Monday, January 11, 2010

Conservative Criticism of Avatar Says More About Conservatives

The LA Times explores conservative criticism of the movie Avatar: Having just seen the movie, I have one question for its conservative critics: project much?

One of the main critiques seems to have been that it portrays the American military in a bad light and asks audiences to root for American forces to be killed by insurgents. The human forces in Avatar are security contractors retained by a corporation. They don't have the benefit of being deluded into believing or pretending to believe that they kill and destroy for a higher purpose. They are straight up hired guns who do what they do for money and nothing else. They will kill or destroy without a second thought because they are professional killers. Is that how conservatives see the American military? Shame on them if they equate the mercenaries in Avatar with American military forces. Presumably, our soldiers are a lot less like the hired killers than the Marine who takes them on because he knows what is right and fights for a higher cause. At least they have been led to believe that they fight for some higher cause.

Another critique is that the film is anti-human/antiAmerican. If conservatives equate America with the evil corporation in Avatar, then it is no surprise that they hate America. Moreover, the hero of the movie is a human played by an Australian actor pretending to be an American ex-Marine. Humans lead the aborigines to victory. Human conscience thwarts the dehumanized corporate interests and the dehumanized minions of the corporation.

The movie is seen as anti-corporation. It's certainly anti the evil corporation in the story. Do conservatives equate all corporations with the lawless juggernaut portrayed in the film? Do they admire evil?

The movie portrays the aborigines as being extremely in tune with nature. Well, in this story, as it turns out, the natives are in tune with nature. The planet Pandora is, in fact, a living entity with connections to every living thing. The plants and animals commune with one another through some strange organ and are, in point of fact, connected. So they have evolved in this imaginary world, and so it is perfectly sensible for them to acknowledge the connectedness. Far from being soft headed environmentalism, it is a necessity for survival.

Conservatives seem to be mystified that such a story resonates with the public. David Brooks claims that the movie is a retelling of the "White Messiah" story akin to Dances With Woves, A Man Called Horse and such movies. I reckon he is off the mark. These stories aren't about the simple natives' wanting rescue by a superior white man but about the "civilized" stranger's wanting transformation and reconnection with his humanity. The white stranger is not a messiah but an archetypal hero who regains from the natives his lost soul. The tale resonates with us because many of us in the subaltern classes feel as if we are being steamrolled by impersonal dehumanizing forces, and we yearn for a missing sense of community, connection and a purpose greater than profit. We imagine a simpler, richer life and populate this imaginary realm with a romanticized ideal of premodern societies. That actual premodern societies fail to approach this romantic ideal is of no consequence since we are in the realm of myth. Also, I don't reckon the romantic notion of premoderns has done any more harm than the old way of thinking of them as subhuman savages. I don't doubt that conservatives miss referring to premoderns as subhuman.

Anyway, Avatar was a lot of fun, and if conservatives can't enjoy it, that's because they don't approve of enjoyment in any event.

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