The Politics of Avatar

Hollywood is pretty well known for making movies with a liberal political theme. However, Avatar is making some major waves and it seems that there are many writeups about it in the news. I saw this film over the Christmas holiday and unfortunately due to the time schedule in 2D. Afterwards, many people kept asking my opinion of the movie as though there was something special about it. Some were simply referring to the outstanding special effects. Others were referring to the political aspect and that is what this post will be about.
At first, I thought I might actually be the only one that did not like the political nuance of the film. Yet, shortly after articles started appearing in major news outlets about these aspects and what they mean. However, most of the articles simply concentrated on the parallels to Iraq and Hollywood sticking it to perceived American Imperialism. Only one article really resonated with me due to the emphasis on the cultural perspectives rather than simply the military.
I think those that have spent a lot of time overseas, spent time assimilating into other cultures, have learned a language and know their history will feel the exact same way as I do about this film. In short, the special effects are great while the storyline is horrendous.
Here is what I was going on in my mind as I watched the film.
A bumbling GI-Joe outcast goes along with the colonialist western powers to plunder yet another third world country. He realizes that what the colonialists are trying to accomplish is wrong and by some miracle is able to learn the language. He then, not only gets laid by the prettiest native, but also just happens to be the strongest and most intelligent of the native tribe! It is then up to him to lead the charge against his own people and unrealistically is able to defeat the far superior power! Then this former bumbler is now the greatest of the natives who could not have done it by themselves and gets to be king or something.
Now for the parallels
1. Evil corporation = Global Corporations coupled with the American military: Halliburton, Nike, Oil Companies etc. Or if we go farther back, the original bad guy, The East India Company
2. Na’vi = American Indians living in what could be: Vietnam, (or all of Indochina), Iraq, Africa, Mexico or any other place that Western powers set up colonies and basically raped the country for their own benefit.
Before I proceed to better endings I also saw a parallel with this movie and Giacomo Puccini’s “Madam Butterfly.” In that libretto the military captain gets the pretty Japanese woman due to the excitement and infatuation wtih the beautiful native girl. However, this guy leaves her after realizing he should go back, be smart and marry a western girl (“Where da White Women at?” – Blazing Saddles). She is distraught and promptly commits suicide.
I often wonder how this opera is seen from a Japanese point of view. I don’t think Americans can even properly contemplate this because it would be like China invading and conquering America, a Chinese captain banging Miss America but then realizing it is better to marry a sophisticated (and better) Chinese lady. Me thinks this would not sit too well with an American audience but it is quite acceptable for the opposite to occur.
Now, let’s have some fun and change the storyline to reflect realistic scenarios and would have made me happy. (With the historical reality, not necessarily the outcome)
1. Quick Scenario – Bumbler GI-Joe guy goes into the native areas and is promptly shot by an arrow. End of story.
2. State Department Scenario – The Evil Corporation gets smart and sends a highly intelligent agent from the State Department who really does speak the language and actually does understand the culture to manipulate the Na’vi. Yet the agent knows right away it is wrong, resigns from the agency and starts an awareness campaign of this abuse back on Earth. Then the population is split in their opinions of it. Half go stage a protest on Capital Hill while the far right makes radio programs and Fox television shows demonizing the “traitorous State Department Agent” and saying that he is trying to weaken America.
3. Vietnam Scenario – The Na’vi appeal to help from the UN saying that America (France actually) is destroying their country. The western powers manipulate the UN and tell the Na’vi to feck off. The Na’vi then align with China,, er I mean that larger planet which they orbit. The Na’vi defeat the French but then America spots an opportunity and tells their own population they must defeat the threat of Na’vi solidarity. So America moves in and sets up a Na’vi dictator to split the population in two. When this fails they send “advisors” and these advisors start shooting. Then the North Na’vi infiltrate the southern population with the Na’vi-cong. Then the North Na’vi win and American imposes sanctions on Pandora to only be lifted when they need their help to control and contain the population of that much larger planet around which Pandora orbits.
4. Mexico Scenario – The evil corporation is from Spain. At first they pretend to cooperate but then the Spanish general puts handcuffs on the Na’vi king. The population gets upset so Spain sends in the Jesuits. The Jesuits put pictures of Mary which have been modified to look like a Na’vi goddess on everything. They then they report stories of Na’vi tribes-people who have actually witnessed miracles regarding the Mary-Na’vi goddess and tell them to convert. They also take the Sacred Tree and put a cross in front of it, then mass produce this image and pamphlet the population. Seeing that this new goddess favors the invaders and obviously must be more powerful they do convert and the population is suppressed.
5. Nike-Scenario – After a devastating war the Na’vi can either win or lose it doesn’t matter. Then the Americans impose economic sanctions which means the Na’vi cannot buy T.Vs or SUVs. The leaders want these things but need to have money. So they contract out sweatshops with the Nike corporation, make millions and now are rolling in the latest BMWs. Nike notices that some of the Na’vi are athletically gifted (cause they are all 10ft tall) and could dominate in American sports. So they lobby congress to get visas for some of the better players and now the Na’vi are some of the most popular players in the NBA and MLB.
6. Economic corruption scenario – The Americans win but see that the fruits of Pandora are really delicious!! So they start to import the Pandoran fruits to America but realize they are losing money by having to send the ships back to Pandora empty. So they stock the ships with Campbell’s soup, powdered milk and other canned goods to sell to the Na’vi upon arrival. Now the Na’vi do not get to eat any more fruits from their own planet but instead must eat canned Dole peaches and Chiquita Bananas.
But no, none of the above scenarios happened. Instead the evil western power destroys the Na’vi village but in order to make the home audience feel good they make a westerner become the most powerful of the natives and defeat the bad forces from their own country and everyone gets to feel good.
No me gusta.

