Avatar’s New and Improved Anthropology



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By Jack Cashill
December 26, 2009

There has been much made about the politics of the new James Cameron film, Avatar— liberal, self-loathing, incoherent—but little has been made about the film’s anthropology.

In many ways, the film’s indigenous creatures, the Na’vi, resemble classic Hollywood hunter-gatherers. They wear precious little clothing, hunt and fight with bows and arrows, apologize to the animals they kill, commune sappily with mother nature, and lecture the barbarians among them about their cultural imperfections.

But this being Pandora in the year 2054, Cameron feels free to render the already romanticized Hollywood aborigine in more progressive colors still. So unlike just about every hunter-gatherer tribe on the face of this earth, even those in Burbank, the Na’vis encourage their women to hunt and kill too, enemies as well as animals.

Who takes care of the children? Look around. There are no more rug rats in Pandora than there are in West Hollywood. To his humble credit, Cameron matches the Na’vi female physiognomy to their denatured role, giving them fewer bumps and curves than any females since East Germany retired its track team. Even if they weren’t blue, tailed, and twelve feet tall, Cameron’s ladies would be a turn off.

With four divorces under his belt, Cameron may be no more capable of imagining a stable family environment than he is of imagining an honorable American corporation. As a liberal, though, he knows that children have their uses, specifically as victims of imperial violence. He may have learned this trick from the Palestinians. Just Google “Mohammed al-Dura” to learn more.

So in the scene where the American corporate warmongers—what happened to global corporations?—attack the hapless Na’vi village, Cameron drags out a few kids just in time for them to get gassed and squashed. By the time of the final, groovy be-in, however, the little cubbies have gone missing once again.

And no, Virginia, I do not think Cameron was alluding to Janet Reno’s tank and gas assault ae Waco.

Who is Jack Cashill?



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