Saturday, August 30, 2014

Avatar and the Pandoran Paradigm of History

What is interesting about movies like Avatar is how they help condition viewers to accept the myth that good always triumphs over evil. Of course, it doesn't, but stories that lead people to believe that it does are not only easier to sell, they also serve to perpetuate the myth that history is an unfolding story of God's wisdom and divine providence. And as profitable as it can be to the victors to have people believe that it is, it isn't.

Such stories, told over and over again, produce a paradigm through which people then see themselves and their own history. If good always triumphs over evil, as the paradigm suggests, than victory itself becomes the strongest proof that "God is with us," as was engraved on the belt buckle of the German soldier in 1930. Even the firebombing of Tokyo and the dropping of two atomic bombs on cities full of innocent civilians during World War II could not dislodge the belief that America is always on the side of truth, justice, and morality. The sins of the United States, in other words, are always less evil than those we defeat in battle, like Germany and Japan.

Such a paradigm becomes a lens that colors both the present and the past. Despite the fact that Avatar is clearly based on the story of American expansion westward in pursuit of gold, and the Na'vi of Pandora clearly represent the native American Indians, the movie, by inverting history, converts it into a useful tool for teaching people to believe that the greedy never prosper and the meek shall inherit the earth.

 History tells a very different story, however, of how countless millions of native Americans were killed over the course of four centuries, and how the country that was responsible for that genocide used the brutal injustices of slavery to become the most powerful nation in the world.

 The key to remember in all of this, of course, is that Avatar is a fictional story that we long to believe while history is fact we want only to forget. And both are written to be please an audience.

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