In a world of their own: Conservatives and Avatar

Having immensely enjoyed the audio-visual orgy of James Cameron’s Avatar, as the kind of out-of-body experience that big movies are for, I find myself feeling sorry for the many conservatives – published critics, self-publishing bloggers, and commenters – who have blanketed, one might say wet-blanketed, the right side of the internet with their complaints and indictments.

Hollywood has given our anti-nonsense reflexes a lot of exercise in recent years, but I had still expected greater enthusiasm for this movie, or at worst neutrality, from my fellow conservatives.  Regardless of how some people feel about Cameron personally, or about any statements he may have made about Avatar‘s intended messages, he remains the same director who gave us  Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens, and True Lies.  By the day that the Avatar trailer played to a national NFL TV audience and on the gigantic new video screen at Cowboys Stadium, it was clear to millions that an audacious effort was under way to re-vitalize the great American movie spectacle – a $400 million gamble by one of our leading auteur-entrepreneurs, in the shape of an advertisement for democratic capitalism at its most innovative, for the creativity and vitality of American culture during a time when American declinism and every other brand of pessimism about our future have been spreading to an extent not seen since the 1970s.

Those on the right who have been impotently and priggishly attacking the movie, their small-spirited wishes for its failure decisively dashed by a quick $1 Billion in worldwide ticket sales, have not just been embarrassing themselves and their political-cultural allies.  They may even have been doing harm to the conservative movement, at least as much as the movie itself may do with its incidental Gore- and Obamaisms.

No one is obligated to like any film, of course.  One blogger’s eye candy is another blogger’s eye strain, but the first reviews from the right didn’t just seek some distance from off-putting aspects of Avatar, they full-throatedly assaulted the entire effort.  “Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ Is a Big, Dull, America-Hating, PC Revenge Fantasy,” was the headline over Big Hollywood‘s review, which included a bizarre attempt to charge Cameron with politically exploiting 9/11.  Other rightwing bloggers seemed to compete with each other over who could write the best put-downs:  “cinema for the hate America crowd,” “Production: $183,000,000. Script: $14.25,” Dances with Smurfs – drink more vodka and 3-D headache goes away,””a suicide fantasy, the Hollywood blockbuster equivalent of a troubled teenager’s notebook sketches, scribbled by someone who hates himself only marginally less than he hates the rest of the world.”  Gregg Easterbrook, not on the right but here writing from a rightish perspective, even got in on the action, explaining at length why soldiers and I guess mining engineers, too, ought to feel deeply “insulted” by the film.

John Podhoretz’s review at The Weekly Standard bought its ticket for the put-down sweepstakes with the title “Avatarocious.”  In the review itself, Podhoretz writes of astonishment, not headaches, at the film’s technical achievement, but compensates with the critic’s equivalent of a cuss-out:  “blitheringly stupid… among the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen… an undigested mass of clichés… unbelievably banal and idiotic” and so forth.  Unfortunately for his credibility as a reviewer, however, he repeatedly refers to the film as humorless, at one point asserting that “it doesn’t have a single joke in it.”  Anyone who has actually seen the film, or merely viewed the TV ads and trailers, is left to wonder whether Podhoretz was too busy re-combining derogatory phrases in his head to be paying minimal attention to the movie – which, to be clear, offers a Cameron-typical assortment of one-liners and visual gags.  As for Avatar‘s themes, Podhoretz declines to take them seriously except to argue that Cameron’s presumed marketing calculations may demonstrate how “deeply rooted… anti-American, anti-human politics” have become.

Like other reviewers, Podhoretz also indulges in the predictable and familiar charge that the movie’s narrative elements are predictable and familiar.  Since Avatar stands in other ways as novelty itself – right before your eyes, in glorious 3-D – to focus overly much on derivative aspects of its storyline would seem an ungracious gesture – even if its selections from among finite narrative alternatives (boy meets female humanoid, boy loses female humanoid, etc.) were poorly justified or badly executed.  I don’t concede the last, but, either way, audiences would likely have been disappointed if Cameron had denied them certain expected narrative beats – the step by step development of the love interest, the hero’s education to the ways of the alien tribe.  A significant part of the pleasure of a movie like this one is seeing traditional story elements transformed in a new setting, while otherwise the narrative chiefly serves to organize, elaborate, and extend the sensual experience.

Same for the dialogue, another common attack point:  Whether you respect the craft on display or decry its lack of expressive power and wit, the dialogue is not the movie’s main, secondary, or even tertiary reason for existence.  Anyway, as someone who in a previous life read and critiqued thousands of screenplays, I feel professionally qualified, very likely much better qualified than any of the critics I’ve quoted, to declare Avatar‘s dialogue better than movie-competent – maybe a little broader than necessary even for an all-ages global audience, but at the same time demonstrative of Cameron’s unrivaled skill at inserting new phrases into popular discussion:  “I see you!” may be a bit too peek-a-boo to achieve the same status as “I’ll be back,” but it’s already an understood punch-line on the Daily Show and RedEye.

The charges of being anti-American and anti-military might seem more significant, but they’re harder to take seriously in relation to a film that includes exactly as many references to the United States of America as Podhoretz says it has jokes:  Zero.

The movie is set in the year 2154, a multi-lightyear interstellar void away from planet Earth.  We never learn whether the U.S. of A even exists 140+ years from now.  The soldiers do seem American, some Australian accents notwithstanding, but, even so, our main character informs us early on that they are the tools of corporate interests, not the armed forces of a nation:  “Back home, we fight for freedom.  Out here, we’re hired guns.”  It’s possible that corporatist liberals in the Vietnam Era LBJ mode may have come to power in the elections of 2148 or so, assuming there were elections, but we don’t really know the precise extent to which the soldiers are mercenaries, and, if not, whether they’re misused conscripts or volunteers or something wholly other and 22nd Century.

At most, the force represents a military or paramilitary force with some apparent American roots or resonances, on a mission gone wrong, its bad ends defeated by… a typically exceptional, highly sympathetic, and more than equally American, underdog-supporting Marine and his friends.  To call the resultant developments “anti-military” or “anti-American” would be like calling “Dirty” Harry Callahan, Die Hard‘s John McClane, and Robocop‘s Officer Murphy anti-police figures; or calling John Rambo an anti-American and anti-war icon.  Following this paranoid logic, the same logic that has led some conservatives to mis-identify Jason Bourne as anti-American, 300‘s Leonidas would become an icon of kneejerk leftwing anti-imperialism.  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington becomes an attack on constitutional government.  Mr. Incredible becomes an animated Ché Guevara.  All of them, even Leonidas (and even Ché as fictional construct, come to think of it), are typical and very American heroes, loners whose personal characters, experiences, and moral courage lead them to fight against enemies who have corrupted and distorted whatever powerful forces or institutions they have come to control.

Such hero figures are legion in American popular art, with a lineage stretching back to America’s origins as a revolutionary and Judeo-Christian enterprise, and to our first breakaway action blockbuster, James Fenimoore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, featuring Hawkeye, the ultimate “gone-native” American, and Avatar-ian, warrior.  Our Hawkeyes are almost always isolated, and are frequently reviled – on the way to eventual, audience-pleasing redemptions, when “everyone” realizes how right they always were.  In Avatar “everyone” is represented on screen by the defeated soldiers and corporate lackeys sent bedraggledly back to from where they came, secondarily by those who will greet them – Terrans or Americans who, we are repeatedly given to believe, would also disapprove of what the depraved Colonel Quaritch orders his soldiers to do.

Conservatives should have little difficulty envisioning Avatar‘s bad guys as futuristic neo-liberals and their lackeys, unrestrained by authentic republican democracy, indulging in ill-conceived and gradually escalated measures that inevitably lurch to overkill and self-defeat, but many of us have forgotten both our real history and our movie history – the truths of Vietnam and Somalia, for example, and also the truths underlying the final scenes of a bygone conservative fave like Rambo, a glorious rampage against military bean counters and their machines.  Bad or misled American soldiers have done bad things on bad American orders, and it’s not un-American or anti-military or un-conservative to admit as much, to try to understand why, to hope for and believe in something better, or to dramatize it all for broad consumption.

The conservative Avatar-haters know this all as well as anyone, a fact that makes me think that what they’re really unhappy about has little to do with Avatar, and much more to with Hollywood’s near complete refusal to celebrate America’s contemporary military heroes.  I share that disappointment:  There are by now several Summers’ worth of un-made blockbusters that should have portrayed the brilliant feats of arms and moral courage of American soldiers in places that for most of us might as well be alien planets.

On the happy Wednesdays and Fridays of at least one possible future in which those movies are finally released, blowing and bloodying up theaters in vivid 3D, Avatar may indeed be revealed as a relic of an abbreviated Age of Obama.  Yet most of those stories, if treated honestly and interestingly, will likely depict the dynamic tension between, on the one side, bad ideas, bad leadership, and tragic costs in blood and treasure, and, on the other side, the valiance of our real-life Rambos:  Jake Sully Petraeus opposing an array of institutional forces… accused of going native… gathering a few allies… learning to fight, think, and work with insurgents… on the way to a glorious synthesis of high tech Americanism and indigenous culture.

I predict that few conservatives will be complaining at that time, if it ever comes, about predictable story beats.

As for the other criticisms of Avatar, I find it odd that anyone is significantly concerned with the conjectural practicalities of “unobtanium” mining, or the next-century economics of spinal medicine.  I don’t see a conservative problem with a good-hearted red-blooded tech-enabled American guy fighting for truth, justice, and the 10-foot-tall blue humanoid  he very monogamously loves.  I’m not willing to give the theme of spiritual re-birth – “one life ends, another begins” – to the left or leave it for New Age hippies only, partly because I don’t see Christianity as merely a “suicide fantasy.”  And it strikes me that something may have gone wrong in American conservatism if any hint of the “noble savage,” of intimate and mysterious connections to nature as God’s creation,  has become off-limits according to the same people who, at a different time of the day or night, or a different blog post, will be celebrating the authentic frontier virtues, character, and elitist-mystifying spirituality of Sarah Palin.

Finally, the idea that the film (or, in theory, any film) could be “anti-human” may be the most interesting criticism, partly for its relation to extreme environmentalism, but mainly because it’s confronted directly within Avatar‘s own central themes – the parallel pscyhological, technical, and emotional challenges before the hero, the film maker, and the audience:  to recognize the “Na’vi” as human; to see refusal of their humanity as wrong, primordially inhumane.   It’s a dynamic similar to the one at the center of Blade Runner – Deckard and his “replicant” beloved Rachel, and us, on one side; “skin-job”-hating cops on the other (Roy Batty flying above everyone).

