‘Avatar’ Indignation Thread

By popular request (and my need for a place to vent, still), this is the thread in which to point out plot holes, the rampant racism, (hetero)sexism and ableism, and general all-round problems with James Cameron’s new ‘epic’, Avatar. Also welcome are any arguments for its worth: I’m troubled by how one-sided I’m feeling about this one! Please note that the comments will be full of SPOILERS!

An updateable list of reviews (spoileriffic too):

Annalee Newitz at io9 (warning: comments may cause steaming ears) “When will White People Stop Making Films like Avatar?”

Esté Yarmosh at FWD/Feminists with Disabilities “Future Portrayals of People With Disabilities? Cameron’s Avatar

Meloukhia, also at FWD/Feminists with Disabilitites “James Cameron’s Avatar: Watch some -isms this December!”

SEK at Lawyers, Guns and Money “Intentions Be Damned, Avatar is Racist…”

Categories: arts & entertainment, Politics

Tags: , , , , , ,

50 replies

  1. I have, to date, refused to go see it, and have quite reasonably explained why. But my god “but the FX are so awesome!” thing is such a piss-off. I don’t care about the FX. It’s all about the story. And the story wasn’t new, so how can this movie be revolutionary? Feh.

  2. I very much enjoyed this thread at Shakesville, talking about the 3-D aspect of Avatar: 2-D or not 2-D. Yeah listen it’s really great that you spent all that money on 3-D effects buuuuuut a lot of us can’t see 3-D.
    Like myself. I’m sighted but I can’t see 3-D. Or, others can see 3-D but it gives them a headache.

  3. For what it is worth….
    I think I’m about to get into trouble, since this is soooo not the place to write this.
    I saw it and in 3D..which I didn’t really notice except for the text. Whether that meant it worked really well or not..ehh it doesn’t matter. Can I say it is very pretty? cause it is.
    I didn’t hate it. Which means after everything I’ve read means (and mostly agree with) I’m shallow, racist and a bad feminist…again. It seems to happen a lot to me. Oh well, that’s my lot 😉
    It is an old story and its what us humans do best…take over and kill. Maybe it was meant to be a wake up call, that we do and will always do this shit. So maybe lets stop.
    Actually I don’t think it is meant to be that deep.
    The outsider saving the day, no matter how far fetched, hmm such a novel idea.
    I have not seen such righteous white guilt anger over similar themes movies like ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ or ‘Last Of The Mohicans’ etc where it is vaguely based on real life.
    Bunch of 10 foot blue people and their trees and the soap boxes are out.
    What kind of movies should be made? What themes will be deemed suitable for all?
    Without good guys, bad guys and uncomfortable issues we will be stuck with ‘Road Trip’

    • @Coz

      I have not seen such righteous white guilt anger over similar themes movies like ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ or ‘Last Of The Mohicans’ etc where it is vaguely based on real life.
      Bunch of 10 foot blue people and their trees and the soap boxes are out.

      ‘Last of the Mohicans’ came out before so many people had blogs to soapbox from, and was based on a ‘classic’ novel that had already had many of these critiques of romanticising appropriation made against it in lit-crit classes for years. It was a known known, if you like.
      ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ , while very much a “white guilt” film, is nonetheless very different from Avatar precisely because it is based on a real story and the real indigenous people involved in that story had input into that film. This doesn’t make it necessarily perfect, certainly one can argue about the depth of characterisation of the white people in that film, but the indigenous protagonists are fully realised complex people, not just ciphers. (Also it’s easy to get distracted from analysing the problems raised by white people telling indigenous stories when the major noise about a film is culture warrior smears from Bolt, Blair et al who just want to portray the whole story of the Stolen Generation as a pack of lies from start to finish.)
      That said, put me down in the box of mixed reactions. I didn’t hate all of Avatar, some of the scenes (taken as stand-alones) were pure exhilaration, but it doesn’t blind me to the problems of its social politics. This story could have been told so much better.
      By the way, as a compare and contrast, here’s a classic article by David Brin about the elitist semiotics of Star Wars.
      This quote is very relevant to Avatar:

