Monday, January 11, 2010


For the past while I have been fuming about something. 
It's not a particular policy issue, but a film.
On Christmas Day, I watched the movie Avatar. Besides being a breathtakingly beautiful picture, it is also a clear example of pure political propaganda, which makes it that more insidious. 
Of course, how do we accept negative or even evil things if they are not packaged in beautiful wrapping.
I bring this review here because the movie attempts to make a parallel between an alien civilization encountering humanity and European contact with indigenous peoples.
First of all, I do not make any pretense that indigenous-European relations have been peachy over the last century. Often times, relations were deceptive and downright coercive. 
What makes Avatar wrong is its over-simplified portrayal in order to form some kind of critique of Western civilization and modernity in its entirety. 
First of all, Europeans did not enter into a war of destruction from the start against indigenous people. Historically, relations were characterized by trade relations and later treaties that allowed First Nations to remain largely on their traditional territories. Thus, the portrayal of those relations is misleading.
The problem is some people learn history from films and this film teaches false history. 
The second problem is it over-romanticizes indigenous peoples. There is no violence. There are no gender relations problems. There are no issues over individual rights. Torture and violence were pre-dominant among some indigenous peoples. Of course, you wouldn't know that watching Avatar. You leave with the false impression that indigenous people lived an idyllic existence and Europeans were all evil. Also, a principle problem is the way it romanticizes primitive spirituality and appears to disparage science and modernity. A belief in a pantheistic deity is apparently much more important than science, medicine and technology. I am theistic, but I find this simple-minded dichotomy to be inaccurate and childish and ignores the infinite benefits modern civilization has brought to all of us, indigenous people included. 
One friend of mind commented that the movie would be quite long if it featured all the true nuances of history. Respectfully, I disagree fully. I have a large collection of films and one can capture points of nuance in half-hour sit coms better than Avatar. 
The other point is the cheap shots against American foreign policy. The one line "fight terror with terror" is an obvious cheap shot at the Bush Administration. This, of course, misses the entire nuances of why America and Canada went to war against the vicious Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. 
Thus, I think the negative effects of its propaganda far outweigh its artistic and aesthetic value. I think this cartoonish and simple-minded crap is one of the reasons relations between indigenous people and newcomers continue to be mired in misunderstanding and deception. 
Contact between indigenous and Western societies was not perfect, but it was one of give and take, where technologies and concepts were shared. Native people still live here. They still have a civilization worthy of honour. They can maintain their language and their culture, as well as their spirituality. 
Like I said, things ain't perfect, but modern civilization has brought many blessings to indigenous peoples. 
I rarely think of walking out of movies, but Avatar was a close-call exception. The propaganda became almost too much to bear. 
I hope and pray if people see it, especially indigenous people, they realize it is far from the reality of history, but is more about a constructed reality Hollywood liberals want to impose on all of us. 


  1. I heard someone complaining on Fox news channel that Avatar was an attack on capitalism.
    I was reminded of watching Star Wars for the first time while I watched it.
    I guess it is different for everyone!!

  2. Just like so much out of Hollywood these days.. Pretty to look at but really, really dumb.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy of Avatar. If anything I would say that James Cameron polarized his characters to the point where they traveled on the edge of believability. I think he did it on purpose so that any perceived political messages would be swept up in the fantasy of the film.

    Honestly I have to say you're reading too much into it. I saw the movie twice, loved it both times, and I'm still as small c conservative as ever. The story, environment and characters were so much larger than life that the political undertones were completely drowned out.

  4. I have not rented or bought a movie since the hollyweirdos did their disgusting I pledge ad for Obama, nor will I ever again.
    Hollyweird has always been a bastion of leftists but it is now no better than a full blown socialist propaganda machine.
    Not a nickle more and a nickle is more than most Hollywood movies are worth.

  5. C'mon folks, give it a rest. It's just a movie...something conjured up out of someone's imagination. If the story teller happens to be left-wing (as I agree most writers and directors are) what's the big deal. The Rambo monstrosities were a paean to the rugged, libertarian individualist. The same can be said for all those Chuck Norris fantasies. During the heyday of the western, John Wayne and John Ford cranked out plethora of films on the same theme. That doesn't mean the stories weren't entertaining. I love some of those old John Wayne dusters. I also loved Robert Ludlum's books which were all premised on the idea of some vast right-wing conspiracy fomented in the bowels of the government/military establishment.
    A work of fiction is a work of fiction and to go postal over a story, as people did with the Da Vinci Code and the Exorcist, demonstrates a detachment from reality. We have too many problems with governments, financiers, and advocacy nuts wanting to legislate our lives to worry about some imaginary tale conceived in the philosophical paradigm in which the writer operates.

  6. I loved the movie and I have laid a bet that it will be this year's winner of at least 5 academy awards, well deserved ones too.

    Having said that, yes, I too found the similarities between Afghanistan (as Pandora) and NATO (as the evil army) a bit irritating.

    I was shushed when I whispered aloud during the movie "The Taliban and Al Qaeda will love this movie more than me".

    But the movie is truly stunning and Big Red Magnum, forget the brain dead hollywood nobodies, go watch the movie.

  7. I've noticed, with few exceptions, any movie that relies on special effects and weird looking creatures as heroes is not worth seeing. I have to agree with those comments above mine that this is Hollywood. Nothing to see here, folks. You want entertainment? Pick up a good book instead. Or invite your friends over.

  8. I think we should keep in mind that we don't see any of the other tribes of Na'Vi in the film.

    We don't really know what any of them are like.

    Perhaps one tribe is more like the Iroquois than the Cree, or more like the Blackfoot than the Mohawk.

    The film representing a sci-fi adaptation of the "Psychological Western" that became prevalent through the 1960s. The theme of "going native" ran pretty deep through a lot of those movies, with some intriguing implications -- in many cases invovling women.

  9. I think that you need to do an immeanse amount of research, indigenous cultures have been undermined for decades, beginning with colonization. Capitalism is another form of colinization, as it is still prevalent to this day. Indigenous cultures all over the world, face exploitation in several forms, whether it be racism, introduction to gender superiority, white superiority, etc. European colonizers directly parallel American international policy as portrayed in the film Avatar, with the implementation of residential schools, resource extraction- defying spiritual rights of Indigenous persons- which inevitably lead to the disintegration of their indigneous identity, and which prompted Indigenous persons to become dependent upon colonizers, so that they could control them. The Europeans came as 'bosses' to the indigenous persons, who they viewed as subservients. Indigenous people have suffered to become integrated into society, not even receiving the right to vote until as of recent, and in many countries remaining un-sovereign, un-protected, and un-represented by the government. The impacts on colonization unto Indigenous peoples, have trickled down onto their youth (intergenerational trauma) and undermines the chances of progress in their communities. European colonizers massacred unwilling Indigenous peoples who would not give up their land, a head bounty was ordered (scalping), and military force was taken onto innocent indigeous persons, trying to protect their culture.