Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pro Soccer Needs to Grow Up

I started playing soccer when I was five years old, and I played year round until college. From those early years in the 1970s, when everyone told me that by the time I was an adult soccer would be as big in America as the Big Four, I've remained a fan, though I am by no means a regular viewer. And the recent third place game in Copa America between the USA and Columbia is a perfect example of why. Here are some thoughts on that game and the game:

The USA needs to learn to shoot the damn ball. How many touches can a team need when the ball is in the box? European and South American players have always known to push once and shoot. And they've always had the touch to make that happen. For as long as I've watched pro soccer, I've been mystified and annoyed at how Americans always push once too far and lose the ball. Team USA had the ball - in stoppage time down one - in the box and could have taken a dozen shots, but never had the confidence. And USA soccer will always struggle until they learn to pop the shot.

Secondly, the world's game needs to make some definitive rule changes. First, continuous substitution is a no-brainer. A player with fresh legs is more exciting to watch. A rested player stepping on to the pitch seeks to make an immediate impact and change the tempo. The limit on subs is foolish and pointless. Secondly, re-entry for any player should be allowed - another no-brainer. And, along with that, any player who flops for any significant time - especially writhing on the ground - must come off the pitch. He can come back on five minutes later. But if he is going to make a federal case about that little scratch on his elbow or bump on his thigh, he needs to take a seat. Pro soccer players are the biggest wussies in professional sports - and that's saying something considering the corybantics of Lebron James, the biggest wuss of all. Thus, soccer refs need to start issuing yellow cards for ridiculous flopping. I'm just soooooo over the theatrical silliness of the sport.

Finally, soccer needs to get rid of the penalty for off-sides. Arghhhh! Isn't that the worst disappointment to hear the whistle at the most exciting moment of the game. Defenses need to adjust and leave a man back if necessary. If they choose not to, that's their risk. Off-sides simply slows down and stagnates a game that could be so much more engaging. Hockey has made similar changes to the OT periods. And soccer should do the same.

Love you, soccer. Let's be big boys now.

Friday, June 24, 2016

An Update on the Beautiful Sport of Sumo

When I lived in Southeast Asia in the mid 1990s, I fell in love with the ancient Japanese sport of sumo. It was a timely moment to encounter sumo, as its popularity soared in the 90s with the epic matches of two incredibly popular young stars, Japan's Takanohana and the American Samoan Akebono. Akebono was the first non-Japanese wrestler to ever achieve the title of yokozuna, or grand champion. Since those epic matches and exciting days watching two weeks of the basho, I have lost track of the sport. So, I was pleasantly surprised to run across this great bit of sports commentary on the current champions and state of the sport. Sportswriter Benjamin Morris has put together an impressive review of the sport entitled "The Sumo Match Centuries in the Making," recently published on Nate Silver's The point of the title and the focus of Morris' perspective is a championship match featuring an all-time champion Hakuho who defeated his rival Harumafiji in a one-second match by "stepping aside," which is a legal move but almost unheard of at the championship level. Morris explains how the sport came to this.

There is no bell. The match starts with a tachi-ai (initial charge), which generally happens the instant the opponents are set. Harumafuji lunged from his crouch, low, exploding toward Hakuho in an effort to take control of the bout early. Instead, he caught a quick palm to the face — and then air. His momentum carried him clear out of the other side of the ring, like he’d tried to bull-rush a ghost.
The match had lasted one second. Kisenosato scowled and walked out of the ring area. Commentators didn’t quite know what to say; one of the English announcers let out a long “hmmmmm.” The crowd booed its champion. This is not normally how a match of this scale plays out. Side-stepping an opponent’s charge is legal but considered beneath the dignity of top sumotori. The move is known derisively as a henka (変化), which translates to “change” or “changing,” while connoting the root “strange” (変). That it would be used by an all-time great in one of the most consequential matches of his career was strange indeed.