      In “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Joseph Campbell showed how a particular, rhythmic storytelling technique was used in almost every ancient and pre-modern culture, depicting protagonists and antagonists with certain consistent motives and character traits, a pattern that transcended boundaries of language and culture. In these classic tales, the hero begins reluctant, yet signs and portents foretell his pre-ordained greatness. He receives dire warnings and sage wisdom from a mentor, acquires quirky-but-faithful companions, faces a series of steepening crises, explores the pit of his own fears and emerges triumphant to bring some boon/talisman/victory home to his admiring tribe/people/nation.
      By offering valuable insights into this revered storytelling tradition, Joseph Campbell did indeed shed light on common spiritual traits that seem shared by all human beings. And I’ll be the first to admit it’s a superb formula — one that I’ve used at times in my own stories and novels.
      Alas, Campbell only highlighted positive traits, completely ignoring a much darker side — such as how easily this standard fable-template was co-opted by kings, priests and tyrants, extolling the all-importance of elites who tower over common women and men. Or the implication that we must always adhere to variations on a single story, a single theme, repeating the same prescribed plot outline over and over again. Those who praise Joseph Campbell seem to perceive this uniformity as cause for rejoicing — but it isn’t. Playing a large part in the tragic miring of our spirit, demigod myths helped reinforce sameness and changelessness for millennia, transfixing people in nearly every culture, from Gilgamesh all the way to comic book super heroes.
      It is essential to understand the radical departure taken by genuine science fiction, which comes from a diametrically opposite literary tradition — a new kind of storytelling that often rebels against those very same archetypes Campbell venerated. An upstart belief in progress, egalitarianism, positive-sum games — and the slim but real possibility of decent human institutions.
      And a compulsive questioning of rules!

      It goes on to detail stuff I never thought about before regarding the deeper messages of Lucas’ fluffy Yoda-Jedi philosophy, and where exactly they lead. Talk about problematic politics!
      (and another, just for fun: The Fascist font of Star Wars)

  4. I loved the visuals, and I thought the chemistry between the leads was impressive (especially when Jake Sully as human was juxtaposed with Neyteri). That said, it was incredibly racist and ableist with a whole lot of other isms in there as well.
    For me it was a step forward in technology, but the story itself was a failure of the imagination. I enjoyed it, and appreciate the possibilities the technology will bring to film. I also think the critism levelled at it is valid. I’d be interested to see a longer rant from you WP (even though it could be dangerous :P).

  5. Coz:

    ”Which means after everything I’ve read means (and mostly agree with) I’m shallow, racist and a bad feminist…again.”

    Can you show me where someone has said that, please? The fandom conversations I’ve been involved with repeat, over and over and over again, that we all watch problematic stuff, and that we’re all allowed to like and/or get something out of problematic stuff. The only problem is if people try to suppress and silence (and abuse, and threaten) people who are speaking out about the problematic nature of said stuff.
    Is there any particular reason you think that all the people critiquing Avatar are engaging in “white guilt”? I’ve read a few critiques from white folks, a few from folks of colour, and quite a lot more from people whose racial identification is unknown to me (and I don’t want to assume, because that will end up with people being offended and me looking a right twonk). And a few from people who are talking primarily about ableism, not racism (including links in this post) – do you think those people are coming from a place of “white guilt” also?

  6. Hi there coz: I’m non-white and disabled, and I’m not engaging in white guilt about this movie, I am just being angry. And a good part of that anger is also as a drama school graduate (and a sci fi fan!) so I think I can offer a few insights about what kind of movies should be made, if WP will excuse my long and not totally Avatar-focussed comment.
    The clash of good and bad, dominating, being a hero, all those big themes of human experience, are the stuff of drama. That’s well and good. The point is that Cameron and co had an opportunity, with all their resources and imaginations, to make something new: to subvert those themes and traditions, or critique them, or confront them, or even just acknowledge them. But instead the film just dived straight back in to telling that same story of white, abled, etc dominance that, well, dominates the science fiction establishment and Hollywood too. And that’s lazy, bad storytelling. If you’ve got all these resources at your disposal, if you’ve got all this backing to create whatever vision you want – and how many marginalised creative folk have that? – I think you could at least engage with the narratives you’re playing into and create something new, something better. Instead, what’s being contributed here is cool new filming techniques and a load of done and dusted bigotry. In science fiction, there’s a long tradition of 10 ft blue people and the like being direct stand-ins for non-white people in some really problematic ways, which is clearly what’s going on with Avatar. It should be painfully apparent to Cameron and co that they are playing into a whole lot of tired and offensive SF traditions, but instead they seem to be ignoring that in favour of coming up with their own ‘latest scifi rehash of an old white guilt fantasy,’ as Annalee Newitz puts it (there’s the white guilt!). One of my biggest concerns with such marginalising work, apart from the perpetuation of bad ideas about marginalised groups, is that the overwhelming presence of whiteness in films, novels, etc means that white thought, myth, story blocks, with all the racism therein, take over the responder’s imagination. And that has had quite some impact on many non-white people consuming and creating stories (try deepad’s I Didn’t Dream of Dragons). And, of course, the same goes for disabled people and so forth (not even going to touch the history of disability and science fiction just now). If fantasy/speculative fiction/science fiction is about taking us into another world, or allowing us to explore something of ourselves, I’ve got to ask who the ‘us’ is in films like Avatar. Because that kind of oppressor-centered storytelling doesn’t lift me up on to another plane or allow me to enjoy the story, it just puts me right back in my marginalised box. I’m not going to make judgements about what kinds of stories can or should be made, but I think the creators have to have a good think about the impacts they’ll have on audiences – and if you’re expecting people to come see your film, I think you ought to try do it well.
    Liking a movie doesn’t make you a bad feminist; we hardly have control over what kind of feelings we have, yeah? (I am a (not so) closet fan of pink sparkly things and How I Met Your Mother, for instance!) A great deal of the power of dramatic work is that it taps into those pathways and thoughts and ways (of being, experiencing, thinking, feeling). That doesn’t take away from the importance of examining, critiquing, questioning what creative works mean, their making and their effects. Also, examining responses (one’s own, those of others) to such works serves to make the whole experience of these works richer too, I find!

