January 12, 2010

Why the right hates Avatar

Avatar and the Genocides We Will Not See

Cameron's blockbuster half-tells a story we would all prefer to forget

By George Monbiot
While the Spanish were mostly driven by the lust for gold, the British who colonised North America wanted land. In New England they surrounded the villages of the native Americans and murdered them as they slept. As genocide spread westwards, it was endorsed at the highest levels. George Washington ordered the total destruction of the homes and land of the Iroquois. Thomas Jefferson declared that his nation's wars with the Indians should be pursued until each tribe "is exterminated or is driven beyond the Mississippi." During the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, troops in Colorado slaughtered unarmed people gathered under a flag of peace, killing children and babies, mutilating all the corpses and keeping their victims' genitals to use as tobacco pouches or to wear on their hats. Theodore Roosevelt called this event "as rightful and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier."

The butchery hasn't yet ended: last month the Guardian reported that Brazilian ranchers in the western Amazon, having slaughtered all the rest, tried to kill the last surviving member of a forest tribe. Yet the greatest acts of genocide in history scarcely ruffle our collective conscience. Perhaps this is what would have happened had the Nazis won the second world war: the Holocaust would have been denied, excused or minimised in the same way, even as it continued. The people of the nations responsible--Spain, Britain, the US and others--will tolerate no comparisons, but the final solutions pursued in the Americas were far more successful. Those who commissioned or endorsed them remain national or religious heroes. Those who seek to prompt our memories are ignored or condemned.

This is why the right hates Avatar. In the neocon Weekly Standard, John Podhoretz complains that the film resembles a "revisionist western" in which "the Indians became the good guys and the Americans the bad guys." He says it asks the audience "to root for the defeat of American soldiers at the hands of an insurgency." Insurgency is an interesting word for an attempt to resist invasion: insurgent, like savage, is what you call someone who has something you want.
Comment:  "Revisionist history" apparently is Podhoretz's term for "real history." According to the Indians, the Americans were the bad guys.

I guess the right hates Avatar because so many people are seeing its message. Unfortunately, that message is too black and white, too painfully obvious, to change many minds. It's like putting horns on Columbus or Hitler's mustache on Bush. It may feel good, but it's not a rational argument.

Despite its gee-whiz special effects, liberals dislike Avatar because it's a waste of $300 million. James Cameron could've made a convincing science-fiction story about the pitfalls and perils of colonialism. Instead he made a CGI version of FernGully for today's 12-year-olds. If it changes one adult mind about environmental awareness or multicultural tolerance, I'll be surprised.

For more on the subject, see The White Messiah Fable and Monotheism vs. Pantheism in Avatar.

Below:  "Bully for the Marines in Avatar. Bully!"