In a tear-soaked post-match interview, Hakuho appeared to express regret for the tournament ending the way it did. But he did not clarify his side-step’s strategic underpinnings, such as whether it was planned, or a response to something he saw while the wrestlers were getting set, or a reflexive reaction to Harumafuji’s charge itself. But regardless of premeditation, consider the story told on the faces of the competitors: Snatch Hakuho from his peak, shove him into your DeLorean and send him into any point in the past — including the 1790s — and he will almost certainly be a favorite to stay in the ring, on his feet, against any human or human-like god-giant that he runs into. We know this.
But considering his unprecedented domination of his competition, his broad skill set and, yes, even his controversial willingness to push boundaries in pursuit of victory, he can likely match any sumotori legend for legend as well.

In reading Morris' commentary, I was inspired to do a little digging into the sport, and I was quite pleased to discover the link to the match featured on a YouTube channel. Jason's All Sumo Channel appears to be a great place for Westerners who once had a fondness for the sport to re-connect. Here's a look at that final match with some voice-over commentary from Jason, the creator of the channel.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Work in Progress

As we pass the summer solstice of 2016, and I reflect on years of writing - especially my plans for writing that have yet to materialize - I realize that I am still a work in progress. "A Teacher's View" is still a work in progress. I have still not fully actualized the "life that I have imagined," and my plans to "advance confidently in the direction of my dreams" have for the most part gone unfulfilled. At certain times during the year - New Year's, Fall Break, Summer Vacation - I always make plans to "get my life in order" and become the writer and cultural critic that I've long felt is what "I really want to do when I grow up." So far that hasn't happened in the style I've envisioned. So, I continue on as a "work in progress."

Some time this summer, I hope to proceed with the publication of my first work of non-fiction, a critical analysis of Douglas Coupland's early work entitled "McJob: Business and Consumer Culture in Douglas Coupland's Early Novels." It was my master's thesis which I've developed for publication. The original goal with that piece was to lay the groundwork for a serious piece of criticism I've been researching for the past year or so. It was - and is - a collection of pieces of "Generation X" criticism entitled McLife: a Gen Xer Looks Back at Twenty-Five Years. As I've noted before, 2016 is the perfect year for that commentary because it is the quarter-century mark for three definitive pieces of Gen X culture:  Douglas Coupland's Generation X, Richard Linklater's Slacker, and Nevermind from Nirvana. Of course, I haven't finished the piece, even as 2016 quickly progresses, and I move further into middle age.

Oh, well.

Beyond that, there are so many pieces I still want to write, and so many works that I want to read or experience. Currently, I am engaged with a brilliant piece of criticism from New York Times film critic A.O. Scott - it's called Better Living Through Criticism. It both inspires me with the type of thinking and writing I want to read and produce, and it scares and depresses me with how erudite it is and how small it can sometimes make me feel. That said, I will try to focus on the inpiring parts. Scott's thoughts on art may still motivate the artist and critic that I know resides somewhere inside of me. Art ... yes, more art. And more culture. If I am a work in progress, I am hopefully progressing toward an ever-deepening knowledge and appreciation of art.

This blog will remain the record of my journey.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Supporting "The Establishment" - Conservative America's Naive Views on Government

For quite a few years now, I've listened to my older, middle-class, suburban, white neighbor rant and rave and rail against "the guv'ment." He seems to believe the United States government is a huge fascist organization out to take everyday citizens' money and freedom ... not to mention guns. We all need to restrict and limit government and scale back all public funding. My response has always been something along the lines of "You want to see what no government infrastructure looks like? Move to Somalia. You'll love it, and you can have all the guns you want. Which is good because you'll actually need them."

That same sentiment is aptlhy articulated in today's USA Today with a succinct piece of commentary from Stanford professor Keith Humphreys who writes, I Like the Establishment, and You Should Too. Humphrey shares my neighborly advice when he reminds comfortable middle class conservative suburban libertarians and Trump supporters: "They should get out more. To Iraq, for example. Or Lybia or Venezuala. Or the Central African Republic. Or indeed any nation that lacks an establishment."

