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Thursday, November 25, 2010

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Anti-Capitalist Film Makes Cameron a Billionaire

I finally -- reluctantly -- gave Jim Cameron, Regal Entertainment, and Imax my $16.50 to see Avatar in Imax 3D the last week before it got booted out by Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland so that I could knowledgeably explain why I knew I wouldn’t like the film before I saw it.

Let me state that I am a big fan of Cameron’s films. I love the Terminator series and think Aliens is the best of the four in that series. Whenever True Lies is on, I have to stop and watch it. And, yes, I cried at Titanic. But then again I cry at Muppet movies, so take it for what it’s worth. The man’s a brilliant master of visual storytelling. And that is the big reason why I am so upset with Avatar. I knew that I would dislike the film as soon as I learned bits of storyline as the hype began last year. Aliens are the beleaguered good guys enduring invasion. Check. Earth people (specifically, American Earth people) are the venal, rapacious invaders. Check. One man defies his people to save the aborigines. Check. Scientists always seek Truth and never twist their research for grant money or to please the government. Check. And businessmen will always opt to exterminate potential trading partners, have no respect for life or property, and are bereft of morality. Check.

Other reviewers have already made the more-than-obvious parallels with Dances With Wolves, Disney’s Pocahontas, Ferngully, and a bunch of others. And I’m probably writing this late enough that most of my coming points have already been made by others, but I think the problem with Avatar is endemic in American culture, and highly damaging.

George Lucas understood the importance of removal from reality in writing fantastic fiction. Star Wars originally took place “in the year 3000”, but moved to “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” not merely to make it sound more like the opening of a fairy tale, but to remove it from any connection with 20th Century Earth. In that way, the elements of the story become a template that can apply to any viewer’s outlook. What was the Empire? To one, it might be an analogy for the British Empire versus the Rebel Alliance of the 13 colonies. To another, it might be evil Corporate America vs. heroic union organizers. Roman Empire vs. Christianity. In other words, you can’t pin Lucas down to a particular current political viewpoint. He’s merely for liberty and against tyranny -- it’s up to the viewer to choose the analogues.

Cameron’s mistake (and I use the word advisedly, since Avatar is one of the highest-grossing films of all time) is an artistic one: making a fantasy film too specific. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings will be timeless because they are not bound to any specific historical matrix. James Cameron has chosen to plant Avatar squarely in a specifically 21st-Century American matrix. In other words, the ex-Marine mercenaries we see are obviously American ex-Marines; the corporate weasel is obviously an American corporate weasel; the native-loving scientist is portrayed by Sigourney Weaver, the same actress who played ape-loving Dian Fossey. This allows viewers only one template: the film is only an analogy to American corporate rapacity, American military brutality, and 21st-century environmental insensitivity.

In Lord of the Rings, one could look at the destruction of Isengard’s forest to build Sauron’s war machine as a critique of Nazi, Soviet, or American war economies (or insert your own government) having a deleterious effect on the environment. The choice was up to the viewer. It did not alienate anyone watching it (except maybe for foresters and arms dealers). Avatar alienates, making it less universal or lasting in its appeal (said, again, with a grain of salt, since it’s made a billion bucks plus my $16.50).

Cameron protests that his film is not anti-military. Why, he purposely made his hero a Marine to show how the finest attributes of honor and defense of the weak enabled him to defy orders and slaughter his own people. In this, though, Cameron engages in several liberal conceits.

Liberal conceit #1: The highest form of patriotism is treason. This is the theme, too, of Dances With Wolves. The liberal creed seems to be “My country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, join the other side and kill as many of your countrymen as you can.” For all the horror we are supposed to feel at the callous way the Americans kill Na’vi without any awareness of their individual sovereignty (and certainly no discussion of their property rights), Cameron’s “Good Marine” Sully (and Costner’s “Good Cavalryman” Dunbar) had no compunctions about slaying his former comrades en masse. Are we supposed to cheer that massacre? I’m reminded of the brilliant deleted scene in Goldmember where the wife of the beheaded henchman receives The Call and has to tell her son that his father has died at the hands of super-spy Austin Powers. “No one ever thinks about the henchman’s family!” she wails. Similarly, we are not supposed to feel anything but satisfaction at the mass slaughter of all those other Marines. (OK, ex-Marine mercenaries, but Sully himself says there are no ex-Marines, so he’s killing fellow Marines, Q.E.D.) (Semper fi indeed.)

