Monday, February 8, 2010

'Avatar': An Anti-Imperialist Epic?

By Joseph El-Khoury

The bad habit of carpet bombing: Apocalypse Now 1979

Avatar starts on a depressing note. In 2154, humans are still invading foreign lands, digging for underground resources and serving their interests with complete disregard to universal values and life in its various shapes (in this case , the shape of oversized cat-like figures with an unhealthy blue tinge). Not one lesson learned from the Iraq inquiry or the Goldstone report. Not one dent to the might of the military-industrial complex!

Things do improve as we realise that a small eccentric group of idealist geeks refuse to abide by the rules and go out of their way to fraternise with the indigenous population. They, well-meaning as ever, end up causing the most damage, although only in the medium term (This is Hollywood after all and a happy ending beckons). I thought here to draw parallels with the kind-hearted American missionaries caught ‘rescuing’ a few dozen Haitian children from their fate as...Haitian children. These, just like Corporal Jake Sully, find themselves misunderstood and vilified from San Domingo to Salt Lake City. A Far-fetched analogy, you might think. Not as ludicrous as the parallels drawn by some with the Iraq invasion. Everything in Hollywood these days seems to refer to Iraq, as if this one tragedy was out of character for Uncle Sam and deserved ad nauseaum analysis. But why look hard when the birth story of the United States is also that of the uprooting of a native people with animist beliefs and a dress sense suspiciously similar to the ‘Na’vis’. While the jungle on Pandora coupled with the heavy reliance on airborne combat tactics and carpet bombing is reminiscent of the Vietnamese conflict. Nothing new there. As the story unfolds, we are quickly back to old clichés of the all-American hero who gets the girl, dodges bullets and defeats evil. The heartbroken local chief has no choice but to swear allegiance to the well-bred natural leader of men and humanoids alike. Perversely, I can’t think of another occasion where an American audience will be asked to revel in watching Americans troops die in droves while justice prevails. If you are still convinced of an Iraqi reference, then James Cameron must be suspected of links with Al-Qaeda. Unlikely, judging from his lifestyle.

I have to conclude that Avatar is pleasant enough to watch and the technology behind it is to be admired. Unfortunately, I am none the wiser about Mr Cameron’s views on imperialism but certainly aware of his taste in music...and on that front not much progress since ‘Titanic’.