Tall Blue Hot Nature-Mama Barbie Dolls Who Sway Their Hips and Kick Ass

I was unsure, for several weeks, whether I wanted to go see the film "Avatar."  The concept was interesting, but given that it was James Cameron directing, and something like the most expensive film ever made, I was expecting it would have problems.  Not to mention that action movies appeal less and less to me these days, mainly because the cinematography for them, in general, has been steadily ramping up to a level of intensity that way too much for my nervous system to want to handle.  The fact that this film movie was 3D made me even more wary - crazy over-the-top adrenalin-soaked action that also popped out at me? OMG.

Nevertheless, some people I know convinced me otherwise. One acquaintance said it was "just about the best movie" he'd ever seen, and that the violence was not excessive ("aliens throwing spears at Marines, I don't consider that violence."). My friend Jose, whose  opinion I have the highest respect for, even wrote in his blog that "Avatar is as close to perfect as a movie gets". Wow. Okay. I guess I had better go see it, I thought.

Well, I don't regret going to see it. And I was relieved to find that the camera work and violence wasn't as annoying and traumatizing as some other features I've seen recently (although it was still more extreme than I prefer and contained lots and lots of killing and dying and gut-wrenching scary chase scenes through the forests and skies).  Avatar was worth seeing. It was so well-executed technically, so visually stunning and beautiful, that it can probably be recommended on just those grounds alone, for those who don't have PTSD.  Furthermore, the "deep-ecology," anti-Iraq-War, anti-corporate, anti-industrial and anti-colonialist subtexts really deserve lots of kudos. It was also pretty thoroughly entertaining and hence the 150-minute elapsed time flashed by and felt more like 100 (which is still too long IMHO but not as exhausting as I expected it would be). However, I would have to respectfully disagree that it is a perfect movie or close to it.

Because of some of the aforementioned redeeming qualities, I don't want to spend a lot of time griping and complaining. Most of the negative criticism of Avatar can be dismissed or forgiven with variations of the following explanation:  It's an ultra-expensive Hollywood blockbuster and hence, of course, it is subject to market forces. Even stepping a bit back from a cynical economic analysis, I can charitably forgive a filmmaker who fudges some things in order to make the story and characters be more interesting and understandable to a wider audience. So, I won't go into all the science details and plot points that I found difficult to suspend my disbelief for (pun intended: the floating mountains, for example, are ridiculous).

But there's one aspect of Avatar I simply cannot abide, and will not let slide. Because although it does, in a way, fall under the "market forces" category I mention above, there is a limit to playing that card and I believe this problem with the movie goes over that limit.

The problem is about gender stereotypes and body images. I've had a hard time locating a really good frame grab to illustrate my point, so let me just describe what the Na'vi, the aliens in the movie look like: They're about 9 feet tall, blue-skinned, they're super thin, and totally buff.  Although both sexes are hunters, warriors, and are capable of totally kicking ass with their carbon-fiber bones and neurotoxin-laced bows and arrows, the females also all have cute little hips that sway when they walk, perfect little perky A-cup boobs, and long cornrow-dreadlocked hair (as opposed to the mohawked or short-haired males).  The women are all perfect little realizations of the current popular emaciated waifish supermodels, only they're blue and they have fangs and organic mind-meld cables coming out of their pony tails.  The genetic mashup of Kate Moss, Smurfette, Spockette, Wolverinette, and a Tolkienesque Elvish princess. (Oh yeah - and the men get to "choose" the women as mates!)

On this I call bullshit. Why oh why, out of all the possible lifeforms that might be imagined to evolve across our galaxy, why are we given this physical look and culture for the Na'vi?  Why do we have to be assaulted with yet another unrealistic model for female bodies? Did the Navi have to be quite so insanely proportioned?  Could there for that matter have been just a few things not quite so anthropomorphic about them? Maybe at least give them 12 fingers, or an extra eye or something?

Well, these are all rhetorical questions. We know why. Basically because it's a sci-fi gamer nerdboy's wet dream. And because James Cameron doesn't care, because he apparently is a nerdboy horndog himself (although he is known for his "strong female characters" - and yet, "strong female" can contain many unrealistic stereotypes as well, whether we're talking about Galadriel, Sarah Conner, or Laura Croft). In brief, it's harder to masturbate to something with 3-eyes. And it has to have tits.  And of course, there are the aforementioned, always-present market forces. But out of all the compromises and fudges and lowest-common-denominator tweaks to the script and the design that happen in a big Hollywood project like this, I believe this aspect of the movie is what will be the most socially harmful. 

I can only imagine and dread the legions of socially maladjusted men who went to see Avatar and now have this message lodged in their brains along with all the other lies about gender they've been fed:  "even light-years away and 100 years in the future, on planets with floating mountains and spiritual flying jellyfish and armorplated superrhinos and intelligent trees, women look just about how they look in the airbrushed porn that men jack off to all the time. And they don't look like the real women I know in my life. Hmm. Baby, couldn't you be a little bit more like Neytiri the awesome warrior princess of Pandora?"

I won't even go into the racially problematic stuff in the film! I'm out of time!

Oh but I do want to mention one other formal thing briefly: The 3D hurt my eyes and was kind of underwhelming. It was sort of a quantum 3D, in that it was really just a small number of flat "layers" that were at different depths. It wasn't continually varying depth like in reality, it was just "oh there's that flat character, he's in front of that flat tree, and it's all in front of that flat matte painting."  I don't know if all the new 3D flicks look like this, but if so, I'm not impressed that this is the wave of the future. Feh.

I'm looking forward to more feminist analyses of the film (what would bell hooks' review say, I wonder?), but for now, this is my clumsy and blunt take that I submit to you. I hope you like it and please leave your comments.

Hi steev, thx for that

Hi steev, thx for that perspective, been meaning to work on my own analysis. And i'd already been using the trailer as part of my latest media deconstruction presentation. If i ever get time to write more on it, i think my title might be "Techno Pochanatas Porn". What really annoyed Me is that a brave white male Marine (+ mercenary spy) becomes the saviour of an indigenous tribe... eeeckh, now that's the most grueling unrealistic shite for me, that i guess Cameron and Military Entertainment Complex wants us masturbating to. But i do start to have mixed feelings about whether this Can in fact have a positive effect on the lo level patriotic mass audience types. And i'm trying to imagine the effects of this screened on a military base cinema. Will it be allowed ?! DID Cameron slip some subversiveness into the genre, or does the nauseating bit above take it 1 step fwd and 3 steps back ?? If in fact it IS allowed to play on bases, would that reveal it has been thru a kind of psy ops testing. With that kind of money behind it, it's not hard to imagine that level of script "consulting".
Also read this :
it ads a whole another intense + complex layer to take this film apart.

steev- you're awesome.

steev- you're awesome. thanks for calling out all the rampant patriarchal bullsh*t out there. i can never understand how, even in futuristic societies- somehow the worst of our present day society is still left intact. i haven't seen avatar, i probably won't. most things happening in cinema today just piss me off, for all the reasons you outlined here and it has to be something pretty exceptional for me to want to see it.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.