None of this is to say that The Establishment has ever been completely fair-minded or unfailingly open to outsiders. For example, 100 years ago virtually every establishment figure in the USA was a white male Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Yet as with other changes in society, The Establishment has been very good at reforming itself in response to increasing diversity in society and attendant demands for equality, including by absorbing people of diverse religious, racial and ethnic backgrounds. It is after all The Establishment and not any self-styled revolutionary that is offering the country the first woman candidate with a good chance of becoming president. Teenagers being raised by long-married parents often chafe at the rules their elders set, the traditions they keep, the mistakes they make and the conventionality they exude. Yet if those unhappy young people have a friend who is growing up in a home in which multiple divorces have occurred and the faces and rules have changed markedly every few years, they might gain a new appreciation for the stability they have enjoyed. American revolutionaries should likewise look at the world’s unstable nations before raging at their own country’s establishment. We would all miss it terribly if it were gone.

The sad reality is that far too many Americans have little understanding of the stability and safety provided by institutions like "the government." Granted, the American bureacracy has become somewhat of a behemoth in terms of public funding, and there are many common sense ways to streamline federal and state budgets and agencies. The expansive growth of government services and interference in the private sector is certainly a drag at times. But there is much to be said for consistent electricity, sound education system, fair justice system, clean water, and relatively trustworthy roads.

And when middle class suburban Americans buy into some myth that America is failing, I am dismayed by their ignorance.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Muhammed Ali - Fierce Boxer & Lyrical Poet

The passing of Muhammed Ali - one of the greatest political, cultural, and sociological forces in American history - has generated some appropriately poetic reflections on the man and the myth. Ali is one of the earliest sports icons in my Gen X memory, and I vividly recall the fight against Leon Spinx to regain his title a third time as one of the first significant sporting moments for which I was aware. Ali was something more than just a boxer or champion or icon - he is one who truly transcended the physical realities of his prowess in the process of becoming a cultural force. And, that was a result of his intellectual character and truly brilliant wit.

As an English teacher and cultural critic, I have always appreciated the writing about Ali's lyrical mastery - "the rope-a-dope" and the "Rumble in the Jungle" - and I am still intrigued by the complexity of his personality. Two pieces in today's New York Times accurately and aptly capture and explore that depth. The first is from the intellectual cultural historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who examines and explains Muhammed Ali: the Political Poet.

But the same verse can strike one critic as doggerel and another as art, and not everyone missed the power — and the point — of Ali’s poetics. Even Ahern admitted that “the guy is a master at rhyming,” and The New Yorker editor and Ali biographer David Remnick would eulogize him as “a master of rhyming prediction and derision.” Perhaps Maya Angelou, whose own poetry is sometimes labeled doggerel, said it best: “It wasn’t only what he said and it wasn’t only how he said it; it was both of those things, and maybe there was a third thing in it, the spirit of Muhammad Ali, saying his poesies — ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’ I mean, as a poet, I like that! If he hadn’t put his name on it, I might have chosen to use that!”

The second piece is a cool reflection from Rosie Schaap, and in it Schaap shares a thoughtful personal memory of Ali from when she was a young girl and had the pleasure and privilege of meeting him at a photo shoot. The sincere story about the "soft side" and genuine character of Ali is telling for its insight on the depth of this man's personality and spirit. Schaap shares the story of Muhammed Ali, my Father, and Me.

I certainly was too young to grasp, at the time, the subversive brilliance of staging Ali in the costume of one of the most famous archetypes of white privilege and power, given his unapologetic identity as “a race man,” his potent pride in his blackness. I wish I could remember more about that day, but after more than 40 years, the memories have inevitably faded. I recall it now in a softly spectral way: I somehow knew, even if I wouldn’t have said it this way at the time, that I was in the presence of a great human, who was also very funny, and who took the time to play with children and seemed to enjoy it. I remember his physical presence, so vast compared with my toddler smallness. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Literacy in the History Classroom

RE-PRINT: Mazenglish, 2012

One of the most frustrating  aspects of  teaching for  me is the struggle my students have - especially the groups of boys I mentor - in passing history and social studies classes.  For me, the biggest challenge and problem and barrier to success is the ominous social studies text books, which seemed designed to derail literacy efforts.   The  kids simply do not  handle  these books well.  And, I would assert that social studies teachers are not well trained in teaching the literacy component of their  class.  Reading and writing instruction should be part of the social studies class, precisely because the reading material can be so daunting.  And, like  English teachers, the social studies and history teachers cannot  simply continue to assign reading and writing - they need to teach it.  Students need to be taught how to engage with non-fiction texts.  They need to be inspired and intrigued enough to seek greater knowledge and understanding.

