AVATAR : “How do you feel about betraying your own people?”

The civilised West, according to James Cameron, is all guns and no roses...

There’s a point in ‘Avatar’ when the Bad Grizzly American Military Dude hisses at the Ex-Marine-Now-Newly-Spiritual-Avatar-Dude, “How do you feel about betraying your own people?” (Or words to that effect.) This is the very question I’d like to direct at the film’s creator, James Cameron. But before we get there, let me rewind a little…

Had I ever suspected Cameron to be a filmmaker of any gravity (and I hadn’t), I would certainly have been disabused of this notion upon witnessing that over-hyped yet empty vessel, ‘Titanic’. This high-budget melodrama may well have risen at the box office, but it sank in my estimation. The whole, effects-laden mish-mash served merely to support Cameron’s political agenda. If the actual ship itself had listed so far to the left, it would never have left harbour!

Think about it: Kate Winslett plays Rose, who betrays the “evil people” (i.e. the wealthy and educated classes) by getting involved in a forbidden romance with Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is one of the “noble, decent folk” (i.e. the poor). The gun-slinging villain (played by Billy Zane) is one of the wealthy folk, of course, reinforcing the film’s message: i.e. Tuxedo = Bad Guys, Tattered Rags = Good Guys.

Mr Cameron is, in my eyes, a great technician, which is why, when he dredges up this barnacled epic for a 3-D release in the near future, I’ll be there – just for the thrill of stepping aboard that fated ocean liner in living 3-D. I’m quite aware of the lengths the man went to in the interests of historical authenticity. (By “historical accuracy”, I refer to the attention paid to details of the ship’s interiors and such, and not to the alleged mistreatment of the “lower classes” on board.)

We also know that Cameron spent years developing 3-D systems that would help him put the ‘Avatar’ that he has visualised on the screen. Which is why was I excitedly waiting for the lights to dim at last week’s press preview of ‘Avatar’. As a lover of the 3-D format, I came to the conclusion that this film would be the technical yardstick against which all 3-D films would be measured for some years to come.

I didn’t, however, walk away from the film on a high. Why? Because we can’t watch films in a philosophical vacuum, and the political philosophy behind ‘Avatar’ didn’t sit well with me, just as it hadn’t done in ‘Titanic’. I’m afraid, therefore, that I shall be drifting somewhat off-topic for this particular film review, and ask that you kindly indulge me – or else switch to my equally engaging articles below, which adhere to the 3-D agenda of this blog! 😉

James Cameron: a great technician, but when will they find him a decent scriptwriter?

James Cameron - a great technician, but won't somebody please connect him to a decent scriptwriter?

It’s the clichéd drone of the Hollywood scriptwriter, and it generally goes like this: Educated and/or wealthy people are evil and ‘exploitative’, whilst unsophisticated and/or poor people are virtuous. The annals of movie Bad Guy history are littered with Evil Businessmen and Exploitative Developers, and if you should happen upon a bum or tramp in a Hollywood movie, it’s a safe bet that he’ll be the very font of kindness and old-world sagacity. The extension of this philosophy (which is plainly evident in ‘Avatar’) is that all of civilised western society is evil, exploitative and violent, and that all primitive societies are ones in which the people live in peaceful coexistence with one another and nature.

‘Avatar’ presents us with avaricious and exploitative Americans who are after a ridiculously-named metal which exists on a planet populated by peace-loving blue people who live in harmony with one another and the animal kingdom – but just happen to have treacherously poisonous arrows handy for the day that they decide to get nasty… In order to extract the metal, the Americans have to uproot a holy tree belonging to said tribe. I told you to stand by for clichés, didn’t I? The Evil Materialist Exploiters vs The Peace-Loving Spiritual Earth People.

Cameron, in his typically unsubtle fashion, is presenting us with An Analogy! Is he talking about how early American settlers fought Native Americans, or is he alluding to the war in Iraq? Going by the adornments worn by the tribal folk, I’m guessing that Cameron is alluding to the Native American issue – with potential Iraq points as a spin-off.

Let’s just get a few things straight, however. A culture of war and violent conflict had existed amongst Native American tribes before the arrival of the settlers – just as it appears to have done in every known human culture. Territorial battles seem, regrettably, to be hard-wired into our DNA. The only “crime” of the North American settlers lay in their weapons being more powerful. I’m not suggesting for a second that there aren’t noble and beautiful elements to Native American, or other, tribally-oriented cultures. But then, those uplifting elements also exist in western culture, and I’m weary of Hollywood magnifying only the brutality of the west, and only the nobility of older cultures – especially when their brutality was merely limited by their technology, and not by their inclinations.