  7. Thanks, Chally.

  8. I live to give, orlando! Also, I just want to apologise to Coz as I didn’t capitalise your name!

  9. I didn’t hate it, but like Jha, for me it’s all about the story and this one had plot holes you could drive a truck through, was completely unoriginal and left me very much underwhelmed. And the 3D gave me a headache.

  10. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with Michelle Rodriguez in it where she doesn’t die.
    Loved the visuals with Avatar. It has set a new benchmark for special effects. If only it could have set a new benchmark in original screen play.

  11. I’m just tired of the same old white-guy-comes-and-saves-oppressed-people schtick. Can I go even further, and say it’s a really masculinist story, as well? Sure, JC “gives” us some kick ass female roles, but it’s always the white hero who saves everyone in the end, so it’s basically just another author/filmaker “put myself in the role of hero” story – a wish fulfillment fantasy for the days when white knights rode in and saved the day, and everyone was fawningly grateful.
    I’m bored. There are so many possibilities for interesting, subversive, or simply new storytelling with a setting like Avatar, but perhaps asking JC to think beyond himself (when he’s particularly known for being kind of an ass) is the greatest fantasy of all. It’s not just white guilt, it’s white *male* guilt that informs his storytelling – not the critiques – because it’s the white males (who else in charge, after all?) who muck things up, so the special white knight male has to come in and fix things, so that all white males everywhere can subconsciously say “see? I was on the side of the good guy, so I’m not associated with those other white males, and I’m forgiven”.
    Okay, I think I’m done being snotty now. But I do think it’s important to note the story itself brings up the white guilt, not the critiques, which is what a lot of commenters seem to be deliberately misintepreting, to protect themselves from feeling… oh, let’s call it guilt.

  12. Here’s the thing. The animation doesn’t look convincing to me at all. It looks like… every other computer-generated animation ever. Hollow, not beholden to the laws of physics that we here in the real world obey… about as tasty and nutritious as a marshmallow Peep.
    The story makes me too angry to be able to mindlessly enjoy it, and the “amazing technology” looks like I’d be uncomfortably aware it was technology the whole time I watched, unable to just sit back and soak in.
    So I’ve no interest whatsoever. I’m just waiting for the next action/blockbuster-type movie to come out so McDonalds can run different commercials during my hockey game and I don’t have to be reminded of the damn thing and its amazing, breakthrough TECHNOLOGYYYY everywhere I turn.
    ETA: Also, this film is being sold quite specifically as a Thoughtful Film, a film that Means Things and Makes A Point. It’s not Transformers Sequel X. It’s a “colonialist critique.” Etc.
    We are all allowed to enjoy the things we enjoy — see abovementioned hockey for me, for instance — even if they aren’t perfect. Because nothing is.
    But complaining when people do point out the problems… that’s not enjoying what you enjoy, anymore: it’s refusing to allow others to enjoy what they enjoy. It’s saying “If I enjoyed it, everyone else must also.” It shuts down very important conversations that need to be had. Sometimes, remember, we’re critiquing things we *like* because we just want to see them improve, too.

