[FoRK] A comment on Avatar

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Thu Dec 24 11:44:41 PST 2009

Tom Higgins wrote:
> On Thu, Dec 24, 2009 at 8:24 AM, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
>> Damien Morton wrote:
>> Funny that no one drew a parallel between Avatar "Marines" and Aliens'
>> corporate Marines, especially with Sigourney Weaver involved.
> Not only Ripley but, as my sig line mentioned in the first post I
> plotzed on this topic, Vasquez.
> As for pointing out the white mans guilt taint on this movie and then
> being called trite and boring...there are many reasoned and erudite
> responses to such throw off lines but I think I will go with the
> elegant and apropos " I am rubber you are glue..." retort as it
> contains just about as much worth  as the trite and boring trite and
> boring toss off.

You can read "white man's guilt" into a wide range of things, mostly 
erroneously I think.  I think the sentiments in the movie are more 
generic than that, humans vs. nature, humans vs. X, or just 
advanced/aggressive species/people Y vs. less so 
species/people/group.    There is an error in reasoning going on I think:

More advanced, but still not perfected peoples, such as Europeans 
150-400 years ago may have had some legitimate rationale for introducing 
knowledge to various "savages".  This was good, or should have been good 
except for general clumsiness and unexpected problems like introducing 
disease to new populations.  When their goals included conquering and 
pillaging, this was bad, mostly, at least in the short term.  Although, 
after some time, geographically speaking successful colonization seems 
to have been good for many areas by comparison to those where it failed: 
India/Australia vs. Africa.

When people then associated backwardness to these new peoples, that was 
initially neutral since it was true.  We're talking intent here, not 
absolute truth.  From their point of view and knowledge, people who 
seemed to barely be getting by, have no recognizable commerce, and have 
little recognizable culture seemed to be way back in pre-history in 
terms of development.  When they assumed that this was somehow 
intrinsic, or when anybody later made the same assumption, this was 
wrong.  When it included importing slavery or other mistreatment from 
the natives themselves, or inventing other abuse, by extending and 
solidifying those assumptions, it was horrible.  People should have 
known better and we're all sad about that history.

Today, stereotyping someone based on race is totally wrong, and is 
considered so.  (Although a very small and mostly meaningless set of 
physical, genetic, and other details have certain probabilities.)  
However, we regularly start with a set of assumption baselines (weak 
stereotyping) based on what we know about someone's background: country 
of origin, university, profession, etc.  That, again, is just neutral as 
long as it is fact-based and as long as we amend the estimation based on 
new information which we solicit willingly.

Science fiction / fantasy often explores interesting and difficult 
problems, often in a new light or point of view.  Avatar is about 
extended first contact, bidirectional opaqueness / other causing 
misunderstanding, over / unreasoned reaction to hostile situations, 
greed causing disregard to others, business vs. personal relationships, 
discounting the value of natural / living systems, science run amok, and 
narrow-minded rules of engagement causing abuse of power.  And I got all 
of that from the previews.

What it is not about is erroneous prejudice based on species / genetics 
that no longer gives any useful information, which is my definition of 
racism.  Equating that setting and situation with racism is offensive in 
that it implies that in the future, "we" will become racist regardless 
of the facts and that implies that we are doing that now.  The movie is 
still in first contact / alien-alien misunderstanding mode.  The future 
racism hasn't even happened in the future in the movie.  The 
'member-of-group-A-becoming-a-member-of-group-B' and cross-pairing 
paradigms are the best ways to increase understanding and preventing 
racism.  That people call this betrayal is revealing.  Are we not all 
individuals seeking our best self-actualization?  Isn't potential 
self-sacrifice to prevent guilt-inducing situations a worthy cause?  Is 
the tribal coherence so weak that the defection of a single individual 
threatens to invalidate the whole?

District 9 on the other hand was all about racism.  Cleverly and 
appropriately, by the time the story takes place, the aliens had already 
been present for some time with extended opportunity for interaction and 
knowledge.  Incredibly, the interviews in the movie were all or mostly 
real interviews with South Africans, but they were talking about a group 
of foreigner immigrants / itinerants, not aliens.

While there certainly are stupid people who are still racist, I don't 
see new racism forming.  In fact, I haven't observed any racism in young 
people for a long time and I've been around a lot of teenagers.  Parents 
my age and older still sometimes have a problem, but they're few and 
ignorant where I choose to live.
> -tom(I calls em like I sees em)higgins
Clean your glasses buddy.  ;-)


More information about the FoRK mailing list