Friday, January 15, 2010

Avatar Backlash Continued...


Yesterday I posted about how Italian parent groups were speaking out against Avatar opening in Italy today with a G rating, meaning any kid off the street could get in to see it. My reaction: So?

Then today a story popped up on Scanners: Blog written by Jim Emerson, who quotes attacks on Avatar from both Vatican newspapers and radio stations. The criticism states that the church is worried that Avatar preaches that nature is something to be worshipped, making it into a new sort of religion separate from God. This gets me for several reasons. The first is the most obvious: when will the Vatican learn that their public outrages usually do nothing but promote the very works they cry out against? And really, having taken the top Box Office spot for 4 weeks in a row in North America, and slowly inching it's way to breaking the worldwide Box Office record set by Titanic in 1997, does the Vatican really think they are going to stop this lumbering beast? And why should they? At the very least, Avatar is glorious entertainment and is a masterpiece on that level alone. Now the theoretical problems with this criticism. Not surprisingly, none of the church criticism makes it explicitly clear why nature is not something to be worshipped. Taken from the Catholic perspective, Genises outlines the six days in which God slaved to create nature and everything that it is comprised of: trees, water, animals, etc. He then took the seventh day to rest and admire his work. Why then, if nature is one of God's most precious creations, should it not be worshipped? In a sense, if nature is a creation of God, then nature is in some way a form of God and therefore to worship nature is to worship God, no? If ever you are looking for a symbolic representation of God in the movies, the Na'vi Tree of Voices, which knows all and contains all of the history of the Na'vi race, is one such instance. If you believe this, then is Avatar not a fable about a war in which to protect God's creation (or, on a more fundamental level, religion) from being destroyed under the greed and injustice of contemporary capitalism? If anything, Avatar instructs us away from the all consuming influence of the man-made city and back into the woods where he can once again become one with nature and thus one with God. To see the destruction of nature would mean the destruction of religion. If anything, Pandorum stands in as a surrogate Garden of Eden. To take it another way, the Na'vi are presented as Natives of the land. Anyone who knows anything about Native American religion, knows that it revolves around nature. The scene in which Sully asks an indigenous creature for its permission to kill it is right out of Native belief. The soul is that of the animal and it must offer it to you, for you have no right to just take it. Taken this way the film has nothing to do with Catholicism and the Vatican should just butt out completely. To disown a film that mimics the practices and ideologies of Native spiritually is simply a way for the Vatican to put itself at the center of attention and, as it always does so well, hold Catholicism above all other religions. Maybe the Vatican could rest easier it night were it to realize that for a work to present one form of spiritual belief does not signal attack against all others. The Vatican is like the big bully on the playground who won't let anyone else but it's friends play on the jungle gym. For me, as I stated in my Avatar review, the meaning of the film exists not on the level of the physical, but on both a symbolic and a poetic level. Religion doesn't even factor into the equation. The message is not to replace God with nature because belief in one is better than the other, but that it is easy to be corrupted by the greed of civilization and that, to find oneself, we need to be reacquainted with the tranquillity and simplicity of nature (i.e. our own personal history) where time slips away and one is truly free to be oneself in what is essentially a society-less society. It's a lesson that's been at the heart of Western literature since the dawn of Manifest Destiny where the West invaded the South, tamed the savages and built a society from which capitalism and consumerism could prevail. To be one with nature is thus not about shunning God, but about reorganizing your life and your personal priorities in order to find the essence of what is most meaningful to you. If anything, such a life would bring one closer to God, whatever a person's belief or conception of Him may be. Is this not exactly what happens to Sully once assimilated into Na'vi life? The Vatican doesn't acknowledge this though because, in reality, their one-sided protesters probably haven't bothered to see the movie anyway.

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