  13. The scenes that pissed me off the *most* were the ones after the first major battle. The People’s home has been destroyed. They’ve lost a lot of friends and family, and their leader. When do we see *the entire population* gather to use their energy to heal? For a white, human woman. Nothing even hinted at that the People had already healed their own. Nothing acknowledging collective mourning, or even, really, individual grief, except for Neytiri’s for her father, in a different scene.
    And then all over again for the final battle and The Special White Dude Snowflake. Eesh.

  14. Yeah, I weary of it too, AL! … And given that I’ve been asked to rant at length, well… let’s start at the beginning and see what moments I laughed/cringed/hid my head at, shall we?
    We begin at the beginning with a marine who has become – and it becomes clear that this is how he and others think of it – ‘confined to a wheelchair’. The ableism of this movie is just so incredible (see some of the critiques above): basically, we start with a man with a ‘broken’ body, give him a ‘fully functional’ Na’vi body, and then he becomes so attached to the Na’vi body, and its capacity to link him in to the ‘neural network’ of the planet that he is ‘moved’ (in a classic and thoroughly Western moment of assuming the mind is separable from the body) permanently into that body. This is his moment of actualising potential: he leaves behind his disabled body in order to access the perfect body of his double. Lucky the avatars don’t seem to have brains of their own, huh? I’m not suggesting that there are no people with disabilitites who feel this way, it’s just that it’s exactly how anyone who has a disability is meant to feel: broken, inadequate, and longing for a normal body. And in the end, this is demonstrated to be the correct way to feel about his body. The ableism of the entire encampment is never queried (though it is used to demonstrate that the hardarse captain dude Sully dukes it out with at the end, is either a) realistic or b) an arsehole. Or both, I guess).
    So, more story: the colonialists are… rampantly colonialist. This might be vaguely realistic in that even though humans have destroyed earth, they’ve not learned their lesson really. That would seem to be pretty much where we are now. But they ignore, of course, the lessons of ‘science’, more concerned with profit. OK, so there’s a critique of capitalism and a vote for a green movement. If they weren’t so sledgehammer-obvious, I might be interested. But honest to goodness, this ‘message’ felt like a kids’ story to me, and it was earned, I think, through the pretty of the CGI forest: how could we not save it? Bioluminescence! So pretty! Bleargh.
    Then we have the dangerous forest, attacking our Sully until Neytiri saves him from himself. And why does she do this, we might ask? Oh, because he has a ‘strong heart’. I ranted about this on the other thread, but oh wow, it bears repeating. Somehow, she senses his ‘strong heart’, even though, as the story goes on, it becomes clear that she is primarily concerned with the capacity to live in harmony with the forest. Which. Well, the Na’vi do look an awful, awful lot like the romanticised Western imagining of indigenous peoples all over: living in harmony with the land, only ever doing good to/with it. The marrying of an environmental message to this romanticisation of the noble savage is so problematic. But it becomes clear that real ‘strength’ for the Na’vi just quite simply isn’t evidenced in this pre-immersion Sully; there is no sign of Na’vi-style strength. So the entire story rests on an encounter I think contradicts pretty much the rest of the movie. But then, conveniently, Neytiri is convinced to whisk him away to her home because a special tree marks him as special with floating seeds. A wizard did it.
    So, the Na’vi tribe, with a man as leader, and a woman as a spiritual leader. Oh yes, because women are so much more in touch with the earth and with nature and with feeeelings, and men LEAD. And they’re married. I’m sorry, the patriarchal structure of this tribe bugs me, and it only got worse as the movie went on. It’s clear from the get-go that Neytiri, who’s a pretty feisty woman, a wickedly good hunter and bright to boot, is promised to a man of her tribe, and that they will, together, replace her parents as the leading couple. She has no option in this. But don’t worry! John Smith – I mean, Jake Sully – will save Pocohontas – I mean, Neytiri, from the patriarchy she suffers under, and liberate her to… his own special version of patriarchy. Yay! World saved! More on this in a bit.
