Sunday, January 10, 2010

Another Avatar Review: The Suicide Fantasy

... But a damn good one.

[warning: contains spoilers]

The whole thing is worth reading at the Greenroom, but here are a few of the highlights:

In Avatar, James Cameron has created a world that justifies the smug arrogance and bitter alienation of the radical environmentalist. The alien world of Pandora really is a maternal Gaia spirit, with every bit of the flora and fauna connected in a mystical web that capitalists and soldiers are too blind and stupid to see. The alien Na’vi really are what infantile liberal mythology has made of the American Indian: innocent, peace-loving, simple, and so harmonious with nature that they can literally plug it into their pony tails. Lacking the conflict and flaws that make the Indians so fascinating and tragic, the Na’vi are utterly boring, aside from the heroine brought vividly to life by a remarkable performance from Zoe Saldana. The childlike environmentalist daydream of a “perfect” society, sustainably at peace with Mother Nature, is captured in the image of the Na’vi tribe snuggled in hammock-like leaves, embraced by the vast branches of their goddess tree. No ambitions, no failures, no questions, no achievement, no future. These giant blue aliens leave absolutely no carbon footprint.

What happens to this wish-fulfillment watercolor of eco-paradise? Why, greedy idiots with guns and bulldozers show up to mow it down, of course. Humans suck, man. They deserve to die… and die they do, in a hail of arrows, fangs, teeth, and lots of screaming plummets from great heights. All those military toys beloved by the right-wing warmongers of the military-industrial complex prove to be useless against the righteous fury of an aroused Gaia and her chosen champion, a redeemed soldier who has seen the error of his ways. Take that, Marine killbot slaves of Big Business.

During the big battle scene, as dinosaurs were chowing down on soldiers, the middle-aged couple seated next to me were grinning happily… delighted by the defeat and destruction of their own miserable species. The dialogue in Avatar makes it clear that humanity’s future depended on the success of the Pandora mission. “We sent the aliens back to their dying world,” intones the hero, narrating scenes of the defeated humans as they’re perp-walked off the planet, just the way environmentalist radicals have dreamed of handling the executives of Exxon-Mobil. Earlier, the hero tells Pandora’s nature spirit about the evil of his fellow man: “They killed their mother, and they’ll kill you.” Good thing for the universe we’re doomed!

Avatar was written by a man who thinks those who disagree with his environmentalist obsessions are so blind that, in the future they will create, the last decent man in the universe will lead a far more noble alien race to victory over us, and literally renounce his humanity as part of his reward. James Cameron invites you to join him in the most beautifully rendered adolescent daydream of suicide ever created, and share his sense of righteous superiority over those who refuse to applaud at the end.

I've just returned from seeing it, and in spite of all the politicised reviews I've read of the movie - at least a dozen - I found I was able to suspend my disbelief, or at least my belief that the Na'vi are Native Americans, enough to really enjoy a spectacular movie.

The lefties have said this is a "racist" movie, for its portrayal of indigenous people. It's hard to really see where this criticism is valid, unless you accept that any portrayal of any indigenous population by White People is inherently racist. Which is exactly what the liberals happen to believe. As such their commentary is a little hollow.

However, conservative bloggers have objected to this interpretation. Why??

First rule of debating: When you're defending, you're losing.

The Right has a horrible, horrible habit of finding itself on the backfoot in these type of debates. Once you start saying how non-racist you are, the lefties just roll their eyes and block out your words - after all, they are uttered by an obvious racist, why bother to listen?

Defending against liberal criticisms is rather like being in a duel and accepting the sword you are offered. Choose the pistol. NEVER let the liberal choose the battle and never ever let him select the tools of debate. That goes for language especially. You are arguing with something who has identified everything he doesn't like with "The Right", and reflexively, everything that comes from the Right is inherently bad. Even the concepts of Left and Right come from the Left!

But I digress. As usual.

The movie has been described by liberal critics as a "White Supremacist Fantasy", in that the white man is the hero of the oppressed indigenous people. Whites are accused of only being interested in the indigenous if we can become their leader and "save" them. They cite Pocahontas, The Mission, and others as evidence of this.

It's a good theory, and shows the white man as saying, "I'll be on your team but only if I can be captain". There is a lot of truth in this caricature, except that there is one fact that completely invalidates it:

It has happened repeatedly hundreds of times throughout human history. Outsiders have often come to lead a people not their own, and as such Avatar simply reflects this truth, rather than presents some Messiah fantasy.

