The Culture That Made Avatar
Praise or blame don’t attach to the makers of blockbusters; they dip their cups into the wells of our dreams and give us just what we deserve. Our dreams of the primitive are bandages for the wounds we’ve inflicted on ourselves. Of the wounds we’ve inflicted on others, they say nothing. But if the bandages don’t take, if they chafe, if we peel them off and find the wounds still pulsing, then resentment is easy.
A lot of smart people worked hard to make a sellable dream, and it would be easy to say that they only wanted sales. But of course they wanted to be priests and confessors in the bargain. We know that the sublime in nature is a happy surrender, and where Avatar’s technology puts on the mask of nature, surrender feels good; when is it not good to be surpassed by the inhuman world, to know that man is an ant? And it ought to end there, since in or out of the movies it makes no sense to be told that ants are stronger than they know, that in the aggregate, over decades, through the wholly unspectacular medium of a colorless gas, they are pulling the world apart. This fact is so offensive and incomprehensible to the heart that we’d give anything to find it untrue, and if the beasts of the wild were to rise up, as in Avatar, to destroy us for our sins, we would welcome itat least in play.
Why point out that it’s a lie to show it happening? Why point out all the other lies: that primitives are holy children, that empires can be made to walk away from money, that we haven’t already lost the world we know, though it will take a lifetime to be taken from us? Why did I want to weep behind my 3-D glasses? Only because I was in a climate-controlled theater in the heart of the city, plugged into the municipal power grid, and outdoors the mindless lights kept shining, the engines kept cycling, the wastewater tunnels drained out to the acid ocean. It wasn’t the expense of the show. It was the cheapness of the lie.