    So, Neytiri is roped into teaching Sully how to be a Na’vi – how to move in the forest, work with it instead of against it, and so on. He’s accepted into the tribe. Neytiri tells him that he can now choose a woman. He says he already has. And – wait for it – ‘she has to choose me back’. What a flirt! So they have sex, and weirdly enough, even though Sully has had to be taught all other Na’vi physical movement, this one comes naturally because magically the Na’vi have sex just like humans do! Lucky! People actually laughed out loud in the cinema I was in; I kinda loved the audience I was in with! (I have a secret desire to mashup shots from ‘Teeth’ with this scene. I’m perverse that way).
    There are other problems, but I’m getting bored just with the recap, so let’s skip along. Sully’s discovered to be a double agent. Neytiri’s grumpy, and so’s the rest of the Na’vi. Because somehow, Sully, with his Magickal Powers of Flexible Whiteman-ness, has in three months learnt enough about the Na’vi way of life to utterly outstrip them at their own way of life. Ugh. Yes, I’m sure it never occurred to any of the Na’vi, who have a far better sense of vertical orientations (as in, they move up and down in the forest with ease, not just horizontally), that attacking the big flying reptile-bird from above might be the best chance of success. That’s Sully’s magickal whiteman-ness! Yay for whiteness! I started to get really angry right about here. He returns, and with his new beast of burden (seriously, the politics around animals in this movie are SO PROBLEMATIC. I don’t even want to begin to go there) and thus proving his dominance and capacity to lead. And this, allegedly, makes Neytiri so weak at the knees she leaves her own steed behind to swing herself up behind him. I know I’m sensitive to this stuff, but at this moment, I ‘ugh’ed aloud.
    Moment of digression: ever noticed how all the heroes in all the recent stories are men who are ‘special’ or ‘chosen’ or whatever in some way? And how they tend to be accompanied by some kick-ass girl who, if he wasn’t ‘chosen’ or ‘special’ or marked in some way, would ABSOLUTELY be the hero? (Oh, Hermione, you deserved your own series!) Neytiri’s got the chops, totally, and I can’t help feeling like JC had a story he could have told that would have at least troubled the racial dynamics a little, and upended the sexual dynamics entirely. And those of you who want to say ‘but then we wouldn’t have followed his shift into being a tree-hugger,’ oh lordy. It’s like attack_laurel says, we’ve got the white man discovering how to be good so that we, the audience, are exonerated. Except of course, we’re exonerated from racism, allegedly, by an incredibly racist story.
    Anyway. So Sully gives certain select members of the tribes comms and guns, and so there’s the big boss battle which inevitably is reduced to a duel in which Neytiri gets to stand in for the planet Sully’s protecting. They win; because of the aforementioned comms and guns and Sully’s flexy whiteman knowledge of how to fight. And there are explosions. Big ones. And then he earns not only his place in the tribe but gets to keep his avatar body and remain the fully-actualised man the tribe has allowed him to be. Because that’s what it’s actually about: about him him him; about Sully overcoming his disability, about Sully ‘learning more’, about Sully winning the girl. And this is made entirely clear, as Jet points out, by the Speshul Snowflake being given priority over all else, including healing members of the tribe, in permanently gaining his new body.
    The figuring of whiteness in this movie is just so offensively racist (and honestly, does anyone really want to argue that this isn’t about the invasion of the USA?!). White men are more flexible than any other: they can learn the ‘ways of the forest’ and combine them with white rationalism. They can adapt. They are blank slates. Or wait; brawny men who don’t sully themselves with brainy-thinky-ness (compared to the scientists, for e.g.), or with silly girly emotiony-ness, but who are just all bodily instinct and smartness; they’re blank slates. Blank slates just waiting to be written on, but they can then take what they’ve been taught and mix it up in ways that would never occur to anyone else. Especially not the natives. After all, they are simply a means to his self-actualisation. They can’t be expected to actually learn or change or do anything themselves; they don’t have it in them; in fact, they can’t, or the whiteman’s Snowflakey-ness just evaporates. And we just couldn’t have that.
    Rawr. Grr. Rawr. Apologies for the sketchiness and the grumpiness, all. Also for the excessive amounts of sarcasm. And feel free to call me out on anything you think I’ve mis-stepped on. And I don’t doubt there’s more, so keep it coming, my friends!

