Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars’


Political correctness recently broke out in Brisbane, Australia. Officials at a writers festival were so upset with novelist and keynote Lionel Shriver (The Mandibles), “they censored her on the festival website and publicly disavowed her remarks,” according to the New York Times. What horrific things did she say?

“Ms. Shriver criticized as runaway political correctness efforts to ban references to ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation from Halloween celebrations, or to prevent artists from drawing on ethnic sources for their work.” (“Lionel Shriver’s Address on Cultural Appropriation Roils a Writers Festival,” Rod Nordlund, 9-12-16). Re artists, some people believe that white authors should not create non-white characters. Ms. Shriver disagrees. “She deplored critics of authors like Chris Cleave, an Englishman, for presuming to write from the point of view of a Nigerian girl in his best-selling book ‘Little Bee.’”

Right on, Lionel! Like Incendiary, Cleave’s first novel, Little Bee is fabulous. Little Bee, the Nigerian girl who Cleave created, exhibits biting humor and remarkable courage. She offers a different perspective on England—one well worth examining. Oh, and Cleave creates sympathetic white Britons, as well—women as well as men.

Political correctness seems to demand that authors, playwrights and screenwriters create segregated worlds. Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn) and William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner) would be long forgotten. But all writers would pay the price. The Good Lord Bird by African-American James McBride would have its wings clipped since the white abolitionist John Brown plays a prominent role. Sherman Alexi, the Native American writer, would have to eliminate whites though they’re integral to his novels and stories.

Amy Tan? Imprisoned in Chinatown and the Middle Kingdom. Englishman Tom Rob Smith’s magnificent Child 44 set in Russia? Nyet! The late Bernard Malamud’s stories set in Italy with a Jewish protagonist and all those Italians? Bury the Italians. I’m sure I can find enough people to say Kaddish.

The foolishness never ends. Jewish Steven Spielberg directed the film version of The Color Purple with a screenplay by the Dutch-born Menno Meyjes. Scandalous! The Broadway smash Hamilton features minority actors playing America’s white founding fathers and mothers—and rapping. Man (and woman) the barricades! Then there’s earthling George Lucas creating all those aliens in Star Wars. Talk about intergalactic cultural insensitivity!

Let’s get real. Writers tell stories by drawing on their experiences with people of all ethnicities. They observe. They do research. And they imagine. Good writers create characters of any ethnicity who reveal human nature at its best and worst.

I don’t restrict my characters to Jews. Specifically, Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. Specifically, men. Specifically, old men. In Flight of the Spumonis, the street kid Jimmy Q represents four different ethnicities, one of them Jewish. Do I get a pass? The private eye Moonbeam Cherney is a woman but Jewish. Cut me some slack? In my newest novel, the powerful executive director of a major museum, the holder of law and MBA degrees, is Black. Have I crossed a forbidden boundary?

Sure, we could purge our libraries, bookstores, Amazon and homes of all books guilty of cultural appropriation. But then we’d appropriate the cultures of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, China and much of the Middle East. And our shelves would be bare.

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As a kid, the televised run of the 1936 Flash Gordon sci-fi serial with Buster Crabbe fascinated me—particularly the contrast of technology (rocket ships, two-way TV) and medieval environments. Today’s world maintains that contrast—including here in America.

When I was growing up, the U.S. had TV, satellites, manned space flights and, yes, hydrogen bombs. At the same time, many countries couldn’t provide their people with clean water and indoor plumbing. George Lucas, only two months older than me, presented the same complex meld of technology and ancient cultures in the first Star Wars. I recall Luke Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi taking Luke’s anti-gravity landspeeder into the desert. They’re attacked. Luke believes Sand People to be responsible. Obi-wan tells him that the shots fired at them were too precise; the Sand People lack discipline and frighten easily. Imperial storm troopers are the villains here.

I’ve always believed that Lucas—he’s free to correct me—was taking a direct shot at the Arabs and the Greater Middle East. Negative stereotypes truly can be misleading. Yet in today’s world with a manned satellite orbiting earth, a Martian Rover and anyone posting anything on You Tube, Islamists go out of their way to portray themselves as primitives.

Case in point: In Pakistan last Tuesday, the Taliban shot and badly wounded 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai. A 14-year-old girl! Why? Because Malala, who wants to be a physician, promotes education for Pakistani girls.

This was one of many recent dark moments in the Greater Middle East. Islamists of all stripes continue to mount atrocities on virtually a daily basis. They kill, maim and terrorize not only non-Muslims but more often fellow Muslims in God’s name. And all as the “infidel West” probes the secrets of the human genome and links humanity through advanced communications devices.

There may at least be a ray of hope. Pakistanis are outraged. “Malala is our pride,” said Interior Minister Rehman Malik. “She became an icon for the country.” Army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani condemned the attacks, as did Jamaat ud Dawa, the charity wing of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. In full disclosure, it must be said that neither of the latter has ever taken a clear position against Islamist terrorism.

A vexing question remains. What about the rest of the Muslim world? Will Muslims in other nations rally in protest against such savagery as they did against an obscure video that painted Muhammad in such a negative light? So far, there’s no news. And that’s bad news.

But let’s not get too self-righteous in the high-tech America of which Flash would be proud. In the last week or so, Arkansas State Representative Jon Hubbard claimed that slavery was a “blessing in disguise.” A book by Republican state House candidate Charlie Fuqua proposed that all Muslims in the United States—citizens included—be deported. And Georgia Republican congressman and ardent Christian Paul Broun, a physician, called evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from hell.”

Decades ago, Flash Gordon battled the Shark Men and the Hawk Men to save Earth from the clutches of Ming the Merciless. That fantasy is no wilder than our own reality.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at Which, by the way, received a great review and a coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at SLICK! also is now available at, and