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It’s A Shame Nobody Can Just Talk About How Bad The Acolyte Is

There's a bad TV show buried under all this excruciating 'discourse'

The Acolyte

Few things will make you more aware of how rancid online discourse has become than the headlines and discussions surrounding The Acolyte, the latest Star Wars show. It has well and truly become a culture wars flashpoint, not just between racist chuds and normal people, but normal people and Star Wars weirdos as well.

The toxic vibes have driven me away from all discussion about the show. I don't want to read reviews, I don't want to see tweets, I don't even want to talk to people in real life about this. The madness--going so far as sparking a controversy over a character's date of birth being edited on a wiki--has driven me very close to the edge:

All of which is a shame, because I want to talk about The Acolyte. I want to talk about how much it sucks! But I want to talk about the very normal ways that it sucks, and the wider internet has become such a cesspit that I don't feel like there are many spaces where I feel like I can have that discussion. So let's try it in here.

This is a bad television show. It has the energy of a daytime soap. Of a mildly competent fan film put together by cosplayers who know a guy who once did some VFX work on Babylon 5. From the flimsy sets to the crisp clothing to the sparse locations, it's cheap. The themes and ideas it's grasping at--the imperfection of the perfect Jedi Order, the elusive nature of the force--are admirable in their intent (which is seemingly enough for many critics) but executed shoddily.

The acting--despite a very capable cast!--is cardboard even by Star Wars standards, with Amandla Stenberg and Manny Jacinto the only exceptions, and every little twist or mystery it tries to pull on us (aside from Carrie Ann Moss' disappearing act) could be seen coming from miles away. These are all very valid complaints to make as someone engaging in some drive-by criticism of a TV show set in the world's premier fictional universe and made by a company worth billions. This is Disney, this is Star Wars, there's no reason for it to be this shoddy!

These are my primary takeaways from this show, but you know as well as I do that they're not what most people online are talking about. One side in a culture war has chosen this TV show about space wizards as a battleground, and so the other has met them there in defence. The wider discussions about The Acolyte, ostensibly a TV show, have thus become something else, not really about the series itself at all. It's no longer a fun little diversion in a fiction universe that people can tune into for 40 minutes a week. It has become a target for some, and a banner to rally under for others.

I'm not here to yuck someone else's yum; if you are enjoying The Acolyte for what it is--a breezy jaunt through an under-explored era of Star Wars lore--that's cool! This blog is not my review of The Acolyte. What I do want to talk about is how annoying and even dangerous it is that hateful criticism of this show has been elevated out of the depths of social media and onto websites that millions of otherwise regular human beings read, helping poison almost every visible interaction about it. Many of these are websites that, ten years into an online culture war, should know better:

I would bet $100 that most people found out about the "controversy" not by being frothing racist assholes on social media, but by reading about it on otherwise normal websites that are under no obligation to provide a platform for it

I'm tired of the way this discourse is continually framed and given oxygen, to the point that the thing so many folks are associating with this show is its "controversy", and not the show itself. We've been inundated with headlines for the past month about The Acolyte, pointing out the "division", listing bullet points behind the "hate", about space lesbians, and lore retcons, and it's like...we don't have to do this? Websites don't have to take this silly little TV show, which isn't even very good, and play a significant role in elevating it to the status of cultural flashpoint.

People who don't like a TV show because it stars a black woman are not worth speaking to. People who send death threats about wiki edits, or scream that the lore of a fictional movie series is suddenly inconsistent, are not worth listening to. User reviews, an entirely flawed premise, are not a serious subject matter. We don't have to "both sides" every piece of cultural work that hits the spotlight when one of those sides is an extreme, hateful, minority view. It's a failure of journalism; it failed us with the climate, it failed us with fascism, and it's failing us here. The media is under no obligation whatsoever to entertain the childish rage of a generation of (mostly) men who have turned Star Wars into a personality trait.

Star Amandla Stenberg put out this Instagram video as a response to not just the racist attacks on her and the show, but divisive media coverage of the whole mess as well

These people are losers. The journalists, critics and editors are doing the works those losers are angry about--and the people they place in the firing line--an enormous disservice by giving them a platform.

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