Cameron’s ability to exploit such “true lies” in his story concepts and on the level of form goes back to the Terminator, a character whose outward humanity was precisely the condition of his threat to humanity.  Since that time, Cameron’s science fiction has crossed back and forth across the question “what is human?” – as in Aliens‘ species-traitor Burke, less human than an acid-blooded monster; as in the machine from T2 who fully attains humanity in a paradoxical final act of self-sacrifice.  Along the way, in exquisitely multi-leveled film-authorial gestures, the supposed neo-Luddite Cameron has also explored the ability of special effects technology to erase the difference between “natural” and “manufactured” realities in the universe of cinema.  The objective testimony of box office receipts proves he has done so with fantastic success.  The lack of interest by supposedly conservative critics in such matters, and their unconsciousness of where they’re aligning themselves, will prompt a fan of the film to wonder who in the end the real skowns are.

Do American conservatives now believe that the left owns nature, spirituality, communitarian values, bold trips where no one has gone before, and all willingness to defy mealy-mouthed corporate squishes and sociopaths in or out of uniform?  Of course not.  But some are acting that way.  Playing up and then decrying these messages, in this context, implicitly defining them as wholly owned property of the left, is to cede invaluable cultural and therefore political ground for no good reason.  At a certain point, it becomes something worse than “blithering stupidity”:  It becomes an unforced, hard to repair political error, reinforcing the stereotype of the conservative as aggressively defensive moralizer, living in a world of his own anger and prejudice.  It’s a much less attractive and interesting place than James Cameron’s Pandora.

153 comments on “In a world of their own: Conservatives and Avatar

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  1. And it strikes me that something may have gone wrong in American conservatism if any hint of the “noble savage,” of intimate and mysterious connections to nature as God’s creation, has become off-limits according to the same people who, at a different time of the day or night, or a different blog post, will be celebrating the authentic frontier virtues, character, and elitist-mystifying spirituality of Sarah Palin

    The only reason we are even aware of SP is McCain’s desperation. On her own,SP could never have become a national figure. There is not one authentic aspect to her,she is 100% a PR CREATION. I wish there was a genuine first rate Conservative female presence like Jeanne Kirpatrick was, even Elizabeth Dole or Condelissa Rice make SP look like a moron.

  2. She’s the gunslinger, the huntress, or as the Russians call her the Akhanitsa, the last real populist not affected with the rot characterized by Bryan and Watson, a character out of Jack London,
    we are not supposed to rally to someone who somewhat of a throwback, not the plastic politicians, and bureaucrats of today

  3. @ Rex Caruthers:
    You’re full of it. SP was already early in the process of becoming a national figure at the time McCain short-circuited her rise by launching her to premature global prominence. You’re in no position to judge her “authenticity” otherwise. In fact, that’s a 100% phony claim about someone else’s integrity.

    Jeane Kirkpatrick was a Democrat. Elizabeth Dole was a squishy lightweight. Condoleeza Rice was a disappointment.

  4. It is however, a very real place, where the ruling class wants to return
    the hoi polloi, who have risen above their station, to a 17th century
    preindustrial state, with the likes of cap n trade, and climate control
    garbage, they have loathed the mobility symbolized by the suburbs

  5. One understand the company that sponsors this expedition, as a variant of Weyland Yutani, so callous as to let an alien organism fall into their hands with total disregard to the crew, I get that. Now making them a predominantly military effort, is meant to touch into the well of hatred for PMCs, who are villains from CSI Miami to Moonlight. Now are we not to infer, that the settler enterprise was a bad idea

  6. You’re full of it.

    Imagine SP in a discussion on Foreign Policy with Jeanne Kirpatrick or Condelessa,Condi was a disappointment only because she had the bad luck to work for W. She did her best but he made her look bad. CR got her PHD on Russian Foreign policy and is fluent in Russian;SP is fluent in Alaskan.Look at JRUB’s article in Commentary “Why Jews Hate Palin” Why,because they respect scholarship,intellectual achievement, professional competence,high IQs/book smarts,SP is the antithesis of all that.

  7. If Jeane Kirkpatrick came back from the dead for a talk with Sarah Palin, it would be to encourage and help her. JRub’s article was hardly written in support and approval of the sentiments and reflexes she attributes to Jews.

  8. No, she was captured by Foggy Bottom, which is an almost regretable certainty. That’s why we need a real nationalist like a Bolton in that slot. I had great admiration for Jeane Kirkpatrick’s insights on Latin America, she gave the left conniption fits as well. They have favored
    Carter, Clinton, & Obama, not the greatest indications of insight, you will admit. Who do you think is an unabashed exponent of America’s interests adn values, and don’t say Ron Paul

  9. We see it tomorrow at Chicago’s newest movie theater.

    Methinks JPod must take himself far too seriously, kind of like Michael Medved bashing “Mister Bean’s Holiday” because it was too slapstick. (of course it was slapstick, it was very good, very funny slapstick, get a life, Medved; why should I want to spend big bucks to go on an Alaska Cruise with humorless you, dude?)

  10. @ Rex Caruthers:
    Rex, Old Bean, JRub’s essay was very critical, if you were listening, of the elitist and arrogant notions of too many supposedly well educated Jews, dude.

  11. fuster wrote:
    @ CK MacLeod:
    If Jean Kirkpatrick remains dead, her side of any conversation with Palin would still be the more informed and up-to-date one.

    Palin makes Carly Fiorina look good.

  12. @ narciso:
    Bolton remains a truculent fool. His nationalism is of little use unless employed as a lesson in what to avoid.

    I still like Bolton saying that Bush would bomb Iran before the expiration of his term in office.

  13. Now, back to the Bournw series, are you going to tell me that script wasn’t decanted out of the Huff Po and Kos, or whatever British equivalent there is, making the point that our security services, typified
    by “Black Briar” are the real threat. Why I the only who cheered when
    the Guardian reporter was targeted by the sniper. One wishes our surveillance systems were anywhere as advanced as that posited in the film, clearly they are nowhere close

  14. Don’t diss the Stache, Michigan J, what have we won with the Kumbaya routine. Terrorists seem to have gotten the crazy notion they can target our military bases, our intelligence outpost with impunity, which I wish I could refute. The Iranians, the North Koreans, the Russians, are all imposing demands on us. We insult our allies, and we embrace our foes. We bring the terrorists one step closer to total
    freedom, and we put a muzzle over our most diligent operatives.

  15. @ narciso:
    Narc, Bolton is a damned nut and has been nuts for decades.

    Go back and read his stupid editorial saying that Clinton’s trip to North Korea was going to be fruitless, was mistaken, was an insult to Roxana Saberi and would harm her chances of being released.

  16. @ narciso:
    Good summary of the standard rightwing line on the Bourne movies.

    a) I’m a huge fan of them.
    b) I meant exactly what I said above.

    The portrayal of the CIA as immensely competent running ops is probably ludicrous – I wouldn’t know for sure, however, never having been an operative with a need to know and whatever they call the tippy top clearance these days. There’s a metaphorical truth to the depiction, however, in that the intelligence community does manage to do some things well and employ a lot of smart, competent people, and does absorb an awful lot of technology investment, and still manages to shoot its own foot, and our feet as well, on a regular basis, every few years appearing to get the biggest issues of public moment tragicomically wrong, to all our shame.

    But who and what is Jason Bourne? With the eventual cooperation of dedicated, idealistic allies, he’s an all-American hero bucking the odds to bring down the out of control corporate-liberal, ends-justifies-the-means, individuality-destroying self-dealing elitists.

    I’ve heard that Ludlum himself was a man of the left, but I’m not sure what that means in practice, and I’ve been at the criticism game for far too long to care overly much about what a creative artist thought he was saying or who he or she is when at home. I maintain that conservatives make a cultural mistake when they worry about superficial messages or see themselves in the eyes of the left. We have just as much a right to what’s right about Jason Bourne and Pam Landy as anyone on the left does.

  17. 3D it will be. There was a good article about Cameron in ‘New Yorker’ a while back. I have a very sweet spot for Linda Hamilton of the TV series “Beauty and the Beast” and the “Terminator” flicks.

    Cameron is one very talented A$$h0. Like our Sarah P, he lacks a prestigious university education, and took off with a gift for understanding and fiddling with machinery.

  18. @ fuster:
    Why don’t you link the stupid editorial if you’re going to go all hoppy-nuts over it?

    In the meantime, the more you put a personal hate on Bolton and Palin, the more I like ’em. Personal animus is not an argument, and tends to suggest the lack of a logical basis for your positions.

  19. I was a big Ludlum reader in the 80s and 90s, I found out about Tienanmen Square, in the real Bourne Supremacy, set in China, yes his manichean view is not all that far removed from Cameron’s, most of his characters are betrayed former military or intelligence official, who uncover the big conspiracies, from Nazi takeovers to variations on Seven Days in May. I don’t think that Greenglass really brought that
    aspect to light enough

  20. @ CK MacLeod:
    1)I should have put up the link.

    2) Promise me that you won’t use “hoppy-nuts” again.

    3)I doubt that you could much increase your liking for Palin, unless she

    4) I don’t hate Officer Bolton and have offered up his own absurd opinions as argument for not respecting him.

  21. @ fuster:
    1) Yes, you should have.
    2) Hoppy-nuts, hoppy-nuts, hoppy-nuts – ptui! and HAH!
    3) You’re not going to bait me into trying to prove I have a rational view of SP by dissing her. I’ve labored long and hard to explain exactly how I understand her politically, and am happy to leave it others to reach their own conclusions, however much distorted by their own prejudices and invincible ignorance
    4) I don’t recognize the John Bolton I know and love in your mean-spirited caricatures of him and his supposed opinions, you hoppy-nuts meanie.

  22. Now, honestly you don’t think that putting up Black Briar in a Manhattan Sunrise, is highly subjective, remember that Capt. David Webb probably signed up slightly before 9/11 for this program, the fact that hooding and sensory deprivation is part of the training regime.

  23. Zoltan Newberry wrote:
    @ Rex Caruthers:
    Rex, Old Bean, JRub’s essay was very critical, if you were listening, of the elitist and arrogant notions of too many supposedly well educated Jews, dude.

    The Jews are right,as usual

  24. @ narciso:
    You mean highrise, right? Seems like a pretty huge strain to tie that to 9/11 in any indictable way, but might make for a fun conspiracy story if trutherism wasn’t so toxic. Didn’t Robert Baer do something along those lines in his 9/11 thriller (which seemed to blame it all on Iran)?

    Anyway, as far as Bourne goes, that stuff strikes me as trivial. Captives get hooded so that they can be controlled. Maybe it’s just as wimpy to be defensive about it as to get bent out of shape and make truly anti-American movies about it.

  25. @ CK MacLeod:
    Enjoyed the comment, very much liked the review/essay, and if you’re all hopo with Bolton and Palin and won’t heed advice to lay off the hoppy-nuts, don’t blame me.

  26. @ fuster:
    Ok, ok – if you’re going to be nice and all, I’ll lay off the h-n. In fact, from hereon, the expression is streng verboten.

    Wish I had a better title for the piece, but thanks for your kind words.

