Sunday, December 15, 2019

On Humanity and the Ideology of Baby Yoda

"It's so vulnerable! We have to protect it!"
"I love how it's learning as it goes along."
"I would die for it."

These are a few of the comments about Baby Yoda that have been made by fully grown adults popping up on my socials the last few weeks together with stickers of its face, handmade crocheted and knitted toys, and a few hundred memes. People are excited over the green humanoid creature that's been stealing every scene of the new hit show, The Mandalorian---it's small and cute, it controls The Force, and it's a character within an otherwise well-written, beautifully aesthetic collection of television episodes.

Why such a strong response? It's small and vulnerable, yes, its eyes are large and inviting almost like those of a quiet puppy or tiny infant. Young creatures are designed to look this way to ensure survival, the more adorable the creature, the stronger the reaction is to protect it, right? Mothers in nature don't necessarily need this kind of encouragement, we tend to instinctively nurture our own vulnerable offspring as well as anyone else's who may need it. We see a need (someone's sick, someone's hurt, someone needs support), we respond to it. In this narrative, a cute, vulnerable creature is in danger and the viewers, like the Mandalorian bounty hunter, feel an overwhelming need to respond (he uses his cleverness and combat skills, we become dedicated watchers and theory-makers). We don't know yet how it will end, but we're invested, no question, because we need to know Baby Yoda will be okay.

What does ideology have to do with it? A lot. This story begins, as many adventures do, with a tough guy. Before we even meet Baby Yoda we are introduced to its protector, Dyn Jarren (or Mando, as he is commonly known), in a John Ford western-inspired tavern doorway. Mando embodies a very masculine bounty hunter---he's a skilled fighter, he's cunning, he keeps his conversations short and direct---the quintessential "Man With No Name," in a galaxy far, far away. Through flashbacks we learn that Mando was orphaned as a child, which plays directly into the role he eventually takes when he discovers Baby Yoda, his intended bounty, and eschews his professional duties to become its protector.

To recap: A tough guy defied his orders, risking personal injury and loss of income to keep a young creature safe. A tough guy drew the line and did the right thing. A tough guy showed compassion.

Look at how the canonical helmet and armor of Mandalorian bounty hunters play into the ideas of traditional, masculine attributes. Mando's armor, a physical, beskar iron barrier between him and the world, ensures his protection from gunfire and potential lightsaber assaults but also serves to keep him mentally isolated as well. No facial expressions are known, and the tone of his voice betrays little. We see his human face in his own memories of his parents, but never as an adult. Will we? Might he eventually show his face to the young creature who sought out physical contact when it was first discovered?

The ideas here are big ones---should men have to hide their experiences, their feelings behind metal? Can nurturing be part of being masculine? Can we change how we think about all this? Worth mentioning also is the fact that the helmet does allow for virtually anyone to be behind it, and the fact that Baby Yoda itself is not any identifiable human culture or ethnicity. These characters are unique and specific but are also widely inclusive. The right and wrong being posited by Mando's actions and decisions can apply to anyone, anywhere. What if Baby Yoda is bigger than just a baby creature? What if the idea of protection and devotion to the vulnerable had to be shown to us in such a way where a person in armor decided to preserve that idea because the importance of this kind of thinking has been lost?

I think Baby Yoda is humanity and we are all Mando. Will we do the right thing? Every day we have this kind of power. We can act with compassion and kindness, nurture and help each other, or we can follow what's been laid down by people who want to divide us and keep us retreating behind suits of armor they've convinced us we need. We are a brighter, stronger humanity when we react with love. Difference, struggle, and upset will always be parts of the human experience, but if we focus on supporting one another, humanity will always prevail, together.