I’ve been wanting to do a post on Avatar ever since I saw it in December, but I never really figured out what I wanted to say. I guess I didn’t have any thoughts about it that were sufficiently “Great”. That is until now. I’ve heard varying criticisms of the movie that lament that it’s “un-American”, “anti-military” or that it has American audiences cheering the defeat of American soldiers.
First, I want to address the fact that the humans were not, in fact soldiers defending America. I would guess that most, like the protagonist had been, but they were not the U.S. military in the film. They were mercenaries in service to a corporation. One of my early thoughts on leaving the movie was that this seems to be an accepted method for artistic criticism of militarism. In recent years, I saw that distinction clearly in the late great CBS show Jericho. It appears that ABC’s FlashForward is going in that direction as well. Both have “contractors” that seem to analagous to Blackwater…I mean Xe.
That being said, I can’t honestly say that I sat through the movie thinking things like “Gee…if these were U.S. soldiers and thus accountable to our nation’s civilian leadership, these atrocities would not be happening.” I was focused on right and wrong, the rightness of the N’avi defending their way of life and the wrongness of the humans’ greed. The events in the movie created a clear, frankly un-subtle case for the N’avi defending themselves. They created a clear villain and clear heroes. That’s what authors, playwrights and screenwriters are able to do. They create the justification for the actions that the heroes take.
So for those whose criticism of Avatar runs along this course, I have a question. Would you make the same criticism if the mercenaries were not American? Suppose this were a future where Indian or Chinese corporations were taking the actions depicted in the film and using mercenaries from wars that their countires had fought in the fictional history between now and the setting of the film. Would you be more sympathetic to the N’Avi? If so, then you might want to ask yourself whether the flag on the uniform makes right an action that is otherwise wrong.


About Andrew

I'm a Christian, American, liberal, geeky, thoughtful, Northwest-transplanted Angeleno husband, father, and pundit who writes about anything he can think of.
This entry was posted in Movies, National Security, Politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Avatar

  1. Pingback: Blackwater Watch » Blog Archive » Avatar « "Great" Thoughts

  2. Monica says:

    What was “unamerican” about the N’avi’s actions wasn’t that they were fighting against “American” soldiers… but that they didn’t have a price. They wouldn’t sell their land. They didn’t CONSUME, for Godzilla’s sake! What’s more unamerican than their communistic attitude toward land and goods?

  3. bluedrew says:

    I don’t disagree with you, Monica. I guess the thrust of my point is that the storyline sets up a pretty clear cut hero and villain, and because it just so happens that the hero looks “alien” and the villain looks not just “human” but “American”, some have seen fit complain that the movie is bashing American soldiers in a time of war. Yet, if we take a movie like Independence Day, can we really say that the motivations of the invading aliens are different from those of the humans in Avatar? If it’s right for the humans in Independence Day to fight the alien invaders who want to take their (our) resources, is it not also right for the N’Avi to fight the humans who want to do the same? I know that the ID aliens didn’t try to buy us off, so it weakens the comparison a little, but I think the point remains.

  4. Robert says:

    I haven’t heard the “anti-American” arguments about the movie, but here’s another guess.

    The story is pretty clearly analogous to American expansion at the expense of indigenous people. It doesn’t take any imagination to see the N’avi as Indians and the mercs as American troops. Audiences then find themselves cheering for the N’avi and rooting against the mercs, all the while finding internal struggle with the bold connections to our own history. The American soldiers that they are rooting against are historical tools of a nation that forcibly removed people from their homes in order to claim land. Rather than reconcile the personal turmoil by recognizing that our country has done some things it probably oughtn’t, they turn their anger toward the storyteller that made them consider it.

    Are you anti-American if you describe despicable American historical acts? Folks willing to apply “un-American” or “anti-American” or “anti-military” to something because it decries an act, person, event or attitude associated with something American are simple-minded or intentionally manipulative in their rhetoric.

  5. bluedrew says:

    I would say that it is patriotic to look at our national sins through the lens of truth. That’s how we learn to deal with historical realities like the genocide of native Americans, slavery and segregation, McCarthyism and much more.

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