"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

the problematic sociological messages in Avatar

warning, spoiler alerts to follow!

on further consideration, i have more troubled thoughts about Avatar's problematic representation, in addition to those i illuminated yesterday:

1) Jake, the protagonist and surrogate character for "us"/the audience in the film (indeed, our avatar into the world of the Na'vi), becomes enmeshed in the Na'vi culture by way of initiation and, "mating" with the Na'vi leader's daughter (who, of course, chooses the mysterious and potentially dangerous stranger, who she calls "moron" from the start). of course, he, the incompetent outsider, comes to be an even better Na'vi warrior than the rest of them, and must come to their rescue (they of course being unable to defend themselves, even though they were, supposedly, "very hard to kill" and dangerous.) the film seems to suggest that it takes an outsider (a colonialist or imperialist) to preserve a civilization, or to lead the way in helping the "natives" get what they (don't realize they) need. [sound familiar? how about our efforts to "bring democracy" to the ignorant (read: unwilling) masses in Iraq...]

2) at the end of the movie, Jake is reincarnated(?) as a Na'vi, what the film suggests is his "true nature." his fellow humans (that is, the military nasty ones) are sent home by arrow-point and told never to come back. that is, to return to "normal" again, the races are segregated, with each race banished and confined to its own world, minus Jake, the bridge between the worlds. this provides an interesting contrast to, say, the ending of Lord of the Rings, which promotes, in my opinion, a far more multiculturalist conclusion (remember that at the end of the trilogy, the different populations of humans, elves, hobbits, wizard, and Ents are united in solidarity against the threat to their shared home, Middle Earth, and Aragorn takes an elven bride, uniting the kingdoms of Middle Earth, and gives credit to the true heroes of the story, the endearing hobbits. [ok, i admit, i'm a LOTR fangirl. those movies hit the mark for me. i can't understand the kids growing up on Twilight, i feel they are really getting cheated out of smarter film and literature opportunities...]).

additionally, i find Jake's final transformation into Na'vi to be confusing (why wasn't the doctor similarly resurrected? why was she not worthy enough to embody the Na'vi spirit, when, arguably, she worked harder to understand their culture and customs and lived among them as much or more so than Jake?) and why couldn't he stay in human form, why did he have to become Na'vi in appearance too (when arguably it's his spirit that is truly Na'vi)? it suggests to me that he can perform the part all he wants, but he's got to look the part too. and finally, this reminded me of the commonly held notion that white is "neutral" and that "white" can become anything it wants to be (in this case, Na'vi). it just has to work at acquiring the necessary signifiers.

3) finally, i realized after talking with my partner this afternoon, that for all the knocking i'm doing, i still believe there is value in the movie and its overall message (about imperialism and colonialism, that is. i still find the sociological representation stuff to be a bit distracting.) the important thing to remember, i think, is that even though the story may be cliché, or predictable, it is necessarily so, because it is a story worth telling and retelling, in multiple manifestations, because it needs to be heard again. we could always use a reminder.


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