Revolution #188, January 10, 2010

Embracing Avatar

We received the following letter from a reader:

Avatar has stirred up passion, and controversy, everywhere. The movie had a deep, profound and gripping effect on me, on my 80-year-old mother whom I took to see it, on my 39-year-old son, and evidently on many more who are "weighing in" pro and con.

I speak here from the heart of a communist. Anyone who hates what has become of life on earth and yearns for something entirely different should embrace this movie and hold it closely, warts and all (the few that it may have). It would be quite hard, indeed, for a cynic to do this, no matter what variant of cynicism is at work. But, cynicism (and identity politics) confront this movie in many discussions.

Avatar is about the future, or even if we might continue to have one at all, much less one truly worth having. It is about different ways things could be. While it righteously upholds desertion, treason and rebellion, shifting allegiance of intelligentsia, against exactly the forces that need to be targeted, it hardly stops there.

It indicts the most fundamentally inhumane, grotesque, driving dynamics of the modern world (as they get carried into the 22nd century in this movie). And it raises up the specter of a diametrically opposed dynamic, or way of life, in thoroughgoing, absolute opposition. Something is being powerfully affirmed here beyond defeating and dispatching an imperial death and exploitation machine, righteous as that is. This is essentially what [director] James Cameron has given us.

As a communist I feel I must always keep my vision cast to the very farthest horizons, and to always hold within me a strong sense of a fundamentally different world. Yet, who might inhabit and walk about in this future? Who would those people be? James Cameron is not a communist, but he has been reaching and seeking in a way that many more should. And he has given us his sense of the possibility of a fundamentally different world and the people who might live there.

The Na'vi are his "future people." Much of how he has envisioned them resonates with me. But, there is some merit to a criticism I've seen in other places about problems with idealizing "the noble savage." I wouldn't think we should try to return to "primitive communalism." With Cameron, while this seems to be a fairly strong current in what he presents, he has given it some awesomely re-envisioned perspectives which transcend simple primitive communalism in important ways.

It's as if he has taken some very basic, core features (the better ones) from the earliest forms of human society, and has given new life and content to them for a future possible. We all should have that spirit and daring to imagine such things and hold them dear.

But, it likely would look much different. All those vast means and forces that are in the clutches and at the behest of the capitalist, imperialist system call out to be liberated through revolutions, the communist revolution in fact, so that they will become the common property of humanity as a whole. Humanity might then truly become a conscious collectivity of mutually flourishing beings, using these means only for the good of all, and of their home, planet earth. And they would do so with their vision cast to their farthest horizons, their future distant, their generations to come. So, who would those people be? I think there are real ways that the Na'vi can help us give true substance to that.

For opening this door in the way that he has, James Cameron deserves a very appreciative nod.

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