A reader from South Africa, Pam Sykes, alerted me to an absolutely fascinating and devastating review of Avatar, in which there is much truth and a wealth of sci-fi and fantasy background information.
I find myself bothered, however, by its academic spectatorism, its lack of transformational potential, its self-satisfied insightfulness made all the more frustrating for its lack of guidance in what we might do to move our world towards something better. It seems to find its meaning in seeing the mechanics and failings of the movie rather than its calling (which it frames as infantile fantasy). There’s an undertone of iconoclastic smugness, of having toppled something powerful, of having shown Cameron to be ultimately a shallow, plagiarizing fraud. In failing to move beyond critique, it leaves us at least as lost as the movie does, perhaps more so. In what I have written about Avatar, I’ve been trying to grasp the transformational potential of the movie, to see what it might make possible if seen, used, or changed in particular ways. (I try to make this my underlying approach in all my posts.) True, things aren’t as black and white in the real world as they are in Avatar, but archetypal framings have ENERGY and what I want is for Cameron to use that energy to help us break out into new ways of relating to the world. So in my posts, I’ve suggested ways in which that could be done, especially in the sequel(s) — and some ways in which it was, in a sense, already happening.
For two additional examples of the use of Avatar in the real world, see
The analytic spectatorism of so much of academia offers valuable gifts of understanding, some of which can be very useful for our worldwork. But I want intellectuals to not just issue demands that we deepen into the nuances of the world (an enterprise which can become its own form of fantasy) but — to use the language of the review — to take those understandings as an adult out into the real world of transformational action. That is the challenge we face, that we desperately need to meet.
Just as I wish Cameron’s genius would rise to that challenge, so I wish the same for the genius of some of his most brilliant critics, like this one.