Thus, I was pleased to come across a great bit of news in Education Week about "history lessons that blend knowledge and literacy."  The Reading Like a Historian program from Stanford educational programs is designed to move past the rote memorization of historical facts and dates that have long brought about failure in history classes.  Certainly, core knowledge is a necessity in learning.  However, there is a clear point  where factual data becomes trivial information.  For example, think and answer quickly:  Who was  Samuel Gompers?  Why was  the Whiskey Rebellion fought?  What was the southern name for the Battle of  Antietam?  Who were the generals at the battle of Bunker Hill?  Who was Tippecanoe and Tyler, too?

It just  becomes such a mess of randomized information.  And without a really great storyteller in the front of the classroom - and I know many by the way - the average student and the average American just doesn't  engage with all the names of all the vice-presidents in history.  So, a bit more on the skill of studying history, and a bit less on the minutiae, would do wonders for social studies instruction.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Great Books for and about Adolescent Boys

RE-PRINT from Mazenglish blog - 2012

As the school year winds down, and I take a break from to the task of teaching and molding teenagers - especially boys - I am thinking about books that are great reads for and about teenage boys.  Teaching honors English for freshman, I always begin the year with John Knowles A Separate Peace, followed immediately by William Golding's Lord of the Flies.  These classics always generate engaging discussions - if not always stimulating teen boys for reading.  The adolescent boy is a fascinating creature, and they are always worthy of research and study.  And, from all we know, it's amazing the human race has survived considering all the great men of the world had to be adolescent boys at some point.

The following is a list of great books about the adolescent male - the "teenage boy." They are not always preferred by teen boys, but they are great reflections of that creature and subculture.

Contemporary Fiction

Carter Finally Gets It - Brent Crawford

Paper Towns - John Green

Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green (OK really anything by JG)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

Spanking Shakespeare - Jake Wizner

King Dork - Frank Portman

Like We Care - Tom Matthews

Twisted - Laurie Halse Anderson

Stotan - Cris Crutcher (and anything else by Crutcher)

Vision Quest - Terry Davis

Swim the Fly - Don Calame

The Last Algonquin - Theodore Kazimeroff

Education of Little Tree - Forrest Carter

Classic Literature

A Separate Peace - John Knowles

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

Johnny Got His Gun - Dalton Trumbo

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain

Monday, May 23, 2016

Food Network Star Returns

And Bobby and Giada are back ... with another group of amateurs who are going to annoy us until one of them is named the next Food Network Star .... and then go on to not have a show or be put in a really crappy time slot with some contrived idea. Seriously. Is anyone interested in watching Season 11 winner Eddie and his show about a kids BBQ competition? And, how 'bout the fabulous offerings from that Food Network Star Lenny McNab. Clearly, that season was a complete and total waste of time, not to mention incredibly poor judgment and vetting on the part of the Food Network execs. How did they not see that disaster coming? It was clear he was crass and unsophisticated to begin with. And, we're all still waiting for Chef Lucca's show, too.

Actually, we're not. I'm much more into HGTV these days. Property Bros or Caribbean Living, anyone?

But, I have been a pretty loyal fan of the Food Network Star idea, and I was interested enough to tune in for part of episode one, including the Star Salvation episode right before.. And, for a brief moment, I was pretty excited because I thought a true Food Network Star, Michelle Ragussis, was going to get another shot. Michelle was clearly the most talented and camera-ready contestant to ever lose out on the show. Nikkie Dinky is a close second. Yet, for mystifying reasons Tyler Florence and Valerie Bertinelli ( ... really?) chose to send Martita back for another shot. Sorry, Michelle. There is clearly some inexplicable bias against you.

So, this seasone we are offered ... really, nothing. My gut tells me from day one that the only real potential stars are the Italian guy, Damiano Carrera, and southerner Joy Thompson. The others are almost too painful to watch. But I will probably check in from time to time to see how they are all doing.

