Did you watch Dances With Wolves and think "Hmm, maybe Americans have treated the Native American's like crap." Aha! That's what those Hollywood liberals want you to think! "Did you see Wall-E and think "Hmm, maybe I shouldn't litter so much." You did? There they go again! Did you walk out of the theater after seeing Titanic and vow to plant bombs on all the icebergs in the North Atlantic to blow them up and help prevent another tragic iceberg-related shipwreck? I know I did...wait, what? Sorry, I just got finished reading a column that argues that Avatar is propaganda to recruit eco-terrorists and I think some of the crazy rubbed off on me.The column, written by a guy named Richard Swier at the blog Red County is just one of many examples of conservative pundits or bloggers fancying themselves movie reviewers and positing that Avatar is promoting whatever their worst nightmares happen to be. Swier thinks that James Cameron's newest blockbuster Avatar is "the perfect eco-terrorism recruiting tool." Now, I don't want to just write him off as being crazy, because I think he is right about there being underlying environmental themes to Avatar, but I think he comes to the wrong conclusions and I'm going to tell him and you why.
Among the odd things Swier says in the piece, is this gem. He thinks the film was "a flop in terms of content and outcomes." Having earned more than $1Billion dollars in less than three weeks, I'm not sure what metric Swier is using when he says it is a flop in terms of outcomes. Content, maybe. Art is left to the viewer to interpret, but the outcome of this film has surely been a success in getting butts in the seats worldwide, but perhaps that is what is really bothering Swier. As Leonard writes at Salon,
Big government socialism is not rounding up moviegoers and lining them in front of 3-D-equipped theaters. Individuals, acting on their own desires, are plunking down their cash. This is the free market in action. Simplistic left-wing environmentalist propaganda, as realized by Cameron, turns out to be spectacularly popular! Ouch! That's gotta hurt. For right-wingers convinced that a cap-and-trade mechanism to restrict greenhouse gases is an affront to American values, it must be extraordinarily galling to see the explicit environmental message of "Avatar" embraced so heartily.
After making some odd comparison's to Copenhagen and claiming the film was both successful and a flop, Swier writes, "AVATAR is pure eco-propaganda designed to subtly and not so subtly force the environmentalist agenda on us all." Um, is anyone else confused that the propaganda can be subtle and not-subtle? And could someone explain to me what the "environmentalist agenda" is because just saying it like that doesn't mean anything. If you were paying any attention to Copenhagen, you'd have quickly realized that there's no consensus as to what an environmental agenda should entail.
Swier makes some good, but fairly obvious points about the symbolism of the fictional planet, Pandora. But it just seems silly for him to conclude this film will have any impact on recruiting people to become eco-terrorists. There are plenty of other things you could rationally criticize the film for. Afterall, it could be reasonably argued to have anti-military undertones, racial undertones and even religious undertones as Goldstein highlights in The LA Times. Heck, you could even criticize the film for being a rip off of stories such as Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas, like this this clever Twitpic highlights.
Image via Twitpic
But instead of choosing something logical to criticize in the film, Swier's review turns into an unveiling of his own delusions because he quickly likens the Na'vi tribe to the Earth Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front and other groups and claims it's "perfect eco-terrorism recruiting tool." Let's think about this. Anything that is a perfect recruiting tool would end up in actually recruiting people. If he seriously thinks people are leaving the theater and deciding to devote their lives to eco-terrorism, he's insane.
At best people are going to leave the theater and maybe think differently about oppressive treatment of indigenous cultures and our consumption of non-renewable resources and that would be a good thing, right? But chances are, most-people are just leaving the theater and talking about how cool the 3D dragons were.
But that's not even what I found to be the most-disturbing part of Swier's thinking. He makes blanket statements about what "environmentalists" believe, as if "environmentalists" are such a small group that it's even possible for all of us to believe the same thing. (Environmentalist has become a useless term because no one seems to know or agree on what it even means. If it means having clean air, water and food, we're all environmentalists.)
He writes that "The enemy of these groups is primarily the human race and companies formed by us humans to access natural resources (e.g. oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc.)." (emphasis mine) I didn't realize nuclear power was a natural resource, but I digress. The important point we need to take from here is that people like Swier have no clue what real environmentalists want to accomplish. He states,
(Again, emphasis mine.)
"This is the final goal of eco-terrorists. Deny humans access to the natural resources on earth in order to save the planet. You see environmentalists truly believe that humans are an infestation upon the earth. They believe we must be controlled and prevented from accessing those natural resources in the name of protecting those same natural resources."
How people can honestly come to believe such things is incredible. Are there groups that think such things? Sure. With 6 billion people on the planet you can probably safely assume there are people that think just about anything. But to think that this is the goal of everyone that would call themselves an environmentalist is preposterous. Part of this is likely just due to Swier lazily grouping environmentalists, in general, with the extremists. This is unfortunate, because I think there is more common ground between Swier and myself than he would like to believe. He concludes his piece with a statement of what he believes.
"Mankind is to use all of these resources but use them wisely. That is what I call American Conservationism. American Conservationism aims to preserve natural resources expressly for their continued sustainable use by humans. That, I believe, is the proper world view when it comes to our planet and its natural resources. What do you think?"
Dr. Swier, I hate to break it to you, but I pretty much agree with you here. And I would wager an overwhelming majority of those whom you label "environmentalists" agree with you. We should act as stewards of our environment and work hard to conserve our resources and use them wisely. We should use our resources sustainably. But what I think you're failing to realize (or refuse to accept) is that our current use is not sustainable. We have not been responsible in our extraction of resources. Man is more powerful than we sometimes realize. Just because we can blow the top of a mountain off doesn't mean we should. As a religious person, Mr. Swier, I think you should read E.O. Wilson's excellent book The Creation. It beautifully lays out why humans - religious and not - must act together to protect life on Earth.
I thought about just doing this post as a way to laugh at how silly conservative outrage over another bit of pop culture they don't like is, especially this guy's movie review, but I just can't get over how wrong his assumptions are about what most people that call themselves environmentalists really believe and want for themselves and the environment.
I speak for myself here, but I just want to be able to get across town without giving money to Saudi Arabia or destroying the Arctic or Gulf of Mexico ecosystems. I want to be able to put some solar panels on my house without having to buy them from China. I want to go into a store and buy Christmas toys without having to worry about toxins. I want to enjoy scenic vistas without seeing mountains with the tops blown off. I want to be able to camp and fish without worrying about the fish being poison to my body. I want to be able to turn on my electricity and know it comes from a clean source of fuel. I want my money to stay in my community and my environment to remain clean at the same time. But our current systems of doing things aren't allowing these things to happen as easily as we need them to. We've subsidized oil extraction, become addicted to cheap coal and aren't allocating enough to true natural and renewable resources such as solar, wind and wave power. People like Swier will likely blame "the free market" for the failure for these technologies to boom, but we don't have free markets when the government is picking winners and losers with the allocation of subsidies.
Mr. Swier, do I think humans are evil and should be treated like an infestation? No. That's crazy talk. And it's ridiculous to think that anyone but a minority of extremists would think that. Rather than lumping everyone together with the extremists, I suggest you try and understand a bit more about the motives of sensible environmentalists so we can more easily work toward the goals we share.
If you made it this far, but didn't go read Swier's column, go check it out and come back here and share your thoughts in the comments.
And if you're a Twitter user and want to say hello you can find me there: @ChrisTackett