In a Miami IMAX theater, I recently watched James Cameron’s “Avatar”. Judging from the cheers at the end, even teenagers yearn for a time when rites of passage meant embracing our connectedness with the web of life. Last week, the worldwide box office total for the movie approached a boffo $2 billion. So what conclusions to draw from what could be the highest grossing movie in history?
What raised my eyebrows more than $300 million in special effects was the plot twist: fictive “intelligent” nature rescues the Na’vi civilization from us. It takes the movie a few hours to get there, but Reverend James Dobson and Pat Robertson will be fidgeting in their seats long before the plot wobbles on its planetary axis. By the time the third act arrives, the US Chamber of Commerce values that populate the inside of the high tech/ low maintained US spaceships like their very own Green Zone have taken mortal rounds. (Nod here, to Terry Gilliam’s 1985, “Brazil”.)
Sigourney Weaver is both the Grand Dame of extraterrestrial interpreters and delivering earthly messages, we are our own worst enemies. Her character discovers that the web of life on the planet of the Na’vi is smart enough to kick our asses. O, were it so!
It is clear that an appeal to nature to rescue our own planet because we can’t animates “Avatar” and has millions of viewers cheering. So why do Americans constantly vote –- teenagers, excepted—against our own best interests? The New York Times reported on January 22nd: “According to the survey of 1,503 adults (by the Pew Research Center), global warming, on its own, ranks last out of 20 surveyed issues.” How does this square with the appeal of “Avatar”: when the animated bows and arrows can’t beat back the over-used military equipment of American mercenaries (who have traveled from our own desiccated planet to mine a rare metal we now need to survive on earth– valued at $20 million a kilo!), the animated triceratops and saber tooth tigers can?
A few weeks ago I watched James Cameron accept the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture. He didn’t say that mankind is in the process of killing everything of value to the sustained survival of our species. I recall his comments to the effect of thanking 20th Century Fox for helping to bring the issues of the film to a mass audience. Among the ironies of “Avatar” is that the movie was funded by Rupert Murdoch and News Corp., the emperor who bows to Roger Ailes and Fox News. Fox, according to the Times, makes more money than CNN, MSNBC, and the evening newscasts of the Big Three combined. Not only do Fox bloviators foment public antagonism toward environmental rules and regulations — their jihad is supported by big corporate advertisers who keep the Murdoch debt machine afloat. I’m pretty sure that Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch and their accountants could all be spied as extras in the line of dispirited mercenaries beating back into their spaceship for the trip back to wrecked Planet Earth at the end of “Avatar”.
The box office records that “Avatar” will achieve internationally plumb world audiences love hate relationship with the United States, fluffing antagonism toward our inane, defensive and Godly self-righteousness while adoring our fabulously expressive culture that produces, among other blending effects, kick-ass movies that require no interpretation. But inside porous borders, our politics allows mountain top removal, rock mining, and every form of man-made pollution to flourish, assisted by corporate-funded political campaigns and the US Supreme Court, and Americans continue to elect officials who decry global warming and will claim it to be fiction even when sea levels rise to our doorsteps.
Nature comes to the rescue of the Na’vi world and the Tree of Souls to save the world from us. Outside the movie theater, though, we pray that the crippled will walk again, or find a corporate sponsor to heal the world, or that Glenn Beck can make life simple, filled with grace and amber waves of grain. The difference between what we accept in fiction and confuse with reality now threatens our future. Teenagers know this really sucks, even if it might take 3-D glasses to make them say so.