What do you think of the show and this year's crew?

Literacy Skills & Rigor

Re-post: Mazenglish, January 2013

What should high school students read?  And what should high school teachers teach?

The struggle in high school classrooms is vast.  Teachers face the challenges of offering students a rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for college and life and developing basic literacy skills by engaging them with material they can handle.  However, it doesn't have to be an either or decision.

Two great instructional texts for teachers to craft their English classroom model are Carol Jago's Classics in the Classroom and Denver-area teacher Cris Tovani's I Read It But I Don't Get It.  Both women are renowned English teachers who have decades of experience promoting literacy and refining the best practices for the English classroom.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Allusions - What Students Need to Know

Re-post: Mazenglish - August, 2012

All literature draws from the record of stories and events that has preceded it.  English and American literature primarily draws inspiration from the stories of Western civilization, grounded in the the Judeo-Christian ethic, as well as Greek and Roman history.  Thus, the challenge for many readers - and students in the high school classroom - is accessing the texts with enough prior knowledge to recognize the allusions and "get the point."  As an English teacher, I often tell my students they need to be on their way to becoming - in the words of Henry James - people "on whom nothing is lost."

In the past few years, my colleagues and I have discussed the challenges of engaging students in classic literature when there is so much that is no longer common knowledge.  At the AP level especially, teachers speak at conferences about how much students need to know - and the disconnect from their actual store of knowledge.  To that end, we began compiling a list of allusions and references that students may encounter and might need to know.  Certainly, the lists of "cultural knowledge" the E.D Hirsch has assembled for his book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know is a foundation and the gold standard.  In fact, it forms the curriculum of many schools that adopt the Core Knowledge movement.  For others, a more abbreviated list is perhaps more practical.

To that end, I developed a list of common cultural allusions, and we have made it a part of the English handbook.  The abbreviated list has background info, and it is divided into sections on:

Biblical allusions

Greek and Roman myths

Anglo-Saxon myths

Major historical events

Pop culture references

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cherry Creek Student Build a Tiny House

If you spend any time watching the immensely popuar House & Garden Network - HGTV - then you are aware of the tiny house movement. People across the country are taking "downsizing" to a whole new level with homes that are often no bigger than the size of a contemporary bathroom. Whether it's part of the de-clutter and simplify phase of a society that's reacting against decades of materialistic expansion, or if it's just an economic necessity to purchase a smaller abode in a country where property values have once again gone north of sanity, the interest in tiny houses is real.

But where do these tiny houses come from, and is there anything students can learn from the movement? Those are the questions being asked and answered by a group of students at Cherry Creek High School. Kids of Jeff Boyce's Environmental Science class have been pursuing knowledge and experience while designing and building a tiny house over the past year. Here's some coverage of their efforts:

A former contract environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, Boyce said the tiny house provides valuable insights into sustainable building practices. The house is being outfitted for solar panels. Boyce said that once students help put them in place, they will be linked to a computer system that will display how much power the panels are generating, how much the house is using, and how much power is required to do normal everyday things like charge a smart phone or laptop, among other things.
"It's a teaching tool that I can use to talk to kids about energy efficiency, resource consumption, conservation and their practices at home," Boyce said. The work students put in also has provided hands-on experience that could be valuable in a variety of jobs, Boyce said, including fields that are in high demand right now like renewable energy. "The STEM application — really making science real — that's what the tiny house is all about," Boyce said. "That's what my environmental sciences curriculum is all about. It's providing a foundation so kids can do more than work at the jobs they are doing right now."
Students who took part in the tiny house project sacrificed hours on the weekends to participate. Several of them said they were surprised by just how much they learned through workshop sessions where they watched construction professionals hang siding and perform other tasks before the students tackled them themselves.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Force Awakens Gen X Nostalgia

