Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Zizek reviews Avatar in New Statesman

As always, Zizek turns his attention to a blockbuster to turn it inside out. His key critique is not so much about the film (but he certainly gives his opinion) but about the film and its audience.
"So where is Cameron's film here? Nowhere: in Orissa, there are no noble princesses waiting for white heroes to seduce them and help their people, just the Maoists organising the starving farmers. The film enables us to practise a typical ideological division: sympathising with the idealised aborigines while rejecting their actual struggle. The same people who enjoy the film and admire its aboriginal rebels would in all probability turn away in horror from the Naxalites, dismissing them as murderous terrorists. The true avatar is thus Avatar itself - the film substituting for reality." - Slavoj Zizek, New Statesman - Return of the natives
The problem is not how the film portrays the conflict between the industrialised colonisers and the native tree-huggers. Rather, the problem is that it fantasises the conflict confining it to the screen so that we can ignore it in the actual world around us.

Is he correct? In a way, he is. The film hasn't been followed by mass political action that supports the violent defense of ancestral lands. If everyone who "loved the movie" did so, our news headlines would have much different content. So it's an easy step to conclude that the problem is in the audience. We just aren't stirred enough, and we say, "It's just a movie."

Alternatively, suppose that James Cameron intended to stir political action of this kind. How would we see that evinced in the actual world? Would Cameron and the studios divert the profits to supporting the Naxalites? Possibly. But if the evidence of the intent is in the act that follows, Avatar-the-political-film is a failure, and Avatar-the-entertainment-for-cash is a success.

Monday, 8 March 2010

What's marriage really got to do with commitment

An interesting op-ed piece about marriage and the state.
But I say, let them have it. That is, the churches can have marriage because I don't want it. Let them not recognise divorce. Have them suggest that only virgins should wear white. Allow them to marry only those whom attend their churches regularly - and not just for the last few months. Lend them their airs and lend them their graces.

But don't let the state have at it. Our private sexual relationships are none of the Parliament's or executive government's concern. The state should not be telling me or you that my or your relationship is less legitimate than another. Nor should it be paying any attention to my or your sexual relationships. Ever. And if you do believe that marriage is about love then why on earth is the state dealing in love? What's marriage really got to do with commitment - On Line Opinion - 26/2/2010

I like this approach because it sanctifies marriage as a religious activity over and above a legal activity. It makes the assumption that both parties are religious and intend to honour the lifelong commitment. What I don't like about it is the lack of legal protections associated with such intimate living. Suppose one partner walks away from the faith and no longer commits to the marriage. Although divorce is ugly, it happens to about half of marriages. Any couple that intermingles finances (from petty cash to life insurance) needs independent arbitration to disentangle all of that. Although I'm happy for marriage to remain a religious rite, the high rate of divorce indicates that some pragmatic approach be taken to help manage the arbitration process.