[Milton-L] "Avatar" reviewed by Milton : What can we do?

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Thu Jan 28 01:39:10 EST 2010

I don't see the issue being utopianism, Carter.  I think Milton
created one in his prelapsarian Eden, for that matter.  The point of a
utopia, however, is that it does not exist, just as Milton's Eden does
not exist.  Whenever we describe indigenous cultures, we are
describing current and real living human beings -- we are describing
existence.  If we don't ascribe to any human being the full possible
range of human emotion, then we relegate them to an inferior status.
Members of indigenous cultures can be sophisticated in their pursuit
of ambition and greed.  They can be selfish too.  They have a culture.
 They are not mere unadorned nature.  Idealizing a people group robs
them of their humanity just as much as degrading them, because real
and fully human persons are nothing to be idealized.  They have
faults. They are never innocent and pure.  I know of Asian students
who are consistently annoyed that US students expect them to be very
good at math -- it's a positive stereotype, but it's still a
stereotype, so that annoys them.

My reaction to Avatar was to its ideological content and to an act of
bad faith that this content unintentionally (no doubt) encouraged.  A
more realistic film, even given the unreality of the setting and the
unreality of the goodness of the indigenous peoples, would have at
least underscored more clearly just how compromised even the
scientists were by their collaboration with the military and with
business.  They should have known what side their bread was buttered
on.  What separates drama from melodrama is the absence or presence of
uncomplicatedly drawn good guys and bad guys.  Great drama, however,
has flawed heroes facing flawed opponents and leaves audience
sympathies divided.  By that standard, Avatar is melodrama.  Star Wars
is melodrama except for a few, brief moments.  Richard II is drama.
PL -- for all the sympathy for the devil that it encourages, intended
or not -- is drama.

Jim R

On Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 11:19 PM, Sanford Blackburn
<antinomian2 at hotmail.com> wrote:
> Jim:
> You remind me of a thread I once briefly followed (I was exploring the
> anthropology of shamanism at the time) that looks at the essential
> "conservatism" of pre-literate cultures.

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