Avatar and the American Superhero Razzle-Dazzle
James Cameron, director of Avatar, a recent Hollywood science fiction portrayal of the Amazon that grossed over two billion dollars worldwide, has returned from his first brief trip to Brazil. There he met indigenous leaders from 13 tribes who held a special council to discuss stopping the Belo Monte Dam Project. At a cost of $11 billion, the Belo Monte would be the third largest dam in the world. Brazil’s environment ministry cleared the project in February for the anticipated bidding. The people who live in that region feel the devastation would be tremendous.
According to a New York Times article, the men Cameron was to meet didn’t know anything about him or his film, Avatar. It was arranged for these men from out of the jungle to view a DVD of the film the night before Cameron and his wife arrived. Their reported response was that they felt it represented the very situation they had gathered to address. It is unlikely anyone asked these people about being portrayed as animal like alien creatures and maybe it is meaningless to them. The implication for minds around the world to perceive these people as alien creatures could very well lead to more harm than benefit.
As for emissaries of the Avatar franchise in the Amazon jungle, the photo, video, and press opportunities from this impassioned, though brief visit are undeniable. Can Cameron single handedly save the day? He did write a letter urging the Brazilian President to stop the dam project and meet with president Obama.
The Brazilian government has stated that the dam is needed to meet current and future energy needs. There are those who claim it is being built to power the mining operations. Either way, clearly president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is pleased with Brazil’s growing industry. In a sense it is a bit foolhardy for a Hollywood mogul to send a letter to a political figure urging him to give up an $11 billion dollar project while plugging the sequel to his next multibillion-dollar blockbuster. Especially coming from a country that already had its industrial and economic growth. To advise a developing country deeply obligated to the World Bank against dams when the United States has almost ten thousand?
The positions of both the Brazilian government and Cameron are good examples of a distancing from the Amazon and its people. The government knows the people have always lived in the forest but there are no official records of their existence in most cases. Cameron, seemingly concerned about these people, visits the Amazon and meets them very briefly. Not nearly the time it takes to truly get to know anyone or his or her family. It’s no wonder he portrays them as alien-feline-spider-monkey people.
James Cameron comes across as another concerned and misguided gringo. No doubt spurred on by a deep seeded belief in his own cultural myths especially the myth of the American superhero. The myth has perpetuated for generations because we all want to believe that gringos can swoop in and save the day. Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence in American Monomyth described the unfolding of a superhero myth as “A community in a harmonious paradise ... threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity.”
Why does it matter? It matters because of how many people around the world will have seen Avatar. That’s a lot of minds to carry-on the same outdated mindset. With all that razzle-dazzle do you think there was any mental resistance? Yes there are powerful corporate forces logging, mining and essentially pillaging places like the Amazon. One only has to read Economic Hit Man by John Perkins, a confessional play-by-play, to see how these forces operate. They owe their existence to each and every one of us as long as we are dependent. Are we going to be liberated from the tyranny of these forces somehow magically because we become aware of them?
The myth of the American superhero; one person saving many, might be honorable if it weren’t more of the same old hubris from the land of Manifest Destiny.
Manifest Destiny was the mindset behind an organized effort to expand not only by divine right but to make the country a ‘better’ place, take over the land, cultivate or mine it, reap the financial benefit. Rid it of its savages.
"Away, away with all these cobweb tissues of rights of discovery, exploration, settlement, contiguity, etc. The American claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federative self-government entrusted to us. It is a right such as that of the tree to the space of air and earth suitable for the full expansion of its principle and destiny of growth. ...It is in our future far more than in the past history of Spanish exploration or French colonial rights, that our True Title is to be found." John O'Sullivan, 1845.
Colonization did not end with United States liberating itself from any outside power. The concerted institutionalized expansion by those who profit was a continuation of the same mindset. The mindset that ran roughshod over the land and its people with a sense of divine entitlement and now forces protracted wars on other countries for the sake of market expansion.
As long as we view the people and Amazon as alien we aren’t going to ‘raise awareness’ of their plight, rather, we distance ourselves further from any true connection and understanding not only of who they are but what they know. We continue the myth and remain impotent, in our essence unable to do anything while having the means in our hands to do everything.
This is a great opportunity for vanguards to step up. Everything we do and think has everything to do with the state of the world. It is time for new myths for the end of the wer-ald (man-age) and each one of us can write them with every decision and every choice we make.
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