Liberal conceit #2: Native populations live in wise, eternal harmony with the land; White Americans relentlessly destroy nature for short-term profit. Right. Would someone like to explain why -- shortly after the arrival of humans in North America -- all the megafauna vanished? Chinese dudes cross land bridge, look at mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths, and saber-tooth cats, and say “Get in my belly!” (pace, Fat Bastard). You could argue that they learned from their errors, I guess, but why aren’t Americans given the same indulgence? It took 10,000 years for Indians to learn to live with the land. Europeans have only been here 500 years or so (900 years for Vikings). What Cameron portrays as a Na’vi prayer acknowledging the Circle of Life (when killing an animal for food or self-defense) could just as easily be interpreted as the Na’vi version of liberal hypocrisy: acting all apologetic and spiritual (and believing it, of course, with all your heart), but still getting what one wants by killing. Hey, I didn’t hear any prayers to Eyah (meant to sound similar to Gaea or YHVH?) when the Na’vi were dispatching fighter pilots by the score with armor-piercing arrows. If the Americans prayed to Eyah while bulldozing the Tree of Souls, would that have made it better?

Liberal conceit #3: Only a white male newly minted liberal convert can get these disorganized, unfocused, superstitious ethnics to recognize the threat they face and only a white male neo-liberal possesses the wisdom and savvy to guide them into victorious battle (isn’t that how we lost the Vietnam War--a bunch of liberals telling the military how to fight?). This is the same conceit displayed by Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves and (forgive me, Sarah Jessica) Matthew Broderick in Glory (the story had to have a white guy as the lead character to make it more “accessible”) (Hollywood code for “we want more than 12% of the population to see it”). This is the same messianic complex that leads liberals to think that they are the only ones wise enough and smart enough and pure enough to prevent destruction of the entire planet by car exhaust, the only ones who can end the business cycle by dragging us into socialism/fascism, the only ones who can tell us what to eat/drink/drive/smoke/read/think, and the only ones who can mobilize the masses to push for social change (which is why they don’t think the Tea Party people are really a grass-roots people’s movement and must be an evil corporate plot).

At least in Return of the Jedi it was the Ewoks’ own idea to run off and attack the stormtroopers, and they did it with their own skills, tactics, and weapons. They didn’t need Luke telling them what to do.

Was the decision to bash American business, slander the American military, and ignore the American conservationist tradition intentional on Cameron’s part, or is such self-loathing so endemic that it didn’t even occur to him that he was attacking the very corporate structure that made him a mega-millionaire, the military that has kept him safe both from communists who delight in slaying the wealthy and the intelligentsia after they have served their purpose and from Islamic jihadists who delight in killing everyone, and the American inclusiveness that made Hawaii a state, preserving vast swaths of its natural beauty for location filming on Avatar?

I said sympathy for your enemies was dangerous. It’s everywhere, even in children’s films. When I saw the trailer for How to Train Your Dragon, in which the young hero discovers that dragons aren’t the monsters his elders made them out to be (because naïve youngsters full of Hope and Change always know better than their elders, who actually may have experienced a few dragon attacks), I thought Yes... that’s just what the dragons want you to believe... Islamic terrorists love Americans who think that their jihad on the West is merely a reaction to American imperialism -- they are the current version of the “useful idiots” Lenin used so well to drag Russia into a tyranny worse than that of any tsarist.

I didn’t dislike the film per se. Artistically, it was superb. Pandora looks like a fun world (if you can survive the Deathworld-like fauna). The plot is tried-and-true (some might say clichéd and worn-out). And Zoë Saldana’s left breast stole every scene it was in. But the anti-American, anti-business, anti-military, anti-reason sub-text turned me off completely. It was superfluous to the basic storyline; the villains could have been anyone. They did not have to be from Earth at all. (I recall the super-hit Independence Day made the rapacious invaders non-humans and the heroes the US military.) They did not have to be capitalists at all. Didn’t fascists and communists invade the lands of native people and rape and pillage them? And wasn’t it, oh, I dunno, American military men and women who fought and died to liberate those lands? Who’s leaving Haiti after weeks of sweltering work keeping quake victims from dying, only to sail down to Chile to conduct more rescue and relief work? Would that maybe be the Marines? Hmm. Odd thing for them to do. From watching Avatar, I’d swear they’re supposed to go in there and murder everyone.

