Friday, January 8, 2010

Avatar Reviews

Below are two crushing Avatar reviews that acknowledge the visual achievements of the film but deplore the racism inherent in the plot.

Both are excellent (albeit short) reads:

From Forbes - The Case Against 'Avatar'
In a sense, capitalism is the villain of Avatar. Yet what Cameron fails to understand is that capitalism represents a far more noble and heroic way of life than that led by the Na'vi. As Abraham Lincoln noted in 1858, the unique thing about the industrial revolution wasn't that humans invented steam-power and other ingenious inventions. In fact, a steam engine was manufactured in ancient Alexandria without ever being used. But that society didn't value the invention and spread of labor-saving devices. Instead, it valued physical courage and martial valor. The truly revolutionary thing about the industrial revolution was the rise of entrepreneurship. An entrepreneurial society doesn't value the ability to murder mammoths or members of the neighboring tribe above all else. It values the ability to develop useful ideas and devices and practices that had never been seen before.

In 1976, Stanford economist Tibor Scitovsky wrote an incredible book called The Joyless Economy, which, among other things, argued that we place too much emphasis on acquiring "comforts" that lose their meaning--think of the endless quest for new cars, new houses, and new shoes--instead of pursuing the "pleasures" of building fulfilling relationships and discovering and creating new things. The essential difference between entrepreneurial societies vs. the Na'vi society portrayed in Avatar isn't that we're rich and they're not. Despite being chased around by space-panthers and serpentine dog-wolves all day, the Na'vi do seem pretty tall, strong, healthy and well-fed. Entrepreneurial societies are in a deep sense better than other societies because they give everyone an opportunity to learn, discover, and explore, and to change the world around us. No tree whispers into our ears to tell us what to do or how to live. And that is a sublimely wonderful thing.

From The New York Times (!) - The Messiah Complex
Cameron’s handling of the White Messiah fable is not the reason “Avatar” is such a huge global hit. As John Podhoretz wrote in The Weekly Standard, “Cameron has simply used these familiar bromides as shorthand to give his special-effects spectacular some resonance.” The plotline gives global audiences a chance to see American troops get killed. It offers useful hooks on which McDonald’s and other corporations can hang their tie-in campaigns.

Still, would it be totally annoying to point out that the whole White Messiah fable, especially as Cameron applies it, is kind of offensive?

It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.

It’s just escapism, obviously, but benevolent romanticism can be just as condescending as the malevolent kind — even when you surround it with pop-up ferns and floating mountains.

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