Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Things White People Love: Avatar

No, I haven't seen it. I probably won't. I always hate it when Hollywood drives the bus--especially for two hours and forty minutes. Besides being an Avatar virgin means I don't become overly invested in my own opinions of it and I am interested in the opinions of my students this coming semester.

I noticed a very interesting Russian doll discussion about it at Savage Minds. I guess by Russian doll I mean it became more and more about "us" anthropologists and our analyses and seemed to become smaller and smaller somehow.

And then at New Year's my neighbours were enthusiastically discussing our loss of noble innocence in the modern era and I felt curmudgeonly superior with my internal snorting, ass that I am. So I am no less small, it seems.

Goodness, so much analysis: "dances with smurfs in space", Pocahontas redux, etc, etc.

Still, I remember walking by a movie theater on my first trip to Tanzania in 1985. It was really the only one I can recall seeing. On the main street in Dar, close to the American library of USIS (as it was at that time). Walking by it one day I heard huge waves of laughter spilling out the door. Using the power of my whiteness, I walked up and peered in. There was one of those low-budget Asian karate movies on the screen--no translations, no sub-titles. Those few Tanzanian (mostly) men who could afford the shillings that day were sitting there laughing hilariously at the shirtless Asian men kicking each other on the screen.

Maybe we anthropologists should be more concerned with the meaning Tanzanians attach to the movie. Third world not second life? Shakespeare in the bush, anyone? Or Sundiata a la Disney, yet again? Sad to be reminded that the myths of history are written (and analyzed ad nauseaum) by the conquerors.

But, hey, it isn't easy being blue.


BrightAbyss~ said...

Interesting post. I actually liked Avatar, despite its primitivist nostalgia (noble savage type stuff), simply because it was a blunt, in your face, colonialist, militarist, capitalist critique. If the urban movie-going audience doesn't take those messages away from the film they are absent a neocortex. So there is that.

And I think the 'natives' in Avatar actually come off as more 'advanced' for not having our technology - advanced morally, sensually and biologically.

The film offers the audience a rich, seemingly fulfilling, alternative to contemporary pathological social systems – and suggests that someday we may actual have the ‘choice’ to become radically other than what we are now.


Anonymous said...

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