In the Arena

Zeitgeist Patrol

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Alone in our nation’s capital last night, I decided to keep in touch with the culture by going to see Avatar in 3D. I hadn’t read much of the commentary about the movie, but the word of mouth was that it was visually spectacular–and yes, spectacular it was, especially in 3D (which has improved markedly since the last time I put on the glasses, before any of you were born).

But that wasn’t the most amazing thing about the movie: the Americans were the bad guys. They were a mercenary army working for corporate villains who wanted to strip-mine a tribe of alien, cerulean nice-guy, enviro-theists. The dialogue was awful; the characterizations were crude…and I’m sure that conservatives will dismiss this as another excretion of the Hollywood left. But still, it was something for a mainstream–indeed, a blockbuster–motion picture to have you rooting for the blue dudes flying about on birds painted like Chinese fans…and rooting against the humans, none of whom had the requisite Eastern European or Arab villain accents.

The message that big trees are good and bulldozers are evil seems rather timely. The message that God is Green is fascinating stuff to be peddling in the shopping malls of middle America (I particularly liked the moment when the mercenaries chuckled about the fact that the primitives believed in a tree god). Movies are usually overrated as agents of social or political change–I remember when The Right Stuff was going to launch John Glenn into the presidency–but the zeitgeist is a subtle thing and the impact of Avatar is bound to ripple in all sorts of lovely, little enviro-theistic ways.