I just saw James Cameron’s Avatar. I give it four stars, despite its obvious flaws. (The story is a rather cliched “going native” romance, a sort of recycled Lawrence of Arabia or Dances With Wolves, and the depiction of the natives is predictably Orientalist.)
But I don't fault James Cameron for these flaws. The film, set on a fictional planet in the future, is effective precisely because it is so didactic. Furthermore, its broad critique of American imperialism is so potently effective because the “Na’vi” do not correspond to any one specific group, but are rather an amalgamation of the various indigenous peoples Americans have encountered through history, from North America and the Philippines to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
But more importantly, I am amazed at how such an unambiguously anti-imperialist film can be so popular within the imperium. Has the public, during my long absence, been radicalized? Have they been reading Lenin? Or have they swung to the Lindbergh Right and gone isolationist?
Or, is this an example of what Marxists call “recuperation” (or “incorporation”), whereby a dissenting discourse is adopted and reconfigured by the dominant ideology for safe public consumption?
Or does the film serve as a kind of a Bakhtinian carnival where the repressed fears of the tribe are given cathartic release through the temporary reversal of the usual moral coordinates?
Or is it that the public is just too dumb to see beyond the special effects to the film’s exceedingly obvious political message? (You’ll note that even many of the major movie critics missed the point, evaluating the film in the tired discourse of race.)
Also, I wonder if there are any historical precedents for this. Did Germans in the early 1940s gather en masse to watch plays or films in which they were the bad guys, and Jews and Communists were the heroes? Did the ancient Romans have such a custom? Did the Imperial Japanese? The British? The Umayyad Caliphate?
Collective self-flagellation usually comes after the collapse—but can it happen while things are still going relatively well?
Please look into this for me.
PS Oh, and for the blind: