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Agreement from an unexpected source - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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January 8th, 2010


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12:50 am - Agreement from an unexpected source
So, I saw that NYT commentator David Brooks was writing about Avatar, and I expected to disagree with his ideas, in large part because I disagree with almost all of his conclusions. The fact that many conservatives loathe that film because they find the idea of people fighting back against a rapacious military-industrial complex to be offensively anti-American made me even more dubious. Brooks is about at conservative as an American can be and not be insane, and about the only other thing that he's written that I've agreed with is that the bulk of the Republican party is controlled by insane people. So, the last thing I expected to read was"
"Still, would it be totally annoying to point out that the whole White Messiah fable, especially as Cameron applies it, is kind of offensive?

It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration."
This sums up my objections to Avatar very nicely. I completely did not expect that.
Current Mood: shockedshocked

(31 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:alobar
Date:January 8th, 2010 09:34 am (UTC)
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I have not seen Avatar, but from various blogs of friends, many come to the same conclusions as Brooks.
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From:heron61
Date:January 8th, 2010 09:46 am (UTC)
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Indeed, but I didn't expect someone nearly as conservative as him to do so too.
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From:heron61
Date:January 8th, 2010 10:02 am (UTC)
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I don't see any way around the fact that it's yet another white guy saves the "natives" who can't save themselves story. That's an inherently offensive story.

Jake did not save the Na'vi, he merely taught them how to fight the humans,

While also being the one to give the Na'vi the big rousing speeches and being specially chosen by their deity/planet. He's clearly the same white guy savior/heroic warrior figure that we've seen far too much of. The problem with this genre is that it's all about a white man going in, learning another culture, and being better at it than the locals.
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From:heron61
Date:January 8th, 2010 11:12 am (UTC)
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True, but getting a non-obvious issue involving racism is impressive.
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From:chiashurb
Date:January 8th, 2010 11:32 am (UTC)
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And I think the fact that Avatar has gotten so many white Americans discussing the "white messiah fable" at all makes it, in the end, a good and useful movie.

Really, the conservatives think it's anti-american? That's hilarious; I had not seen that analysis.
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From:krinndnz
Date:January 8th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
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The set of "works of media that authoritarians think are anti-American" is a very, very large set.
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From:teaotter
Date:January 8th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
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I haven't seen much discussion of this. Does he actually *do* anything, plot-wise, in his own body? Or is it something the director takes off-screen as quickly as possible?
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:January 8th, 2010 01:56 pm (UTC)
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The idea that illiteracy and ignorance lead to grace is one that I find patently obscene. I have seen this used as justification in more than one religion for turning off one's mind and submitting unconditionally to a cult leader. I

I'm glad I can't see Avatar anyway due to motion sickness, because I'm sick and tired of this movie already.
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:January 8th, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC)
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Thing is, I saw the movie, and I don't recall any scene, or anything in the plot, about illiteracy or ignorance being held up as any kind of virtue. I don't know where this interpretation comes from, but I suspect it's from someone who hasn't seen the movie.

As I recall, it's not that Jake knows the Na'vi culture better than they do or anything like that, it's that he knows the Marines, having been one himself, so he has inside information to help the Na'vi defeat the soldiers.
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From:silvaerina_tael
Date:January 8th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
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Regarding the above conclusions, didn't I say something akin to that months ago when it was first being discussed, before the movie came out? That is was the white guy coming in and saving the alien race, and not them being able to save themselves? (Grant you I didn't say "messiah complex"... And confused it with a manga on a similar name)
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From:teaotter
Date:January 8th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
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I think many people did. It was fairly obvious from the trailers.
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From:mindstalk
Date:January 8th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
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There's David Brooks and David Broder. I think Broder is mushier, though Brooks would piss me off against Marc Shields on the Lehrer News-Hour. No wait, that was David Gergen. WTF, too many Davids.
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From:cusm
Date:January 8th, 2010 07:19 pm (UTC)
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Yea, its not exactly a challenging plotline here. Cameron was clearly going for maximum accessibility, and White Messiah Walks Path Of The Hero about nails it for archetypal plot for his target audience. Its about as surprising a story as Titanic (spoiler alert: the boat sinks in the end). I'm glad people noticed, the White Messiah meets the Noble Savage thing is really past its time.

But I have to admit, it works. It works well. The character is easy to identify with, and through his journey the viewer experiences a different paradigm. Wherein they are rewarded with some heroic fantasy cliche, naturally. But the journey is a win for the ride and the scenery. For as much as I bitched that the script came out of a can, I still went to see it twice. Hot psychic cat-elves riding dragons for the win :)
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From:slothman
Date:January 9th, 2010 05:55 am (UTC)
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An alternative perspective on Avatar that I found interesting.
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From:heron61
Date:January 9th, 2010 08:07 am (UTC)
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Absolutely fascinating - I don't think it at all invalidates the other PoV, but I can see it also being true, especially since Wayne Barlowe clearly knows his stuff.

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