  27. I guess they were going for a “Three Days of the Condor” redux feel, but they did lose the point of the books, David Webb, chose to become
    Jason Bourne to fight a greater evil, Carlos the Jackal. Imagine if they had really updated that aspect, there is evil in the world, Awlaki being
    the most recent example, and handwringing won’t get the job done. I’m still a fan of ’24, which plays of these same memes more effectively. copying Surnows’ original vision from La Femme Nikita, of the elusive covert department with shadowy allegiances

  28. CK – A masterful, interesting and thought provoking review. It deserves and hopefully will get wide circulation.

    Incidently, I (and I think you) saw the movie in “plain old 3D”. I read a comment elsewhere by someone who saw it in IMAX 3D and described it as mind blowing. I may do that; and I have never paid to see a first run movie more than one time.

  29. @ Sully:
    Thanks, and thanks again for blazing the Avatar trail for the rest of us Z-Contenders.

    I think I’ll do the same thing IMAX-wise – even though, as you can imagine, I’m kinda spent on it, and would be afraid of seeing some things I got wrong, or things I’d wish I had mentioned.

  30. Now a comment on the comments:

    1. Why does everything turn to contention about Sarah Palin? Someone could make a lot of money doing a Sarah Palin movie. The sheer volume and nastiness of the fight among conservatives about it would eliminate need for a marketing budget.

    2. I liked the Bourne books and movies; but not especially much. I think of them as above average for their genre. Their most salient message is a cautionary one about the danger of trusting the kind of people who inevitably rise to the top of CYA government bureaucracies; with emphasis on how such faceless overlords can so easily rationalize folding, spindling and mutilating individuals who become inconvenient. It is not Conservatives who want to put such bureaucrats in full and complete charge of health care and thus give them the literal power of life and death over everyone in the country.

  31. @ fuster:

    I already get the senior discount; but it’s a mere 20% or so. I think seniors should get in for a lot less. Don’t those people know we’re all poor?

    I may try the cane and dark glasses thing and see if I do better. I’m thinking I’ll tap my way right past the young punk ticket taker, figuring he won’t have the guts to press me for a ticket.

  32. @ CK MacLeod:

    Brooks – first graf
    “Every age produces its own sort of fables, and our age seems to have produced The White Messiah fable.”

    Brooks – fourth graf
    “Kids have been given their own pure versions of the fable, like “Pocahontas” and “FernGully.”

    Wikipedia – “Pocahontas (c.1595 – March 21, 1617)”

    Despite the above I shall persist in reading the Brooks column in service to my Tsar.

  33. Because it seems an easy move, rather than challenge the current mishapen policy consensus, with some achievable steps, it is necessary to advocate strategems that even a dictator would have
    trouble implementing. Rather than agreeing with certain premises
    that are so obvious that they seem evident, it is easy to denigrate.
    I get a little loquacious here, partially because I got tired of Allah’s
    jibes and an inability to respond.

    Now I get angry at “Frogman Henry” at times, but he really doesn’t know any better, he just forwards whatever meme the Daily Show
    has put forth today. I get more peeved at Mr. Carruthers, when he
    presents rather flimsy premises, because I expect more from him. (ie; neocon doesn’t mean anything you don’t agree with) Avatar is yet another example of the left seizing ‘the commanding heights’
    of the culture, something I thought had subsided for a bit. And we needed that about as much as another ‘Inconvenient Truth’

  34. David Brooks’ bottom line – Avatar is racist; and David Brooks is the White Messiah who can point that out effectively for the downtrodden not white people and thus prevent them from being condescended to.

    There’s a helpful picture of our hero accompanying the column so the sun people can recognize their pale saviour.

  35. Oi, thanks guys. It was a dirty job, I know. You have the Tsar’s gratitude. That and $11 or $12 will get you matinee admission at a Digital 3-D showing. I don’t know about IMAX.

  36. @ narciso:
    Now, silly thing, didn’t I tell you that I don’t watch all that much TV.
    I’ve never seen the Daily Show except as three or four short clips reproduced on the web.
    I had never heard of Glenn Beck until I fell in with unsavory and undead companions.

    (Frogman Henry…. good. I knew you would do better.)

  37. BTW on Bourne – I never got into the books, so I have a much different view of the movies, I suspect. I find the narratives and themes acceptable in the way I described, but frankly what I really like about them is the pacing, movement – the action (or simply call it the violence) – and how it’s all edited. It’s cinematic music to me, with just enough character and story to complete the experience.

  38. @ CK MacLeod:

    I don’t disagree with you about the captivating nature of the action and pace of the movies; but I always get a bit put out when physical feats of the actors go too far over the top in a movie. An example from Avatar would be the leaps from the high branches and breaking their falls on the leaves and vines on the way down. Such a feat done once without injury (ala the cliff jump into the river in Butch Cassidy) stretches credulity. Done multiple times it breaks it.

    Sylvester Stallone was barely within bounds when he jumped from the cliff and fell through the tree, breaking his fall on the branches just before the timeless scene of him sewing up his own arm. In Avatar the height was a branch too high and the reaction time to execute the grabs on each leaf and vine a smidge too short, at least for me. Similarly with Bourne; I’m okay with him until he leaps an alleyway too wide into an opposite window after one too many previous athletic feats.

    It’s a question of how much disbelief the director requires me to suspend and how long he requires me to sustain that suspension. I can still very much like a movie where that happens; but I’m not French to actually treasure a mouche on the face of a beautiful woman to set off her perfection.

  39. CKM, I have to hand it to you laddie, you have passion. I doubt “Avatar” will ever warm my cockles like, say, 1939’s “Four Feathers,” but you’ve given me added grounds for curiosity.

    Hey Rex, I thought you said you LIKED Palin.

  40. @ Sully:
    Bear Grylls does this all the time on his Discovery Channel “Man vs. Wild” show. Just the other day, he jumped from an amazing height into the Rio Grande River after crossing a good chunk of the Sonora Desert.

    Speaking of “Day of the Condor,” a guy who I later figured out was Robert Redford once asked me for directions from near the top of Baldie Mt. in Sun Valley.

    I should have said, “take the right way down, Robert.”

    Seriously, he seems like a good guy and a reasonable guy too, kind of like Leslie Gelb does too (what kind of Mother would name her son, ‘Leslie?’).

    Do we have any hope that any more reasonable and nice people on the left will come around and start to question their orthodoxy? Roger Simon did, as did David Horowitz. Even I, Zoltan Newberry, used to throw rocks at cops and march in anti war parades in remnants of my Army uniform in Beserkeley and Sam Franthisco.

  41. @ Zoltan Newberry:

    I enjoy Bear Grylls’ show; but I see him as a good example of remaining within the bounds of reason. Even carefully choreographed (no doubt) he keeps his physical feats just within reasonable.

    In a rare instance when I was moved to Good Samaritanship I once helped a tall gawky fellow change a flat tire on his Chevy Nova in DC. You can imagine my surprise when I later realized he was Ralph Nader.

    I’ve never thrown rocks at cops; but I did once throw an apple through the drivers side window of a cop car that made the mistake of appearing next around a bend of the road where I was exercising youthful exuberance. Damn cop chased me quite a way. Fortunately he had not been attending to his physical fitness.

  42. An example from Avatar would be the leaps from the high branches and breaking their falls on the leaves and vines on the way down. Such a feat done once without injury (ala the cliff jump into the river in Butch Cassidy) stretches credulity. Done multiple times it breaks it.

    Low gravity + “natural carbon fiber” reinforcement of their skeletal structures (or however it is that Quaritch puts it when describing the Na’vi). “They’re very hard to kill.”

  43. @ CK MacLeod:

    Good point, although it could be argued that evolution would economize on mass and make thinner bones given stronger material. Of course on Pandora, Eya is no doubt guiding evolution; so I guess intelligent design rules there. Why is it that primitives are allowed to have Gods worthy of deference, but moderns aren’t in the lefty world view?

    Also, youre comment about Quaritch reminds me of my reaction when he pulls out that big bowie knife with his exoskeleton’s mechanical arm. Even as I was thinking how ridiculous it was to pull a knife in a future tech age, I was enjoying the sheer campiness of the scene.

    A great movie.

  44. If anything I find the premise a bit racist. It’s an old formula, the noble savages can’t lead or win their own battle, but must be “saved” by an idealistic white man who turns against his own. Let’s face it. If the Navi actually controlled one of the most valuable commodities in the universe, they would probably be savy negotiators and extract as much as possible from willing and competing buyers. The idea that something the whole universe needs is worthless to the Navi streaches creditability beyond my ability to fantasize. Conservatives aren’t the ones who divide us into classes requiring protection from others, and by the way, try to sell ourselves as protectors. I think libs have a corner on that market.

  45. @ Dave C:


    An interesting comment but see David Brooks’ column (referred to in a couple of my comments and CK MacLeod’s comments above) re the racist angle. Brooks beat you to the White Messiah analysis, although he was sloppy and identified it as something new in our age.

    As to the Nav’i not recognizing or exploiting their resources, the Saudis sat on their oil resources even though they were literally seeping out of the ground in places until others came in to develop them. American Indians sat on gold and silver resources, not seeing them as having value. South Sea islanders sat on guano deposits, having no use for them and no ability to exploit them, besides having no knowledge of vast markets for fertilizer. Amazon natives are sitting on potential resources right now, not knowing how to exploit them, or not caring to exploit them.

  46. @ Dave C:
    Have you seen the film?

    I take your point about no one having cornered the market on paternalism, but, considering that the hero has to become one of the Na’vi, to the point of migrating to a new body, in order to help them, the racial angle is a lot weaker here. I would argue, as briefly referenced in my piece, that the story offers a synthesis of homo sapiens and Na’vi as the necessary step, as primarily realized in the main character (and his allies), but also reinforced by the Sigourney Weaver character when she urges the squish and the psycho to realize that the Na’vi organic technology – their plugged-in’d-ness to the natural planetary biocomputer – is more valuable than unobtanium.

  47. @ CK MacLeod:

    their plugged-in’d-ness to the natural planetary biocomputer – is more valuable than unobtanium.

    Assuming facts not in evidence, since we don’t know the extent of unobtanium’s uses. In the case of Pandora, the whole planet sustains a massive permanently elevated chain of floating mountains reaching toward the sky. Sigorney Weager’s character might not have fully appreciated the significance of that, she being both a woman and of obviously western descent and thus unacquainted with sympathetic medicines.

  48. Sully wrote:

    Sigorney Weager’s character might not have fully appreciated the significance of that, she being both a woman and of obviously western descent and thus unacquainted with sympathetic medicines.

    Despite those defects, and even considering her likely willingness to say anything to support her big blue friends, I still think that, as a scientist, a denizen of the universe of 2154, and perhaps most of all as a smoker, she deserves the benefit of the doubt regarding her comparative value estimates.

  49. That’s not the wierdest thing, I saw Nader, on a connecting tunnel between hotels in Vegas, must have been a book tour or something.

