Category Archives: aliens

James Cameron’s Avatar: Cinematic Sci-fi Classic or SJW Cringefest Supreme?

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If James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic weren’t so masterfully made and deeply entertaining, it would be very easy to hate for its obnoxious political editorial. Admittedly, there are people who already do, but I’m a sucker for a well crafted story and epic world building and Avatar has both in spades. Sadly, few films rival the heavy handed political messaging of Avatar. In fact, the sheer quantity of SJW subtext is equaled only by its towering achievements as pure cinema. It pains me to admit it because I actually still really like this film. Even if I completely disengage from what the movie is saying, there’s nothing I’d criticize. It’s about as well made a sci-fi blockbuster as you could hope for. It has an inventive sci-fi premise, relatable characters, a high stakes dramatic conflict, a love story, breathtaking action sequences, and of course, outrageously cool visuals. In contrast to the never-ending conveyor belt of cookie cutter superheroes and franchise properties, Avatar is also the rarest of breeds in cinematic sci-fi: an original story. As historians look back on this period of ideological division and examine the degree to which Hollywood shaped the culture war, I’m willing to wager that Avatar will be regarded as a landmark film not just for its cinematic bravura, but for its near fanatical commitment to every article of faith in contemporary PC orthodoxy.

Environmentalism

There are many reasons that Hollywood is using sci-fi, fantasy and superhero stories as the primary delivery systems for reinforcing PC orthodoxy. Not the least of which is that these genres lend themselves to the construction of mythic archetypes and imparting of moral lessons divorced from any religious framework. Sci-fi in particular has the added benefit of extrapolating from some kind of scientific premise which has the subsequent effect of reinforcing the belief in unbounded human progress driven by science itself. Or in Avatar’s case, the twin belief that the pursuit of science in and of itself is intrinsically good and the power of science must be trained toward some utopian dream of an earthly eco-paradise.

Pandora is an idyllic and verdant jungle paradise which also happens to be the richest supply of the universe’s most coveted resource, Unobtainium. The Na’vi live harmoniously with their environment and all of the biodiversity on Pandora. Meanwhile, the dirty, evil, soulless capitalists of the RDA just want to bulldoze the planet and strip mine its resources. The only thing standing between them and their ruinous objective are the scientists on their own payroll overseeing the Avatar project.

Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine and her #WOKE, multicultural team are not only experts at Na’vi and human genetic engineering, neuroscience, biology, and botany, but cultural anthropology as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making scientists the film’s superheroes since that’s a longstanding feature of the sci-fi genre, but it’s an awful lot of scientific expertise in one team. Just sayin’.

As the film reaches its conclusion, Augustine tries to persuade the morally ambiguous corporate director, Parker Selfridge, that destroying the Tree of Souls will be devastating to the entire Na’vi race. Through her research, she discovered that the entire species communicates with their ancestors and the planet’s biodiversity through a vast quasi-neural network that’s barely understood by our brutish and greedy human minds.

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This is one of Avatar’s cleverest sleights of hand. The Na’vi have a spiritual tradition centered around an entity called Eywa; an amalgamation of genetic ancestral memory and a supposedly quasi-mystical spirit of life. Rather than writing a completely atheist scientist who is hostile towards the very idea of spirituality, Cameron has Augustine arguing against the destruction of the sacred Tree on PURELY SCIENTIFIC grounds. He didn’t just make Eywa some flying spaghetti monster, he grounded their spirituality in a specific feature of Pandoran biology and botany. This way, Cameron has his environmentalist cake and eats it, too. The harmonious communion with nature that is the centrepiece of Na’vi morality and spirituality is just PURE SCIENCE, MAN! And if it wasn’t for Grace Augustine’s tireless scientific research, the monsters of the RDA would not have had an opportunity for a moral awakening.

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Trans-identitarianism

I realize it might seem a stretch to argue that Avatar is tacitly pro-trans identity, but in the near decade that has elapsed since the film’s release, what seems like a really cool sci-fi premise is starting to seem a lot like a metaphor for the anything goes trans-identitarianism that’s now a staple on the Left. As a genre, science fiction earned its name because the authors were taking a scientific idea or premise and building a human drama by spinning out its ramifications in a possible far future or alien civilization. Avatar is a classic example since the core conceit builds off a premise that’s already a partially realized real world phenomenon through the VR imaging technology. In the film, Grace Augustine’s team had developed a way to merge a human consciousness with a Na’vi body. It’s a leap of imagination for sure, but not so far a leap that you had to completely check your skepticism at the door.

