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Brian Godawa on Avatar

Second, Avatar is also an exaltation of the “noble savage” myth, made popular by 18th century Romantic Jean-Jacques Rouseau that imagines “an idealized concept of uncivilized man, who symbolizes the innate goodness of one not exposed to the corrupting influences of civilization.”15 This is a common Hollywood motif that shows up in movies like Pocahontas, and Dances with Wolves that portray peace-loving indigenous peoples at one with nature — a politically constructed fiction that doesn’t bear out in historical reality. Depraved cultural traditions such as female circumcision, head hunting, cannibalism, human sacrifice, slavery, and plain old simple bloodthirsty warring are present in every indigenous tribe unaffected by Western civilization throughout history. It is not civilization but human nature that is corrupt. The tragic reality of pagan culture is more like the bloodthirsty human sacrifice of Apocalypto than the oneness of all life of Avatar.

The other conceit of Avatar’s mythology of oneness with nature is in its moral condemnation of humanity and beatification of nature. Like the noble savage, this is another self-referential absurdity. If the “circle of life,” that is, the cycle of “eat or be eaten” is indeed a harmonious beauty, then humans cannot be condemned for consuming natural resources, which is in fact eating the life of others. Humans are just as much a part of nature as anything else, and moral condemnation of gluttonous excess and exploitation is arbitrary subjective manipulation by those being eaten. Blowing up trees, killing Na’vi and consuming unobtanium is just as natural as Na’vi killing and eating viperwolves and Thanators killing and eating Na’vi.