  50. Bravo Highlander.
    Best conservative review yet.
    But I can explain why conservatives hate Avatar.
    Cameron’s purpose is make us fall in love with Pandora.
    Our love becomes the vector through which he can deliver his messages.
    One message is a rejection of the idea that any culture has the right, biblically authorized duty, or might-privilege to impose its values and needs on another…a pure rejection of white evangelical xianity as exemplified by “democracy promotion” and the Iraq War.
    Its Camerons movie….he gets to say that.
    I loved the movie.
    I’m suprised you didn’t address the mytho-poeisis of Pandora.
    The earth myth patterns are very rich in the movie….the two trees, the messiah/avatar, pandora, eden, the Fall, the balance of Life, the Unity of Existance, Miyazaki themes, buddhist and islamic mythos.
    I expect Avatar II to be a deeper exploration of the Pandoran world.
    I can’t wait.

  51. ill reply to this here….

    I also didn’t detect any points of contact between the native religion and Islam.

    I guess you are unfamiliar with wahdat al wujud, the Unity of the Real, which is an islamic doctrine, similiar to the buddhist doctrine of pratītyasamutpanna, the Unity of Existence.
    Also the word avatar comes from hindu mythos, meaning an incarnation of a deity, usually an aspect of Vishnu, that becomes a man, animal, or mythical creature.
    See how that works?

  52. I am just back from it, my frems. The two most English members of my family got dizzy from the 3D. One had close to a relapse of her vertigo and both she and her brother complained about the excruciating decibel levels.

    Me? I found it beautiful and fantastic, falling in love of course with the Navi Princess, and the luminescent plant life, and the birds and the beasts.

    America is much bigger and much stronger and far more resilient and wonderful than the pedestrian Obami would have it, and this is an American film. Think about it. The Russians and Chinese and others will see it and they must again marvel at our creativity and our technology. They will be seeing yet another distinctive American film, a wonder like Dances With Wolves and E. T. and Close Encounters… before it. Again they will be seeing America at Her best, an America which can meld together all people of good will, an America which is not afraid to be self critical and idealistic. They may even come to think well of an America which can inspire such a fine sense of wonder as “Avatar” has done.

  53. Suggested sub-title: “Why can’t conservatives be more like freaking extreme leftist progressive transnationalist secularists?”

    Please. Conservatives like big tents, but prefer our tents to theirs.

  54. @ fuster:

    That was very inhospitable to a new commenter; although I tend to think the finger avatar is rude beyond the point of simple annoyance. One has to wonder at the nature of the person who chooses to put forth that image. Confronting it leads almost to sympathy with Hannibal Lecter’s preference in comestibles.

  55. Was that Avatar, get it, randomly assigned like the zombie crowd one
    I got. I posted some of my other comments on the wall.. Considering
    that there is a whole host of dystopianism on offer in scifi, like the Book of Eli, and the latest vampire allegory film, thank heaven for small favors

  56. The Tsar seems to be AWOL, so I thought I would offer a suitable caution about the bacterial disadvantage of a too-closed system.

    Tell me, older timer, of this Bertie the Whatever. What was she like?

  57. @ narciso:
    Since you have no small amount of imagination, why don’t you find a pictoral representation of yourself?
    The Tsar can easily affix it to your ethereal self.

  58. @ narciso:

    Was that Avatar, get it, randomly assigned like the zombie crowd one

    I’m certainly no expert; but I think any avatar other than the crowd scene means the person set himself up to have it, or else the Tsar set him up to have it – and I’ve never seen CK assign an avatar without discussion.

    Unless he says different I’m assuming the finger fellow chooses to present that image to the world wherever he posts, and that he knows how to do it.

  59. Well I didn’t ask for it, I don’t mind it, except when strangelet, shows up with the same one. Now the irony of a 400 million dollar tribute to an anti technology mindset, is often not widely remarked on, well until now.

  60. @ Sully:
    Bertie was canceled in Philadelphia??? Never even made it to New Haven??
    Sad story.
    But the part about diseases and infestation sounds very nice.
    Did that resonate with you while you were floating through the Pacific?

  61. To MacLeod:
    I understand your reasoning but disagree that it taints limited-government/strong-defense/pro-science to call AVATAR what it is: Brialliant videography designed and expected to conincide with what leftists expected to be the Great Awakening in Copenhagen before ClimateGate and reality further exposed the greatest scientific fraud in history. So, it’s okay to concede the cinematographic brilliance while simultaneously mocking its adolescent propaganda in a way to recognize that people can enjoy the movie while laughing at the motives of its creator. Brillian people sometimes nevertheless come up with sophmoric ideas. Why should Cameron’s technological brilliance immunize him from being criticized for his drinking the Pantheopian Kool-Aid? (Pantheopianism? A term I coined long ago to describe with worship of nature with the zealotry of utopianism).

    Neytiri Exposed
    PoliSat.Com/AVATAR.htm or PoliticalXray.Com.


    –Jim Wrenn

  62. @ Jim Wrenn:

    Your links are on whole most amusing,
    But you seem to be sorely abusing,
    Sainted Al Gore, and Deacon Cameron, for,
    They’re less funny than they are accusing.

    You’d best watch your back,
    Lest an acolyte hack,
    You down, for Gore’s Gaia’s re-using,
    Or Cameron’s Eya’s in-fusing.

  63. @Zoltan: I’ll stipulate in advance that it’s a warm bath of sudsy sensations. But based on the examples you gave, not one I’d care to take regularly. Whereas I can watch “Casablanca” – a thoroughly sentimental movie redeemed primarily by the astonishing number of wonderfully written and acted small and bit parts in it, probably an all-time record – over and over. Once every couple of months anyway. “Dances,” &c. not so much after the spell wears off, ie within 24 hours. But you (and Colin) could well be right about “Avatar” being good PR for the American Way of Life. It probably beats even Shock and Awe for impressing the natives.

  64. I’m just glad there weren’t any devious Jews from Golden Slacks or IDF commandos advising the bad guys in this flick.

    But, today, a Jew might save the day for New England, and I’m not talking about Joe Lieberman.

    Julian Edelman rocks!

  65. strangelet wrote:

    I guess you are unfamiliar with wahdat al wujud, the Unity of the Real, which is an islamic doctrine, similiar to the buddhist doctrine of pratītyasamutpanna, the Unity of Existence.

    What? I spend hours every day contemplating the synthesis of whatdat al wujud and pratitysamutpanna! Doesn’t everyone?

    You actually make my point, which, I confess, might have been better put as “no unique points of contact between popular understandings of Islam and the Na’vi religion.” There’s no good reason, in my view, to associate the Na’vis in any particular way with Muslims, and even less with Islamism or radical Islamism. The Na’vi belief system represents (somewhat illusively, as it turns out, given the material basis for their beliefs) Unity of Existence, but similar beliefs can be found within, arguably, all spiritual traditions worthy of the name – including Judeo-Christian ones, of course.

  66. strangelet wrote:

    Its Camerons movie….he gets to say that.

    And we get to ignore it, or treat it with about the same level of seriousness (precious little, if we’re smart) that we treat any artist’s statements about his or her intentions. To the extent a work of art does not exceed, even and especially to the extent of undermining and reversing, an artist’s conscious intellectual or political intentions, then it’s probably not very interesting as a work of art.

    Most of the time – the vast majority of the time, with enough exceptions to prove the rule – artists make terrible critics on any grounds other than technical ones. If I were a film maker, I might consult James Cameron about how to shoot or edit or finance a film. When it comes to interpreting what his films say, I’d trust myself – or a random kid off the street – more than I’d trust him.

  67. fuster wrote:

    Nothing alien is human to me.

    BTW – thank you for reminding me of the original aphorism, which I found useful in another context. Your reversal encapsulates much of the conservative reaction against the film that I attempted to dissect and deflect.

  68. Zoltan Newberry wrote:

    I’m just glad there weren’t any devious Jews from Golden Slacks or IDF commandos advising the bad guys in this flick.
    But, today, a Jew might save the day for New England, and I’m not talking about Joe Lieberman.
    Julian Edelman rocks!

    Nothing Edelman does is going to save the Patriots, Zolt. Baltimore may end up catching as many of Brady’s passes as Edelman will.

  69. 2 Jewish touchdowns, and counting!

    The kid was a QB at Kent State. The next Sid Luckman, we can always hope.

    The great Rebbe, Hyam Chai Pippick, once said, “gimme a nice Jewish boy running the vildcat, and I can show you the meaning of life, my frems!”

  70. @ CK MacLeod:
    I guess you failed to contemplate the influence of contemporary Hebraic athletics upon Cameron’s work and, even more gravely, you’re dismissive of the impact of the Kent State massacre.

  71. all spiritual traditions worthy of the name – including Judeo-Christian ones, of course.

    hmm…i was raised catholic and i don’t remember a nano-particle of Unity of Existence from CCD class. ;)
    What is the target audience of Avatar?
    I bet they get this message.

    It is not just because of our liking for the Pandorans that we cheer when the military—engaged in a mission that is specifically linked to Iraq by Quaritch’s “shock and awe” language—gets its collective arse kicked. Quaritch is specifically seen as demonic in that he tempts Jake with the restoration of his legs. The battle in which he is defeated, and the fight in which he is killed, are also set pieces full of money shots; this is an American film in which we cheer the defeat of a U.S.-style military machine by armed insurgents. The progressive intelligentsia should remember how deeply the film is hated by the Christian and neo-conservative right in America.

  72. strangelet wrote:

    i was raised catholic and i don’t remember a nano-particle of Unity of Existence from CCD class.

    I’m sure if you cared to you could find all sorts of New Age-y read widely by hippies Catholic stuff, doctrinal and dissident, that does the trick.

    As for the text you quote – which you force me to Google up when you could have linked it – we obviously have a handful of typical exceptions to the conservative rule right here – a couple of ’em have the photos and running dog imperialist totems to prove it.

    Anyway, even if Balloon Juice is right or significant, and the message you describe is a main one imparted, it’s not exactly the first time in the last 234 years that Americans have been encouraged to root for insurgents over a quasi-imperial, better-equipped, etc., force – so I suspect we’ll survive it. If the progressives get their way, we may even sooner than anyone thought get to experience it, and it will be very educational!

    More to the point, there is an enemy image of conservatives and a set of presumptions about what we believe about the military and its proper uses that continually lead progressives, young progressives in particular, to focus on the wrong things, and prepare for the wrong political wars. If Avatar leads large numbers of persuadable people to be more reluctant about sending the army off to far off places to apply massed firepower with minimal justification, I don’t think many real conservatives – other than the loud minority of kill ’em all types – should or will have much of a problem with that at all.