What we have here, folks, is a cheesy sci-fi rehash of Pocahontas, with all those cold-hearted western villains who haven’t learnt how to “paint with all the colours of the wind”.

Primitive, less westernised cultures, are, according to Mr Cameron, a peace-loving, tree-hugging lot. Baloney, I say!

This is a construct of such fairytale simplicity that it’s risible. Learned anthropologists will tell you that primitive tribes would migrate from one area to another once they had stripped the earth of its nutrients and killed all the edible animals. And, if two tribes coveted the same fertile stretch of land, the weapons would be out for the bloodiest conflict.

In Native American culture, some tribes burned down entire forests in their quest to make hunting easier. Entire herds of buffalo were stampeded over cliffs, with most of the buffalo being left there to rot. Tribal cultures have hunted species to extinction without any western help. So, these earlier human settlements weren’t quite as touchy-feely or “green” as popular culture would suggest!

Civilisations in the western world have extended the boundaries of science, however, and this has allowed us to live longer, more comfortable lives, and gain a greater understanding of the world around us. And the civilised west has provided great humanitarian aid to the developing or underdeveloped world, both in terms of funding (which is invariably rerouted by corrupt Third World leaders) and material assistance. Yet the civilised west continues to be characterised in Hollywood scripts as a shameless and violent exploiter of weaker cultures.

This “spiritualism” of the blue tribe that the film glorifies is nothing more than the superstition of primitive tribes. Of course, western societies also have their superstitions. They’re simply called “religion”, but religion has, for the large part, taken a back seat to rationalism in western society, so, when the sun appears in the morning, most of us understand this to be a result of the alignment of planets and stars, rather than some mighty sun-god bestowing favor upon his minions by shifting the ‘sun piece’ on his enormous chess board.

Contemporary Hollywood scriptwriters extract a terrible revenge on those who achieve. Scientists, successful businessmen – in short, anyone who’s made something of his or her life – is reviled. The bums, the dropouts, and the underachievers of the world, are funny and endearing “noble savages” in the world of the average Hollywood scriptwriter.

Most contemporary Hollywood scriptwriters scorn the very qualities that made America great.

All the qualities that made America great are now being positioned as vices...

And all those qualities that made the US great – such as an enterprising spirit, and the will to educate oneself – are now being positioned as vices by the vendors of popular culture.

So, yes, Mr Cameron, you are indeed betraying your people with your politically correct stereotyping. You betray the pioneering spirit that made your country great and you betray the institutions in the west which have not only taken education, technology and health services to inconceivable heights, but have used this knowledge to assist and uplift needy communities around the world. Your spectacular, visually rich movie, with all its breathtaking stereoscopic effects, is unable to conceal its cheesy, lefty roots…

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10 Responses to “AVATAR : “How do you feel about betraying your own people?””

  1. LuckyStriker Says:

    LOL, nicely written
    I think you are missing some of the cardinal traits of fairy tales and bedtime stories though: The Underdog MUST always come out on top, otherwise the story will suck.

    I suspect your South African guilt complex is making you project your issues onto the characters in this film.
    It may very well be that Cameron is merely relying on popular opinion to sell tickets. He want’s to make money so he is relying on all the fans of Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans and Three-Wolf-Moon T-shirt wearing yokels out there to lap it up.

    Rags to Riches stories sell, it’s a fact! No one wants to see a film where morally superior wealthy blokes get richer and more morally superior by patronising the poor and unenlightened, it’s boring and a little offensive, even to the conscientious rich.
    It’s like SA history: The Black man overthrew his white masters and won absolute power. The Black man then shows mercy and allows the white man to stay on and share in some of the wealth. That’s frikkin heroic man, just like the fairy tales. Who cares if the real truth is a little more corrupt… If the story was that the noble white man uplifted the savages and granted them equal opportunities then the story would suck as a fairy tale.

    And Yes, this film was clichéd. But remember that younger audiences have not accumilated the same cliché dosage that you and I have. They may never have seen Daniel Day-Lewis, Tom Berenger, Kevin Costner, etc. go native like we did. Thay probably don’t have nearly the same cinematic knowledge you do so understandably they may think this film is quite clever.
    If Cameron realises these things too then that might explain the recurring theme and his large pay-check.