Hollywood is pretty well known for making movies with a liberal political theme. However, Avatar is making some major waves and it seems that there are many writeups about it in the news. I saw this film over the Christmas holiday and unfortunately due to the time schedule in 2D. Afterwards, many people kept asking my opinion of the movie as though there was something special about it. Some were simply referring to the outstanding special effects. Others were referring to the political aspect and that is what this post will be about.
At first, I thought I might actually be the only one that did not like the political nuance of the film. Yet, shortly after articles started appearing in major news outlets about these aspects and what they mean. However, most of the articles simply concentrated on the parallels to Iraq and Hollywood sticking it to perceived American Imperialism. Only one article really resonated with me due to the emphasis on the cultural perspectives rather than simply the military.
I think those that have spent a lot of time overseas, spent time assimilating into other cultures, have learned a language and know their history will feel the exact same way as I do about this film. In short, the special effects are great while the storyline is horrendous.
Here is what I was going on in my mind as I watched the film.
A bumbling GI-Joe outcast goes along with the colonialist western powers to plunder yet another third world country. He realizes that what the colonialists are trying to accomplish is wrong and by some miracle is able to learn the language. He then, not only gets laid by the prettiest native, but also just happens to be the strongest and most intelligent of the native tribe! It is then up to him to lead the charge against his own people and unrealistically is able to defeat the far superior power! Then this former bumbler is now the greatest of the natives who could not have done it by themselves and gets to be king or something.
Now for the parallels
1. Evil corporation = Global Corporations coupled with the American military: Halliburton, Nike, Oil Companies etc. Or if we go farther back, the original bad guy, The East India Company
2. Na’vi = American Indians living in what could be: Vietnam, (or all of Indochina), Iraq, Africa, Mexico or any other place that Western powers set up colonies and basically raped the country for their own benefit.
Before I proceed to better endings I also saw a parallel with this movie and Giacomo Puccini’s “Madam Butterfly.” In that libretto the military captain gets the pretty Japanese woman due to the excitement and infatuation wtih the beautiful native girl. However, this guy leaves her after realizing he should go back, be smart and marry a western girl (“Where da White Women at?” – Blazing Saddles). She is distraught and promptly commits suicide.
I often wonder how this opera is seen from a Japanese point of view. I don’t think Americans can even properly contemplate this because it would be like China invading and conquering America, a Chinese captain banging Miss America but then realizing it is better to marry a sophisticated (and better) Chinese lady. Me thinks this would not sit too well with an American audience but it is quite acceptable for the opposite to occur.
Now, let’s have some fun and change the storyline to reflect realistic scenarios and would have made me happy. (With the historical reality, not necessarily the outcome)
1. Quick Scenario – Bumbler GI-Joe guy goes into the native areas and is promptly shot by an arrow. End of story.
2. State Department Scenario – The Evil Corporation gets smart and sends a highly intelligent agent from the State Department who really does speak the language and actually does understand the culture to manipulate the Na’vi. Yet the agent knows right away it is wrong, resigns from the agency and starts an awareness campaign of this abuse back on Earth. Then the population is split in their opinions of it. Half go stage a protest on Capital Hill while the far right makes radio programs and Fox television shows demonizing the “traitorous State Department Agent” and saying that he is trying to weaken America.
