Avatar: the feel-good movie for white people

4203480752_a889c3200fRejoice, white people! You never wiped out the Native Americans, enslaved the Africans or polluted the environment.

Because you hit the reset button. You journeyed to some far-off planet whose inhabitants just happen to look like Native Americans with yellow cat’s eyes. Just as they are about to be exterminated by an evil Earth corporation, one of the humans – a white man – has a pang of remorse and sallies forth to lead the natives to victory. His conscience is our redemption. No need for us to feel guilty about the Native Americans and the Africans. Hollywood gave us a second chance to make things right. We will all feel better for it.

It took me a while to realize what Avatar was really about. It’s not meant to be an allegory of colonialism and genocide. It’s really a catharsis for white people who know that their prosperity was founded on screwing the rest of the planet. Hollywood sooths our conscience by taking us to another world where peaceful, happy natives and motherly Mother Nature triumph over the evil invaders.

But, you see, that’s not what happens in the real world. In real life, the natives lose. They perish from smallpox and are mown down by Gatling guns. They are crushed by tanks and blasted by jet fighters. When the natives do win, it’s not because they are more noble than their enemies. It’s because the Viet Cong and the Taliban are even more ruthless. In Avatar’s universe, the natives befriend the heroic white man and teach him their ways. On Earth, they would pluck his eyes out.

When I saw Avatar last weekend, the audience clapped at the end. But I felt and a little sick to my stomach. I knew that when the 3D glasses came off, my eyes would behold a world where the inhabitants walk into restaurants with bombs strapped to their stomachs, and Mother Nature is a cruel, capricious bitch who kills 100,000 of the Earth’s poorest with an earthquake.

Avatar is neither fantasy nor fable. It is a moral opiate, crack cocaine for the conscience. It’s addictive because the message is so easy to swallow. Digital 3D has become so lifelike that Avatar looks more documentary than drama. So realistic that it requires no imagination, no mental effort. It’s so much easier when someone expiates your sins for you, and does it as painlessly as the touch of an animator’s pen.

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