29 December 2009

Conquering Pandora

Avatar is a great, possibly a landmark movie, IMHO, and that of others and still others. It turns the tables completely on our history of science fiction about aliens, in which we express our fears of being exploited and conquered by an alien race, while demonizing them so we can deal with them as savages, should they appear. Think War of the Worlds, or Independence Day, The Matrix, or even Men in Black. In a stroke of genius, this movie asks "what would humans do" if they reached an alien world that was miraculously rich in "unobtainium" and populated only by simple aboriginal folk who do not even practice agriculture, to say nothing of high technology. Three guesses... Are we not the folks who corrupted the Golden Rule into: "do unto others before they can do it unto you!" It would be minutes before we began to mine the place; and to hell with the natives.

The movie is widely regarded as belonging to the genre of "Dances with Wolves," "Pocahontas," and other White Guilt stories in which an officer of the oppressing people "goes native' and joins the aboriginals in their struggle against his own people. The movie is also rich in references to American behavior on the world stage, especially in recent years, when questions arose along the lines of: "how did our oil get under their sand?" and when we concluded that the only acceptable response to a perceived risk was preemptive war.

Scientists play an interesting and typical role in Avatar, serving as enablers of war and exploitation even as they, themselves exploit the interests of others in support of their own fascinations. That's just as true on Avatar as it was in Peenemünde, Baikonur, Los Alamos, or Huntsville. One wonders if we can adapt to the apparent lack of others out there to exploit, or if we will go on girding to defend ourselves from perceived threats, as an excuse for exploitation, here on Earth and beyond it.

But the movie also made me think of that ultimate exercise in White European Guilt, the modern move to regard Columbus as a villain who upset the balance of nature in the New World by launching the extermination of Native Americans. And I know of no better expression of that view than a song by Tracy Chapman, called simply: America. Tracy never avoids or turns away from dark thoughts. She faces them and revels in them. Here are the lyrics and a link to the song. Tracy even manages to anticipate the theme of Avatar here, calling us down for our selfish motives as we begin to explore space.


AMERICA

You were lost and got lucky
Came upon the shore
Found you were conquering America
You spoke of peace
But waged a war
While you were conquering America

There was land to take
And people to kill
While you were conquering America
You served yourself
Did God's will
While you were conquering America

The ghost of Columbus haunts this world
'Cause you're still conquering America
The meek won't survive
Or inherit the earth
'Cause you're still conquering America

America
America
America

Your found bodies to serve
Submit and degrade
While you were conquering America
Made us soldiers and junkies
Prisoners and slaves
While you were conquering America

America
America
America

You hands are at my throat
My back's against the wall
Because you're still conquering America
We're sick and tired hungry and poor
'Cause you're still conquering America

You bomb the very ground
That feeds your own babies
You're still conquering America
Your sons and your daughters
May never sing your praises
While you're conquering America

America
America
America

I see you eyes seek a distant shore
While you're conquering America
Taking rockets to the moon
Trying to find a new world
And you're still conquering America

America
America
America

The ghost of Columbus haunts this world
'Cause you're still conquering America
You're still conquering America
You're still conquering America

© 2001 Tracy Chapman

5 comments:

GennieMDarden said...
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Cowtown Pattie said...

Sadly, few people will open their minds to the message of Avatar, twisting it to a political war.

It was a little heavy-handed, but as a semi-pantheist, I was definitely rooting for the Na-vi!

日本的夢想 said...
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健康保寶 said...

It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.............................................

Tom Moore said...

Or it may be that we're here to make replacement parts for a passing starship parked at the moon Titan. (Kurt Vonnegut, in "The Sirens of Titan")