Phantasmagoria

Kvond has a couple of interesting posts on Avatar. I can’t add much to them, but would prefer rather to subtract a little. I think one can get an idea of the film by simply imagining Pocahontas re-written by Arne Naess. The result is somewhat Wagnerian – a new myth for NGO-subscribing youth, indeed politics as myth. The technical feats Kvond explains are interesting, but only in the sense that here the most ‘natural’ is reached by way of the most artificial, an irony which mirrors deep ecology’s unavowed projections onto nature. It is on one level impressive what the capitalist spectacle can do with (or perhaps as) technology, though the film’s implicit reflections on subjectivity are to me less intriguing than the political message the film tries to convey; not all message is medium. That message is an interesting one for the “dying world” the troops return to at the end of the film and is clearly meant to name our own. Just as unusual is the realism of their geo-politics: all is shameless scramble for natural resources, the facade of ‘humanitarian intervention’ has fallen and its hypocrisy is exposed – “we’ll fight terror with terror”. How is the audience meant to respond to these political messages, which consciously (even too self-consciously) prod a knife into the side of US imperialism, yet whose nation’s consumers will still be the main purchaser of this (rather expensive when one includes the 3D glasses) commodity? The old question arises as to how far a Hollywood film can work as critique of the very system which makes Hollywood possible, how far can spectacle question the imperatives of the spectacular society? Have the millions been well spent if they alter the hegemony of ideology even slightly (even if this was Cameron’s intention) or are Hollywood’s millions always somewhat obscene? And at the end of the day might this political message be a comfortable one, reassuring the viewer that their subscription to the NGO is still value for money, even if that same NGO was locked out of the Copenhagen debating hall, proved powerless when it counted? But returning to the point, yes, Wagner I think is the key to this film, and a worthwhile appraisal would look at both form and content and how each reinforces the other, might proceed along the lines of Adorno’s In Search of Wagner, looking at the film’s Phantasmagoria, Gesture, Chimera, but primarily its Myth.

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