Avatar…..or Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and Thee
I just watched the Oscars and, thankfully, Avatar did not win Best Picture. It did however win, deservedly so, the Best Visual Effects award. Anyone who has seen it knows the job James Cameron and his crew did in creating a marvelous visual feast. Anyone who understands capitalism and the history of humanity will also know and lament the incredible movie making skills for such tired, old anti-civilization and anti-technology propaganda. The guy who accepted the award said, “Avatar’s a film about learning to see the world in new ways”. But really it’s a film about learning to make old myths about our world more visually interesting. (Plot spoilers follow)
In his song, Pocahontas, Neil Young wants to sleep with the historical figure to find out what she really thinks of the white man. Of course, Pocahontas was the famous Indian who actually saw the value of the white man’s civilization, even to the extent that she saved Captain John Smith at Jamestown. Despite the history of this brave and admirable woman, Hollywood has continued to distort and twist the story, much like they do with other “noble savage” tales. Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans or maybe even Little Big Man are examples. Entertaining movies? Yes. But history lessons, valuable social commentary, or inspirational art? Hardly. Perpetuating the myths about the evils of capitalism? Exhaustingly.
Young and Brando (who refused to accept his own Oscar but sent an Indian woman to read a speech about the plight of Native Americans and Wounded Knee) maybe do a service by exposing the silly way in which Hollywood treated Indians in the old westerns. But for any good they accomplish, their views are much more destructive to the broader culture and especially today’s Native Americans because they celebrate mysticism over reason, nature over technology, and tribalism (collectivism) over the individual. Why especially Native Americans? Because, along with other minorities whose supposed leaders preserve ethnic pride to keep power, they suffer the most from the irrational and vicious demonization of Western Civilization and Capitalism.
It is the idea that an individual has rights, including property rights, that liberates us – no matter what race, ethnicity, gender or religious views. This central idea of individual rights is the achievement of Western Civilization no matter how slow it takes to realize it, no matter how inconsistently it’s been manifested. While the old movie depictions of Native Americans as murdering marauders might be a bit of a caricature, the idea of them being pure, spiritually wise and happier than modern man is downright falsehood. For more on this topic read Tom Bowden’s “The Enemies of Christopher Columbus”.
So why don’t we see more movies that use such skill and technological brilliance in exploring the individual – the sovereign, independent, joyous individual? Well, it’s a cultural thing, a philosophical thing, and this is where the Thee part comes in. You and I are part of a culture that loves our rights, loves our freedoms, loves our technology, loves our scientific discoveries, and loves our leisure time/entertainment (only made possible by freedom, science and technology) and yet….we feel guilty about all of these things. Why? Because of the Ph-word. We aren’t philosophical and we’re too busy enjoying our lives to understand and protect the ideas that shape our culture. So we have this ongoing battle, a battle that’s being lost by default. It’s only by adopting a more rational culture that can explain and defend itself from bad ideas, that we’ll see a blossoming of art that will celebrate our achievements and our humanity.