On Avatar: Brendan said...

Several days ago my friend Brendan wrote a really thoughtful response to my post on the movie Avatar (the written post, not my video rant) and I wanted to highlight some of his comments, not simply because they seem parallel to my own reactions, but because I think some of his critique is a lot more nuanced than my own. Really good stuff Brendan!

Mercifully (and fairly, I think) you acknowledge, "Cameron probably did intend to be progressive and to advocate but ended up being like the corporate bigwig in his film..." I think there is no doubt that Cameron had very good intentions with this film, but as you said, "educating from on high... only furthers repression."

Brendan writes:
[Avatar] praises it’s hero for aligning himself with the oppressed but glosses over the fact that should he fail, he would wake up in his real body and lose nothing; while the Na’vi lose everything (a metaphor I don’t think the film makers intended).

Interesting, isn't that exactly our vantage, as moviegoers? We're emotionally engaged, but personally uninvested and unexposed to any risk...
[Avatar] furthers the popular myth that humans are inherently destructive and greedy. By hating ourselves we are allowed to feel moral and by believing destruction to be inevitable, we are spared from actually having to do anything about it. Personally, I think there are too many ‘cautionary tales’ and not enough ‘exemplary tales’, too much cynicism and not enough hope, too many ‘complicated characters’ and not enough role models, too many easy breakthroughs and not enough hard won realizations.
Yes! So true. Yet even as I affirm that, I feel convicted of my own impotence to model something constructive. Deconstruction is ongoing, but I want to be simultaneously building and modeling something good and healthy. This is why I admire Wendell Berry so much, who tirelessly critiques rampant capitalism, consumerism and industrialism, but ALSO personally demonstrates a localized, agrarian alternative. And he's the first to say that there are no "huge solutions" to the world's huge problems. Only lots of small solutions. So hopefully we can affect some micro-changes right here in conversation, Brendan.

This leads me to share your frustration with the apparent impotence of media. However, media as an awareness altering tool works in subtle ways though. It’s impossible to measure it’s effect. Who is to say whether or not Avatar (despite it’s many hypocrisies) will contribute to a greater sympathy for indigenous rights, or whether your blog will inspire others to more closely examine their role in oppression.

You're absolutely right. I was just discussing this with our old friend Mr. Fleischer! I conceded that I could be completely wrong about the impact or effect of the movie. I don't believe I'm wrong about the dangers of cultural misrepresentation, manipulation, and some of the other issues at hand, but yes, maybe Avatar will move some folks to be more culturally and ecologically-conscious. I'm not so desperate to be right that I can't applaud something good undermining my thesis! And hopefully we're doing something good here too. Someone else said that Cameron may have indirectly affected good by inciting these types of conversations in the first place. I can't say I agree with that any more than I think the Rodney King beating was "good" because it contributed to dialogue about race in America. Abuse is still abuse... but it can teach us something.

Brendan, I really enjoy your insights and look forward to keeping in touch!

Read all of Brendan's comments, and several others, here!


Brendan Hogan said...

Hey cool, I get my very own post.

>Interesting, isn't that exactly our vantage, as >moviegoers? We're emotionally engaged, but >personally uninvested and unexposed to any risk...

That's brilliant. Someone should make a movie about that. :)

Do you know of any sites that analyze films from a cultural/sociological/zeitgeisticalogical (can't think of the right word) perspective? There are the occasional political analysis and plenty of Christian interpretations but very few non-ideological analyses of the values and cultural norms being portrayed in the media we all consume.

Thanks for hosting my rant. My world of late has been consumed with technology operation. It's good to think about other things for a change.

Peter said...

Brendan, good question. Other than more generalized progressive/liberal e-zines and publications, I'm not aware of any site that specializes in critically evaluating and deconstructing social implications of entertainment media.

As you said, there are LOTS of Christian sites that do this, and someone anonymous recently posted quite a list here. I'll keep my eyes open.

Stay in touch!

Jason said...

You have a great blog here. I have a blog myself which I hope will provide inspiration and guidance to people all around the world. Life is hard enough. I'd like us to exchange links to help spread some traffic around, and let other people know about our sites.

Please let me know if this is possible.


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