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.
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