Flim flam! Bamboozle! The ol’ Shuck and Jive! Or just an innocent foul. Sometimes you can’t win and the more you say, or the farther you reach, the more you’ll pay for it. The realms of music, movies and TV are no different. Here are a few that have stuck in our craw over the years. Allow us to floss ’em out in your general direction, and feel free to dispute, disagree, defend and digress, and to serve as a reminder to potential Brian Griffin resurrections and future Harry Potter books that “no” is a hard word to say, but coming up with some justifying cock and bull story is worse.
10. George Lucas says he has the entire Star Wars saga planned in his head in the 1980s when he couldn’t even decide if Luke and Leia were/weren’t related – The stories abound regarding what exactly George Lucas knew and when he knew it about the Star Wars saga. Even the narrative we know comes into question when set against the recent Dark Horse Comics adaptation of Lucas’ original concept, The Star Wars. In that, the characters are a lot more Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon gung-ho and macho.
What we presume to know is that 20th Century Fox had little faith in the spacebound shoot-em-up in 1977, but studio shepherd Alan Ladd Jr. did. Purportedly Lucas wanted the film to go out as Chapter 4 as a nod to the old serials, but under advisement from Ladd he digressed from announcing the movie as an ongoing concern and also restrained impressions of franchise ambitions. After the massive success of the movie, upon rerelease in 1978, it was rechristened Chapter Four A New Hope. Lucas has claimed it was always called A New Hope and this was merely a correction.
Lucas has also said he had much of the saga, at least chapters 1 through 6 mapped out. The Star Wars leads one to believe he had some character ideas and names, but probably didn’t have more than that. Going on the evidence of the movies themselves and the glaring inconsistencies between them, not the least of which being the shift from Luke and Leia being lovers to siblings, it becomes clear that Lucas hadn’t nearly a clue where any of this was going. And for an individual who fiercely protected his brands with litigious lightsabres of his own, Lucas didn’t fight too hard on the licensing front. In the novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, writer Alan Dean Foster plainly had the characters in a romantic state and Darth Vader in nowhere near a conflicted father mood. If Lucas knew where those characters were going, he sure didn’t let on. So either he was negligent, kind of pervy, or hadn’t a clue where it was all headed.
With the new movie currently in pre-production, and internal wrangling happening with the dismissal of writer Michael Arndt and the assumption of the seat by Lawrence Kasdan and director J.J. Abrams, it seems the future elements haven’t been cracked either.
9. Listen Without Prejudice Volume II, History of the World Part II, Leonard Part 7 – We’re sure nobody was actively hoping for a Leonard Part 7, but you get the idea. The overriding reason why 20th Century Fox balked at the illusion of serializing Star Wars is made clear in public response to a few other “parts and volumes.” There is a creative fetish for trying to make a series of a one-off, or harbor the illusion of such. George Michael has expressed over the years that he titled his album Listen Without Prejudice Volume I with earnest intentions to release a Volume II. Mel Brooks was making a joke out of calling his movie “Part I” as a commentary on sequel-obsessed Hollywood. People believed it. Sometimes he played along and sometimes he didn’t, but wasn’t vexed enough to not play that card again in Spaceballs (“Spaceballs 2: The Search For More Money!“)
The conclusion: it’s not funny. It doesn’t work. Somebody’s going to take it as a serious promise. Just don’t fall for the “parts and volumes” ploy. Thank you.
8. R.E.M. retroactively claim “Shiny Happy People” was meant to be sarcastic – Also acceptable, “R.E.M. cannot function outside of the four-piece. If one of us is gone, the band will end.” But let’s tackle the main claim and leave the corollary to your own speculation. “Shiny Happy People” off the Out Of Time album was a huge freaking hit, and a band known for being obtuse and non-specific lyrically sure sounded specific here. Michael Stipe and B-52 Kate Pierson do not sound like they’re being critical in the least of hippy dippy, overly positive people dancing around in the sunshine. We happen to believe that he truly meant it all the first hundred or thousand times he had to sing it.
But for the next hundred or thousand times, even Shiny Happy Stipe probably had to call it like he saw it. The song is annoying. It probably could stand next to the Twinkie sugar rush as a murder trial defense. “They kept singing ‘Shiny Happy People!’ I had no choice but to shoot them!” In later years, various members would dismiss the song by saying that it was done ironically, that the caked-on slathering of mindless positivity was a commentary on the stupidly happy positive people in the world.
Furthermore, there is the factoid that perhaps the lyrics were directly copped from post-Tianamen Square uprising propaganda, that the “shiny happy people” was the Chinese government’s misrepresentation of protesters. This could be true and gives a little bit of clarity to the line, “Put them in the ground.” But otherwise the song gives no indication that this was ever the case and if a joke made to prove a point fails to do so, it’s probably a lousy joke. And in the moment of the single’s greatest success, there was a dearth of explanation — no one saying then that, wait, this is a backhanded exploration of propaganda and the worst lies are told with smiles and flowers. We’re left with only a handful of conclusions. Either “Shiny Happy People” is interminably earnest or a too-cryptic-for-its-own-good diatribe too faultily expressed to be heard as such. Or, never look a gift horse in the mouth.
Oh, and Automatic For The People was a way better record anyway.