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Thread: Cameron's "Avatar" Insulting to the Armed Forces?

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    Council Member Dr. C's Avatar
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    Default Cameron's "Avatar" Insulting to the Armed Forces?

    Any opinions from SWC about the film Avatar and the portrayal of the Armed Forces, for those of you who have seen James Cameron's latest 3D film?

    Ty Burr from The Boston Globe observed in his review of Avatar:

    Yes, “Avatar’’ is the latest high-tech entertainment to lecture us that technology is wrong. Human civilization, too. The movie’s cultural politics are childishly two-dimensional, at times insulting (especially if you know anyone in the armed forces). Squint at “Avatar’’ the wrong way and it starts to look like a training film for jihad - not, I’m guessing, what Cameron had in mind.
    For those of you who loathe any serious discussion about all things Hollywood, if you saw the film, you probably couldn't help notice how the military is portrayed. I couldn't tell if the armed forces were actually military or hired mercenaries working for the corporation exploring the planet Pandora for a valuable natural resource. The military and the corporation showed open disdain for the scientists on their team, even though they knew they needed the scientists to help with their mission.

    Anyway, there was a long National Guard commercial during the previews at the theater where I saw the movie, so I doubt if the film producers had any intention of portraying the military in a negative light. But do they?
    Michele Costanza, Ph.D., CKM/CKEE (Contractor)

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Cameron has often had simplistic sub-texts in many of his movies, so I don't tend to take him seriously from that standpoint. That's one of the reasons Avatar hasn't interested me that much.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
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    I haven't seen the movie yet, but since it's fiction, I don't take it too seriously. We are all used to the stereotypes. I worry more about movies that are or claim to be based on "real events" but even there some of the portrayals become unintentially funny in their ignorant absurdity.

    I still think "Three Kings" was one of the best even though it wasn't completely flattering.

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    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. C View Post
    I couldn't tell if the armed forces were actually military or hired mercenaries working for the corporation exploring the planet Pandora for a valuable natural resource.
    Take a look at Aliens. The "Colonial Marines" (I think that was what they were called) were basically controlled by "the company." Although, the marines, with the possible exception of Bill Paxton's character, were portrayed as good guys. Don't read to much into any of his movies.

    Right now I'm more concerned that the man wants to redo Forbidden Planet!

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    Cameron has often had simplistic sub-texts in many of his movies, so I don't tend to take him seriously from that standpoint. That's one of the reasons Avatar hasn't interested me that much.
    I agree with you one everything except the "sub-texts." Does Cameron ever do anything small enough to be called a "sub-text." I very much enjoyed the "sub-texts" of True Lies!

    Adam L
    Last edited by Adam L; 12-22-2009 at 08:47 PM.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adam L View Post
    I agree with you one everything except the "sub-texts." Does Cameron ever do anything small enough to be called a "sub-text." I very much enjoyed the "sub-texts" of True Lies!

    Adam L
    True enough. He's had a couple of good ones, but on the whole he's not a director I go out of my way to see.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    I would point out that the Marines in Avatar were actually PMC's. They all came from the Marines but they worked for the company. This is very similar (but different) to Alien's where the government hired out the Marines to a corporation. The interesting sub-text (sic) that hasn't been discussed is that the paralyzed veteran could not get treatment, but the company would provide that treatment. NOBODY is looking at that little bit of the story line which has a huge impact on the story arc. I'm going to see it again before I decide if I'll fully review it.
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    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    I should point out that I have not seen Avatar. Since we are talking about it now, I guess I will have to go see it.

    Adam L

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    Council Member Dr. C's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by selil View Post
    The interesting sub-text (sic) that hasn't been discussed is that the paralyzed veteran could not get treatment, but the company would provide that treatment. NOBODY is looking at that little bit of the story line which has a huge impact on the story arc. I'm going to see it again before I decide if I'll fully review it.
    So does this support what Burr wrote in his Boston Globe review of Avatar, that it's insulting to the Armed Forces?

    If you have an opportunity to see it an IMAX theater, that would be the way to go.

    Most reviewers agree that the technology far surpasses the script and the plot. More "mature" audiences have seen the plot in films like Dances with Wolves. However, for younger audiences the message might be new. Will they view our military in a negative light after seeing this film?
    Michele Costanza, Ph.D., CKM/CKEE (Contractor)

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    Council Member wm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. C View Post
    So does this support what Burr wrote in his Boston Globe review of Avatar, that it's insulting to the Armed Forces?

    If you have an opportunity to see it an IMAX theater, that would be the way to go.

    Most reviewers agree that the technology far surpasses the script and the plot. More "mature" audiences have seen the plot in films like Dances with Wolves. However, for younger audiences the message might be new. Will they view our military in a negative light after seeing this film?
    I'd say the PMC/military stereotyping runs at about the same level as that found for the Mobile Infantry in Starship Troopers. The "colonel" reminded me of characters played (caricatured?)by Robert Duval--the Cav LTC in Apocalypse Now and the Marine aviator in The Great Santini. Having seen it in IMAX 3D with my 12 & 13 year old boys, I can tell you that all they talked about was the "awesome" combat footage. It didn't negatively reframe their view of the military in the least.