  73. @CKMcLeod. Avatar is not about Iraq, it’s about Vietnam, the original left bugaboo, Jake Sully is Willard, Quaritsch is Col. Kilgore, or as both
    Kerry and Kerrey biographer, paint it Navy Capt. Hoffman. In this he shares the utopian delusions of Lucas, whose set piece battles Yavin,
    Endor and going back further, (Kashyssk and Naboo) occur against
    arboreal or jungle landscapes

  74. narciso wrote:

    Jake Sully is Willard, Quaritsch is Col. Kilgore

    There are some abstract, formal parallels, but otherwise the similarities are mostly weak – though enough happened in Vietnam over the course of 20 or so years, and enough in another 30-40 years of movies and novels, that you can scare up any number of situational resonances.

    I’d say the main references to Vietnam, other than the theoretical ones I pointed out in my post, are visual – helicopter drop-offs, door-gunners, jungle treks and encampments. Of course, there’s also the simple fact that Vietnam is still the main military catastrophe of American historical experience.

    You really ought to see the dang thing, narc, esp while you can still it as it’s meant to be seen.

  75. One could make the parallel to Kipling’s Kim O’Hara, the young lad raised in the Lahore Cantonment, trained as a spy among the NorthWest Frontier, but who ultimately goes native.

    But we’re not talking about fact, but meme and subtext, and seeing
    as Cameron started on this enterprise in 1994, the great Jungle Quagmire was what beckoned as did Lucas a generation earlier.
    Now ironically for such a successful film, the script pens them into
    a box, what to do for an encore

  76. @ narciso:

    what to do for an encore

    That’s easy. The evil empire strikes back with a massive neutron bomb strike from orbit that wipes out all life in the vicinity of the unobtanium deposit; but our hero Sully’s grandsondaughter is off on the other side of the planet dancing in a trance with a bunch of other fetchingly semi-clothed blue lassies under the influence of hisher wire to Eya at the time. She leads a massive counterstrike of all the blue dudes and dudettes along with every other life form on the planet. Eya meanwhile erupts a volcano under the unobtanium deposit.

  77. As I understand it the plans aren’t quite as um… absolutely terrific! as Sully’s, but have already been elaborated to some extent, and concern another moon in the same system named Polyphemus. Discussed at

    At the pace Cameron’s working and given all of his plans, he and we will probably be dead before the 6-D total immersion global premiere of Avatar 2.

  78. @ CK MacLeod:

    6-D total immersion

    Hadn’t thought of that. Those of us still alive will experience the sequel in feely suits floating in individual tanks. We’ll get to choose a character to experience. Cameron will be assailed with lawsuits from the GLBTDP/GA community activist groups when its learned that suitable characters have not been created to fully satisfy all variations of feely experience.

  79. A heartfelt and thorough treatment, CKM. I have no opinion of the movie to advance, having not seen it. It’s a personal quirk that I just have an inner resistance to marveling over special effects. I would never have seen the Peter Jackson LOTR trilogy if I hadn’t already been a fan of the Tolkien books, and frankly I thought the special effects side of the whole effort was, as my young nephew likes to say, BO-ring. (The battle staging was of immense interest, but that’s a different matter.)

    But that’s just me. It may also be JPod, among others; I don’t know. I don’t think, though, that there’s a characteristic resistance among political conservatives to being entertained — even transported — by the craft of moviemaking and the effects visionary technologists can bring off. I know plenty of conservatives who love that stuff. Just about 100% guys, I might add.

    What I would say, in response to the main thrust of your argument, is that although there may be something to it, I think you cede too much to the left when you imply that conservatives abandon whole segments of life to them by not buying into the left’s interpretation of those segments.

    Again, since I haven’t seen Avatar, I won’t argue that it does or doesn’t present interpretation X, Y, or Z. (I do start with an opinion of James Cameron, influenced strongly by Titanic, which I note you didn’t list with the Terminator movies. If you saw it, you must have understood that the “elite” Cameron depicted with savage disdain was not a leftist-liberal one. That and other things made the story a deeply silly one, even though the movie managed to sustain interest and suspense through a resolution everyone knows in advance. Its technical aspects were superb too.)

    But. There is a conservative tendency to require intellectual integration and consistency that are — what? offended? I’ll go with that for now — by fiction that invites us to believe things we don’t think are so. In the third Bourne movie (I didn’t find the first two to be afflicted in this way), we are asked, hilariously, to buy into dark political fantasies straight out of the comments section at Daily Kos, about the EEEE-eeeeee-vil George Dubba-ya Bush and his lyin’, cheatin’ storm troopers who are chasing after the valorously struggling Bourne because, well, basically because they haven’t killed enough people yet and they want to bag them some good guys before dinner.

    Now, I thought the Bourne Ultimatum movie was also the weakest of the three just because its thin plot was primarily a device to link sequential chase sequences to each other. I have to admit, I laughed out loud at the dénouement, when we see what Bourne’s terrible buried memory is, because on the political timeline implied by the ridiculous script, Bourne would have had to pass his “graduation exercise” during the Clinton administration. (In Ludlum’s original novels, of course, it was decades earlier.) This was irresistibly funny, and transcended for me all the drama of the story line itself.

    I think that’s a big part of the problem for many conservatives viewing Hollywood fare today: it’s impossible to forget that the worldview from which most of them are written is an artificial construct cobbled together by people of a leftist political bent. It doesn’t resonate because it is so artificial.

    I can enjoy a good story, but if you’re going to ask me to accept that the US government is killing its own brainwashed assassins, don’t ask me to buy that the George W. Bush Thank You VERY Much Administration is the one doing it. If you’re going to put earthlings in the future mining minerals in a vicious and exploitative manner from the planets of pastoral noble savages, don’t send tough-sounding soldiers with South Carolina accents to do all the mean, horrible stuff. Why not send some Russians to be the bad guys? Some Spanish-speaking cartel bosses?

    And if the latter questions horrifies people here, think about why — and why it’s a pointless fantasy to put anyone else in the bad guy role either; indeed, to put “types” in it who probably deserve being tarred in that manner even less.

    I’m sure Colonel What’s-His-Name is written to be so over the top that he “of course” isn’t supposed to represent what US Army officers are really like. But come on. Load up a character with every single cliché from a dozen Vietnam war movies (that’s what it looks like in the trailers anyway), and then say you weren’t really trying to imply anything about, you know, the nature of officers in the US Army? (Or the nature of the assignments they are given by their government?)

    I don’t see the Daniel Day-Lewis Last of the Mohicans as being in the same mode either. For one thing, it’s based on the Cooper novel, which was in turn based on a pastiche of actual events and historically valid types. The reason the novel has enduring power is that although it asks us to sympathize with a main character from one walk of life, it shows moral mercy to the tragic realities of all. No one is depicted as one-dimensionally evil, in the manner of a morality play. The humans are, rather, recognizable, and their motives full of the constraints and ambiguities common to real life.

    Bourne Ultimatum went too much in the one-dimensional-evil direction, in my view, to accommodate its allusions to modern politics. You also mentioned Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which avoided partisan stupidity by not using plot allusions to the FDR administration that reigned throughout its making and release. If it had, it would be as little known today as the many one-dimensional anti-Nazi films made during WWII.

    I’m sorry, but how stupid is it to have lack of health insurance as a plot device in a movie about exploitative extraterrestrial mining that relies on southern-accented American military killers to remain viable? Can we possibly squeeze in another artificial, non-resonant, mindlessly-repetitive moral construct of the left?

    The fact is, I DON’T buy the left’s interpretation of individualism or pastoralism. I dont think white male Republican businessmen and their military henchmen are the principal menace to these quantities, for one thing. For another, pastoral peoples are not uniformly victims, mowed down or swept aside by marauding urbanites. Sometimes they are strong and stalwart against the forces of change, but this is usually the case when they have a sense of ownership and responsibility.

    I’m sure Avatar is very enjoyable, and the reason I haven’t seen it yet, and probably won’t, isn’t based on political objections. But one of the reasons there’s nothing compelling to me about it is that it wants to have things both ways: to shoehorn in all the political memes of the left, while demanding, as a fantasy story, that I park any intellectual objections to its implied morality at the door.

    That latter demand is just hard for conservatives, who tend to regard moral propositions as significant: as things that should be actionable, coherent, specific. (At least, in the interest of telling a good story, present the hero with a true moral dilemma, instead of just besetting him with caricatures of politically-conceived menace.)

    Unlike your other interlocutors, I saved SP for last. What I find interesting about your invocation of her is that the writers of Avatar would most definitely not associate her, or her “type,” with the Na’avi. They don’t, and the left doesn’t, view Palin as a peaceful indigenous person, in touch with the nature around her and living in harmony with it, who is endangered by an overweening elite. They see her as a fool being used as an icon by an army of protofascists, about whom the left is in a permanently indignant, foaming-at-the-mouth snit.

    I expect, in fact, that if you tried to associate SP with the Na’avi in the company of dyed-in-the-wool leftists, they’d howl at you like a pack of wild dogs. They might even go back to the drawing board, because how horrible is it if you tell a good story, and someone sees Sarah Palin, of all people, in the story’s good guys?

  80. @ J.E. Dyer:

    You’ve touched, as CK did, on something the elite left is in utter denial about. They portray the Nav’i and other “noble savages” as living idyllic peaceful lives when left alone in part because the reality of life closer to nature ensures that real noble savages must commonly do things in everyday life that liberals abhor. And, lacking written rule of law and complex procedures, must ultimately contend for leadership among their own on a who is strongest basis where they live in large groups, like the Nav’i. No liberal dares ask how the chief of the Nav’i tribe got and holds his position, so Cameron invents the physical feat criterion (capture the big bird and tame it) for excusing what looks like a descent of power by birth. As though such rulers never have to take action to preserve their power against upstart challengers.

    Some lefties are intellectually honest enough (especially when forced) to confront this issue. So, for instance, Larry McMurtry, in his modern novels is the perfect liberal; but in his western novels (Comanche Moon, Lonesome Dove, etc) he is forced to confront the fact that real life Comanches were not nice peaceful Nav’i in their dealings with other tribes. In those novels he may sell some liberalism around the edges, but at the core he must admit the moral equivalence of the modern and the primitive when contending for the same resources and even in living side by side.

    Sarah Palin became governor of Alaska by her organizing talent and hard political work and her willingness to buck the system; but as an outsider she also needed the atmospherics of moose hunting and the mystique of having worked hard with her hands, like ordinary Alaskans. She also needed connection with her impressive all by himself husband, the made good part Eskimo (with a big tight family connected all over rural Alaska) who built his own small business while working on drill rigs and finding time to engage in ultimate snowmobile racing.

    The left celebrates false heroes (in the case i.e. of John Kerry – my opinion at least), but it privately recoils from the reality of the deeds of those heroes (hence Kerry is acceptable because he denounces as criminal the heroism he claims for political purposes). And the left celebrates real heroes like George McGovern who performed in past mythic “clean” wars, but only if they renounce the need for the deeds that prove heroism in the current day.

