Re: Avatar’s Savage Message

20 01 2010

Normally, I don’t do movies.  Especially hyped blockbuster movies which everyone tells me how great is.  9/10 the ‘groundbreaking’ new film is another mass-produced two hour flick with no real meaning, substance or essence, unless, of course, it is somehow reasserting the status quo.  But I went to see Avatar after reading the review ‘Avatar’s Savage Message‘, by Edward Hudgins, apparently devout Objectivist.  After all, you know a movie is going to be great when an Objectivist writes in a review that the film is ‘…loaded with tired, mind-numbing leftist clichés embedded in old, reactionary themes that set a new low for political propaganda.’

And you know what?  I was right.  It was an excellent movie.

So, my purpose here is not to review the movie like oh so many people seem to be doing but rather to look at that review and poke fun at it.

Two paragraphs in we already get a feel for the author’s arrogance.  After all, any author who spends his time explaining to his audience in simple terms the basic plot device of symbolism and how the title ‘Avatar’ begins a theme that continues throughout the movie to better deliver the creator’s social commentary, cannot think very highly of his audience.  But then, I guess that’s natural for Objectivists who tend to thumb their nose that anything which differs from their particular brand of faith.

The mercenaries are led by the evil Colonel Quaritch, who gives cartoon villains a bad name. He’s gung ho simply to clean out the “savages” by force, an attitude avatar representing how Cameron and his ilk see American history and foreign policy. See, it’s the evil military-industrial complex in your face!

Well… yeah.  Because military men certainly aren’t trained in force, it’s execution and are totally reserved about using that force on anyone that stands between them and the completion of their orders.  Not to mention that American foreign policy has certainly never sought to oust political leaders whose views, attitudes or positions conflict with what their own.  They’re just down-right saintly.

The company’s administrator on Pandora says that the corporation’s investors would prefer to avoid the bad PR that they’d garner by killing off all the Na’vi, but they’re even more concerned about avoiding a bad balance sheet. See, capitalism leads to killing!

Yeah, sure, and no Corporate entity has ever outsourced the killing… eh… I mean, ‘ejection‘… not that isn’t quite right, I mean, ‘remedying‘ of ‘problems‘ that stand between them and exploiting natural resources or untapped markets to governments that, effectively, legislate to make murder legal.  That just never happens. Ever.

The next one needs to be broken down.

The corporation has made half-hearted attempts to win the hearts and minds of the Na’vi by teaching them English and setting up schools and roads for them. How white of them!

Well… yeah.  I’m not sure if the author is aware, but indigenous populations, generally speaking, have their own process of education, their own languages and their own methods for logistics.  If they wanted to learn English or to improve their methods of education or have roads build for them, they would either do it themselves or come to some arrangement.  But, funnily enough, not all that many want these things and they are happy with their own lives.  And, of course, Western civilisations have always respected their wishes regarding this.  I mean, it’s not like their languages or own standard methods for passing on culture and knowledge really mean anything.  It’s not like the public schooling system was ever intended to operate for any other purpose than to instil respect for the ruling classes or anything.

But it hasn’t worked.

Once again, ‘Well… yeah.’  It would be the same thing as if, say, China were to attempt to set up schools in the US to ‘educate’ Americans.  I’m not sure many of you Americans would take too quickly to that whole idea.

Still, it would be better to figure out what the “blue monkeys” (see, Americans are racist!) want…

Yes, once against, it’s not like no invading force has ever made attempts to dehumanise the invadee.  Off the top of my head I can list slurs left, right and centre that have existed for every enemy since we’ve started writing them down.  In WWII we had ‘Kraught’.  Vietnam we had ‘Chink’.  In Iraq we have ‘Raghead’.  Who say’s it’s racist?  It’s just an accurate portrayal of what happens when the grunts and the cannon fodder from one group of people, arrive in another place to go murder a bunch of other people.

So perhaps an avatar can re-contact the Na’vi, who aren’t very fond of the nasty, callous, heartless American—err, sorry, Earthling–soldiers who tend to gun them down at the least imagined provocation.

Once again, this is simply another representation of the ‘clash of cultures’ that the author seems to mysteriously forget away when it conflicts with the world view that empires aren’t built on the skulls of all those that dared to say, ‘fuck off.’  And who says it’s limited to Americans?  Indigenous Australian populations would say of the European arrivals that they smelt bad because their clothes kept the smell locked in, making it worse.  European’s would say that the Indigenous populations smelt.  Period.  Oh, and the Australian settlers did have a tendency to shoot the Indigenous Australians en masse too.  And when you get stories about how settlers had a particular taste for the body parts of fallen rebels or indigenous peoples as trophies.  People don’t generally take kindly to having the bodies of their relatives looted as trophies.  So much for the ‘enlightened’ European ancestry.

After all, Islamists are bloodthirsty fanatics who will chop off your head for having ideas that differ from their own primitive superstitions, who treat women like chattel, and who see it as the height of virtue to blow up other people’s children.

Yes, of course, but one wonders what lead to the rise in extremism in the Middle East in the first place.  Could it be, possibly, all the meddling the rest of the world did which took away the Palestinian’s land, forcing them to live in open air prisons, or drawing borders and dividing up tribal groups?  Or how about invading Arab lands based on pretence?  And, the author conveniently forgets that blowing up other people’s children isn’t necessarily the height of virtue for those extremists, but also for the guys doing the invading.  But, oh, that’s right.  It’s not ‘dropping bombs on other people’s children‘, when your guys do it, it’s ‘killed an unidentified number of militants‘.  For the life of me, I just can’t understand what all those extremists are so pissed off about.

They also can entwine their nerve hairs with a tree that allows them to hear the memories of their ancestors. They are literally one with nature!

Who’da thunk it?

The Na’vi talk incessantly about flows of energy. And there’s the Tree of Souls at the center of their world. The scientists who created the avatars find that it has a strange, unexplainable flux field around it. Can you say, “May the Force be with you?”

No, but I can certainly say that you’re an idiot.  Since humanity has ramped up its production of just about everything, we have been destroying the ecosystems that support us and benefit us.  While I may be the most unlikely environmentalist among us (personally, I hate nature and everything out there is, essentially, trying to kill me) I’ll gladly be the first to point out that bulldozing wetlands which absorb hurricanes to build up residential areas are fucking stupid.  Equally so are the continued planting of ‘English style’ lawns and gardens which cultivate plant life not suited to the local environment.  Further still is the damning rivers which provide much-needed nutrients further downstream for farming and agriculture or which restrict water flow to such an extent that the health of the river system is put at risk due to increased salinity levels, which in turn impacts fresh drinking water supplies.  Even relying too heavily on artesian bores for supplies of drinking water, where some springs take millions of years to receive their water.

I hate to break it to the patronising author and fervent Objectivist, but fact of the matter is that you are dependant on the continued existence of the ecosystems which exist upon the Earth for his survival and our current activities, as a species, has a tendency to put that at risk.  Unless of course he thinks he’s some kind of God, and I wouldn’t put it past him.

…use their command of the environment and its animals to beat the evil masters of technology.

Or, to put it plain and simply, they use their particular strengths and their particular knowledge to their advantage and fight off those who would force their will upon them.  I understand, totally in conflict with Egoist philosophy.  Not credible at all.

“...we became selfish and put ourselves as individuals in conflict with others. We created creature comforts that cut us off from our natural world and our natural selves. Civilization was the enemy of our virtue.

This, of course, is moral nonsense. A look at primitive peoples from the prehistoric to the original inhabitants of America to the odd jungle tribe today shows brutality, superstition that leads to ostracism and murder, and institutionalized human sacrifice along with the occasional “respect” for animal spirits. And, in fact, virtue consists in disciplining our appetites and urges, in the light of reason, toward our individual well-being, which will also lead us to respect our fellows and deal with them based on mutual consent.

Okay, so, the author wants to espouse the virtues of modern America and justify every atrocity the American Government has made in the name of prosperity.  The Iron Fist working towards some Absurd Objective utopia.  More or less.  All that has been produced in modern America, or any modern State which has successfully triumphed over those brutal, uncivilised, natives is righteous and unholy.  Moral nonsense?  Hardly.

Murder, fundamentally, cannot be justified; that isn’t a matter of moral nonsense but one of fact.  If one allows murder, one invites nihilism and nihilism necessary implies the negation of every other to prove its fundamental propositions; that there is no value in existence, that there is no god, that there is no morality.  Excluding, for a moment, the prospect of self-defence, war is merely murder with a rubber stamp.  An official seal does not make the act itself any different; like putting a pig in a dress.  Even considering the prospect of self-defence, the history of colonisation, empire and the modern society we live in, has been based on an aggressive, hostile position taken by most European powers and, presently, the American government.

But, to return to the point, American society is no more holy than the ‘barbarians’ the author wishes to belittle.  Much of the history of America has been aggressive, militaristic and has involved many wars, coups, civil wars, assassinations, political killings and toleration of all kinds of evil in the name of furthering the wishes of the American government.  Internally, crusades and witch hunts have been waged to quell dissent, with dissenters being imprisoned for lengthy periods of time and even executed.  That is barbarous.  The fact is, we, modern man, have not changed all that significantly from the mentality of our barbarian ancestors.  The only difference is now that the ruling elites have larger and more powerful institutions from which to propel themselves upon all others, domestic or internationally and have bigger, better, more shinier toys with which to club each other over the head with.  America, or any other country for that matter, is no bastion of civilisation.  No fortress of virtue.  We are still just as brutal and just as permissive as ever.

The author goes on to write a brilliant piece of rhetoric;

There’s nothing noble about the impotence over one’s world that comes from one’s ignorance. There’s nothing noble about being unable to build adequate shelters against the forces of nature, produce adequate food against famines, or discover adequate medicines against illness.

But of course, this is meaningless.  Any cursory glance at indigenous cultures will find that, all too often, their method for building shelter had adapted to their particular environment.  Not to mention that many of the ecosystem that had formed, naturally, remained in place which would have resulted in lessening the impact of the forces of nature.  Not to mention that despite the author’s sentiment, indigenous populations weren’t totally fucking stupid; even to them it became obvious that if an area was regularly affected by drought, storms or high seas, than, perhaps, it was not a particularly good idea to live there and they should probably move on — the natural human tendency that renders such things as the ‘evil of ‘illegal immigration’ bizarre.

Then, furthermore, often indigenous populations had medicines that protected them against the illnesses or injuries that they suffered.  Just because Europe and the rest of the Euro-centric world went through a period where they thought it fashionable to cure serious illness with illness or never opening their windows (so much for an ‘advanced’ culture), many indigenous populations were known to have their own forms of anesthetic.  Indigenous Australian groups today, have cures to illness or injuries (such as life-threatening injuries sustained by large jelly-fish that float in Australian waters) that modern Science has ignored.

Not to mention that many modern medicines have found their inspiration, or foundation in indigenous medicinal practice.

But instead we decided to shoot them because we wanted to land.  Well, yup.  That sure was a rational, civilised way of going about it.

And I’ll leave you with this paragraph.  Needless to say, it illustrates the height of irony coming from a person who is so ready to sweep history under the rug to prove how great the modern state is.  Though, honestly, you really couldn’t expect much else from authoritarians.

That’s not the world. But powerful images like those in Avatar have nothing to do with reality. Unlike rational arguments, they can create and reinforce deadly ideas in a culture.




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