Avatar imaginatively revisits the crime scene of white America’s foundational act of genocide, in which entire native tribes and civilizations were wiped out by European immigrants to the American continent. In the film, a group of soldiers and scientists have set up shop on the verdant moon Pandora, whose landscapes look like a cross between Northern California’s redwood cathedrals and Brazil’s tropical rainforest. The moon’s inhabitants, the Na’vi, are blue, catlike versions of native people: They wear feathers in their hair, worship nature gods, paint their faces for war, use bows and arrows, and live in tribes. Watching the movie, there is really no mistake that these are alien versions of stereotypical native peoples that we’ve seen in Hollywood movies for decades.
[A] few of these humans don’t want to crush the natives with tanks and bombs, so they wire their brains into the bodies of Na’vi avatars and try to win the natives’ trust. Jake is one of the team of avatar pilots, and he discovers to his surprise that he loves his life as a Na’vi warrior far more than he ever did his life as a human marine. [‘When will white people stop making movies like Avatar?’, source]
She then follows up this analysis with a wail that white people keep making movies about white guilt (like Dances with Wolves and District 9). It’s almost as if she’s shocked that Hollywood would keep making profitable films.
And that’s what this is. Left wing whities — who are typically the sort of people who spend vast amounts of cash at the cinematron — love to feel guilty about the past and so they’ll gladly fork out to go see a film which makes them feel better for feeling guilty. Oh, and they’ll also complain that the film is intrinsically racist. Left wing people of all colours feel a sense of unity when they’re randomly calling things racist. It’s a bonding experience.
If white guilt films weren’t so profitable, they wouldn’t get made. As they are profitable, they do get made. It’s your free market at play.
You could instead analyse why people flock to ‘white guilt’ films. I tend to argue that it’s because white kids have a very poor understanding of their own culture and why it’s important. Our cultural history isn’t explored and, as such, it becomes invisible and normalised. The individual is emphasised over the society and, as such, values are emphasised as a personal construct, not a social one. We thus end up with isolated monads separated from other men and the community.
Culture also gets constructed as something elitist. As most literature of our culture was produced by white males, the left is terrified of exposing impressionable young minds to it. It’s considered exclusive and archaic. In Australia, it’s considered too European — which is weird given that Australia is still the big Europe of the south and hasn’t really produced much in the way of its own culture (except in response to the prevailing European culture).
When this ignorance of our own culture gets exposed to communities with a healthy and robust understanding of their culture, there is a complete clash.
On the one hand, you’ll have those people who respond to culture as a threat. As we live in a ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ and ‘tolerant’ society, social frameworks which emphasise the society over the individual are somehow terrible things and will destroy the ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ and ‘tolerant’ society in which we live. This is typically the response of our modern right.
On the other hand, you’ll have people who will respond to culture in Marxist terms: as the white folk have control of all of the civics, the new culture is, by definition, an oppressed class. In order to understand this current oppression, they will interpret white history to be a consistent series of acts against those oppressed classes. This is typically the response of our modern left.
As the modern right would be less likely to see a science fiction film, there’s no point making a film which shows the alien race as being unable to integrate. It wouldn’t sell. Thus, we get films pandering to the response of the left: white people go in and oppress everybody in sight.
The cure, I think, is to have a Renaissance of white culture. It’s the sheer ignorance of our cultural history and the way we systematically render ourselves blind to our present culture that cripple cultural cohesion. All cultures have their highs and their lows, and an honest love of our culture would raise our awareness of both those highs and lows.
To quote Raimond Gaita:
The multicultural debate for example intersects with debates about liberalism and communitarianism and the nature of nationhood. I started thinking about it very largely because I was thinking quite a lot about love of country, especially during John Howard’s prime ministership, because the expression ‘Australian’, ‘un-Australian’ and so on, these expressions were used so often. […] [Y]ou can’t have a morally neutral conception of a national good[…] [You can] distinguish love of country from what I take to be its false semblance, that is jingoism, which at its worst is ‘My country, right or wrong.’ [ABC radio: The Religion Report, 5 March 2008, source]
You can have a celebration of our cultural history without being jingoistic. Indeed, that jingoism is a false semblance of cultural love.
It’s also not exclusive. My cultural history being a generally good thing doesn’t prohibit me from affirming that your cultural history is generally a good thing. At the very least, most of the cultural histories intersect. White culture would have completely stagnated if Muslim culture hadn’t preserved and enriched the arts and sciences of the classical world during our rather embarassing Dark Age.
To answer Newitz’ question, white folk’ll stop making these films when they stop being profitable. This will happen when one of two things happen:
1. Those on the right start watching more movies (prepare ye the way of more ‘Evil Alien Films’); or
2. We come to terms with our cultural history.