Saturday, February 6, 2010

Avatar--An Addendum

Shortly after I posted my review of the movie Avatar, I was dissatisfied with it. I read some other reviews that accused the film of racism, which I didn't agree with; the movie did not seem to be particularly concerned with matters of skin color or place of origin per se. So I went a different route and suggested it was simply misanthropic, but that didn't quite fit, either.

I recently ran across a link (which I now can't find, but which was probably over here someplace) to the essay, "A Nostalgia for Mud," by Esther Pasztory, in the Precolumbian Art Research Institute Newsletter. Though it doesn't discuss Avatar specifically, it discusses the ideas in Avatar, clarifies what I was thinking about the film, and plants a convenient label on what the film represents:

"Nostalgie de la boue" means ascribing higher spiritual values to people and cultures considered "lower" than oneself, the romanticization of the faraway primitive which is also the equivalent of the lower class close to home....

This primitivist terrain has been with us at least since the eighteenth century when Bougainville published illustrations of those charming and elegant Tahitians, Rousseau found man good in his native state, and Marie Antoinette played milkmaid at Versailles. Primitivism is part and parcel of the Enlightenment, of the classification of peoples, of the concept of progress, the democratic revolutions, nationalism, ethnicity, and multiculturalism....

But in fact it is more global and cuts more deeply than the recent history of the West. As Freud noted in Civilization and its Discontents, the civilized have always longed to be uncivilized and attributed great virtues to them. Tacitus admired the Germanic tribes, Herodotus the barbarian Scythians, Ibn Khaldun the nomadic Beduin, and the Chinese the Mongols. [more...]
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