  15. For some reason, I don’t think I will be rushing out to see this one. 😛

  16. Wow, Coz, that comment was so close to Moff’s Law, but I’ll echo the others – it’s worthwhile analysing the kind of messages that the movie communicates. It doesn’t matter whether Cameron made the movie for it to be critiqued – it’s still worthwhile to analyse it in order to place it within the larger context of what stories have been told, and what that tells us about society today. It is possible to enjoy something while still criticizing it and acknowledging its flaws.
    I won’t be going to see it anyway. Since this is a “classic boy’s adventure” and not a “chick flick,” and what with the Na’vi women needing breasts (because an unfuckable-looking love interest – impossible!), just… well, no.

  17. Awesome, WP. I told my husband he could see it if he wanted, but I really didn’t want to – I’m not going to police his choices. But your excellent summation alone made my eyes roll so far back in my head I saw neurons exploding.
    The white-man-shows-everyone-how-it’s-done is like the ultimate man’splaining – of course he can do everything better than the natives. James Cameron is just Gary Stu-ing himself into Dances With Wolves, and hoping no-one will notice because it’s a Movie With A Message.
    Honestly, Aliens was better. I miss Ripley.

  18. I think that’s part of what bugs me, attack_laurel and amandaw: it’s being sold as a Very Pretty Movie with a Message, but it’s sledgehammer-obvious, which means that the basic message isn’t going to convince anyone who was otherwise unconvinced. It’s preaching to the choir; or really, as so many have pointed out, it’s Fern Gully with explosions and sex. The message hasn’t developed, or grown up. And honestly, sci fi pretty much *is* movies with messages; just often better ones, or more complex, or more interesting. That’s part of what bugs me here: this movie is being hailed as something new and amazing and engaging and epic. What kind of sci fi movies are going to get the go-ahead on the basis of this movie’s success? Ugh.
    It’s exactly as Chally pointed out above: Cameron had the opportunity to truly negotiate with racism, sexism, ableism. Instead, he went for the easy out, in the name of an oversimplified anti-colonialism premised on all three. Bleargh.

  19. “It’s exactly as Chally pointed out above: Cameron had the opportunity to truly negotiate with racism, sexism, ableism. Instead, he went for the easy out, in the name of an oversimplified anti-colonialism premised on all three. Bleargh.”
    But why would Cameron, or the studio for whom he works do that, when you can make much more money through lazily rehearsing the same old tropes? The reason this film gets made is to maximise the studio’s profit in an environment in which they’re running shit-scared about audiences ignoring the cinema. Hence all the marketing stuff about this breakthrough, game-changing technology. Hence $180 million thrown at marketing the film and working all possible angles; e.g the purported ‘green’ message. The marketing department are the ones initially hailing it as ‘something new and amazing and engaging and epic’. Sadly, too many film reviewers are too lazy to do much more than rehash the press release, so they go along with that story.
    I agree that one way of attracting audiences who feel alienated by the current state of cinema is to to tell stories of the type described by Chally above. And there’s plenty of films doing that. It’s just that often they’re not mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. The amount of money it needs to make them usually means they’ll be extremely conservative and not take any risks either politically or aesthetically. And it works. ‘Avatar’ has taken a shitload of money. It’s done its job.
    But you could choose to go and see ‘Bright Star’ as well, for instance. Which you may well find to be a more satisfying film, but, alas, doesn’t have a ginormous marketing budget and so is in danger of doing badly at the box office and so making it more difficult for such films to be produced in the future.
    And yes Tigtog, Joseph Campbell is actually really suss IMHO.

    • @Fine,
      good points on the balance-sheet realities underpinning any such venture as Cameron’s, and thus why it was never likely to be “good” (i.e. subversive) SF. It’s a very consciously targeted holiday blockbuster, and as such it was always going to be inherently a conservative narrative behind the special effects.
      Thanks for the Bright Star reminder – I’m going to make a point of catching that (although will probs catch STEAMPUNK IRONMAN with the family first).

  20. attack_laurel, I love you to pieces, but I seriously need a Greasemonkey script to change your name as it appears on my screen. Every single time, my brain processes it as “attack_lauredhel”!
    Thanks for this discussion – it’s been terrific. Y’all have very thinky thoughts.

  21. Beyond the good points raised, I found the ethnographic gaze of the scientists imperialist in its own way. To wit, I think the basic message of that (and why the scientists get redeemed, unlike teh military) is “it’s cool to study native peoples if you’re nice to them and they know cool stuff.”
    Which is just the teensiest bit objectifying, no? And the whole complicity of that with imperialism is pretty much elided – the avatars wouldn’t even exist without the economic-military interests at work, but somehow the scientists get a pass on this. They too presumably have “pure hearts.”

  22. Ugh, I *did* misremember that, didn’t I? ‘Pure’ not ‘strong’. Makes it even worse, I reckon.
    And yeah, science does get a get out of jail free card, I think. Apparently ‘schools’ are okay, for example, even as education has always been one of the key tools of assimilation following colonisation…!

