(In a break from our usual programming, On Violence is talking Academy Awards all week. Today Eric c and Matty P discuss the highest grossing film of all time, "Avatar." Tomorrow we'll have a "The Hurt Locker" review and link drop, and Friday we'll tear "Inglorious Basterds" a new one.)
Eric C's Take:
So here's the thing. A number of conservatives have blasted Avatar for being too liberal. If I had to choose one synecdoche (sorry, Will) for this backlash, it would be this lazy right-wing hit-job by Orange County Register columnist Brian Calle. More conservative name calling than actual critique, Calle calls Avatar "progressive indoctrination," "phrenic leftist sustenance," and "preachy, psychedelic satiation of leftist worldviews."
More substantive commentators have complained that the film is too pro-environment, too anti-military, and too filled with white guilt. This blows my mind. I don't think Avatar could more accurately describe what humans are going to do when we have the technoglogy that enables to us colonize other planets. In the same way that District 9 accurately depicts what would happen if alien refugees came to Earth, I'm pretty sure we will dismiss aliens as expendable animals. It will be way easier than when white people dismissed blacks, Indians or Muslims as such.
This is one of those times when conservatives--who are fond of calling liberals idealistic and niaive--are being idealistic and naive. Slavery was legal in America less than 150 years ago. The last grizzly bear was shot in California less than 90 years ago. England left India 60 years ago. Hopefully we've evolved past some elements of our ugly nature, but we probably haven't.
So don't be naive. We have an ugly past, and it is exactly why we need films like Avatar.
Matty P's Take:
Recently, Avatar brought to light a new scenario. Perhaps not new, but definitely something I hadn't previously considered: humans as the antagonists for a sci-fi film. Not just humans as individuals since most movies have a "bad guy" who is human, but humans as a species. In Avatar, the human race is portrayed as the bully and evil entity while an alien race acts as righteous defender.
What is typical of the science fiction genre is that a malevolent species tries to conquer or destroy humanity. Consider the plethora of movies: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Faculty, Independence Day, Mars Attacks!, War of the Worlds, Predator, Aliens, The Thing, Species, Signs, Killer Clowns From Space, V, Space Jam, It Came From Outerspace and Monsters vs Aliens to name a few. Even Andromeda Strain is about an extraterrestrial virus that threatens humanity. Fewer are the movies like ET: The Extraterrestrial or Close Encounters of the Third Kind that portray benevolent otherworldly creatures.
Rarer still is humanity the conqueror.
As one watches Avatar, we are encouraged to side with a blue alien species while human beings are vilified for their various lusts. When they clash, the viewer is forced to take sides. Do we defend our own kind and our own needs at the expense of an alien world and its inhabitants or do we side with strangers who wish nothing more than to protect their homes? The clash does come at a point where the human’s seem to lack moral grounds and the Navi are justified in their protests. The viewer naturally sides with the aliens.
The question remains: is there anything wrong with siding against humanity or in hoping that we lose?