Sam Worthington plays the paraplegic veteran, Jake Sully, who is given an opportunity to replace his twin brother in the Avatar project due to his brother’s untimely demise. His job is to infiltrate the Na’vi and relay intelligence back to RDA while Grace and team simply hope to restore the broken trust between the two societies. As Jake is pulled deeper into the world of the Na’vi, he begins to have a moral and identity crisis. He begins to think his life inside his Na’vi avatar is real life while his life as a soulless grunt for a bunch of predatory humans is the fake. You could say it’s Pandoran body dysphoria. Because progressive orthodoxy accords inherent moral superiority to immutable characteristics belonging to people on the bottom of the oppression hierarchy, Jake’s Na’vi manifestation is on the side of #SocialJustice. So what does Jake do? He comes out as trans-Na’vi, that’s what.

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You don’t have to look very far to find that this is increasingly commonplace here on earth. Whether it’s Rachel Dolezal, Shaun King, Martina Big, or Elizabeth Warren, identifying as transracial has been accorded the progressive seal of #WOKENESS.

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Of course, trans-identitarianism doesn’t stop there. Maybe you feel that you’re a different age that doesn’t correspond to the number of years you’ve actually been alive on this  planet. No problem. Just follow the example of Stefonknee Wolscht. Or perhaps you feel that you too were born the wrong species. You can be trans-species, too. Everything is a social construct, you #BIGOT.

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Feminism

James Cameron has a well established track record of writing strong female leads which, in contrast to the numerous cartoonish feminist power fantasies to which we’re routinely subjected, are actually pretty believable by comparison. Besides being one of the best sequels in modern cinematic history, his contribution to the saga of Ellen Ripley should have been lauded as a feminist classic. The same could be said of Sarah Connor in the first two Terminator films. The three lead female characters in Avatar follow the precedent of his earlier films in that they embody his unique spin on the Tough, Smart Yet Tender Hearted Badass archetype. Most importantly, just as the Holy Church of Feminism mandates, each character is a paragon of virtue. Taken together, they form the moral conscience of the film.

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As Dr. Grace Augustine, Sigourney Weaver’s character is modeled very closely on Frances Sternhagen’s lovably grumpy performance of Dr. Lazarus from the 1981 classic, Outland. Augustine is an appealing mixture of passionate dedication, steely resolve, no nonsense bluntness and bleeding heart compassion. Whether acting as a mentor to Jake Sully or upbraiding the villainous Colonel Quaritch, Augustine risks everything to prevent the extinction of the Na’vi.

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Even though Jennette Goldstein’s Private Vasquez in Aliens was more entertaining, Michelle Rodriguez’ Trudy Chacón is the Latina Badass of Avatar. When the RDA goons launch an aerial bombardment of the Na’vi Hometree, Chacón has a crisis of conscience and goes AWOL just as the missiles start launching. After that mission, Chacón goes completely rogue and devotes herself exclusively to helping Augustine, Sully and the Na’vi.

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And of course, rounding out this trifecta of feminine moral purity is Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri. Neytiri combines the virtues of both Augustine and Chacón in that she is proficient in combat, physically strong, fully attuned to her natural environment, and willing to defy the tribal elders. Between the three of them, we are presented with a fully rendered portrait of Divine Feminist Perfection. Smart, tough, capable, defiant, sexy and maternal. Cameron gets away with it because the characters are appealing and he doesn’t completely jettison heterosexual romance or female biological reality. Needless to say, actual feminists spend more time wearing pussy hats and blogging on Tumblr than learning the kinds of skills these characters possess, but the Church of Feminism commands its subjects to write female characters which portray women as morally pure, infinitely capable saviors, redeemers and didacts. Though I’m sure there are plenty of women in the police, military and athletics who can handle firearms, engage in hand to hand combat and pilot advanced military vehicles, these abilities are still primarily male skill sets. Giving them to the women is just a way to  appease the male audience.