    • Aside: is anyone else pissed off that Neytiri got to ride the giant panther creature for only about 15 minutes before it got killed? All the triumph of doing something nobody else had ever done (there had been previous riders of the dragon-thing otherwise Sully would never have got the idea) snatched away from her instead of being able to nobly release (to great acclaim) the kickarse tamed monster like Sully got to do with his dragon?

  23. @tigtog, I was really disturbed by the scene with Neytiri and the panther.
    *trigger warning*
    I found it really disturbing that when Neytiri and the panther fight the Bad Dude, it’s (as far as I remember) the only time we see a knife used in a fight, where there were other weapons available. As the fight plays out, the panther is knocked down by the much larger mechanised brute, pinning Neytiri underneath. Bad Dude then repeatedly stabs the panther while Neytiri lies trapped underneath and screaming – but we can’t see her. It read to me like a symbolic rape scene, – overpowered, trapped woman, the screaming, the repeated thrusting of the knife, the camera focus on the looming, much larger man … and I just bet it was entirely unconscious on the part of Cameron.
    There were so many other ways they could have played that fight, but they had to do it that way.

  24. ok…Happy new year …finally in the USA. Only a day behind from the Mother Land 😉 Lots of snow and a blue moon makes for beautiful night.
    4 foster puppies running rampant and…. well running rampant. I blame them.
    Trust me they tear out the connection way too often.
    tigtog i love you
    Moffs laws was good reading and fairly appropriate I will admit…(there is a laws for everything these days, i thought i was safe by not mentioning Hitler..i know that one)
    I knew i was in trouble posting because i need to learn to articulate myself better. I wish i could be Devil Advocate, they mostly are fun and good at the word thing.
    I joke…really…
    But Devils Advocate..
    I wish i knew you all in real life then it would be easier to chat.

    • @Coz

      I joke…really…
      But Devils Advocate..
      I wish i knew you all in real life then it would be easier to chat.

      Ah Coz, given that I do know your sister in real life perhaps I should have guessed you were being a bit wry.

  25. I liked it. Happy new year folks.

  26. Gah…
    Note to self- never ever comment after a few New Years drinky poos. Less sense than normal.
    Though I still blame the puppies.
    Happy new year everyone

  27. My contribution to the sheer shock and awe that is Avatar: Jar Jar Binks Meets Pocahontas
    As for the naked fascism and ersatz myths of Star Wars: We Must Love One Another or Die

    • @Athena,
      Oh, thank you for pointing this bit out:

      Also, its independent biogenesis would give rise to life forms that would not remotely resemble us. But let’s concede that point for the sake of audience identification. Since all Pandoran animals are six-limbed and four-eyed, the Na’vi would share these evolutionary attributes. This would actually make them far more interesting.

      I kept on meaning to come back here and mention this particular peeve. Where’s their other pair of arms/eyes?

      • @Athena,
        Nice Star Wars dissection. Have you seen One Man Star Wars yet? Thank goodness it’s the Luke Skywalker trilogy rather than the Anakin one, and Charles Ross has a lightly subversive touch when pointing out the manifold narrative flaws while still enjoying the fun bits.

  28. @tigtog: The Na’vi extra arms/eyes went the way of plot logic, character depth, original concepts and similar extraneous stuff. I mean, you don’t want people to think, do ya? Are you (*shudder*) a … liberal elitist?? A bit more on this endemic and emblematic problem: Science Fiction Goes MacDonald’s: Less Taste, More Gristle
    P. S. I just saw your comment #35. Glad you liked the article! I haven’t seen the Ross dissection, but will search it out now .

  29. So, according to Miranda Devine, Avatar is full of LEFTIST PROPAGANDA OMG. (Trigger Warning: this reivew uses the term “rape” to describe things that are not rape.)

  30. Oh yes according to Devine the movie was too ideologically heavy, ‘anti-American’ and environmentally preachy. Apparently as an antidote to movies like Avatar we need to go and see films like Knocked Up. She hits the nail on the head, as always…

  31. Devine’s perspicacity never ceases to amaze. /snark

  32. Well yeah, the movie does specifically make reference to quotes made about Iraq, sympathise with the alien colonised rather than the human colonisers, and imply that western civilisation – or at least a variation of it in the future – has turned the earth into a ‘dying world’. It’s largely for these reasons – and specifically the first – that Overland recently gave it a sympathetic review.

