Gummed Up

Let me begin by saying that I am not a “gum person.” Even as a kid, I didn’t particularly like the gum experience, except for the blowing bubbles part. I would inevitably end up sawing away at an increasingly tasteless wad — and then the unsightly disposal issue would arise, where no underside of a school desk was safe.

However, as someone who knows some members of the Gum Nation, and who walks through convenience stores from time to time, it’s hard for me not to notice the Gum Renaissance that is currently underway. Gone are the days when choices were limited to Wrigley’s, Beeman’s, Dubble Bubble, Chiclets, Bazooka, and those long cellophane wrappers with garishly colored (and horribly artificially flavored) gum balls. Now there are entire aisles and point of purchase displays devoted to all things gum. New brands like Mentos and Icebreakers have entered the market, along with artisanal gums, sugar-free options, and “natural” gums — and I suspect if I looked carefully enough I’d find vegan, lactose-intolerant, and gluten-free offerings. It’s as if the same competitive processes that broke the Budweiser/Pabst/Miller High Life dominance in the beer market have turned their attention to chewing gum. Are there “craft gum” competitions out there?

And gum is so popular that media-savvy companies like Disney are associating with it. One of the gum packages pictured above features a Frozen II character and is for a flavor called “Arctic Grape” — which seems a bit oxymoronic, by the way. And speaking of packaging, we’ve definitely moved away from the slim, white rectangles that slid easily into the pocket of your jeans. Now gum comes in bulky, bright plastic receptacles that clatter and clearly aren’t pocket friendly. Today’s gum demands attention and a special storage spot.

Yes, it’s truly a Gum Nation these days. Those of us who don’t partake just live in it. And school desks probably aren’t happy about it.

The Last Star Wars

The new Star Wars is out in the theaters.  The commercials for Star Wars:  The Rise of Skywalker have been running for a while now, and the expected Star Wars movie hype machine is in full swing.  In one article, for example, a former Disney executive reports that George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, felt “betrayed” by the studio’s plans for the last trilogy in Lucas’ contemplated nine-part opus, and fans and critics are already emotionally debating whether this latest film is a disaster or is helping to get the Star Wars franchise back on its footing.

f9c0b8_f7ef85e98f5449c6b4f994a9f6e1507fmv2All of this, I think, is part of the fundamental problem with Star Wars.  It’s clearly a “franchise,” and it feels like a “franchise.”  When the first Star Wars came out 40 years ago it was fresh and new and funny and interesting and ground-breaking in its use of special effects.  Now the Star Wars model is old and tired.  When was the last time somebody had a good laugh, or even a chuckle, at a Star Wars film?  I’m guessing it probably coincides with the last time Harrison Ford was on the screen.  And when you’ve got obsessive fans debating every instant of a film for consistency with what has gone before and comparing it to the eight prior episodes, you’re never going to achieve “fresh” and “fun” status.  Every successive film is weighted down, more and more, by the ponderousness of the Force and the Jedi and the Sith and the increasingly confusing plot lines and story arcs.  How can anybody be expected to keep it all straight?

And the fact that every Star Wars movie seems to involve a lightsaber duel between a good character and a bad character, and a Death Star plot device, and heroes saving the universe from evil and seeking redemption, doesn’t help.  Who here didn’t react to the commercials for the new film with a shrug and the rueful thought that there’s another long lightsaber duel we’re going to have to sit through — like the lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader, or the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul, or the lightsaber duel by the molten lava that caused Darth Vader to need all of his protective clothing, or the lightsaber duel in the forest.  Lightsabers are nifty, elegant weapons, to be sure, but there are only so many ways to have a lightsaber duel — and changing the setting for the duel really doesn’t change that.  I find myself longing for Han Solo to pop up during one of these interminable lightsaber duels and shake his head and say there’s no substitute for a good blaster.

I’ll go see this newest Star Wars film because I’ve seen the prior eight and I suppose I need to, to close the book on what once was great.  But I’m hoping that this latest Star Wars is the last Star Wars.  Really.  It’s time.