By Anna Merlan
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We live in wondrous times indeed if a bug-eyed amphibian who sways when he ought to swagger is the new enemy within. Meet Jar Jar Binks, the latest cosmic critter to emerge from the Star Warsmerchandising mill. This loveable Gungan, who tags along with the Jedi knights as they sally forth against evil, was supposed to pull in the kiddies and he's fit for the task, with bulbously cute features that pop out at you from the shelves of Kmart. But the team that dreamed up this creature must have drawn its focus groups from a distant planet. Here in earthbound America, Jar Jar has become a flash point for misgivings about The Phantom Menace. Not since Michael Jackson has an alien raised such hellacious hackles.
"A Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hoofs, crossed annoyingly with Butterfly McQueen": that's how Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal's film critic, describes Jar Jar and he's hardly alone. Critics across the country have complained about racial stereotyping in The Phantom Menace, sending the marketers at Lucasfilm into a disavowing tizzy. ''Star Wars is a fantasy movie set in a galaxy far, far away, [whose denizens] speak in various dialects, tongues, beeps, and synthetically created voices," the company contended in a statement last week. "To dissect this movie as if it has a direct reference to the world that we know today is absurd."
A bit disingenuous for a director who never met a movie-serial trope he didn't like. But this time, George Lucas has done the days of Tonto and Sabu proud. There's the elephant-nosed merchant who haggles with a Semitic accent, and the villainous Trade Federation whose agents sound like Ming the Merciless. But no character in The Phantom Menace has drawn more fire than Jar Jar Binks, and not just because he behaves like a disembodied darkie. Morgenstern's quip about crossing Stepin Fetchit with Butterfly McQueen betrays the real anxiety, which has less to do with racial dissing than with gender bending. Even C-3PO is perturbed by Jar Jar. "I find that creature to be a little odd," sniffs the prissy Droid. "He's very odd, indeed."
Meanwhile, on the Internet, where every rumor is its own domain, word is out: Jar Jar is gay and that being the case, naturally he must die. About a dozen sites with this mission have popped up since The Phantom Menaceopened last month. There's Kill Jar Jar, Jar Jar Binks Must Fucking Die!, and the International Society for the Extermination of Jar Jar Binks. There are pleas for Lucas to cut the Gungan sissy out of his film, instructions for deleting him from your own DVD version, and a poll in which the option heavily favored by Netizens is "Jar Jar must die by my own hand."
Why the murderous rage? The most common explanation is that Jar Jar is "annoying." But the real story is inscribed in the hate pages that feature sexual fantasies about this aggravating alien. On one site, a nude drawing of his lanky frame comes with a circle around the missing genitals and the caption "Well, that figures." More common is the image of Jar Jar as a rapacious pansy out of Brian De Palma. Visit Jar Jar Binks Ate My Balls and you'll discover that this cosmic queer has "fiended for balls every second of each waking day," using his long, darting tongue to grab the tasty testes from "10 clicks away." It's no surprise that Jar Jar's ultimate dream is to "eat Jedi testicles."
Of course, this is harmless hyperbole of the sort that makes the Internet so hip and cool. Or is it? Click on Jar Jar Sucks and it's déjà vu all over again, especially if you're old enough to remember the heroic campaign that went by the motto "Disco sucks!" This music of the gay emergence was also called annoying, not to mention banaland boring. At the height of the crusade, thousands of righteous guys participated in Disco Demolition Night after a ball game, burning records and sparking a riot. We're much more civilized now; the attack is purely digital, but the mission hasn't changed. Croons there a baby-faced boy band whose appeal to young girls hasn't inspired real men to out its members?
There are temples in the culture where the sacred codes of manhood are kept, and these tabernacles must be defended against the odious Unmen. Dennis Rodman, Ricky Martin, Jar Jar Binks: these defilers and their ilk must fucking die! (Think this is just a fantasy? Last week, a high school student in Massachusetts had the word homocarved into his back by two classmates. His crime, according to the suspects, was liking "a gay band" Queen.)
Star Warsis the ultimate Temple of Dude. It takes place in a Yankee Doodle universe, where the heroes speak American, the sages have British accents, the aliens seem oddly "ethnic," and the villains would make Hitler's haberdasher drool. This is a man's cosmos, organized in a rigid (but just) hierarchical order. "Always two there are," says wise old Yoda from his chair at the all-male Jedi Council: "a master and an apprentice." Jedis rule by right over "pitiful life forms" (in Obi-Wan Kenobi's words), while hooded blackguards covet their power and princesses adore them.