The Mirror Avatar'd

Larison notices the disconnect between the neocon reaction to Avatar (short version: It's un-American!) and their approach to foreign policy (short version: Go team!)

Brooks is right when he says the story teaches that, “Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.” What he fails to do is connect this to the urges of our own liberal imperialists and humanitarian interventionists, who are constantly warning against leaving other nations to their own devices and who are frequently complaining about our boundless benevolence that is repaid with contempt or indifference. He might consult his colleague Thomas Friedman on this point, since Friedman seems to think that most Muslims worldwide are “holding our coats” while we do all the heavy lifting on their behalf and that Afghanistan can be likened to a “special needs baby” that we as a country have just adopted. Muslims do tend to be reduced to supporting actors in Friedman’s own journey of self-importance. This is not just Friedman’s problem. It is the condescension and disdain for other nations shared by developmentalists, neo-imperialists, humanitarian interventionists and garden-variety hawks. It is the idea that other nations cannot possibly solve their own internal problems and probably shouldn’t be allowed to try.

I've tried to look for some way in which the story Cameron tells isn't just a rehash of colonial tropes, but a critique of them, but sadly I can't. There's much in Avatar that says "Conquering is bad!", but very little that says "Humans are not the Na'vi's betters." Maybe if the final battle had gone far worse for Jake and his merry band while at the same time the older Na'vi, being more 'plugged in', had been insistent that Eywa would provide. Maybe. But that would have created its own set of narrative problems.

As it is though, Jake is not only a better warrior than any of the Na'vi, he also apparently is a better Na'vi than any of the Na'vi, since he's the only one Eywa listens to. But hey, what can you expect from blue-skinned cat people? They're such children. Amirite?

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