Sunday, January 10, 2010

US Movie "Avatar" and the Great White Messiah - An Op Ed By David Brooks

This could be an interesting discussion here at One Heart For Peace blog...why not make a COMMENT below?


Find original posted here

Offensive White Messiah fable at heart of Avatar
New York Times
Jan. 8, 2010, 8:47PM

Every age produces its own sort of fables, and our age seems to have produced The White Messiah fable.

This is the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.

Avid moviegoers will remember A Man Called Horse, which began to establish the pattern, and At Play in the Fields of the Lord. More people will have seen Dances With Wolves or The Last Samurai.

It's a pretty serviceable formula. Once a director selects the White Messiah fable, he or she doesn't have to waste time explaining the plot because everybody knows roughly what's going to happen.

The formula also gives movies a little socially conscious allure. Audiences like it because it is so environmentally sensitive. Academy Award voters like it because it is so multiculturally aware.

Yet of all the directors who have used versions of the White Messiah formula over the years, no one has done so with as much exuberance as James Cameron in Avatar.

Avatar is a racial fantasy par excellence. The hero is a white former Marine who is adrift in his civilization. He ends up working with a giant corporation and flies through space to help plunder the environment of a pristine planet and displace its natives.

The peace-loving natives — compiled from a melange of Native American, African, Vietnamese, Iraqi and other cultural fragments — are like the peace-loving natives you've seen in a hundred other movies. They're tall, muscular and admirably slender. They walk around nearly naked. They are phenomenal athletes and pretty good singers and dancers.

The white guy notices that the peace-loving natives are much cooler than the greedy corporate tools and the bloodthirsty U.S. military types he came over with. He goes to live with the natives, and, in short order, he's the most awesome member of their tribe. He has sex with their hottest babe. He learns to jump through the jungle and ride horses. It turns out that he's even got more guts and athletic prowess than they do.

Along the way, he has his consciousness raised. The peace-loving natives are at one with nature, and even have a fiber-optic cable sticking out of their bodies that they can plug into horses and trees, which is like Horse Whispering without the wireless technology. Because they are not corrupted by things like literacy, cell phones and blockbuster movies, they have deep and tranquil souls.

The natives help the white guy discover that he, too, has a deep and tranquil soul.

The natives have hot bodies and perfect ecological sensibilities, but they are natural creatures, not history-making ones. When the military-industrial complex comes in to strip mine their homes, they need a White Messiah to lead and inspire the defense.

Our hero leaps in, with the help of a pack of dinosaurs summoned by Mother Earth. As he and his fellow freedom fighters kill wave after wave of Marines or former Marines or whatever they are, he achieves the ultimate prize: He is accepted by the natives and can spend the rest of his life in their excellent culture.

Cameron's handling of the White Messiah fable is not the reason Avatar is such a huge global hit. As John Podhoretz wrote in The Weekly Standard, “Cameron has simply used these familiar bromides as shorthand to give his special-effects spectacular some resonance.” The plotline gives global audiences a chance to see American troops get killed. It offers useful hooks on which McDonald's and other corporations can hang their tie-in campaigns.

Still, would it be totally annoying to point out that the whole White Messiah fable, especially as Cameron applies it, is kind of offensive?

It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace.

It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.

Two BIOS on this active journalist for several media sources who was born in Toronto Canada and spent valuable time in New York Go here and Go here

A blog about David Brook's editorial along with blogger Steve's (and his readers) own historical notes and their arguments with David Brook: here


Connie L. Nash said...

To see a beautiful contrast to "Avatar" talk...a parable which holds rich promises...go to republic of rumi dot blogspot dot com and READ "A Parable Never Told" which was just posted Sunday January 10th....

You have to read it first to understand my comments below (posted here because had a problem posting on Republic of Rumi blog...

Most haunting line for the RR parable's beginning: "Will you also find the time to create something in the depths of your soul?"Most haunting line: "Will you also find the time to create something in the depths of your soul?"

I noticed as a comment Shafique Sahib made some weeks ago that KEY to becoming whom Allah intended us to become fully true selves.

Also, I note that one other tenet in the overall reflections, teachings and commentary at Republic of Rumi is that not necessarily all nor even most clergy are to be trusted to offer us what the Creator wishes - with the additional theme that we can learn from nearly everyone (or may All?)...

So seeing this note about clergy's diminished role reinforces my recent reflections on both these two themes for several days now: that of becoming each our authentic self and the limited role of the clergy (Perhaps what's implied is this is true in Islam, Christianity and Judaism as well?)

There are some reinforcing vivid quotes also in Allama Iqbal's "Secrets of the Self" --

Thank You, Khurram Ali Shafique Sahib for this beautifully written chapter which certainly promises to go WAY BEYOND the movie all the rage in the US today, "Avatar"...More soon...

Akhtar Wasim Dar said...

Seems very interesting! watching the movie and will come back!

Thinking said...

hmm....Dear Connie....intresting post and topic.

I will not say anything about white messiha or black messiha or yellow or brown.

As this is our MAKER...ALLAH choice who HE chooses to spread HIS message or become messiha.

Only when people insists on something or if made to believe that they are the distinguished ones and when they see that someone else has been slected by their LORD...makes things difficult.

As far as white messiha is going to people and they are accepting him as their messiha not because he is white but because he has been chosen by their LORD...then why not the same understanding grows in the whites?

May be they were never exposed to the vice versa situation before.

hmm...I guess we are not late....still we can amend our stereotypes.

Connie L. Nash said...

Thinking, I like your comment "ALLAH choice who HE chooses" do bring up an interesting point about vice versa or reverse situations because in the past and perhaps largely still - these are uncommon. However, I met a minister from Zaire at the university. He was selected by his church leadership (and maybe by Allah) to minister in the USA. He and his family became friends to my family. We did beautiful pastimes together like picking blueberries in the forest. Our boys from Uganda were so happy because being with the Zairian children reminded them of the sisters they missed.

Thank You as always, Thinking, for getting thought-provoking which I like a lot.

Also, Akhtar Sahib, are you able to see Avatar from there? To be honest, I haven't yet seen the film but the article appealed to me as a discussion starter. Tonight (January 14th) Rabbi Waskow, a peacemaker who like the film, had a tele-conference call to discuss the film. Even since posting this, I've talked or heard of several variant views. Now, I better see it - but when the price goes down.

Then, you and I may want to comment, Akhtar Sahib? Maybe be co-bloggers in dialogue for once?