  81. JED

    1. Health Insurance

    I’m sorry, but how stupid is it to have lack of health insurance as a plot device in a movie about exploitative extraterrestrial mining that relies on southern-accented American military killers to remain viable? Can we possibly squeeze in another artificial, non-resonant, mindlessly-repetitive moral construct of the left?

    The above is an example, I think, of the kind of thing that looms larger in the minds of people who haven’t seen the movie, but have only heard about it, than anyone who actually does see it.

    The exposition, delivered via voiceover narration, runs approximately as follows: “I could have gotten my spine repaired, but VA doesn’t cover it… and in this economy…” or something like that. For all we know, the Terran Death Panel has decreed whatever the operation is to be too expensive. We don’t know whether “this economy” means worldwide depression… or what… For some reason we assume that the medicine of 2154 will necessarily be as superior to the medicine of 2009 as the medicine of 2009 is to the that of 1860. For all we know, the whole world fell apart in 2075, dusted itself off by 2100, regained some shine, then entered a tailspin in 2140.

    We don’t know whether the basis of the future social system – about the only hint we get is that there’s enough of a moral order back home that people would disapprove if they knew about what Psycho-Squish Inc was up to on Pandora.

    Most of this takes up a total of about 30 seconds in a 160 minute fairy tale. Short and sweet: We’re left to assume that, one way or another, things are similar enough to have resulted in this story.

    2. Bourne movies

    No Bush official or major historical event that I can think of makes an appearance in any Bourne movie. The movies themselves take place in their own reality, and, as has been widely noted by fans of the books, they aren’t the same as the books. They take place in parallel paranoia land – like the Tom Clancy novels and other popular espionage and action thrillers – James Bond, 24, The Unit, etc. – if a President showed up, it would be James Cromwell or Morgan Freeman or that lady in 24, not W. If they needed a country to fall, it would be Freedonia or Abkazalia or Muanawabu or somewhere.

    3. Other movie parallels: I was addressing the fallacy of assuming that because a movie depicts bad cops, bad soldiers, bad politicians it must be anti-cop, anti-military, or anti-democratic. I was not pushing detailed comarisons between the diverse heroes and story-lines.

    My point is obvious to me, but for some reason it’s not seen as obvious by some of our friends on the right – people who have become so defensive about recent US policy that they see a piece of anti-war tinged fiction as anti-American even though the fighting is 150 years in time and 5 light-years in space away, and never identified as American.

    James Cameron himself apparently thinks that his movie is more relevant, and from a perspective that we would associate with the left, than I think it is or can be. Part of the problem is that he has a limited understanding of recent history, and has his analogies wrong. On the other hand, his real main point is a decent moral position – that we need to think about the impact of our warfare on the civilians on the other side. Maybe if we had done a little more of that, we’d have handled Iraq and Afghanistan better – or maybe it’s a lesson we could only (re-)learn by doing (again).

    More to the issue on our side: It’s as though everyone on the right wants a moratorium on “anti-war” themes (which come in many different flavors from pacifist to anti-bad war), since we’ve given up on getting good old-fashioned pro-military movies. And so they open up with both barrels on this new piece of sci-fi…

    4. Ceding territory.

    I think you cede too much to the left when you imply that conservatives abandon whole segments of life to them by not buying into the left’s interpretation of those segments.

    I’m not sure what you mean there.

    The conservative critics write as though any depiction of military action that isn’t jingoistic is anti-American; any depiction of ecological or environmental issues = Copenhagen and Carbon Credits; any embrace of spirituality that isn’t on the strictest traditional terms is anti-Christian; and any sympathetic depiction of the Other is self-hatred.

    Yet, come the next election campaign or the next trumped-up controversy, we expect the public to believe that conservatives really, really do love nature as much as the contemporary lefties claim to, and really would protect the environment, but just believe it should be done in a different way. We want them to accept, and not so annoyingly and insistently question, that we really do believe in a lawful and morally sound use of military force and war as a last resort; that we really do care, take amazing and historically unprecedented care for the lives of innocents and non-combatants; and that we really want to be blind to racial and religious differences and are in fact more inclined to treat people equally and fairly. And so on.

    Instead of seeing this movie and saying hooray for lawful and fair treatment of civilians and non-combatants, hooray for spirituality, hooray for nature, hooray for science, and, oh yeah, hooray for mankind and mankind’s pleasures and hooray for risk-taking innovative capitalists at play, go have a good time, we walk right into the lefty trap and act just like the squinched little inflexible everything-haters that they want the world to think we are.

  82. Oh, and on JPod – I know he’s a colleague of yours now, maybe a friend? – but the mistake he made was a cardinal sin for a reviewer and I would feel very embarrassed if I were in his place – to go on and on about how blitheringly stupid someone else’s work is, when you can’t even manage to get the simplest thing right about that work. It will be hard for me to trust his vouching for anything ever again.

  83. @ CK MacLeod:

    For some reason we assume that the medicine of 2154 will necessarily be as superior to the medicine of 2009 as the medicine of 2009 is to the that of 1860

    Fiddle-dee-dee: Maybe one reason is because the corporation is growing avatars from scratch in tanks – and those avatars are part Pandoran and part Human in genetic makeup. Maybe another is because the corporation can put a human in a box with some wires around his head and link him to control the avatar that shares part of his DNA seamlessly by radio or subspace tachyon transfer or whatever.

    But, as I pointed out before on the wall, it is somehow a mysteriously hard medical problem to allow a human to control his own seemingly intact (and not atrophied – now that I’m thinking on that one scene where we see them) legs, something that is being done on an imperfect basis today along multiple technological tracks.

  84. @ fuster:

    McGovern denounced a bad war not the need for moral worth.

    And that made him acceptable, which is my point.

    I’m trying to think of a nationally prominent living Democrat who did not denounce at least one war while his country was engaged in it. Perhaps you can help.

  85. @ Sully:
    The Avatars are described as fabulously expensive. Do I think the whole thing is perfectly credible? No, not really. But you know how those Death Panels are: All those tachyons for rich avatar-makers, but poor grunts like you and me have to wait in line and it would cost us a year’s pay for a single tachyon!

  86. Sully wrote:

    I’m trying to think of a nationally prominent living Democrat who did not denounce at least one war while his country was engaged in it. Perhaps you can help.

    Hasn’t Evan Bayh kept his trap shut pretty consistently on that kind of thing? He was nationally prominent enough to be seriously considered for Veep, as I recall, probly would have been more prominent if Hillary had won. Could be the exception that proves the rule.

  87. @ Sully:
    perhaps you can help list the wars of the last 50 years that weren’t worth denouncing.

    I’ve got VN , Gulf 1, Afghan, Iraq as the possibles. The first and last are full FUBARs , and Gulf 1 was a war lacking much of a moral imperative.

  88. @ CK MacLeod:

    I’m on your side here because I’m used to accepting the conventions that make science fiction possible. What I was getting at is that this is an argument you can’t win with someone who doesn’t accept those conventions.

    The avatars are fabulously expensive on a full cost basis because the corp had to ship a factory for making them and all the technicians on a starship that can transport people light years in cold sleep and is thus out of time synch with Earth, or else in real awake human time which implies an energy source that obviates almost any problem for which unobtanium could be needed. That plus it had to complete a Human Genome level project to achieve the mixed genome.

    We accept Heinlein as quaint when he describes ship sized computers but we don’t accept that in current “realistic” sci fi writers because we know about chips. Niven’s a good example. His oldest stuff has clunky computers but by the 80’s he was writing about handheld know it all machines. Similarly we can accept Heinlein’s cripples because he had no way of knowing about biotech.

    Avatar is fantasy rather than SciFi. Accepting it as fantasy doesn’t detract from your main points.

  89. @ fuster:

    perhaps you can help list the wars of the last 50 years that weren’t worth denouncing.

    I’ve got VN , Gulf 1, Afghan, Iraq as the possibles. The first and last are full FUBARs , and Gulf 1 was a war lacking much of a moral imperative.

    We’re very far apart.
    VN – necessary as a holding action, execrable in its execution – starting, of course, with Saint JFK who ordered the assassination the leader of the acceptable half.

    Gulf 1 – lack of it implies Saddam in control of the whole Gulf – there’s a thought – we wouldn’t have to worry about OBL wanting a Caliphate because there would already be one, in the care of an expansionist with certifiable sons.

    Afghan – no hitback would have been the equivalent of declaring isolationism – I agree that turning it into an 8 year effort to turn Afghans into constitutionalists was foolish, but my prescription in preference to that (which I still think impossible) would probably not be desirable to you – install a tame dog and a set of reasonably tame warlord dogs who knew not to make us come back.

    Iraq – The man had to go – for trying to assassinate poppa Bush and because he was obstinate and showy in his defiance at a time when we still needed to send a message to a lot of other leaders following 9/11. I would prefer it had been done by putting in place a slightly tamer dog who knew not to cross us but who could be depended on to maintain power without too many embarassing massacres for a decade or two.

  90. @ Sully:
    I start with very low standards for movie sci-fi. Half the people going nuts about the un-realism of Avatar don’t have any problem with other sci fis featuring spaceships going clunk and zoom and kaboom in outer space and a zillion other violations of believability on every other level. So, if a few things make sense within the universe of the movie, and a few other things make at least half sense, and it all plays fairly naturalistically given the rules that have been established – then I feel we’re way ahead of the game.

    I can’t think off the top of my head of a major sci-fi movie that works as “hard science fiction” – though 2001 tried awful hard within what turned out to be a widly optimistic scenario space technology-wise.

    Maybe it’ll come to me tomorrow morning. G’night.

  91. Dyer, rather succincty brought up all the arguments I’ve been making, and in a much more organized, and even elegant. Look Avatar, is where you have chosen to stake your ground, as I have on other subjects. The Unit featured an avuncular Bill Macy as the President, on the one instance which they chose to show case him, it did drift into moonbat land, for a while in the last season (Haney, the former Delta Sargeant, the real life version of Sully, is quite a lefty). McGovern, has proven to the touchstone of hypocritical Senators like Edwards, Biden, and Clinton, give me someone who had real objections, like Gravel and Morse, over someone who had
    his innocence stolen. The abbatoir that was Cambodia, hasn’t
    awakened any rethinking in him, as he pushed us to abandon Iraq and cease and desist in Afghanistan today, as he would in Yemen

  92. @ CK MacLeod:

    Re John Podhoretz – perhaps you were a tiny bit too harsh about him. He’s seen his name and opinions taken seriously in print for a very long time and thus understandably suffers from Maureen Dowd Syndrome, a very common disorder also called Printed Opinion Objectivity Paralysis Syndrome that causes sufferers to believe they’re qualified to deposit comments heedlessly at any time in any venue on any subject matter. Writers for print media are especially prone to it; but many, if not most, humans who post on the web are also sufferers. It’s even been observed and studied in non humans, most specifically among members of Genus Rana.

