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Contradictions in James Cameron's Masterpiece "Avatar"

The Jungle of Technology

by GREG MOSES

"I’ll sell it to you for $12 what I paid," she says to a man holding a pale sign that says "Needed, 1 ticket."  Cheery thank yous move the long line forward, one step closer to Avatar on the last day of this box-office-busting Christmas weekend.

Inside the IMAX theater,  just before the house lights come down there will be two more tickets to exchange.  Mother and son pay cash at the door to strangers and locate a small, impromptu space where they can sit together against the wall, giving the rest of us the chance to see what we look like with our 3-D glasses on.

The one and only preview belongs to the Disney-branded Tim Burton edition of Alice in Wonderland starring Johnny Depp.  Everything about it looks brilliant in IMAX 3-D.  The Mad Hatter does not fail to chuckle.  Imagine seeing all of us from his point of view, looking like a wall of human flies on flypaper, all bug-eyed.

As for the main feature, which opened Dec. 18, 2009 worldwide, it is true what the fan said who chased in vain after James Cameron’s grumpy autograph at LAX: "The plot is so simple a three-year-old could follow it."  Yes, okay, the formula of colonial imperialism is a cosmology that every preschooler can comprehend.  It used to go by the name Cowboys and Indians.

Something about Cameron’s capital-intensive mythology is laudable for a Hollywood Blockbuster.  The stunning experience of nature, culture, and politics does achieve an important spiritual reversal of the Cowboys and Indians plot.  The audience is skillfully maneuvered into anti-imperialist sympathies so that we can tearfully commit to an improbable reversal of the kind of history that any three-year-old knows. 

I came away thinking that I might like to try the Xbox version of the Avatar adventure, with opportunities to win battles of liberation using fantastic weapons upon exotic landscapes.  Of course, I realized as I was pulling out my car key that a more effective spiritual reversal would have me renouncing all my capital-intensive desires and the battles they advance. 

A truly improbable Avatar reversal would produce a global back-to-nature movement liberated from plastic 3-D glasses because something like "real nature" was being returned to its sacred center of attention.  "I see you," we would say to all living things.  Cameron’s deeper vision suggests that all living things would be able to sigh a biologically verifiable response of collective awareness: "And I see you."

At the high point of the plot’s arc, a masculine body of "skin" touches the feminine surface of a producer’s fantasy.  In that very moment, the saturated hues of Avatar’s animation affirm what the plot renounces.  Experience moves relentlessly toward the desire to be more immersed in the jungle of technology than we already are.

At any rate, the contradictions of the Hollywood Blockbuster are not proprietary to Cameron.  They are the contradictions of capital-intensive history itself.  With few exceptions here and there, audiences have not failed to purchase their Avatar tickets in advance.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He is a contributor to Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press. He can be reached at: gmosesx@gmail.com