Let's All Make Fun of Princess Pocahonanoke
I was prepared for the fact that I discovered myself--it was really, really predictable. I was also not very surprised that I left the theater thinking about the movie's politics. Granted, I was thinking about what was wrong and right about its politics as well as how the movie could've been, like, a million times better if it had approached things plot-wise any one of a billion different ways than the one it did.
It kind of irked me, though, that I was manipulate-able enough to get sucked into thinking seriously about environmentalism for the first time in a long time. But I did--the next day I got two books from the library on the environment. One had a bunch of tips from National Geographic or something about how "you" can live more environmentally conscious. I didn't look at it any longer than it took to let me know I am not in a position, at this time, to do any of their suggestions.
The second book--which I read about half of and skimmed the other half of--was by a guy from L.A. with a beard who was talking about the history of our society's rediscovery of the "enchantment" of the environment (his word). How hypnotized by the liberal media I must have been to pick up a book by an L.A. bearded guy on the environment in the first place. But actually, it was pretty interesting.
L.A. Beard traced the history of the environmental movement, with Thoreau and John Muir and Rachel Carson and the Sea Shepards and The Monkey Wrench Gang and Snail-Darter-Gate and George W. with a pitchfork and all that. My understanding of it goes a little something like-a this:
By the end of the 19th century, the Great Honkey Empire of the U.S. had sarparilla-saloon outposts from sea to shining sea, made possible because all the Indians had been corralled into concentration ca--I mean reservations. Meanwhile, the whole Industrial Revolution had the whole steampunk, dark-Satanic-mills thing going on with tuberculosis and handless orphans and Karl Marx and whatnot. Since there was no more frontier and no danger of getting scalped by Indians, people started to think that the small amount of untouched wilderness we had left was pretty cool, and they even started thinking of Indians as being a bunch of gentle forest denizens who knew the ways of Mother Earth (like those big blue cat-things from Pandora). This all got a big boost with the hippie movement, which pretty much turned to environmentalism in the '70s because the Vietnam War was winding down and, let's face it, they needed something else to complain about (Which I find oddly understandable, by the way).
Which brings us back to Avatar, and the noble savages therein.
Of course, I had some problems with the movie's message, and I knew going in I wasn't alone in having problems with it.
I didn't really care that it made distinct parallels with the Iraq/Afghan War yada yada (who hasn't done that?). I was kind of bothered, however, when it took this passion play in two directions:
1) It made it clear that the Earthicans were totally bad and the Smurwoks were totally good, which would insinuate that the terrorists fighting my friends' friends out east right now are right to kill Americans.
2) It switches those roles when it stages a 9/11 allegory with the destruction of the Keebler Elf tree, where the Earthicans act out the Muslim side.
Why don't I like this? Let me count the ways I can confuse you with more lists:
a) The whole point of anti-war movies is to say that the war you're protesting shouldn't happen because the issue is not black-and-white and/or because there are good folks on each side.
b) There is a good case to be made by people who aren't College Republican chickenhawk virgins that our current military actions in the Middle East are at least in a substantial part due to considerations other than oil. Like not getting blown up. Whether this is a smart way to deal with terrorism is maybe a related issue, but not related directly to this movie and its "unobtanium".
c) If Earthicans = Yankee Blackwater pig-dogs and Smurwoks = colonized Third World organic farmers who include the Muslim world, then the attack on Hometree should've been reversed, in the name of allegoryThat is, the Nav'i should've blown up a bunch of Earth civilians. What? It was meant to twist things up and make people think? Well, how come every other thing in the goddamn movie corresponded to its symbolic counterpart?
As I said, I know my criticisms aren't any more original that the movie itself. This is evidenced by "Dances with Smurfs", the recent South Park episode that lampooned Avatar. If I talked about pop culture on this blog more often, you'd know that South Park has way more influence on me than the Bible and Shakespeare and my parents combined. And here's where we get into other issues.
'Til next time ...