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scribbling woman

Avatar & related rants (2a is as spoilery as a review and 1 is as spoilery as a preview)

Posted on 2010.01.21 at 17:04
Sensibility:: artisticartistic
Tags: , ,
1. "Post-Avatar Depression" or "I wish real life was in 3D."
I've heard & read that some people are suffering from post-Avatar depression because our world doesn't involve light-up trees, flying on dragony-critters, and living in harmony with the magic tree. These people then return to see the film time and time again in an attempt to immerse themselves in the environment. Now, some of these people probably do have a genuine mental illness and Avatar may just be the current inspiration for on-going depression. I get that, I know how hard it is to get help especially when you desperately need it.

The rest of these people, honestly, strike me as whiny and entitled. You want to live in harmony with others in a beautiful rain forest? Go join a charity. If your life really holds no meaning for you anymore, joining the peace corp or Greenpeace shouldn't be much of a sacrifice. Want to fly in the open air between rocks? Take up hang-gliding. If your real life feels lacking, do something about it!

This [I am not your therapist, so please don't tell me that you made the same mistake for the hundredth time] could be an essay in and of itself, so I shall simply ask if you're working toward your goals or if you're simply wishing that things will change. Maybe you need professional help, but maybe you just need to get out of the damn theater and "be the change you wish to see in the world."

2a. "Dances with Fern Gully" or "Pocahontas Doesn't Need a White Male Imperialist to Save her from the Other White Male Imperialists."
Normally, I'm opposed to film spoilers, but the plot to this is so scarce that it's impossible not to give the whole film away just by telling you the premise, so, if you're really concerned about spoilers, skip down to 2b.
Everyone from The Hathor Legacy to my friend Arwen at the Smithsonian Native American History Museum has pointed out that this film is about the guilt of the entitled white man that doesn't actually want to give up the societal privilege to which he has become so accustomed. In this film, a white male from Earth is learning about the blue people on Pandora while most of the other Earthlings are trying to figure out the best way to strip-mine Pandora. The other "researchers" are building schools to teach the blue children English, a well-intentioned cultural condescension that deserved so much more than one line of commentary.
As our protagonist lives with the blue people, he completes years of education in a few months, becomes kick-ass at everything, and wins the heart of the chief's daughter. He feels that he is now one of the blue people and endeavors, with the help of the well-meaning Earthlings, to save the planet of Pandora and its people from the evil Earthlings. Because they couldn't do it themselves. And the blue war-lord-in-training is totally unfair when he doesn't trust the protagonist or feel that he's really one of them now. Umm, yeah . . . Then they start a band called Gary Stu and the Primitive Blue People Whom He Saved with his L33t Skillz.

2b. "It's just a movie!" or "Please switch your brain to 'on.'"
As I said, Arwen was one of the people that brought the racial issues up, as she posted a link on her Facebook. One of the replies that she got, to which I did not respond because I decided that going off on the commenter or not was her prerogative, was something like "Geez, it's just a movie."
Because when you go into a theater you shut your brain off, enjoy a completely random pattern of light and noise, and come back out without any interaction between you and the film nor has the film in anyway reflected ideas of its creators.

As a writer I'm insulted and as a social historian I'm appalled.

You mean to say that what writers (directors, producers, artists, musicians, etc...) create means nothing to them? That it in no way reflects their interests or values? That there is no idea in their head that is conveyed into the art? And that, thusly, no cultural idea, value, or issue if filtered through the artist into the piece? If it's "just" art and thus not in anyway derived from the culture in which it was created, there would be no trends in art and scholars could not learn about a society from its art and literature.

Conversely, "just" a movie also could not affect its audience, establish norms, or define cultural expectations. In this sense, one is denying both the very field of behavioral psychology -- that our ideas are shaped by our experiences -- and the definition of life -- which includes responding to stimuli. Films are cultural propaganda. Whether they urge us to seek a certain change or to be content with the status quo, all ideas that we encounter shape our own ideas. It's called learning. It's called acculturation. It's called not having a rock where your brain should be. I bet you even got that "just a movie" idea from somewhere.


polymexina at 2010-01-21 22:42 (UTC) (Link)
if you unlock this, i'll link to it! :D
Brilliant, but scary
discipuladc at 2010-01-21 22:56 (UTC) (Link)
Not here for you
masteradept at 2010-01-22 02:12 (UTC) (Link)
I will never understand people who think that actually using your brain during a film is wrong.
Brilliant, but scary
discipuladc at 2010-01-22 17:27 (UTC) (Link)
They are probably people that are less than inclined to use their brains in general hoping for an excuse that makes such a habit seem reasonable.
restiva at 2010-01-22 04:18 (UTC) (Link)
I totally agree with your rants, especially #2. Avatar was pretty terrible, eh?

I just find it strange that heaps of intelligent people seem quite enamoured by it... I was at an astronomy conference today and the opening speaker rambled on about Pandora for a good 15 minutes (before moving onto a discussion about the search for other Earth-like planets). And just yeseterday I think I was reading a some environmental blog raving over Avatar's supposedly hard-hitting messages of peace. Sigh.
Brilliant, but scary
discipuladc at 2010-01-22 17:20 (UTC) (Link)
I can see being enamored with the graphics, linguistics, or with the implied environmental message. The plot and racial implications are wanting, but they're only portions of the film. The sad truth is, this film may be the most influential piece of environmental awareness advertising that a large portion of the population is likely to look at or be swayed by.

I think that it's a matter or basic vs advanced analysis. At a basic level the film is pro-working with blue people, but at a deeper level of inspection it's pretty condescending. The same with the feminist and environmental messages. I can see being revved up about these messages finally reaching audiences that don't really care about those issues, but for those of us that are already converts, the sermon is lacking.

Still, it's pretty and the language-creation process is quite interesting.
chemicalresult at 2010-01-22 15:50 (UTC) (Link)

I am going to assert and follow up on my own lj...

Because this was getting too unwieldy for a comment.

Essentially, I assert that Avatar contains too many interesting ideas to be dismissed outright, despite its racist/heterosexist myopia; it has communicated environmentalist ideals to the masses in a palatable way, and that if it even gets one person to make a change in their sedentary/suburban wasteland it's done good; and that it pissed off the Pope, so it must be awesome. (Ok, I'm mostly kidding about the last one, but...)

It might take me a couple days to get it posted, still writing.
Brilliant, but scary
discipuladc at 2010-01-22 17:25 (UTC) (Link)

Re: I am going to assert and follow up on my own lj...

Oh, I agree entirely. This post was mostly a rant about my problems with it, not a complete review. While far from a perfect piece, Avatar at least shows environmentalism in a way that people used to dismissing environmentalism as sissy/hippie/pagan/liberal rhetoric can get behind. Maybe they won't (some people in my theater were cheering on the villains), but they could. And hey, maybe some of them will break out of their post-Avatar-depression and go do some good in the world.
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