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The Church of Feminism also mandates that male characters follow Feminist Law and be cursed with the Original Sin of Toxic Masculinity. Naturally, no one embodies it more than the film’s unequivocally wicked Colonel Miles Quaritch. In another era, Quaritch would be a hero. He’s tough as nails and lives by a soldier’s code of honor. He’s so badass, he can forego a respirator in Pandoran atmosphere and unload two weapons’ worth of rounds and won’t even feel a thing. Since this is the Age of #SocialJustice, Cameron has taken a classically heroic male archetype and made him a cold blooded mercenary who lives only to kill for the highest bidder. Even The Magnificent Seven had a moral code, but Cameron won’t even grant him that much.

Jake is simply the wounded and crippled version of Quaritch. He wanted to serve a heroic ideal by being in the service, but only ended up losing his ability to walk by fighting a pointless imperialist war. Jake’s longing for a courageous ideal and sense of purpose also serves as a metaphor for the yearning experienced by vast number of young men growing up in the West who’ve largely been stripped of their historical roles as protectors and guardians.

Jake Sully: I became a Marine for the hardship. Told myself that I can pass any test a man can pass. All I ever wanted was a single thing worth fighting for.

Despite finding the ideal and sense of purpose he originally sought by becoming his Na’vi avatar, he still required salvation from his female guardian. Male ideals and archetypes are just toxic delusions which lead to dangerous consequences. Take that, manhood!

Scientism

Like Interstellar, Gravity, The Martian and Europa Report, Avatar is part of a newer tradition of sci-fi films that are attempting to bring some semblance of scientific realism to the story. While I reject pedantic cunts like Neil DeGrasse Tyson who think that fact checking art somehow instills a deeper appreciation of science or improves art, films like Avatar which inject just enough scientific realism to make you think about real world possibilities are doing it right. Besides the few grains of scientific plausibility in Avatar, Cameron is presenting something a bit less appealing: Scientism.

The RDA just want to harvest Unobtainium, but the scientists just want to learn and understand the Na’vi, brah. Avatar canonizes a secular article of faith that goes back to Thomas Paine and finds modem expression in figures ranging from Roddenberry to Sagan to Hawking to Dawkins. The pursuit of science all by itself is inherently Good. #SCYENCE will guide humanity back to a primeval state of brotherly harmony and Oneness with Gaia.

Anti-capitalism

There are few things in the world quite as galling as multimillionaire entrepreneurial elites in the creative class selling a Marxist, anti-capitalist narrative, and this is among Cameron’s greatest sins in the messaging of Avatar. It’s understandably self-serving, but it’s more about anesthetizing people with a cynical and simplistic narrative of how the world works rather than provoking new thought. There is literally nothing controversial about presenting a fictitious intergalactic corporate conglomerate as amoral, predatory, and greedy.

This isn’t to say that corporations and entrepreneurs are above reproach or have no moral failures. This isn’t to say that a strictly scientific and materialistic view of the world hasn’t produced some adverse social problems, but Avatar is presenting capitalism in the same Manichean binary that’s the defining feature of Marxism. The lesson of Avatar is that capitalism by definition is exploitative and compels people to dominate and pillage. It’s also very loudly proclaiming that private military armies won’t have any moral compass. There’s no attempt to distinguish between crony capitalist wards of the State versus the entrepreneur who has no protection or special dispensation from the government. We don’t really know anything about the RDA’s connections to the State, but if we’re to treat them as a far future Halliburton, then it follows that they’re being awarded very handsome government contracts. If one wanted to be pedantic, one would question the economic feasibility of colonizing a distant planet, transporting military grade aircraft and armaments over interstellar distances, deploying and maintaining state of the art technology while employing scientists, technical staff, and private security.  The market demand and market price for Unobtainium must be pretty high. Just sayin’.

Once again, Cameron wants to have his anti-capitalist cake and eat it too. He’s denigrating the very system which allowed him to become a world renowned filmmaker. He profits from the very resource intensive technology which allows him to make his art.

Anti-colonialism/Marxist historicism

Sci-fi, fantasy and superhero franchises have the critically important feature of being completely unmoored from actual history while very subtly affecting the way you perceive history.  Avatar is a work of science fiction, but it serves as a proxy for the colonization of America and the West in general.

By today’s standards of #WOKE progressivism, all the dirty, evil white man has ever done is rape, pillage and conquer. This is essentially an article of faith for anyone on the progressive Left. Beginning with the works of Howard Zinn and Gore Vidal, the progressive Left increasingly views the advancement of the West as nothing more than a series of horrific oppressions while consistently downplaying or ignoring the ideas that differentiate it from other cultures.

