Watching a midnight showing of Galaxy Quest last night, I was struck by the strange line a lot of would-be satire walks in contemporary comedy. Here you have a film that wants it both ways: we are to laugh at the convention-going-no-life-basement-dwelling losers and the has-been actors who cater to them, and at the same time we the movie-watching-no-life losers are supposed to rejoice in the fact that these people are finally right. It wants to both satirize and glorify fan culture. We, as the audience, are both the subject and the neutral observer of the fantasy-fulfillment.
What this speaks to in our culture is a mainstreaming of irony. Post-modernism made irony ubiquitous. Nobody actually means what they say anymore, and everyone knows it. Entertainment is so self-conscious and so unashamed that clever little what-if's like The Truman Show are now reality. The omnipotent behemoth known as Media knows that it can churn out cheap audience-mocking drivel that people will eat up whether or not they realize they're the target. Irony has made that immaterial to the point where irony doesn't really exist anymore.
But I have no illusions that I'm not caught in the same trap. After all, I just can't ascribe such connivance to this lovely little film, the experience of which I find funny, cute, and heartwarming without descending too far into treacle. And that's even with Tim Allen! However far above the fray I'd like to hold myself, I'm not immune. The cruel ironic twist is that knowledge of irony does not actually insulate you from it. Non-conformists aren't unaffected by the proles; they're reacting against pop culture. So when I say that I don't really think that I'm being unfairly manipulated by this movie, or that I actually find it an unexpectedly intelligent and affectionate treatment of fan culture and the silly tropes of that world envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, and anyway just darn FUN, I can't really know that I'm not being manipulated. Maybe it's all part of that Media plot. Maybe I'm part of that audience, who wants to see itself as above the level of those low-lifes on screen until the movies gets to the revenge of the nerds section, in which case they can relate and share in the triumph.
The beauty of our irony-saturated, post-modern lifestyle, though, is that I can see all this and just. Not. Care.
If you have any affection for science fiction or good-natured comedy, see this movie. Watch for Missi Pyle from Josie and the Pussycats and especially for the incredible alien commander Mathasar, whose performance is impeccable. Watch Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Tony Shalhoub brought together in an improbably workable way. And just have fun, because all this over-analysis is bull.