Capitalism is bad right!?! Actually that’s not what this is saying at all. Disney strikes again. Avatar is bad for the very reason that Disney is now capitalizing on. It’s not actually about the evils of capitalism, rather it is about the evils of being inefficient in a capitalistic setting, thereby ensuring its enshrinement in the Disney Temple of Capitalism™.
Capitalism and western imperialism make their appearance once again, and this time under the otherwise left-leaning guise of environmentalism and a deified “nature” defeating tech fueled machismo. James Cameron is known for his environmental activism as well as his common theme of the falsity of the struggle of humanity against nature (see Aliens, the Terminator movies, or especially Abyss for more of this theme), but in this case again it seems that the environmentalism he is espousing at the surface level is not really genuine.
As a 15 year old at the theater watching Avatar the first time I saw clearly at the beginning of the third act the disingenuity on display. It wasn’t until age 18, in a college class that a Marxist philosophy professor explained to me why that turn felt so incredibly wrong. It’s because the system of Justice on display is not based on rights, but rather a system of merit judged by modern capitalistic standards. The reason the Na’vi are “good” is not due to their personhood, but rather their superior “technology” and skill, displayed in full battle. “They may appear to be savages” the movie panders, “but they are actually more technologically advanced than the invading westerners,” as the central protagonist, a westerner posing and failing badly as a native, takes the raw power inherent in their world-mind and turns it into an all-powerful fighting machine.
The movie claims that capitalism/military industrial complex is bad (by showing them being unarguably bad with no nuance whatsoever). However, it is not truly a condemnation of the underlying motivations of said complex, but rather a condemnation of the poor execution and idiotic macho behavior of the leaders. Rather than condemning the American-military-industrial-complex-capitalist analogs for their inhumane (sure the aliens aren’t human, but they are literally just tall CGI cat-faced humanoids with built in world-mind interface ports) behavior, like any sane person would do, instead the condemnation is that they are about to destroy something that is actually better at world-subjugation than they are. The table turns, it is realized that the human intruders are merely at some entry-level when compared to the Internet-like, ultra-intelligent, efficient-source-subjugation capabilities of the Na’vi and their global world-mind. The value the movie depicts is not in the humanity of the oppressed, but rather in their superiority in the very attributes that the humans claim as their advantage – better control of natural resources and their consequent applications for making war and living a fulfilling and healthy life.
The immensely positive portrayal of a communal society that doesn’t do capitalism and happily lives with a level of technological development tens of thousands of years behind the invading techno-militaristic businesses could possibly be seen as an argument in favor of communism, but that completely relies on the fantastical element of this world-mind that can spontaneously skip thousands of years worth of industrial development that capitalism provides and can fight back with sheer volume of living beings. This is not exactly a fair comparison between societies, as the only difference between the two in their behavior is that the Na’vi have hit a post-scarcity society far sooner than humans did and are happy to use their world-mind to sustain their standard of living at an actually pretty enjoyable level. Not only is showing a sci-fi enhanced post-scarcity world an invalid argument for the superiority of one model of property and labor over another one, but the entire means by which the movie shows that superiority is not through a display of superior ethics, but rather through a display of dominance through violence.
In the end, the only reason (according to the way the movie shows it) that the Na’vi are superior in any way to the humans was not their greater empathy or superior religion or system of ethics, but rather their ability to harness what at first looks like a primitive ecosystem and turn it into something even better at imperialism and violence than the comically overblown technological monstrosities brought by the unapologetically evil humans. At the end of the story we are left with a simple message: the Na’vi are better than the humans were because they actually had a stronger, better disguised technological advantage, and you can forget about any real environmentalism or ethical concerns because we are here to make 3D cool again and earn a billion dollars doing it.
I’m not bitter about the movie existing or succeeding, but I am bitter about the fundamental inconsistency in making a movie that ostensibly appears to be super environmentally conscious and ethically enlightened and then just turning out to be a green painted version of the very thing that is being condemned throughout (which I
hope I’ve made clear above, but I apologize if it is more just incoherent rambling). And I haven’t even brought up the four planned sequels or the new Disney theme park devoted to milking even more money out of already all time world record setting earnings of the first movie (nearly $2.8 billion worldwide adjusted earnings). Get ready for Avatar related products to bore into our brain almost as much as Star Wars is doing right now, you can’t escape the (Star Wars, Marvel, Avatar themed) future that Disney is building for you.
Of course there are also some other great things to take away from this movie, like how it can earn nearly three billion dollars and yet leave almost no discernible footprint on pop-culture, or how the creature design of the aliens was intentionally done to maximize how much people would want to spend money to stare at them, or how people got suicidal after seeing the “perfection” on screen that they could never attain.