The Force Awakens Gen X Nostalgia

The opening text scrolled up the screen … and it was 1977 again. By now, those of us in our forties who have seen JJ Abrams’ re-tread of George Lucas’ classic space opera have settled into a comfortable pose of contented reminiscence, as we reflect on the most important movie of our youth. Yes, of course, as too many critics have been quick to point out, we’ve been here before. There is no doubting the striking similarities between the original film and Episode VII, with Rey almost identically substituting for Luke in the early scenes, and the plotline of a secret message carried by a droid making us nostalgically nod our heads or cynically roll our eyes in recognition and reminiscence. But it was almost as fun the second time around. A true Gen Xer can enjoy the movie for all the praise it gets while also acknowledging the validity of every criticism of Abrams. Yet, we get it – you have to go back to go forward. Screenwriter Blake Snyder pointed out that Hollywood studios and filmgoers simply want “the same thing, only different.” That is the art of allusion and archetype which grounds all fiction and continually enthralls audiences with the same basic stories re-told with different costumes, settings, and characters. And, considering the original Star Wars: A New Hope drew heavily from the mono-myth first explained by Joseph Campbell, it’s only appropriate that Star Wars: The Force Awakens pay homage to the archetypes. At this point in our lives, Generation X is ready to look back and live it all again, maybe a bit jaded, but hopefully with some wisdom.

In framing the story of Rey and her almost mystical connection to The Force, Abrams doesn’t dodge the obvious connections to the past. Instead, he writes the redux directly into the film, referencing it when Maz Kanata tells Rey, “I’ve lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people. I know your eyes.” Clearly, Maz is dropping hints about Rey’s true identity, but Abrams is drawing on a larger truth about stories and the human condition. Students of literature and film know that there only seven basic stories anyway. And, as the children of Generation X move into adolescence, and as the political and cultural landscape reflects a stagnation reminiscent of the 70s and 80s, the return of a familiar epic hero seems eerily appropriate. Is it really that surprising that the Star Wars myth is returning at the exact same time Sylvester Stallone is back to the original Rocky story? Most Gen Xers are now heading into the midst of the U-curve of emotional growth, and it’s at this point that life seems to bottom out only to suddenly start getting cool again because we are now looking at the world with a bit of hard-won wisdom. We know stuff. The year of 1977 brought the release of Star Wars, but it also saw the rise of punk rock and all its rebellious spirit which no doubt influenced young Gen Xers.  As disaffected a generation as Gen X was supposed to be, the idea of nostalgia would almost seem unfathomable. In Star Wars terms, Gen Xers were much more like Luke Skywalker who couldn’t wait to get away from home than they are like Rey who wants nothing more than to get back home. Yet, strangely, Generation X is every bit as retro as their initial hipness foresaw, and the return of Star Wars is a reminder of the magic their entertainment represented to their coming-of-age. The nostalgia boom is big for Gen Xers, and it’s with no shame that forty-somethings are looking back fondly upon a past that really wasn’t much to speak of when they were in it.

So, what to make of the nostalgic feelings about a story that seems so familiar but contains enough subtle twists to be “the same thing, only different.” Certainly, the villain of The Force Awakens is a bit of a departure, or perhaps a development in the Lucas legend. Kylo Ren – a child of divorce and the emotionally-frazzled product of a dysfunctional home – is not the cold and calculating automaton that intimidated us as Darth Vadar, but instead a brash young bully, prone to Millenial-esque emotional swings and moments of self-doubt.  Clearly, the moment of patricide – an ironic reversal of the “Luke, I am your father” scene from the original – was a clever bit of re-branding. And, Gen Xers get it. Of course, Han Solo had to die just like Obi Wan did. That was our first acknowledgment of the archetypal coming of age – the loss of a mentor figure. Generation X was a group defined by loss and harsh realizations, especially about institutions and authority figures. Luke would ultimately be abandoned by the only father figure he knew – for that was how Xers grew up. As Gen X writer, Chuck Klosterman noted in his essay “Lisa Loeb on Planet Hoth,” Empire Strikes Back is really the most Gen X of movies – it’s the darkest of films grounded in disappointment and frustration, the good guys losing, and the deepening sense that it’s never going to get better. Ultimately, Empire and the whole trilogy reflected Cold War and recession realities that left a generation jaded, but stronger and wiser for it. That wisdom, wrapped up in myth and legend, is why Star Wars nostalgia resonates with Xers.