  33. DP’s blog about “Why Avatar Doesn’t Play Like A White Guy Supercedes The Natives Movie” might be an interesting take on this discussion:

    • Here’s some interesting revelations about the original story as envisioned by Cameron in his first “scriptment” written just after he finished Titanic: see how many points in it would have made it a much more interesting film for you (although it’s unlikely that all of them could have remained in any final film).

      – Earth and its environmental problems are explored
      – We see Josh Sully’s Avatar being born
      – It’s revealed the Avatar program exists to train Na’vi to be an indigenous workforce for the Corporation, since it’s so expensive to send human workers
      – There are more humans, including a bioethics officer on the take, a video journalist, a head of the Avatar program and a second military dickwad
      – There is an Avatar controller who is burnt out because his Avatar died with him in it. He committed Avatar suicide because he had fallen in love with a Na’vi girl who had been killed by the military
      – The Avatars have a Na’vi guide named N’Deh, who is sleeping with Grace
      – Grace survives the soul transfer
      – Josh Sully gains the Na’vi trust by being a member of the community. He also excels in a major hunt
      – Josh Sully shows his leadership not by taming a dragon but by leading a raid on Hell’s Gate to rescue prisoners
      – Josh Sully isn’t the only Na’vi to ride a big dragon
      – Pandora is a living entity and it sees the humans as a virus; it has been mobilizing the plants and animals to attack all along because it wanted to force the humans out
      – There is no unobtainium beneath Hometree. The military just wants to wipe out the local Na’vi to send a message to all the tribes that they must be obeyed.
      – Some of the humans and the Avatar controllers rise up in the final big battle
      – Josh Sully tells the Earth that Pandora will give any humans that return a disease that will wipe out humanity

      Source –

  34. I liked it too, and even if i hadn’t enjoyed it as entertainment, I’m far from ready to roll my eyes at its obvious shortcomings and oversimplifications, given that it’s trying to make a mass-market engagement with imperialism, racism/speciesism, and ecological vandalism. And not incidentally with the battle between corporate media and the internet.

    • Chacon à son goût and all that, but I enjoy being Red Queen-ish about my engagement with pop culture (except six conflicting/overlapping responses instead of six impossible things).
      I’m perfectly capable of enjoying an entertainment AND enjoying rolling my eyes at elements of the “show” AND enjoying several other reactions to background information that I know about its creation and the responses that mainstream culture and various subculture groups are having to it. I like switching from one way of enjoying the experience to another. It’s all part of the mix.

  35. Disappointing as so much of that movie was, I will forever sigh and be sad that those lovely floating dandelion/jellyfish things don’t actually exist.

  36. @Athena, Tigtog: I, too, was irked by the missing Na’vi limbs. There’s really no excuse–forget the science, it would have been much cooler to see! Two bows at once! Whee!

  37. I had to perch the 3D glasses on top of my real glasses – it would be useful to have some sort of clip-on 3D glasses as well as standard ones. And my eyes are sore today. I have very slight astigmatism, in both eyes. It’s so slight that it can’t be picked up just by looking at my eyes; it takes an optometrist. I suspect, though I don’t know, that the muscles in my eyes were working very hard to cope with the 3D-isation. I thought the 3D was shallow and deep, but not in-between; I didn’t get real depth perception out of it, but that might be because I don’t have good depth perception anyway.
    As for the script, as my partner said , it’s all 3D effects and 1D characters. Also, the Na’vi looked like what Hollywood wants models to look like. And why didn’t Cameron just cut straight to the chase and call them the Navaho / Navajo, so that we would really get the point. And the screenplay was clumsy in many places – it was so damn obvious that Jake was going to ride one of the big dragons from the moment Neytiri showed him the skull of one, and explained its significance.
    On the sciencey bits, identical twins don’t have identical brains, because development and growth differs. So we shouldn’t expect Jake to be able to mesh with Josh’s avatar nearly so well.
    There were some great space-opera sci-fi touches, such as the 6 years in deep freeze / hibernation, and I thought the hanging mountains were fantastic – highly imaginative, and vaguely plausible (some sort of energy through the vines and plants coupled with some sort of magnetism that as a side effect, created the vortex). I enjoyed the ride, even while I was annoyed by many of the things people have mentioned already.

  38. @x.trapnel: My thoughts exactly! Ability to use multiple weapons like a Hindu deity with the extra limbs (to say nothing of snugging!), to see in the IR or UV range with the extra eyes… huge missed opportunities.

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