    By the way, I was less impressed with the similarity to Dances With Wolves and more struck by the affinity with the plot of a 1992 "classic" that starred Tim Curry, Christian Slater, and his former girl friend Samantha Mathis (both also of Pump Up the Volume fame), not to mention Robin Williams, Cheech Marin, and Tommy Chong, among others.

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    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wm View Post
    By the way, I was less impressed with the similarity to Dances With Wolves and more struck by the affinity with the plot of a 1992 "classic" that starred Tim Curry, Christian Slater, and his former girl friend Samantha Mathis (both also of Pump Up the Volume fame), not to mention Robin Williams, Cheech Marin, and Tommy Chong, among others.

    Of course, [forehead slap] you remember now--Ferngully, The Last Rainforest
    YOU'RE RIGHT!!!

    Why didn't I remember that movie....Oh....I remember now.

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    Council Member Van's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by selil View Post
    I would point out that the Marines in Avatar were actually PMC's. ... This is very similar (but different) to Alien's where the government hired out the Marines to a corporation.
    It wasn't explicit whether the 'marines' were a PMC or government forces, a la Aliens or the Latin American small wars of the 1920s and 1930s (United Fruit, the so-called Banana Wars, and the campaigns that caused the 1940 Marine Small Wars Manual). I saw it as government troops protecting economic interests (consistent with the Left's portrayal of Haliburton and the U.S. mil under Bush/Cheney). On reflection, I could see this as the East India Company combat units in the XXII century.


    Quote Originally Posted by selil View Post
    The interesting sub-text (sic) that hasn't been discussed is that the paralyzed veteran could not get treatment, but the company would provide that treatment. NOBODY is looking at that little bit of the story line which has a huge impact on the story arc.
    The reprimand to the USG and the VAs treatment of veterans isn't quite explicit...


    I'm surprised the mainstream (or at least those [redacted] Roberto Gonzalez and Max Forte) hasn't started to talk up the depiction of the relationship between social sciences and colonialism or SS and the military. In 'Avatar', the eggheads came across as woefully (or willfully) naive about the corporation's motives, oblivious to realities surrounding them, and sterotypically helpless and hand-wringing until a man of action was thrust into their camp. This goes back to the threads about the conflict between the active and contemplative lives.

    The romantization of indigenous sentients was a great fictional device, but again, plays to a number of stereotypes.


    Re:
    The movie’s cultural politics are childishly two-dimensional, at times insulting (especially if you know anyone in the armed forces).
    (source: Boston Globe Review)

    It came across as more anti-corporation than anti-military to the AF LTC(sel) that I watched it with and myself. Yeah, they played to the worst liberal violence porn and sterotypes from Viet Nam, but the corporation gave the orders, and it was about the corporation's image ("genocide doesn't play well" or something like that). Although anyone who has been following the coverage of HTS would see this as propaganda against the employment of social scientists by the military.

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    Council Member Dr. C's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    In 'Avatar', the eggheads came across as woefully (or willfully) naive about the corporation's motives, oblivious to realities surrounding them, and sterotypically helpless and hand-wringing until a man of action was thrust into their camp. This goes back to the threads about the conflict between the active and contemplative lives.
    I don't want to add any spoilers for those who haven't seen the movie yet. However, the "man of action," the former Marine Jake Sully, played a pivotal role in the work of the scientists when he mistakenly divulges too much information to the military/corporation side about the likelihood of the natives negotiating and leaving their land. He's really the one who comes across as woefully naive and even helpless about the corporation's motives. He believes he will walk again, thanks to the corporation. The lead scientist knows her mission for the corporation is about the minerals worth millions of dollars. She's also onto something else, that's even a bigger discovery for humankind, related to the environment of Pandora.

    Some critics argue that the film is even racist, as it plays into the fantasy of the white man becoming a hero and saving the indigenous people from his own race.

    I'd say a lot of that criticism is really over-analyzing what is a colorful and highly immersive film. I really didn't even make the connection with "Dances with Wolves" until I read that in a review. I did take note of how the military was portrayed.
    Michele Costanza, Ph.D., CKM/CKEE (Contractor)

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    Council Member IntelTrooper's Avatar
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    I'll never understand the popular stereotype of PMCs where fighting on behalf of a government = okay, but fighting on behalf of an economic interest, especially a private company = bad.
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    I saw this the night it came out with my wife and two children. We all loved it and, in fact, my wife announced that it is easily one of her top five favorite movies of all time. I am not even going to address the claims about racism. If you really want to be offended by something, you will find a way. As far as how the military is treated in this film, it was pretty clear to me that they were mercenaries. Yes mercenaries get treated badly in this film and for that matter and there are a number of other stereotypes but it was a science fiction movie, not Saving Private Ryan. It was just supposed to tell an interesting story. Somebody had to be the bad guys and the plot dictated that be a military or paramilitary force, so you get mercenaries. It's hardly the first time mercenaries have gotten a bad wrap in a movie, corporations are always greedy and ruthless and they always manage to find the most cold blooded mercenaries known to man. Everybody knows that. Just the same, I enjoyed it. As far as I was concerned it was a retelling of Dances With Wolves with the huge bonus that I was not subjected to Kevin Costner for two and a half hours.