Without even using Wikipedia, I can think of many examples.

Hitler was Austrian, not German. Stalin Georgian, not Russian. Bernardo O'Higgins, first president of Chile was Irish. Fidel Castro? An aristocrat who became the champion of the peasants. Che Guevara? middle class half-Irish revolutionary, also from the upper classes.

Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King was based on the true life adventures of an American who lead Afghan tribes in battle and carved out a kingdom for himself. The Macedonian Alexander the Great was seen as a saviour by his conquered Asian subjects, and his general, Ptolemy, became Pharaoh of Egypt.

Outsiders have always brought a unique perspective into otherwise closed societies, and Jake Sully, the hero of Avatar does just that. his tactical knowledge and inside information are what save the Na'vi. He becomes their leader, not through rational debate and calling an election, but by becoming their leader on their own terms and by their standards, not his own.

Avatar is not about white vs. nonwhite, or even civilisation vs. premodern paradise. It is a tale that we can all identify with, and it is easily forgotten that the humans are on both sides of the conflict. The bad guy, the one-dimensional marine commander, is clearly insane, and does not in any way represent "white", "human", or even military culture.

We are also not given nearly enough information about the circumstances surrounding the attempted conquest of Pandora to make a value judgment on what is going on. The end of the film claims that our planet is dying, and indeed on the verge of extinction, but this point is hardly made throughout the movie. In fact, it is directly contradicted near the start, where the corporate representative "suit" states that it is the monetary value of Unobtainium that's behind the invasion. We are therefore not encouraged to side with the humans, as they are merely corporate mercenaries.

It is a good vs. evil tale. There is a certain amount of eco-preaching involved, and the plot is full of holes, but if you can remember that there are aliens, and not humans, you can't fail to enjoy the movie.

7 Opinion(s):

FishEagle said...

I didn't know the actress was Zoe Saldana but I agree that she was really good.

I agree with all the points raised in this post. I still somehow managed to enjoy the spectacular visuals of the movie.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I am black.

Please, do you have to always see everything in black/red/brown vs white. Personally this movie was uplifting to me in that it kind of exposes the disconnect we humans have with nature. In case you did not know, earth is a closed system -
1). When we belch out CO2, it does not radiate out into the solar system, it is trapped within earth's atmosphere.
2). In the Pacific, there is a huge patch of rubbish/trash the size of Texas (3/4 size of South Africa) just floating around.
3). From this year on, europe will be cutting the fishing season to help revive heavily depleted salmon and tuna stocks. Some european fishing vessels have been caught around Kenyan, Somali, and as far as Namibian waters.
4). The largest industry in the world is the military industrial - we have created more efficient and brutal (WMD) methods to wipe out all life on earth.

This movie is not a black and white thing, but a Human vs all other life on the planet. Human biomass is less than 3% of the earths and yet we are destroying the biomasses of the other 97% members of the community of life on this planet.

So please try to see it in a different perspective, rather than the usual. As a history buff, there are very few races/tribes/nations that can claim to have their hands clean of anybody else's blood. The noble "savage context" as applied to Africa and America(pre-colonial)is bullshit - Ask the Mayans what they used to do in worship of their sun God.

Viking said...

Dear Anon,
the answer to your question is no, we don't. And I didn't. Rather, liberals chose to see it that way.

I thought it was more of a technology vs. nature theme, but ironically it used the latest state of the art graphics to make that point...

Viking said...

Just to add another point, Anon. You are 100% correct that the movie should not be viewed as white vs. nonwhite, but Cameron seems to have deliberately tried to make it that way.
The humans have a severe lack of visible minorities in their ranks, and far far less than the US Marines currently have. It's hard to explain this.

Anonymous said...

Point of visible lack of minorities is noted. I now see why some white people may view it as race based. You are right, a balanced theme could have been white/brown/black vs the blue-skinned natives.

Looking at the world today:
1). White - Technological development but at a very heavy environmental price.
2). Brown - now going through their own industrial revolution - adding on to the environmental degradation (China, India, Brazil).
3). Black and Brown = Unsustainable Population growth which will lead to resources becoming more scarce, and hence more civil strife, hunger, disease and wars.

But I get your point on the visible lack of minorities. Wow, its so easy to overlook something when your race is not the one being targetted to get a point across.

Viking said...

Absolutely, the point should have been made that when the human race/planet is under threat of extinction, ALL races will be fighting together.

remember Independence Day??

FishEagle said...

Cool conversation!