Noble savage/Anti-white racism

Avatar rehashes the so called “noble savage” myth that was arguably made into an article of faith by Rousseau. In his famous “Discourse on Inequality“, Rousseau romanticizes premodern man before the instantiation of property rights. In this state of primeval and harmonious bliss, we were untainted by greed, violence and envy.

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.

This is, in effect, the entire subtext of Avatar and the ideal of premodern moral purity that the Na’vi represent. He isn’t even trying to hide the message either. You too can learn how to live like the selfless, spiritually #WOKE Na’vi simply by using the home computing device that you bought in the marketplace and accessing the Avatar homepage using software developed by a tech company over networks built and maintained by a telecommunications corporation. Because you know you should and capitalism is totes evil, brah. Bernie said so.

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But it’s even worse than that. Cameron portrays Jake’s defection as a betrayal of his race. By extension, we’re to view Quaritch’s final dig at Jake as a wickedness that’s intrinsic to his white racial consciousness. Whereas Jake’s willingness to relinquish his broken and morally compromised Caucasian body in order to live as Na’vi is evidence of his Christlike resurrection.

Col. Quaritch: Hey Sully… how does it feel to betray your own race? You think you’re one of them? Time to wake up!

In this Age of #SocialJustice, it is increasingly taken as an article of faith that the White M*n and everything produced by him is inherently evil and corrupt. In the materialist mindset of the progressive Left, morality is attributed to material phenomena by default. If it’s not physical privation resulting from inequality, it’s the sin of white racial consciousness. And what better way to reinforce that lesson by making the heroes of your sci-fi epic a fictional race of aliens who live in an ethnically homogeneous premodern, hereditary tribal order with no technology, democratic institutions, or even written language. Just face it, proles. Your civilization sucks. And it’s because you’re WHITE.

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Conclusion

Despite the very dubious and heavy handed preaching in Avatar, I still believe it retains its place as a supremely entertaining 21st century sci-fi classic. I also believe it helped canonize several articles of faith in the contemporary #SocialJustice bible. And that’s too bad. Because when art limits itself to the confines of political ideology, it stops being good art and it turns into propaganda.

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Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood’s End

The classic status of Childhood’s End is well deserved because of its provocative ideas, but is not without a few glaring shortcomings. For all his attempts to bring scientific rigor and realism to the possibility of a visitation from an advanced civilization, the book requires a fair amount of disbelief suspension. Like 2001, Clarke uses this novel to present another vision of SF spirituality and human transcendence. 

The first two-thirds of the book are devoted to the arrival of a highly advanced alien civilization which aids humanity in eliminating war, poverty, illiteracy, and crime without resorting to violence or coercion.  Sounds cool, huh? Clarke doesn’t fill in too many details about how this is achieved and it’s fairly apparent that he doesn’t dwell on it for the sole purpose of moving the narrative forward. Since this is Arthur C. Clarke and he does really try to present scientifically plausible SF, this is exactly where I got hung up.  

The Overlords apparently facilitate this quantum leap in technological progress, but the book seems to sidestep the necessity of the entire planet freely choosing to mobilize for all of this global development. Where’s the incentive? Where’s the capital coming from? And how did communism survive? He uses the advent of this would-be Utopia to pose the question of what comes next after you’ve solved the problems of humanity. Do we become complacent slugs? Apparently, we do. With so much automated production and readily accessible plenitude, we lose our initiative.

This prompts a collection of artists to start a colony dedicated to creative arts because all this ready made life is BULLSHIT, man!

Kudos to Clarke for recognizing the ceaseless striving of artists, but it feels a tad too self-congratulatory. Artists aren’t the only ones who continually strive to better themselves. What about everyone else? 

All of this is prelude to the main point of the book; that Overlords were only here to help facilitate the next phase of humanity’s evolution. Our destiny lays in abandoning our corporeal bodies and merging with a mass consciousness that transcends time and space. It’s cool and heady stuff, but the whole idea comes across like SF, hippie-spiritual communism. Who really wants that? 

Oh, and the whole bit about the devil in religious texts? It’s just a reverse time loop, man. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Quibbles aside, it’s a fun read and Clarke channels a vision that is beautiful and majestic in its scale.

It’s also worth reading because this book has provided direct or indirect inspiration for shows like V and Earth: Final Conflict as well as books like Contact.  It’s a pretty big deal in the SF canon.