Good Night, Sweet Princess

Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.

“Hamlet” Act 5, Scene 1

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a boy and my first love was Princess Leia. She gave me a new hope, as I was a little short for a Stormtrooper. She was a gritty yet groomed challenge of the pop-culture conundrum of womanhood—valiant enough to chide Darth Vader, vulnerable enough to admit she loved Han Solo. Princess Leia of the Star Wars saga was a mysterious experience of womanhood for boyhood, and when Carrie Fisher died on December 27th, the hearts of countless once-boys were mysteriously broken. Though Ms. Fisher was a modern icon of feminism and cynicism, a princess from the edge, it was as though her death was a blow to innocence itself—a threatening of some sacred space that many cling to with some dream for immortality. When Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, of Singin’ in the Rain fame, died the next day on December 28th, yet another blow was delivered to youth. Two icons of energy and optimism who had inspired generations with the memory of being young, sharp, happy and sassy passed away hand in hand, leaving many reeling before a reality that Hollywood paints over an inch thick.

When Evelyn Waugh came to Hollywood in 1947 to discuss the film rights for Brideshead Revisited, he visited Forest Lawn Memorial Park. He had heard it praised as a place unsurpassed in beauty, taste, and sensitivity; a place where “faith and consolation, religion and art had been brought to their highest possible association.” But Mr. Waugh found the cemetery dripping with saccharine sentimentality, macabre memorials, and repellent cuteness. (Mr. Disney’s remains are entombed there.) Mr. Waugh found in that necropolis a grotesque denial of the reality of death. He found vulgar euphemisms crafted by entrepreneurial spirits. He found wonderful material for a novel to satirize the crassness and irreverence of the truly bizarre American funeral industry.

The American film industry is in many ways a partner in the strange denial of death, and the twin deaths of two emblems of youth are a testimony to that movement. Mr. Waugh wrote The Loved One to parody the perversity he perceived in Hollywood. Mrs. Reynolds starred in Singin’ in the Rain to commemorate with comedy a stripping of Hollywood’s mask. Carrie Fisher often used Star Wars to parade the persistent perversity she perceived in Hollywood. As she wrote in her most recent book, The Princess Diarist: “Perpetual celebrity—the kind where any mention of you will interest a significant percentage of the public until the day you die, even if that day comes decades after your last real contribution to the culture—is exceedingly rare, reserved for the likes of Muhammad Ali.”

Thus it was with Carrie Fisher. Though she was a loud-spoken caricaturist and humorist of celebrity culture and celebrity kowtowing, being herself a tragic, bipolar victim and addict, she remained coyly and cautiously in the celebrity spotlight. Ms. Fisher was, as a popular writer and speaker—like Mr. Waugh—tasteless, irreverent, perverse, and merciless in her appraisal and description of superstardom and the celebrity universe. Though she recognized these as a strange source of insanity, she also recognized them as a stranger source of sanity because they are the means by which all can have a good laugh. Not only is it all right to take things lightly, as Fisher and Waugh did, it is a good habit. It is even advisable to laugh at serious things now and then. In fact, this is especially advisable for serious things, since they are the most in need of jocularity. Nothing on this earth is, or ever should be held, beyond the ticklish reach of humor. Not even things like glamorous interstellar warfare or glamorous international popularity. “Who wears that much lip gloss into battle?” she asked in The Princess Diarist. The practice of taking things too seriously is dangerous to mental health. It is precisely such seriousness that makes people lunatics—and the lunacy that can revel in the gloriously innocent escapades of Star Wars, and mourn the passing of Princess Leia, whether they knew Carrie Fisher or not.

All things should be taken with a sense of humor, as the late Carrie Fisher believed and bespoke; which is to say, with a sense of common sense. For all the inhumanity that prevails over Hollywood paradigms, humor may be considered a basis for sanity as it provides relief and balance to avoid utter insanity. It keeps human beings level. It keeps the galaxy healthy. Upon reflection, none of the best things in life are terribly serious—and things like Star Wars remind the common throng of this common truth. The populace is refreshed more readily by arrant absurdities like space operas than by academic analyses. Only Chestertonian hat-chases or Flash Gordon cliff-hangers can bestow the hilarious and humbling reminder that, though man is the steward of nature, he is subject to it at the same time—which is one of the deftest jokes of humanity. And one of the deepest jokes of humanity is death, as Mr. Chesterton reminds us in his poem “The Skeleton.”

Surely, friends, I might have guessed
Death was but the good King’s jest,
It was hid so carefully.

Nevertheless, the studios ceaselessly spend millions upon millions of dollars on Godless garbled garbage to distract the masses from mortality. The box offices collect millions upon millions of dollars to provide a dark prison of escapism. People who hunger for fact gorge themselves on fantasy; and they come away confirmed only in their confusion and reinforced in the roots of their malady. God is dead. Sex is king. Violence is power. Morality is myth. Stardom is saintdom. The death of celebrities like Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds jar those who cling to their youth like dying stars with a call that is poignant and even painful. The great irony of any traditional trend in film and filmmaking is to muddy the truth in appealing to “open-minded” audiences. As Chesterton wrote, “the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” Without the pursuit of and participation in objective truth, people cannot have a standard of happiness and they cannot be happy. Open minds are not minds with a grasp of the truth. The denial of objective truth for the sake of the ambiguous or even skeptical open mind does not stop people from involuntarily seeking objective truth. The dilemma arises when it is sought where it cannot be found—and this was precisely the dilemma that Carrie Fisher struggled with personally throughout her sardonic, star-studded career.

This is a central problem of movies and moviegoers today. There is a constant attempt for distraction from a gnawing sense of un-fulfillment, and a quest for affirmation in a culture that has lost touch with those realities that are intrinsically meaningful—like life and death, heaven and hell, good and evil. As Ms. Fisher said, I am an “enthusiastic agnostic who would be happy to be shown that there is a God.” Let it be that she, together with her mother, has joyfully been shown the Truth that surrounds us, that penetrates us, that binds the galaxy together.

Sean Fitzpatrick

By

Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Diane Fiore

    Ms Fisher also commented that we have to make the ugly funny, because the truth is unacceptable. I hope we can stop idolizing her, even in her death.

  • Harry

    amen

  • STF

    Sometimes making the ugly funny is the best way to make the truth acceptable – as Evelyn Waugh and Flannery O’Connor showed. Humor can be a saving grace.

MENU