Monday, December 28, 2009

'Avatar': a Metaphor for the 'Long War'

By David Swanson
December 28, 2009

Let's face it, if James Cameron had made a movie with the Iraqi resistance as the heroes and the U.S. military as the enemies, and had set it in Iraq or anywhere else on planet earth, the packed theaters viewing "Avatar" would have been replaced by a screening in a living room for eight people and a dog.

Read on.


big em said...

I too happened to see "Avatar" recently and was struck by very many of the same thoughts that David Swanson expressed. Arguably, an even closer analogy than the Mid-east scenario was the Central/South American, or Southeast Asian horrors of the 1950's-1980's that the US supported and often orchestrated. "Avatar" was formulaic in many respects (what adult movie-goer didn't know after 15 minutes into it who the love interest was going to be or which cock-sure assholes were going to get their comeuppance, etc) and had good visuals, but I found it disturbing in it's hackneyed fantasy optimism that the indigenous peoples could overcome the invaders by means of their valor and 'true hearts'. Too many people throughout the ages have met gruesome deaths attempting even lesser actions, like the 500,000 Indonesians who died in the late 1970's because they favored a more socialistic government. Or the 250,000 East Timorese as another example among numerous*.

It's hard to watch these feel-good fantasy movie endings - - I believe they end up unconsciously dulling most people's outrage at the REAL realities that too many 'civilized' governments engage in (of which the US is pre-eminent) and replace them with a vague, romanticized/rationalized notion that oppressed people can throw-off their oppressors if they REALLY, REALLY want to! It's obscenely degrading in the same way that "Hogan's Heroes" was towards concentration camps.

(* See William Blum's "Killing Hope" for a listing of US incursions)

Anonymous said...

You've got it backwards, I think -
the identification with the natives in Avatar is totally consistent with US imperialism.

In general we see ourselves as some sort of heroic resistance to the 'bad guys.' The 'us-against-the-world', 'death before dishonor' moments in the film, much like the TV series 24, perfectly jibe with the self-righteous posture of US militarism.

Your 'out of iraq' comment was met with silence because you misread the whole appeal of the film. Regardless of the seeming critique of the US military, the Avatar proposes, like Glen Beck's fascination for '9-12', that we submerge ourselves in collective victimhood/martyrdom/resistance.

I think you have underestimated the monumental self-deception that is now a structural element of the US - in which a film that perversely fetishizes native rituals is enthusiastically consumed by those who continually tacitly support mass murder around the world.

Recall the popularity of Native American stories in early 20th century germany - the fascination with noble violence was not at all inconsistent with Germany militarism.

The appealing fantasy of Avatar is precisely one of black-and-white moral highgrounds, indulged in by an oppressed and yet still complicit body politic. Such escapist fantasies never can bring us back to any reckoning with our actual situation, and in this case the scale of the perversity made me think that we're even further gone than I realized.

Jeremiah day

Bill from Saginaw said...

I thought Avatar was a significant film in terms of its spectacular special effects cinematography - similar to the quantum creative leap forward of "2001: A Space Odessey" when it was first released in theatres, and perhaps Disney's "Fantasia" decades earlier.

The plot line of "Avatar", however, was nothing but "Dances With Wolves" re-done as science fiction, and a bit insufficiently edited.

Warrior boy meets native princess; girl saves boy's life; girl ridicules boy; boy saves girl's life; girl helps culturally initiate boy into being accepted by native tribe; boy and girl finally fuck; boy loses girl; boy finds girl; girl loses boy; girl finds boy; together, boy and girl slay the outside evil doers threatening the survival of the tribe, saving each others' lives two or three more times in the process; boy and girl live happily ever after. Fade. Roll credits.

The political content of "Avatar" at one level was surprizingly in your face progressive: the Marine Corps militarist pigs and the sleazy corporate plutocrats out to plunder the natives' natural resources were unmistakably the bad guys, wearing the black hats. It was a savage indictment of the hubris of the white man's empire, and hi tech, mindless militarism run amok. The male avatar hero, tasked to try to stave off the natives' impending genocide by persuading them to move (like, to a reservation somewhere maybe) ultimately concludes "We (the empire) really don't have a single thing to offer that these people (the natives) actually want." Not bad for Hollywood.

Yet no doubt to add a touch of balance, there also were a few "good" Marines, and "good" social worker types, scattered among the evil doers - sensitive folks pushing for tolerance and eco-friendliness while nonetheless augmenting the brutal military mission that was underway. The empire still had the capacity for compassion within in its heart, somewhere within the bureaucratic structure, you see. Too bad the system was so hopelessly corrupt at the top.

I expected the film to climax with a Phyrric victory of some sort. Instead, the low tech natives actually won clean and outright, booting the bad guys out, right back where they came from.

Oh, well, it's all fantasy remember.

But it's dangerous, stereotypical political fantasy at the bottom line.

Bill from Saginaw