up the recognition of Moosebutter’s songs–like a mass market ad campaign. In the same way a commercial that borrows a song from an obscure group can suddenly bring attention to that group, Corey brought attention to Moosebutter. The video received more than 3 million hits. Moosebutter thought it was great, and rumor has it, they have a contract with Warner Music–which may be why the video on this blog entry might not work. Moosebutter gave Corey their blessing to do the video–and Corey gave his blessing to the Video Response that Moosebutter made. Corey even put it on his Youtube showcase so it would get as many hits.  Vidal, in the end, was showcasing his video talents–what he could do with an interesting song. This is the heart, by the way, of Creative Commons License—and lookie there, the attention got people a big contract!  Woo-hoo!  (Except there’s bound to be more control on HOW things are distributed, shown, played with….)

Anyway, reception of creativity is often just as interesting as the creativity itself.

And for Contrast: The Empire Goes Slack

In my blog entry/movie review “On Clones and The Clone Wars” I try to make the argument that the movie fails as an adult product–of which Star Wars had amassed millions of fans (not just sci-fi fans, but folks who grew up with the series as a defining part of their childhood, and a cultural reference)–but succeeds as a kid’s product, which is what it intended to do.

For more on the end of Star Wars fandom read this from the New York Times:

The Empire Goes Slack

Let me once again reiterate that the audience for this film was kids.  Unfortunately, the audience really ready for the film was made up of adults with much higher expectations (and a lot of pent up impatience from having two bad films precede this)–and frankly it matters more to them that Lucas pay attention to them, the loyalists, rather than pandering to a new set of toy-buying kids.   Lucas blundered here, yes.

However, can you imagine a kid’s series on TV with a better universe to play with, better settings, better graphics (minus the marionette characters) ?  Yep, those characters we loved have had the final bits of real character squeezed from their puppet forms…but perhaps Lucas is hoping that the kids will discover the Star Wars movies again.  Maybe Clone Wars is a metaphorical giant hand with fingers pointing back to Episodes 1-6, even as another finger points to the Wal-mart toy shelves.

So, your kids might be benefiting from Lucas’ franchise and cleverness, while the jilted adults are smoldering in the back room.