January 1, 2010 by SocProf and tagged Corporatism, Culture, Environment, Gender, Ideologies, Indigenous peoples, Institutional Racism, Mass Violence, Militarism, Movies, Neo-Colonialism, Networks, Patriarchy, Racism, Resource Wars, Risk Society, Science-fiction, Sociology, Sustainability, Technology
What can I say about Avatar that has not been written already, especially in this often-cited post:
As mentioned all over the place, this is Dances with Wolves meets The Last Samurai where noble savages who, unlike modern white folks, have not lost their connection to nature and are happy in their spiritual bliss and gentle nature stewardship (see how the Na’vi connect – literally – with animals and other natural elements, including souls). Cameron’s noble savages are very new-agey and, in a very 2009-fashion, they are connected to each other and the entire ecosystem through a global network (as Grace the biologist – Sigourney Weaver – tells us).
Against them are lined the superior forces of global corporations and military contractors who do their bidding and get well paid for it. And the battle is over resources that Pandora has and that Earth needs. The corporation wants it and it will take it one way or another. The message on environmentalism and the rights of indigenous peoples is not exactly subtle.
And so, the movie culminates in the final battle between mean Goliath against the gentle David. But the Na’vi have a joker card which answers the question asked in the post cited above:
I have a different view. It’s not about having a character to relate to. It’s about white supremacy. Let’s look at the evidence: Jake Scully gets initially introduced into the tribe because of some religious sign that designates him as special and he will be the only one to be able to connect with the big-ass red bird that will come so handy in battle and reinforces his spiritual status as “Super Na’vi”. And that is on top of the skill set he brings to the tribe: his marine and military training, which will ultimately save the Na’vi. The noble savages, with their bows and arrows, need a white military man to save them and become their leader. Where have we seen that before? Oh, yeah, in tons of movies. The white man in the avatar becomes a better Na’vi than the true Na’vi (and gets the girl, of course).
So, even though we are presented with a story that is designed to convey a message of environmentalism, multiculturalism and peace, we end up with the maintenance of white supremacy… oh and apparently, violence works, especially when based on military training, it’s what allows the Na’vi to win, once all the tribes are united under the leadership of Jake Scully. Without him, they’d be toast.
And, by being a super Na’vi, Scully can erase his being a defective / inferior white man due to his disability who initially agrees to spy on the Na’vi to regain his legs and therefore become a full man again, as promised by the über-patriarchal man delightfully played by Stephen Lang.
Oh, and let’s not forget who tells the story: Jake Scully. He is the narrator all through the movie. White man’s voice and perspective.
As I watched the movie, I could not help thinking whether all these people in the movie theater would think twice about drone bombing in AfPak? I don’t think so. It seems that the sociologists over at Sociological Images are skeptical as well:
In other words, because it relies so much on common colonizer history revised through multicultural lenses that more befit the enlightened 21st century, the story is entirely predictable, almost plot point by plot point.
Another interesting aspect of the story is detailed by Antonio Casilli (and links to a full peer-reviewed article in French for those of you who read it). Casilli’s argument is that cultural analysis shows that there is nothing really new about the avatar trope, including its blue color.
So, why is it blue?
Do check out the illustrations over at Casilli’s post. The theme is ubiquitous.
And the disable hero? Another common cultural trope:
Do read the whole thing or the paper itself if you can.
All that being said, the movie is certainly enjoyable and not boring (even though the final battle scene was getting a bit long for me). I saw it in 3D and the visuals were indeed stunning (the images of the forest at night were beautiful) but again, it has to be viewed with a critical eye beyond the technical prowess.
Posted in Corporatism, Environment, Gender, Ideologies, Indigenous Populations, Institutional Racism, Mass Violence, Militarism, Movies, Neo-Colonialism, Networks, Patriarchy, Racism, Resource Wars, Risk Society, Science-fiction, Sociology, Sustainability, Technology | 4 Comments »