    A corollary of Feynman’s mot re scientists applies:

    ‘. . .a published writer is just as dumb as the next guy’

  93. Nope, definitely Iraq, not Nam…Quaritch even says “shock and awe” in his big peptalk.
    You really should see it.
    Look….it seems to people like me that all conservatives have to say to us anymore is……. get off my lawn!

  94. No, the Template is Vietnam, Quaritsch is Kilgore, the irony is Lang often plays abusing husbands and other criminals, on shows going back to 20 years to Surnow’s the Equalizer

  95. @ strangelet:
    No, it’s not Quaritch who says “shock & awe,” it’s whoever explains the plans to our heroes (Michelle Rodriguez?). “He’s got some kind of shock and awe plan.” Don’t remember the exact dialogue.

    Iraq is a reference point. The entire WOT is a reference point – but not on the crassly political terms that Cameron himself plays up in some of his public statements. Over on the HotAir thread someone finally produced Cameron’s political statements:

    The comments overbid the movie – because the Na’vi have zilch in common with Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden – but they’re perfectly consistent with this entire discussion: Cameron is right that we need to consider the impact of our actions on the people whose countries we take the war to – though it’s not just a moral obligation. It’s clearly an important military and strategic consideration, and has direct impact on our tactics – thus Petraeus/Odierno over Rumsfeld/all the other generals.

    Again, the proper response from the right should be “Of course! Get up to date!” not “How dare you?”

  96. Shouldn’t have clicked on that link, Maybe James the people in WTC #1, and#2, and the Pentagon, have a little understanding of what happens when missiles hit targets on our shore. Maybe the Marine Corps spokesman is also misinformed about the film, Honestly I’m checking for the Ceti Alpha 6 slugs

  97. @ strangelet:
    Your summary of what’s wrong with the conservative reaction culturally sounds about right. However, the Rambo wave occurred one year after the Reagan landslide, Red Dawn in the landslide year. Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Iran-Contra, and Gorbachev were soon to come.

    Sometimes, maybe usually, these pop cultural landmarks are backward-looking: They commemorate the ascendancy of a certain cultural perspective and tend to mark the high tide. It’s like the skyscraper effect. If Avatar = Gorebamaism, then it’s probably a (late) signal to sell your shares.

  98. @ narciso:
    The Marine Corps spokesman’s comments were partly misinformed, partly the kind of response that makes sense.

    As for the first part, it’s like a big public meeting. The chairperson says to the entire group, “Let’s declare ourselves against racism and killing puppies!” And then the conservatives gathered on the right get up and shout, “How dare you accuse of us of being racist puppy-killers!?”

    As for the second, he pointed out that the real US Marines of 2010 aren’t like the nation-unidentified mercenary Marines of 2154. To the extent that’s true, then the problem is with anyone drawing the incorrect inference, possibly including Cameron himself. Instead of shouting, “How dare you attack us?” what he really means to say is “We agree that that’s bad behavior, have thought so for a long time, and are glad to see the makers of sci-fi popcorn flicks on board with us.”

  99. If not for the Haditha witchhunt, and the media pileon on shows from Crossing Jordan, to Boston Legal, where the marines were portrayed
    as blood thirsty savages, I’d agree with you. Rambo was in 1984, or else how could Reagan have commented on it, for his reelection, Not too mention the films, like Redacted which wasn’t strictly about the Army. The facts are the enemy is more like the Predators or the Face
    huggers, than the noble Naa’vi

  100. Don’t know what you’re thinking of regarding Reagan commenting on Rambo: The movie (Rambo: First Blood Part II) was released in May 1985. Rambo the character had been around since First Blood (1982 – Rambo vs small town cops), but it’s the second film – Rambo going back to Vietnam – that pissed the left off so much and was known as “Rambo” in its day

    Not that it would make much difference regarding the main point if it had been released one year earlier.

  101. Sorry, in Quaritch’s genocide peptalk he makes the shock and awe reference.
    Sorry, I’ve seen the movie twice in IMAX.
    Seeing my young cousins reach out to a glowing spore (apparently) floating in space before them was a luminous moment for me.

  102. Helicopter gunships in formation, instead of the dropships of Aliens and even Star Ship Troopers, is clearly a Vietnam touch, right out of Apocalypse Now’s Wagnerian interlude

  103. strangelet wrote:

    Sorry, in Quaritch’s genocide peptalk he makes the shock and awe reference.
    Sorry, I’ve seen the movie twice in IMAX.
    Seeing my young cousins reach out to a glowing spore (apparently) floating in space before them was a luminous moment for me.

    U sure about that? I’ll trust you on it for now – don’t see it as a big deal either way – feel pretty sure that, if Q says the words “shock and awe,” the phrase is repeated in a more neutral context later on. I intend to see it a second time, and will have my aged ears attuned.

  104. @ CK MacLeod:

    CKM — I hope you understand that I wasn’t literally saying a politician named “George W. Bush,” or any other real person, was depicted in Bourne Ultimatum. But however it is you manage to get past plot elements that, with neon-sign obviousness, allude to the leftist take on modern politics — I don’t have that facility. I don’t see how anyone could have viewed Bourne Ultimatum at the time it came out and not have recognized the HuffPo editorial position on The Evil Bush Administration in the story line.

    A good analogy, I think, is to imagine a football movie in which the most hated team wears silver helmets with blue stars on them, and alternates blue and white jerseys, and travels with cheerleaders in short shorts and fringed vests, and plays in a $1 billion stadium in a state where everyone speaks with a Hollywood version of a Texas accent. Not calling this team the “Dallas Cowboys” would not confuse anyone in the audience as to which real-world team is the model, and how he’s supposed to feel about the fictional movie team. Whether you hate the Cowboys or love the Cowboys, you know there’s a national industry in “hating the Cowboys,” and you know the widely-understood emotional cues the movie wants to invoke.

    And again, I didn’t detect the political allusions infesting Bourne III in the first two movies, which I thought were very well done.

    Sully has expressed one key element of my meaning when I spoke of not buying into the interpretations of the left. The left will often interpret indigenous, pre-industrial life as wonderfully peaceful and harmonious, in all the ways Sully speaks of, and the unspoken implication is always, always that this beatific state contrasts tellingly with the vice, organization, technology, power politics, waste, refuse, etc of Us, the Mean-Bad Exploiters-Conquerors.

    But the left never acknowledges that life is in many ways more brutal, less merciful, and just as beset by power politics and wasteful habits, among pre-industrial or pre-agricultural peoples. If Pandora is presented as reviewers (including you) indicate, then it is an unrealistic fantasy in which the constraints of humanity itself are transcended.

    That’s fine; no big deal; go for it! Make all the movies you want about that stuff. Write all the fantasy stuff you want.

    I lose interest rapidly, however, because it just seems like a waste of time to me, to imagine a perfect situation and then manufacture an interlocking situation to be indignant about involving mankind proposing to destroy it out of mindless greed.

    No one writes such a scenario solely to present paradise to us. Or even mainly to present paradise. Scenarios like this are written for the manufactured indignation against the predator. (Or, I suppose, in the case of Avatar, largely to put a story line to all the special effects that went into creating the paradise world.)

    I’m not “worried” about any of this, don’t feel like the world is coming apart at the seams because of the movie Avatar, or anything like that. From what I can see, it looks like a fairly predictable development.

    I think, in general, that conservatives are less suited to creative projects like this than leftists, partly because those on the right aren’t predisposed to want to substitute fantasy worlds for the real one, and partly because when conservatives seek change, they view it as not worthwhile to act out and fantasize, but instead focus with a great literalism on concrete measures.

    Well, can’t spend all day on this. There is an alternative posture here, other than requiring jingoistic approbation of the Ten Commandments of Conservatism in every movie. That is also laughable and silly to me. Hollywood used to make movies that hewed to a conservative line in the same cartoonish manner as its left-slanted movies of today, and I recoil from many of those old ones too. It’s possible to not be pigeonhole-able in this regard.

    And incidentally, maybe someone can tell me why Avatar should not depict Earth’s marauding military force as Russian or Chinese. Of all the nations of the earth in 2010, Russia and China are the most aggressive and intimidating about stomping over everyone else for natural resources, and are also the least interested in preserving the environment when they drill, mine, and refine. If the answer to my question has anything to do with current politics, or political correctness — that might be food for thought.

  105. Well the Alliance in Firefly, is at least half Chinese, I know few people saw it . Australia is the closest to the US, specially the Texas vision of same, so it would serve as a good standin. The Bourne films turned the
    character of David Abbot, the circumspect CIA man, into the malevolent Ward Abbot, who sends Jason off to kill anyone he pleases

  106. J.E. Dyer wrote:

    @ CK MacLeod:
    CKM — I hope you understand that I wasn’t literally saying a politician named “George W. Bush,” or any other real person, was depicted in Bourne Ultimatum.


    But however it is you manage to get past plot elements that, with neon-sign obviousness, allude to the leftist take on modern politics — I don’t have that facility. I don’t see how anyone could have viewed Bourne Ultimatum at the time it came out and not have recognized the HuffPo editorial position on The Evil Bush Administration in the story line.

    You’d have to be much more specific for me to sort this one out. There might be HuffPo positions that are senseless, then there might be HuffPo positions that would be sensible if aimed properly – if the Bush Administration really was what a HuffPo-ite might presume it was. And then there might be a third group of positions that are to complicated to be reduced to either of those two categories.

    And then, of course, we might differ over separate aspects of any given HuffPo critique or the relevance or validity of any particular allusion in the Bourne movies. In short, I don’t find a line or two lifted from the the real world and plunked into the mouth of a bad guy in the Bourniverse the equivalent of your Dallas Cowboys analogy. I believe the much more powerful message of Bourne III is that morally courageous people can reform or correct institutions gone wrong under leaders who have lost sight of their true missions and higher purposes and responsibilities.

    Once upon a time there was a lot of discussion of subliminal messages in movies and TV – “hidden persuaders” and the like. Extensive research tended to confirm, however, that generally people respond a lot more strongly to direct messages than to subliminal ones.

    If you watch Bourne III or Avatar, the actions of the “good” characters are moral and exemplary within the universe as presented, while the plot developments themselves openly and insistently stand on messages that few if any conservatives would or should disagree with. There’s nothing pacifistic about either movie, for instance. Calling Avatar anti-technology is completely absurd, as suggested above – not just as a function of the storyline, but as a function of the whole Avatar phenomenon. Ditto for calling it anti-capitalist. The Bourne movies, separately and taken together, are intensely pro-individual, anti-bureaucratic, etc.

    I could go further, but, instead of extensively restating prior arguments, I’ll sum my position up in the form of a question: Instead of defending W or Dick Cheney, say, against possible criticisms, why not recuperate the much more powerful and unambiguous content of these stories, and the basis of their true appeal to audiences, for higher and more durable conservative purposes?