And I don’t like seeing movies disingenuously engineered to give me that utterly false impression.

Science Quibbles With Avatar

Science quibbles: I’ll skip the bogus flying mountains except to say that if you grant the premise, you still have to explain how such small rocks can have huge waterfalls cascading off of them. Even if they were made of sponge, they’d drain in a few minutes at that rate.

As someone who still owns every piece of glow-in-the-dark plastic from when I was a kid, I loved the phosphorescent night life. However... I think that the only time you would have “night” on a moon orbiting a gas giant would be when the planet is between Pandora and its star. Think about how bright our own moon is at night: when it’s full, you can read by it. And it only fills half a degree of the sky. From the look of it, Pandora’s gas giant covers about 60 degrees. Imagine that much starlight being reflected from a high-albedo cloud world -- it would be as bright as day.

In the film, it’s stated that Pandora has lower gravity than Earth, and that would explain how the banshees can fly by flapping instead of soaring, but then one should be consistent: everything that falls would have to fall at a much slower rate of acceleration, yet it seems that everyone and everything falls at an earthly rate on Pandora (to be fair, it would be a much slower-paced film if they did that...). I did like the zero-G in the opening scene, though.

One thing I expected to see but didn’t: after all the talk about how all the life on Pandora was electrically connected in a gigantic neural net, I was expecting the white male neo-liberal to be the one to figure out how to harness that power into a directed-energy weapon, with plasma bolts shooting from the Tree of Souls.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

An Agorist Primer Now In Paperback!

Just in time for ChristmaSolstiChannuKwanzEid, the paperback edition of An Agorist Primer is now available from KoPubCo! The book is the same size as the hardcover keepsake edition, but is a third of the cover price (less, actually, because of our 20%-off Christmas Sale price). If you have wanted to read or give this amazing book but could not afford the price of the hardback, now is the time to order. Copies are at the printer and should arrive this coming week and will be shipped as soon as in hand. Give the perfect gift this season — the gift of liberty!

The book is not yet available on, but you can order it now from the publisher. And don't forget our Christmas With an Attitude shop on CafePress! We have bumper stickers, t-shirts, and tote bags with snarky, in-your-face (well, in-everyone-else's-face) slogans. Check it out!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mere Americans

I don't recall that, during World War II, any Christians in the U.S. Army agonized about being forced to fight other Christians in the armies of Mussolini or Hitler, or of occupying Christian land where they were not welcome. I don't remember any Japanese in the 442nd worrying that they were fighting the Axis, of which Japan was a part. We were all mere Americans fighting enemies of America.

In fact, I don't recall any Shiite Muslims having any compunctions about killing Sunni Muslims (and vice versa) during the Iran-Iraq War (the "impossible" war among Muslims). So why would anyone in the press try to excuse the mass-murderer/traitor's actions by pointing to his fear that he would be forced to fight fellow Muslims? First, as a Major and a psychiatrist, he would never be fighting anyone, and second, he was a native-born American assisting American warriors in their battle against sworn and declared enemies of America. That should be enough for anyone in the Army. What he did was treason — pure, simple, and inexcusable. Motivation is irrelevant.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dr. K's Videobook -- Part One!

Working right up to the weekend before I went in for my knee surgery, I recorded my videobook of Dr. K's Sure-Fire Instant Weight-Loss Secrets in High Definition. During my rehab and recovery, I managed to edit it in iMovie and upload it to YouTube (in three parts). The book is humorous (in case the title didn't tip you off) and I hope I've captured that in my role as "Dr. K." Here's Part One:

Goin' Cyborg -- Martin Caidin Would Be Proud

Call it the advent of the .04 Million Dollar Man. This October (when Friday the 13th fell on a Tuesday), I was rendered unconscious with a Michael Jackson Propofol cocktail, taken into a darkened room, and masked men sliced my right knee open like a hock of mutton. Joints split, ligaments sundered, bone sawn, they implanted a titanium device inside my living flesh, making me 6% less human and beginning my slow assimilation into the Borg.

Heck of a body piercing!

Physical therapy is daunting, but there's no way I'm going to fail to gain the total range of motion allowed by this thing. I still want to hike the John Muir Trail one of these days!