Yet, there are also unexplained and underdeveloped plot twists in The Force Awakens that give an original fan pause, seeking to understand those meta-moments and glossed over plot points. A significant difference and development is the new weapon that wipes out numerous planets in The Republic for whom the audience has no real emotional connection other than passing reference to The Republic. In Star Wars: a New Hope, it was Leia’s home planet of Alderaan that was at risk, and as the vulnerable and recognizable humanity served as the example of the Empire’s power and sheer ruthlessness, the chilling effect was pervasive. But in The Force Awakens, the massive weapon is just a cool special effect for many younger viewers who won’t take time to consider the significance of The Republic.  Has an era of drone strikes and a never-ending War on Terror so desensitized society that the political ramifications of mass destruction are reduced to big impressive fireworks? Some deep humanist reflection is missing in a movie that so blandly glosses over the annihilation of millions. From that point, Star Wars: the Force Awakens veers into meta-fiction during the déjà vu discussion of attacking the new “Death Star,” which for older audiences had to happen, but also weakens the overall story. Do we really need Jedi fighters seemingly aware that they’re in a movie, repeating lines from nearly four decades ago? It seemed a self-serving conceit from a slightly embarrassed director, rather than an insightful bit of self-aware satire. Meta-fiction in Star Wars seems eerily out of place, as amusing as it is. Gen Xers were the first audience to truly appreciate meta-fiction, but its use in Star Wars is somewhat pathetically patronizing.

Thus, the question for Gen X viewers is whether we appreciate JJ Abrams’ paying homage to the original epic, or whether we are pissed off at the way he hacks off the foundation of the franchise. As Generation X sits in the heart of middle age, with the youngest at 35 and the bulk of us taking our pre-teens and middle schoolers to the movie, The Force Awakens is a perfect moment of “Where Are We Now.” The original news that Disney had purchased the franchise sent shivers of artistic malpractice through many Gen Xers. For a group raised on punk rock, and for artists and fans instrumental in the rise of alternative music and independent film, the Disney-fication of our most sacred bit of pop culture seemed a gut-wrenching sell-out. Yet, as our kids’ eyes lit up with the hype of the first trailer, and we couldn’t help but smile at the appearance of Han and Chewy, the nostalgia won us over. Despite the cynicism of a jaded generation, Generation X was ready to reflect fondly on its past. Gen X is, no doubt, a strangely sentimental group that has been in some ways nostalgic for the past almost from the moment they entered adulthood. Perhaps no group ever graduated college as ready for retirement as the group of Xers in Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming who lamented, “I’m nostalgic for five minutes ago.” It wasn’t as much about slacking as it was about weariness. And now, as those nostalgic kickers and screamers enter middle age, the return of our oldest mythology revives the wisdom of our pop culture mythology.

If there were ever a time for Generation X to begin looking back, then 2016 is the moment. This year represents the quarter-century mark for much of the entertainment that marked the post-Boomers as Generation X – notably, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, Richard Linklater’s Slacker, and Nirvana’s Nevermind. But if the seminal works of the 90s consciousness are representative of Gen X identity, then the iconic films of the late 70s and early 80s like Stars Wars and Empire Strikes Back were the foundation.  With the return this year of both The Muppets and The X-Files, Gen Xers can embrace the satirical whimsy of childhood in Kermit and Piggy’s innocently dysfunctional romance, while also wallowing in the jaded cynicism of Mulder’s return to smoking out government conspiracy. Certainly, the darker side of reflection would seem to be the default of Xers, as New York Times critic A.O. Scott has explained as the midlife crisis of Generation X.  And, recent works such Ben Stiller’s While We Were Young and the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, and Noah Baumbauch’s Greenberg have almost too often reflected the generational ennui that never really left Gen Xers after their youth that was, in the words of Allison in Breakfast Club, “unsatisfying.” Thus, for a generation that has often felt like reality never stopped biting, the return of our original rebel alliance, framed so poignantly in that final encounter between Ray and Luke Skywalker, is righteous cause for the cautious nostalgia the Force has awakened.