Gormogon followers who take careful notes—and those are the kind who don’t get tossed into Ghettoputer’s Saturday night “Party Pit”—may remember your Volgi’s offhand remark (while discussing the effect of serial, mostly unintentional distortions of media on the world’s familiar-but-wrong image of America) that one of the reasons “they hate us” is that we tell them that we’re hateful. American movie (and to a lesser degree) TV makers—deeply invested in the intra-American status battle in which distancing oneself from and criticizing one’s own society is seen as a mark of enlightenment and therefore culture and education—routinely create images of America that are malicious caricatures.*
So, in order to make themselves seem sophisticated, they run down their own country, to the applause of the nekul’turnye faux-sophisticates who run movie studios and write for the rotting, pestilent corpses of what were American daily newspapers. They all vaguely remember reading Howard Zinn in high school, and, “It was heavy how he showed that all of American history was really a conspiracy, man. Hey, is that Quentin? I gotta bum some of his blow, he’s always got the good s—.”
So, now we’ve got Avatar, with Jimmy Cameron just happening to mention that, dude, he’s into eco-terrorism—smash the machine, man! I mean, not the machine that have made James Cameron’s movies a couple billion dollars, but, like, the bad machine. Wow, he’s really got that radical cred now. Because that’s what you need. Not a humble appreciation of, “Wow, what a great country to let a foreigner like me come in and flex my creative muscles, become wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, and give lots of money to underwater archaeology projects and other cool stuff.” Nah, Squaresville.
Meanwhile, Avatar with its Dances With Wolves redskins-cum-bluekins and its nobly traitorous Marine goes out into a world where most people are blissfully unaware that these sort of revisionist fairytales are a cultural tool for ostentatiously demonstrating one’s moral superiority over one’s beknighted parents back home in Dubuque rather than any sort of serious history (whatever their purveyors believe). And some Iraqi…Afghan…Haitian kid gets swept up in the story and accepts its premise that American power is self-interest, rapacious, and evil. Say he goes out an shoots a Marine. Is that blood on Cameron’s hands? Say he and a bunch of like-minded pals rise up and bloodily expel the American military, inflicting a Vietnam-style defeat and crippling of U.S. self confidence, and in the absence of American leadership the world falls into 1970s-style chaos. Have we in some sense brought this on ourselves?
Not entirely, of course, maybe not even mostly. As those who recall the Fallacy of Foreign-Policy Egocentrism know, people mostly do things for their own reasons beyond our ability to affect. But media—like public diplomacy—is a powerful means through which we can and do affect the world. And some of our most wealthy and successful people spend their time making sure the message gets out that the country and system which made them wealthy and successful is corrupt, venal, bigoted, greedy, and xenophobic. (Project much, Hollywood?)
To forestall the dreary, inevitable criticism that he’s somehow making a call for an insipid, shallow, boosterish cinéma de Pollyannisme, Confucius says: STFU. Or, with due respect, please. No adult lover of film† wants to see films without nuance, subtlety, and the painful ambiguities of real life. But if we’re making cartoons—literal ones like Avatar—would it kill any American filmmaker (or Canadian, Jimbo), living as we do in one of the wealthiest, freest, most creative societies in human history, to maybe consider making the subtext that America prefers peace to war, commerce to espionage, and alliances with other free peoples against despots and imperialists? Just once in a while?**
Avatar alone isn’t the problem. But we’ve been doing this for more than forty years. Our own kids grow up knowing more about JFK’s psychedelic paranoid lies than JFK himself. Should we expect the rest of the world to know about the good in this land when we not only refuse to show it, but actively deny it exists?
Truth has a way of getting out in the end, but in the meantime lies can do a lot of damage.
*Like (one is happy to remind) the Good Times Racist Principle, in which any white person who shows up at the Evans’ doorstep is out to steal their meager savings or worse. The Volgi always shouts, Look out, Florida! He’s white! The GTRP shows up everywhere, e.g., The Legend of Zorro (the dreadful sequel to the terrific Mask of Zorro). We’re in California populated entirely by Mexicans who’ve just become literally flag-waving, patriotic Americans. Who will be the villains? The four white guys in the movie! You can see it coming a mile away… It’s Always the Highest-Ranking White Guy in A Suit or Uniform.
† Adult lover of film. Not lover of ‘adult film.’ That’s ’Puter’s bailiwick.
** The Dark Knight. Ok, ok. Thank you, Christopher Nolan.
Thanks for making it all the way down here. Your reward is this hilarious abridged Avatar screenplay. The more masochistic among you may savor the agony that is Cameron‘s draft of a Giant Blue Cat-Monkey sex scene. Of greater interest is this apparent holograph original treatment of, um, dubious provenance.