    As for the left and tribal cultures, there’s much more that would be need to be sorted out in your description and underlying assumptions – such as whether there really is a unitary leftist view, the ways in which Avatar does or doesn’t conform – but it could turn into a fairly complex discussion fairly quickly, and would require me to re-interpret the film for you again, among other things explaining why I believe you’re knocking an overly reductive view of the left against an overly reductive view of the movie – the latter being something that leftists eager to appropriate the film and its popularity for their own side have been happy to let stand.

    I’ll also say here that I don’t accept the idea that “conservatives are less suited to creative projects like this than leftists.” There are good cultural, historical, and economic reasons why Hollywood ended up on the left in our day – reasons similar to and not disconnected from the reasons that N Pod has Jews ending up as liberals against their interest – but to take a longer view, I fundamentally reject the implication that being creative or imaginative is somehow more leftwing than rightwing. I could produce historical examples of magnificently creative rightists, but for now I’ll just say that I couldn’t disagree more strongly with you on the subject, and that I think your approach is another instance of unnecessarily ceding valuable ground to the left without a fight.

    And incidentally, maybe someone can tell me why Avatar should not depict Earth’s marauding military force as Russian or Chinese. Of all the nations of the earth in 2010, Russia and China are the most aggressive and intimidating about stomping over everyone else for natural resources, and are also the least interested in preserving the environment when they drill, mine, and refine. If the answer to my question has anything to do with current politics, or political correctness — that might be food for thought.

    The reasons might very well be the bad ones you cite. They could be based on other considerations (such as the status of English as international language). Or it could be that, whatever Cameron thinks he’s doing, deep down he’s a lot more jingoistic than the people he wants to attack, and just can’t help but imagine, as he’s done before, that America and Americanism will still be the dominant culture and force in the human world 150 years from now. The reason the Chinese and Russians don’t dominate 2154 is that they’re Russians and Chinese.

  107. Come on, if they wanted a little more verisimilute they would have at least one terrorist, somewhere inthe screenplay, the only Middle East
    looking fellow, is an Agency mercenary. Everybody involved except Landry and Julia Stile’s NSA clerk, is deemed the villain.

  108. @ CK MacLeod:

    Obviously we won’t agree on this one. That’s OK. I do begin to wonder if we saw the same Bourne Ultimatum. Each of the movies had political backstory that gave context to the plot: in Bourne I, Jason had been assigned to assassinate a troublesome African dictator. In II, he was being framed for another Agency character’s collusion with the Russian mob. So OK, a bit of sort-of-believable plot business plucked, obliquely, from the headlines of the Real World.

    In Bourne III, responsible people in the US government were hiding bad — illegal, unconstitutional, homicidal — things they were doing in a campaign against international terrorists. It has to seem deliberately obtuse to me, to not get that contextual backstory as an allusion to Bush and the GWOT, through a leftist lens. It’s like reading John LeCarré and choosing not to assume his Cold War spy characters are set in the context of our Cold War, the real one we all lived through, the one with Truman and Stalin and the CIA and the KGB, Nixon and Khrushchev and Mao and East Germany and West Germany, North and South Korea, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and all the encyclopedia of assumptions and understandings inherent in the recognizable meme “Cold War.”

    It continues to surprise me that you really didn’t recognize a fictional indictment of the Bush administration in Bourne III. But again, guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

    I appreciate your attempt to answer the Russian/Chinese question. I don’t think there’s any way to answer it without appealing to a political worldview. That’s my point, in the end. No one writes a movie script in which clashes of cultures and battle are depicted, without coming at it from a worldview informed by his own situation and political assumptions. Avatar couldn’t have been written apolitically. It’s about power and struggle, values and beliefs. Ain’t nothing more political than that.

  109. J.E. Dyer wrote:

    Obviously we won’t agree on this one. That’s OK.

    It’s not only OK, it’s interesting – at least for me. When I have some more time later I may presume further upon your patience with a Bourne Again reply – or I may, I hope without causing offense, decide to let my arguments puddle by themselves for a while and be allowed to seep in before we re-engage on this ground.

  110. Well that’s why I made the Three Days of the Condor reference, the assassination of the Agency analyst shop, which happens right near
    if not in the WTC (bad) is to stop the discovery of a plot to take over
    the Middle East, much like Luttvak’s 1975 “Miles Ignotus” essay, in Harper’s, a necessary evil some might say. Well this thread is officially
    the longest in record, over a film that really isn’t worth all that

  111. .@ narciso:

    a film that really isn’t worth all that

    The market is very possibly in the process of deciding it’s worth more than any other film ever made.

  112. @ El Gordo:

    Traditionally, movie directors didn´t have and didn´t need a university education.

    Movie directors still don’t need a university education. As Lincoln didn’t need one to be an effective lawyer, and as Bill Gates didn’t need one to be an effective corporate executive.

    University degrees are the equivalent of brands on cattle, and serve the same purpose for companies that hire herds of employees by the head.

  113. I would like to offer up my own review of Avatar–a film that I greatly enjoyed–for this august body’s consideration. And while I did enjoy the movie, I also had my criticisms.

    For the record, I didn’t have a problem with Cameron’s portrayal of capitalism’s seamy underbelly, nor was I upset by Cameron’s lightly veiled jabs at the military, (which has displayed its own seamy underbelly on numerous occasions) or the film’s supposed “anti-human” biases.

    My critique concerned Avatar’s message about redemption, about what it is and how one obtains it.

    What follows is a Christmas Eve email I sent to a group of friends with my critique. Picking up in the middle of it all…

    …As for myself, I haven’t finished ruminating over the meaning of it all but as I have learned from my friend Ralph Wood (professor of literature and theology at Baylor) great fantasy epics require a coherent cosmology which reveals truth, and it is debatable that, Pantheism aside, Avatar provides one.

    Perhaps the one thought that has recurred to me several times since seeing the film Monday night is that James Cameron’s avatars reflect a modern-day wish-fulfillment seen in everything from the online video-game lives of young men (and which feature “avatars”) to the plastic surgery fantasies of young women seeking their own “new and improved” selves.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are several things that work very well in the story Cameron tells.

    But Cameron’s tale is the story of yet another failed attempt to cross over into one of Roger Shattuck’s categories of forbidden knowledge, as the paraplegic Marine hero Jake Sully becomes a new man, a better man even by leaving his objective, outside-observer self behind in his sleeping body and experiencing the Na’vi culture from within, subjectively. As Shattuck pointed out, we may know a thing from the outside, objectively, or from the inside, subjectively. We may not experience both.

    Luckily for Jake, the choice is easy as the human contingent in this film is almost universally made up of greedy power-mongers. We are genuinely relieved to see Jake Sully become his avatar and banish the evil human race from the peace-loving planet.

    There are no George Washingtons or Cincinnati or Christ-like figures among the human race. The closest one comes to such in this film is in the form of the Na’vi Queen who gives Jake a chance to become one of the Na’vi—when everyone else in the tribe wanted to kill him.

    Aside from that, no one renounces power—indeed, Jake’s victory over the human raptors requires that he gain power by becoming the toruk’makto—toruk meaning here the “last shadow,” an allusion to the last thing one sees before being slain by a toruk.

    I read a story recently about a woman who caught her husband’s computer-game avatar having an affair with another woman’s avatar, and felt compelled to attempt to kill the woman—the flesh and blood woman rather than the computer screen avatar, that is. Such is, I would argue, the natural result of life lived as an avatar, where power over yourself is inextricably linked with power over others.

    In Cameron’s tale, redemption comes only by leaving behind one’s native form to choose something better; unfortunately for Cameron, his universe offers no guidance in which form to take and which to leave. It is just as probable that a Na’vi could, through a human avatar, experience a Damascus Road conversion to wanton capitalism. The desire for power in Cameron’s universe flows both ways. In the end, the success of Cameron’s tale is the success of Nietzsche’s Übermensch.

    The following quote from Thus Spoke Zarathustra is as much a religious expression for the peace-loving Na’vi as it is the avaricious humans:

    I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? … All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood, and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape…. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth…. Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss … what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.”

    Instead of ends, Avatar speaks only of bridges.

    Instead of revealing Truth, Avatar reveals Nietzsche.

    Very few of us are satisfied with ourselves just as we are. I myself should like to be taller and richer. Alas! It is my lot in life to be avatar-less, to be myself.

    It is, I am told by very good authority, more than sufficient for the God who created me—who tells me that I am an end rather than a bridge. It has been recommended that I find peace with the shorter and poorer version of myself, and dammit—I intend to give it a try.

    Merry Christmas to all—including the fat, the wrinkled, the aged and the deef, the poor pitiful masses who will wake up tomorrow morning and find no avatar in their stocking but, rather, a very flawed and human foot mercifully confined to terra firma.

  114. Wow! A guy in a suit and tie with interesting things to say wandered in!

    Makes me wanna have a bath and a shave and say thanks.

  115. @ Ken Bickford:

    Welcome to the blog Ken! An interesting review about which I shall offer no further comment, it being clearly addressed to and more suitable for discussion by our august members whose approach and judgment I tremblingly await.

    P.S. I counsel tolerance for the amusing pets that sometimes wander into the discussion threads.

  116. That raises an interesting point, the philosophers of the Modern Era, Marx, Freud, Darwin, and add Nietsche to the mix, did have a way of diminishing man’s essential nature, in Marx’s to economics, Freud to impulses, Darwin to genetics. But the spiritual side was jettisoned along the way. The thing that allows for phrases like ‘what a wondrous creature is man, infinite in his faculties. . .” I guess that’s a bit of what Avatar offers, but it paints man as the intruder. The virus on the body of the organism known as Gaia or Pandora, or well Caprica. Nature is an infinitely more powerful adversary, than we are, we only need to check the latest news for proof of that, yet we are presumedly powerful enough to alter it’s patterns, as the AGW promoters would suggest

  117. @ Ken Bickford:
    Between your very thoughtful review, and late comments offered at the HotAir thread, I see some new competitors for most challenging heterodox response to the film.

    Both you and “Axeman” look at the film from a Christian soteriological perspective. Though I don’t endorse your every argument and reading, and though in some respects your views may appear to contradict each other, I think there’s actually a powerful complementarity between them.

    I’ll be curious to see whether some of our other theologically inclined regular Contenders have anything to offer on this theme. I’m going to ponder these matters further, and possibly hold off on any extensive reply for a while, possibly until I’ve had a chance to see the film a second time. At that point I may attempt a “tie it all together/what I learned from sticking my neck out on Avatar” approach, possibly looking toward the Oscars, when I expect that this discussion may perk right back up again.

  118. The Tsar enters the ring punching hard.

    so·te·ri·ol·o·gy (s -tîr – l -j ). n. The theological doctrine of salvation as effected by Jesus. [Greek s t rion, deliverance (from s t r, savior, …

    Alt. – The assertion of dominance in an esoteric field by use of a technical term known only to the illuminati of that field. :)

  119. @ narciso:
    Maybe we should offer it as a refuge and decompression chamber for those poor young suicidally depressed Avatar fans – whose mental states, by the way, fit in well with Axeman’s and Ken’s takes on the movie.

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