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Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Rousseauan and Marxist pieties of "Avatar"

Avatar is a stunningly artistic production, but offers a predictable plot in which Green Mansions meets Pochahontas meets Karl Marx. It features an injured soldier named Jake who travels to a life-supporting moon called Pandora in exchange for the surgery that will repair his crippled legs. He finds that the half-human, half-tiger Na’vi who inhabit the planet have rejected all contact with the human colonists who desire to mine the mineral “unobtanium”, which is needed for some unspecified purpose. Jake’s job is to collect information on the Na’vi, which he does by going into a deep sleep, during which his mind is fused into an artificial Na’vi avatar, hence the movie’s title. While on his mission, he falls in love with a beautiful female Na’vi, who helps him understand her culture, in which all is in harmony with nature and guided by a mother goddess, female-directed spirituality. This ultimately proves far more attractive than the harsh, mechanistic, “mother-killing”, military-industrial complex which the humans are importing to Pandora; so, in the end, Jake, aided by some other enlightened humans, goes native and helps the Na’vi run off the would-be despoilers of their extraterrestrial Eden.
The technological human civilization which has made the entire Hollywood enterprise possible is painted in the worst possible colors, in which a callous corporate suit is willing to wipe out a whole alien species in order to meet his corporation’s bottom line. He is aided by a cold-blooded military mercenary to lead the expeditions that destroy the giant tree in which the Na’vi live while killing as many as possible for the sake of the most transparently named mineral. The dialogue of the movie reveals that the humans are colonizing Pandora because “they have killed their own mother”—clearly suggesting that the story takes place in some apocalyptic future in which corporate greed has rendered Earth dying and close to uninhabitable.
In the idealized Na’vi, the noble savages of Rousseau are removed from the solitary lives which Rousseau postulated and turned into wonderfully collectivized Marxist proletarians taken one stage beyond Mao’s revolutionary peasantry into utopian hunter-gatherers. Never mind that Mao’s revolution has proven something that post-Deng China would really like to forget; that Rousseau’s noble savages never existed; and that the primitive Communism posited by Marx as the original stage of human culture conveniently ignored the way in which hunters who brought back deer certainly fared better with the females of their bands than the ones who could only bag turtles, snakes, and rats. And, never mind that tribal spiritualities often featured such wonderful things as human sacrifice and cannibalism.
Perhaps the best adjective to describe Avatar is pious. In one film, all the pieties of collectivism, radical feminism, and loopy ecologism come together. All it lacks are a group of beautiful Na'vi practicing loving and caring sodomy. However, it is almost certain to rake in a wonderful pile of money which will allow Hollywood corporate suits and deep ecologist stars to leave gigantic carbon footprints.

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