    Oh, and I wouldn't read to much into the wounded vet thing. As far as I could see it was just a plot device. He needed to be a former Marine so that he would have a connection to the bad guy and he needed to be a paraplegic so that a) the bad guy would have a huge bribe to offer him and b) to create the huge contrast between the crippled human and the healthy alien. Of course I could be wrong but I don't think it was some kind of swipe at the VA system, especially given that Cameron apparently thought this script up years ago, before OIF/OEF.

    SFC W

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by IntelTrooper View Post
    I'll never understand the popular stereotype of PMCs where fighting on behalf of a government = okay, but fighting on behalf of an economic interest, especially a private company = bad.
    Personally I think PMC's are great. We don't use them enough. However, I also think the United States uses them wrong. Mixing PMC's and national troops in a theater is simply ill conceived. Especially if the PMC's are not beholden to the local commander. Using the PMC's as primarily shock troops is wrong too. For a variety of reasons starting with risk entanglement and ending with diverging goals of the local commander.

    One place PMC's are not used to good regard is naval operations. If we had put to sea some good old privateers with letter of Marquis piracy outside of Somali would have ended. But, that wouldn't be politically allowable just successful.
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    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    I thought some people might want to see this.

    Adam L

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    I saw the movie and the troops were portrayed as former military mercenaries.

    The hero a parapalegic former Marine ended up as the Hero of the movie and won the heart of the Princess and lived happily ever after.

    It had a Cowboys and Indians slant and the Indians won becazuse they were connected to the essence of the planet.

    Science Fiction at it's finest. Great special effects and a simplistic, straight forward story about greedy corporation types, cruel mercenaries and a lady doctor who dies defending the tribe and becomes one with the planet.

    Bottomline,

    The US Marines should get a slight up tick in their already swollen recruitmet stats because the hero beats the bad guys, unites all the tribes and leads them in a successful defense of their way of life.

    The US military has broad shoulders and this flick will not cast a shadow on their reputation at all.


    I'm predicting sequels ala Star Wars.

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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    I don't think it was insulting. It offered one explanation for the relationships between government, the armed forces, and private corporations. That explanation is neither fully historically inaccurate or insulting.

    It should be noted that Weaver's character also sought to teach the locals English (and I'm assuming other human cultural behaviors) while simultaenously disguising herself as the locals. She also knowingly took part in the corporation's endeavor and profited both financially and professionaly from their patronage. What Avatar didn't explore was the the response of humanity (who apparently lived on a dying planet; aren't humans also fighting for survival then? If so, why is the survival of the natives more important than our own?) to being ejected from the planet.
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    Council Member Dr. C's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    It should be noted that Weaver's character also sought to teach the locals English (and I'm assuming other human cultural behaviors) while simultaenously disguising herself as the locals. She also knowingly took part in the corporation's endeavor and profited both financially and professionaly from their patronage.
    I thought there were a lot of plot devices in the movie, like the scientists teaching the natives how to speak English, so audiences didn't get frustrated with sub-titles. University of Southern California Professor Frommer, a linguistics expert, created the Na'vi language, a functional language, working with Cameron on it for about four years. I subscribed to the Avatar Facebook fan page, so I'm privy to these things.

    So was Weaver's scientist one of the bad guys?

    I thought the humans, including the corporate executive and excluding the colonel, were amicable to first trying diplomatic means with the natives. It was really the colonel who was hungry for battle. The youngish corporate exec guy was impatient with diplomacy, but he didn't appear to thirst for battle.

    Compared to Star Wars, I didn't think the plot and the characters in Avatar were as deep. Star Wars wasn't as simple a story to understand as Avatar, but I first saw Star Wars at about the age of 8. I understood who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. In Avatar, would an 8-year-old view humans (aliens)= bad guys and Na'vi (natives) = good guys?
    Last edited by Dr. C; 12-24-2009 at 06:56 PM. Reason: typo
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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Dr. C,

    While contrary to what the director attempted to project, I do not think the corporation or any of its employees can be clearly argued to be 'bad guys'. The colonel was tasked with providing for the security of the operation. He had an extensive military background. His early experiences on Pandora (serious injury in his first several days, and having not been seriously injured in any previous operation) may have hardened his view and inflated the risk of the natives. He perceived coercion as the only effective method in removing the natives from the home tree (and he was right).

    What undermined the decision-making process of the corporation was ignoring the scientific intelligence provided by Weaver's crew regarding the physical foundations of the local's culture.

    The problem therefore is not one between diplomacy and coercion, but of uprooting the natives in the first place and destroying their environent with the follow-on economic exploitation. However, the film only hinted at the context of humanity's operations (calling earth a dying world), which can wildly alter the good/bad boundaries for everyone involved. Essentially, the main character condemned humanity to death.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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