    Thanks, that was my rant

  2. active3d Says:

    Thanks, Lucky Striker. Some interesting observations – although I *must* take exception to the guilt complex remark! 😉

    If I suffered from this complex as charged, I would’ve been rooting for the underdog!

    As you’ve noted, we’ve been exposed to more clichés in our lifetimes than the junior audiences who are finding this movie profound and original!

    And let’s not forget, in all of this discussion, that Cameron *does* have a political agenda… or should we call it a tired old saw!

  3. Tanjila Jesmeen Says:

    not watched yet 😦

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  7. gualetar Says:

    The subject is fully clear but why does the text lack clarity? But in general your blog is great.

    • active3d Says:

      Thanks! I can’t understand why the text isn’t clear on your end. It’s the first time that I’ve heard this. Maybe you could try another browser? Firefox, perhaps, if you aren’t using that now?

  8. REALLY ANNOYED! Says:

    JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T LIKE AVATAR, DOSENT MEAN YOU HAVE TO SIT ON YOU DAMM CHAIR, AND TYPE NEARLY TWO PAGES OF THE “SO CALLED” CRAPPY SCRIPT, AND THE CHEESY SI-FI COPY OF PHOCAHONTAS! JAMES CAMERON DOSENT HAVE A MAJOR EGO PROBLEM, AND EVEN IF HE DID, SO WHAT? HE MADE AVATAR, A BEAUTIFUL, INSPIRING EPIC STORY WHERE TWO WORLDS COLLIDE AND BATTLE FOR THE BEST, WHICH WILL ALWAYS BE THE NA’VI, NO MATTER HOW DIFFICULT THE ODDS, BECAUSE THEY SHARE SOMETHING WE LACK, TEAMWORK, A BOND WITH NATURE, TRUST, AND COURAGE, BECAUSE WE HIDE BEHIND SO MANY THINGS WITH FALSE I.D’S. ANYWAYS WHAT IM TRYING TO SAY IS, WOULD YOU GO UP TO JAMES CAMERON AND TELL OF OF THIS TO HIS FACE? NO, I GUESSED NOT SO DONT GO SPREADING THIS ALL OVER THE INTERNET, IM WARNING YOU THERE ARE MANY OTHER AVATAR LOVERS WHO WILL BAG YOU OUT HARDER AND LONGER, SO PLEASE EITHER CHANGE OR DELETE YOUR “REVEIW” ON AVATAR, FOR THE SAKE OF ALL OF EWYA’S FOLLOWERS!

    FROM A DISTRESSED AVATAR/EWYA FOLLOWER.

    • active3d Says:

      It’s difficult to respond to something as outrageously offensive – yet simultaneously sad – as this comment. But I shall attempt to do so – and overlook your poor grammar in the process.

      Firstly, for one who claims to walk in the peace-loving path of the Na’vi (hello – fictional!), you seem really aggressive. Did any one ever explain to you that using all capitals is the cyberspeech equivalent of shouting, and is therefore TERRIBLY IMPOLITE?

      Secondly, as far as I understand it, we are all entitled to our opinions and the expression thereof, so “warning” me to delete my views is both ludicrous and inappropriate.

      As for you and “Ewya’s followers”, are you aware that ‘Avatar’ is a movie, and not reality? Did whoever raised you not teach you the difference between fantasy and reality? I have noted, however, that you appear to be one of many living in this imaginary world. I have since come across a forum on the ‘net in which I found this gem, below, amongst other utterances by “followers of Ewya”. I repeat it verbatim:

      When i saw the movie, and along with almost everyone else i’ve talked to have had the same feeling, a feeling of less and a slight depression and through this site we have came together and helped each other over come this time of great sadness.”

      This is mind-numbingly pathetic. There are real, innocent people and other creatures dying and suffering all around the planet, because of cruel political regimes and/or individuals. These people and animals need real sympathy and real help. The Na’vi and their magic mumbo-jumbo tree were created in a computer – do yourself a favour and move on!

      Finally, yes: if I should ever be unfortunate enough to bump into James Cameron, I wouldn’t have the slightest problem telling him that ‘Avatar’ is a boring and unoriginal piece of propaganda – and I suspect that he won’t give a damn what I think, as he has already made piles of cash from this film, thanks to flaky armies of “Ewya followers”, such as yourself.

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