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Controversy, Communism, and Creative Control
Episode 225th October 2023 • Books, Ballads, and B-Roll • HVSPN
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Hopewell Valley Student Podcasting Network 

Books, Ballads, and B-Roll

Controversy, Communism, and Creative Control

Episode #2

You are listening to Books, Ballads, and B-roll the podcast with your hosts Bee and Alastair.

In this episode of Books, Ballads, and B-Roll the Podcast we discuss: media that are controversial or that we might have some controversial opinions on. Specifically, we’re going to talk about George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the three Star Wars Prequels, and Taylor Swift’s song Better than Revenge. 

Segment 1: Animal Farm

George Orwell’s 1945 novella is a satirical allegory critiquing the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union that followed. It involves anthropomorphic animals who rebel against human farmers, in hopes of creating a farm where they can live in freedom, equality, and happiness. However, the rebellion degrades as it is taken over by autocratic pigs, first Snowball and then Napoleon, who mislead the other animals and ultimately bring the farm to a similar state as it was when under human control. The story overtly criticizes the Russian Revolution as failing to live up to its ideals, and its leaders as having become the same as the rulers the revolution tried to escape.

Our opinions on the novella:

  • The Russian Revolution symbolism is very obvious. Farmer Jones represents Tsar Nicholas II; Snowball is Trotsky; Napoleon is Stalin; and Old Major likely represents Karl Marx, though some say he represents Lenin.
  • We agree more with the Marx interpretation of Old Major, because he was painted in a more positive light, and wasn’t interested in ruling himself, unlike Lenin.
  • However, Orwell’s intent is somewhat unclear.
  • The book read more like a commentary on authoritarianism than an accurate critique of communism, and it seemed like it was only directly applicable to specifically the Russian Revolution. 
  • Because of the positive portrayals of the animals’ initial dreams for their farm, maybe Orwell’s intent isn’t to say that communism is inherently bad. 
  • However, there definitely is some anti-communist agenda behind the book.
  • Orwell gave the rights to his work to the Information Research Bureau, a British anti-communist propaganda organization.
  • He makes the animals seem foolish, incapable, easily manipulated, and overly idealistic, pointing to a possible critique of communism as maybe a good idea in theory, but impossible in practice.
  • We both agree that even though it was written as an allegory for a very specific time period and series of events, Animal Farm has many applications throughout history and even to modern day.

Segment 2: Star Wars, the prequels

The prequels follow the childhood and younger years of Luke Skywalker’s father, Darth Vader, or as he’s known throughout these films, Anakin. While he begins as a sweet little boy and sympathetic character, tragic events and turmoil in his teens culminate in a rise to the dark side. Along with Anakin’s transformation, the trilogy also follows the decline of the Galactic Republic and the order of Jedi masters, and the rise of the Empire that figures as the prominent force of evil in the main three movies.

Our opinions on the prequels:

  • Bee has a positive opinion of the movies. She enjoyed the more intense light saber battles, felt that Anakin was a more complex and interesting character than Luke, found the view of the Jedi in the prequels more nuanced than in the original three, and approves of the shift to more advanced CGI compared to the prequels.
  • Alastair has somewhat the opposite opinion, feeling the combination of gratuitous violence and strained humor makes the movies feel awkward and somewhat grotesque, finding the CGI to be over-the-top and create an “uncanny valley” effect, and disliking the fact that some of the alien characters seem like they might be racist caricatures of certain ethnic groups.
  • However, we both agree that the political commentary related to the Jedi is interesting, and that—similar to Animal Farm—it is still very applicable today.

Segment 3: Better Than Revenge

This is a song from Taylor Swift’s album, Speak Now, which she wrote in her late teens. And basically this is a very vengeful and angry song where she takes many swings at this girl who she thinks stole her boyfriend. Now, Taylor has been rerecording most of her albums as she didn’t have ownership of her work due to a deal she signed at 15. This guy, Scooter Braun, bought the masters to her first six albums and, according to Taylor, manipulated and bullied her. To Taylor Swift, owning her artwork is really important since she writes all her own songs and cares very deeply about her work. Recently, she rerecorded Speak Now and the new version of Better Than Revenge is missing the controversial lyric that was in the first one. In the original, she sings “she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress” which many swifties said was misogynistic. So in the newer version, she sings “he was a moth to the flame she was holding the matches” instead.

Our opinions on the song:

  • Bee, as a hardcore swiftie, appreciates the original lyric as reflective of where Taylor Swift was at the time and as an honest part of her progression through many different phases. While it may have been a bit misogynistic, so is the rest of the song, as it’s literally all tearing down another woman.
  • It could even be viewed as a feminist song, however, because the boyfriend is called “a toy on the playground” while the whole song is dedicated to the girl!
  • Bee acknowledges that she may just be biased because she really likes Taylor Swift, regardless of some controversial lyrics she might put in her songs.
  • Alastair, who is less knowledgeable about Taylor Swift songs, doesn’t have a very strong opinion on which version is better but agrees that changing one lyric doesn’t really change the meaning of the rest of the song. While Taylor Swift might not write the same lyric at the point in her life she’s at now, she wrote it then, and trying to cover that up seems slightly dishonest while also potentially devaluing the original version.

Music Credits:

  • Flowers and Weeds (Acoustic Guitar & Penny Whistle) by Axletree
  • Marty Gots a Plan by Kevin MacLeod

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