3. Vietnam Scenario – The Na’vi appeal to help from the UN saying that America (France actually) is destroying their country. The western powers manipulate the UN and tell the Na’vi to feck off. The Na’vi then align with China,, er I mean that larger planet which they orbit. The Na’vi defeat the French but then America spots an opportunity and tells their own population they must defeat the threat of Na’vi solidarity. So America moves in and sets up a Na’vi dictator to split the population in two. When this fails they send “advisors” and these advisors start shooting. Then the North Na’vi infiltrate the southern population with the Na’vi-cong. Then the North Na’vi win and American imposes sanctions on Pandora to only be lifted when they need their help to control and contain the population of that much larger planet around which Pandora orbits.
4. Mexico Scenario – The evil corporation is from Spain. At first they pretend to cooperate but then the Spanish general puts handcuffs on the Na’vi king. The population gets upset so Spain sends in the Jesuits. The Jesuits put pictures of Mary which have been modified to look like a Na’vi goddess on everything. They then they report stories of Na’vi tribes-people who have actually witnessed miracles regarding the Mary-Na’vi goddess and tell them to convert. They also take the Sacred Tree and put a cross in front of it, then mass produce this image and pamphlet the population. Seeing that this new goddess favors the invaders and obviously must be more powerful they do convert and the population is suppressed.
5. Nike-Scenario – After a devastating war the Na’vi can either win or lose it doesn’t matter. Then the Americans impose economic sanctions which means the Na’vi cannot buy T.Vs or SUVs. The leaders want these things but need to have money. So they contract out sweatshops with the Nike corporation, make millions and now are rolling in the latest BMWs. Nike notices that some of the Na’vi are athletically gifted (cause they are all 10ft tall) and could dominate in American sports. So they lobby congress to get visas for some of the better players and now the Na’vi are some of the most popular players in the NBA and MLB.
6. Economic corruption scenario – The Americans win but see that the fruits of Pandora are really delicious!! So they start to import the Pandoran fruits to America but realize they are losing money by having to send the ships back to Pandora empty. So they stock the ships with Campbell’s soup, powdered milk and other canned goods to sell to the Na’vi upon arrival. Now the Na’vi do not get to eat any more fruits from their own planet but instead must eat canned Dole peaches and Chiquita Bananas.
But no, none of the above scenarios happened. Instead the evil western power destroys the Na’vi village but in order to make the home audience feel good they make a westerner become the most powerful of the natives and defeat the bad forces from their own country and everyone gets to feel good.
No me gusta.

Author: Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! (^.^)/

5 thoughts on “The Politics of Avatar”

  1. On top of that, I'm not a fan of what the NY Times called "the white messiah" element of the story, a la Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai.

  2. Matt go outside look up at the sky have a beer, go play golf, please do something because if you thought of all those things while you were watching Avatar you are in need of some good old West Side help, it is a movie, entertainment, you arn't suppose to think that hard!!!!! just saying ndcq

  3. @Matt – Yea, I read that article and although I like that journalist I thought he could have bashed the movie a bit more.@Mr. Thatcher – Beer and golf is very hard to turn down. Throw in Roosters wings and you've got a deal!

  4. There's a pic out there where they simply copied the synopsis of Pocahantas and made Avatar. Replace our captain with the bumbling soldier, replace the American Indians with Na'vi, etc. The plot's essentially the same. I've not seen the movie and the effect do look amazing. Hopefully, if nothing else, enough folks like the FX but dislike the storyline so much that we get the FX but with a real plot. And nudity. Lots and lots of nudity.

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