Last week I was in Tirana, capital of Albania, and I kept trying to see Avatar. Every performance was sold out. The movie, already the 4th highest grossing film in history, has brought in over a billion dollars worldwide. It will get lots of Oscar nominations, including "best picture," but I bet it's bigger in Albania than in Alabama. As Patrick Goldstein put it in yesterday's L.A. Times, Avatar arouses conservatives' ire-- Conservatives are blind to the 3-D blockbuster's charms.
But amid this avalanche of praise and popularity, guess who hates the movie? America's prickly cadre of political conservatives.
For years, pundits and bloggers on the right have ceaselessly attacked liberal Hollywood for being out of touch with rank and file moviegoers, complaining that executives and filmmakers continue to make films that have precious little resonance with Middle America. They have reacted with scorn to such high-profile liberal political advocacy films as Syriana, Milk, W., Religulous, Lions for Lambs, Brokeback Mountain, In the Valley of Elah, Rendition and Good Night, and Good Luck, saying that the movies' poor performances at the box office were a clear sign of how thoroughly uninterested real people were in the pet causes of showbiz progressives.
Of course, Avatar totally turns this theory on its head. As a host of critics have noted, the film offers a blatantly pro-environmental message; it portrays U.S. military contractors in a decidedly negative light; and it clearly evokes the can't-we-all-get along vibe of the 1960s counterculture. These are all messages guaranteed to alienate everyday moviegoers, so say the right-wing pundits-- and yet the film has been wholeheartedly embraced by audiences everywhere, from Mississippi to Manhattan.
To say that the film has evoked a storm of ire on the right would be an understatement. Big Hollywood's John Nolte, one of my favorite outspoken right-wing film essayists, blasted the film, calling it "a sanctimonious thud of a movie so infested with one-dimensional characters and PC cliches that not a single plot turn, large or small, surprises. ... Think of Avatar as Death Wish for leftists, a simplistic, revisionist revenge fantasy where if you... hate the bad guys (America) you're able to forgive the by-the-numbers predictability of it all."
John Podhoretz, the Weekly Standard's film critic, called the film "blitheringly stupid; indeed, it's among the dumbest movies I've ever seen." He goes on to say: "You're going to hear a lot over the next couple of weeks about the movie's politics-- about how it's a Green epic about despoiling the environment, and an attack on the war in Iraq. ... The conclusion does ask the audience to root for the defeat of American soldiers at the hands of an insurgency. So it is a deep expression of anti-Americanism-- kind of. The thing is, one would be giving Jim Cameron too much credit to take Avatar-- with its... hatred of the military and American institutions and the notion that to be human is just way uncool-- at all seriously as a political document. It's more interesting as an example of how deeply rooted these standard issue counterculture cliches in Hollywood have become by now."
Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times, took Cameron to task on another favorite conservative front, as yet another Hollywood filmmaker who refuses to acknowledge the power of religion. Douthat calls Avatar the "Gospel according to James. But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, Avatar is Cameron's long apologia for pantheism-- a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world." Douthat contends that societies close to nature, like the Na'vi in Avatar, aren't shining Edens at all-- "they're places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short."
There are tons of other grumpy conservative broadsides against the film, but I'll spare you the details, except to say that Cameron's grand cinematic fantasy, with its mixture of social comment, mysticism and transcendent, fanboy-style video game animation, seems to have hit a very raw nerve with political conservatives, who view everything-- foreign affairs, global warming, the White House Christmas tree-- through the prism of partisan sloganeering.
Many progressives who follow congressional races know Doug Tudor as a stalwart grassroots candidate running for Congress in Polk County, Florida (FL-12). But he is also a highly decorated career Naval officer who wound up serving as the Flagwriter for General Tommy Franks, General John Abizaid, and then Admiral William Fallon, each, consecutively, Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command. His military biography is worth taking a look at. Doug and his wife saw Avatar yesterday and he told us he thinks right-wingers are crazy for criticizing the film as anti-military. His perspective:
In a sentence, Avatar is about a crippled former Marine's disillusionment with a corporate deployment he takes on a distant planet and the consequences of that disillusionment.
Almost to a person, a troop, post-deployment, has a different perception than he or she did before the mission. Part of that different perception is usually disillusionment.
When one is being ordered to face possible death, one desperately wants to believe the hype. Once one is on the other side of the mission, reflection often allows one to see the total and unadulterated bullshit of the propaganda prior to the deployment. Some veterans may consider themselves too loyal to admit that fact, but others of us veterans are too patriotic not to shout it.
For the wingers who believe this movie is anti-military, especially those wingers who never served, I can only ask that you understand the movie has absolutely nothing to do with America's military. It has all to do with the widening use of corporate mercenaries with military capabilities. Don't think Green Beret, think Black Water. Don't think USMC, think XE. Most of all, please think!
Doug is running for the open seat being vacated by Adam Putnam. But before he can take on the Putnam clone the GOP is putting up in November, he needs to beat a reactionary Blue Dog, Lori Edwards, being financed by the same Blue Dog caucus that has wreaked so much havoc on Obama's agenda for change this past year. There is every indication in the world that Lori Edwards, if ever elected to Congress, will be voting with the GOP as frequently as her sponsors, from Bobby Bright (AL), Allen Boyd (FL) and Travis Childers (MS) to Heath Shuler (NC) and John Barrow (GA). Please consider giving Doug a hand so he can dispatch this Blue Dog-- already playing footsie with lobbyists and corporate slimeballs-- back to the pound.
One more thing, everyone who donates to Doug's campaign today through the Blue America page (regardless of amount) will be entered into a drawing to win one of 3 autographed DVDs of Robert Greenwald's incredible film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost Of Low Price.