Post-Colonial Science Fiction: Avatar and District 9

Awhile back my dad took me to see the film Avatar. I found the movie largely disappointing and completely unworthy of the hype that surrounds it. Most of the fun I had regarding that movie, was taking it apart and seeing how I can put it together. Later, I saw another film that I feel is similar in regards to theme, District 9. Both of these movies dealt with what are essentially colonial themes, but in my opinion District 9 is a far superior movie. This is because District 9 meets what I believe to be the criteria of a good science fiction movie, which is that it explores complex ideas about humanity.

First off, I’m going to talk about Avatar. I was very angry at James Cameron for making Avatar. I don’t really know what I was expecting, because I hated Titanic and the kind of movie I would have liked Avatar to be seen as is downright impossible to be made on the scale that Avatar was done at. The entire thing was one long Dances with Wolves rip off recycled in Space and done with characters who are so cardboard a light breeze could through them over. What disappointed me even more was that Avatar could have been a much better movie. A friend sent me an internet article about an early version of Avatar called Project 880, which had more developed characters and dealt with many philosophical issues in the movie that I thought were underdeveloped or completely missed in the film.

However, if the Gods of Science Fiction were to call on me, they’re humble servant, to go back in time and right the blasphemy against them that is Avatar, this is what I would change.

  • Loose Mighty Whitey, you know this story. White guy goes to random group of native people where he proceeds to out native them in every conceivable way. While in modern times this could have something to do with liberal guilt, it is still kind of racist. Not only that, it has been done. I have heard Avatar described as Dances with Wolves in Space and Pocahontas in Space, but unfortunately Avatar cannot be called Avatar in Space. I’m not saying that we don’t get ride of the whole aspect of Sully joining the Na’vi for awhile, I’m just saying we don’t make him their Messiah.
  • Loose the Noble Savages, this is essentially what the Na’vi are. They spend most of their time in harmony with nature when they’re not riding around on flying lizards and whatever the hell it is Na’vi are supposed to do. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with being a Noble Savage, the fact that there isn’t anything inherently wrong with them is the entire point of being a Noble Savage. My problem is that it is just to easy. I’ll probably go into this later in another point I’m going to make, but basically I think we should cut the blue cat people some cultural slack and make them more then just stand ins for our romantic notions about Native Americans.
  • Loose all that Action Movie Shit, I don’t go to movies because I want to see explosions, and as cool a world as Pandora is, I can’t really get into it if I don’t care about the people who live in it. I would basically turn it from an Action Movie into a Psychological and Philosophical Drama.
  • Character Development, get some, The characters in Avatar are very poorly developed and for the most part act as archetypes. Basically, what I’m saying is give them more depth. Especially that psycho Marine guy who’s basic purpose is to be the Military-Industrial Complex on Steroids and Crack. I personally love seeing American soldiers act like total monsters in movies, it’s kind of cathartic, but these days I’m liking it less and less.
  • Ramp up the Philosophical Issues, To me science fiction has always been a genre of ideas, which is something Hollywood seems to translate as “Things blowing up IN SPACE!” There are two issues that I felt Cameron could have concentrated on, issues of identity and the fact everyone is standing on a living freaking God.
  • Questions Regarding Human (and alien) Identity, The first problem is simple and in my opinion should have been a much larger focus for the movie. Jake Sully is sent to planet were he is given handy new alien body. Handy new alien body can do all kinds of things Sully can’t do, such as breath the toxic alien atmosphere and walk. Sully ends up being picked up by the local alien tribe and gets to learn they’re ways. Now we get to my question: Is Na’vi Sully the same person as Human Sully? When Sully becomes one with his Avatar, is he still Sully, is he still human? This could be highlighted in certain rituals of the Na’vi that we could add to this version. Say instead of burying their dead the Na’vi take the body of that dead person and eat it in a ritual similar to that of the Australian Aborigines. This handily gives Sully ethical issues and messes with various ethical issues, and any preconceived Noble Savage ideas we may have about the Na’vi
  • And Finally, God/Eywa. Not once are any theological or spiritual issues raised that the stupid humans are dealing with is a being that could be the closest thing to a God they have ever encountered without being certifiably insane. Now this is just me speaking, but this should have been a much more bigger thing to catch my attention for this movie. What if the entire point of going to Pandora is really that they have found God? Alright, maybe they come for the Unobtanium, but they stay to figure out this God thing.

So basically, for my rewrite of this movie, we leave out most of the action sequences, the basic starting plot, subvert every Colonialist cliche in the book, and end it all with a huge mindscrew instead of an action sequence.

Anyways, on to District 9. This is in effect the exact opposite of Avatar. They both feature a story about a human who becomes an alien, discovers new things about his world and feature colonial themes, but District 9 is probably a much more accurate idea of how things would turn out in the end. Basically, a bunch of alien insects called the Prawns land their space ship a bit above South Africa and overtime are moved into a slum. They are being taken cared of by a weapons corporation that is trying to figure out how to work they’re weapons, which appear to only work for them. The Prawns are also victims to Nigerian gangsters who eat their flesh so they can have the energy weapons and what appears to be a crippling drug problem related to cat food.

Enter Wikus van der Merwe, a young ambitious bureaucrat for evil weapons company who is sent to get all the prawns into a new slum outside the city. He starts of as a fairly unsympathetic character who bribes the prawns with catfood and “aborts” prawn eggs with a flame thrower. No sooner does this happen then he is infected with weird alien fluid and begins to slowly transform into a prawn himself. This disturbs Wickus very much, as he is soon on the run because his former co-workers want to cut him open for the money.

So why is District 9 better then Avatar? Well, for me it’s because I care about the actors and it doesn’t feel as phony. Avatar just seemed like a cheat, were as the guy who made District 9 seems to have done something that I believe has serious artistic merit. Plus, District 9 just has characters I can actual feel for, like Wickus. He starts out as basically a jerk, but when he comes out he seems to be a more developed human being (or prawn). The movie also had a better handle on it’s themes, such as the whole issue of oppression of minorities. Also, if District 9 is a film version in space of Kafka, it does this in a way that isn’t as obvious as Avatar’s rip off.

Anyways, I’ve been working on this blog post for to long, I will publish it and let you, dear reader, decide if I’ve got a point, am just ranting, or both. Excelsior.

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Pencils For Kids

As many people who know me can tell you, I like pencils. At last count I had 56, but since then I have gotten more since then. Usually I carry three near me for the purposes of writing. Practically all of my poetry starts out with pencils.

Today, my mom taught me about Pencils for Kids. Pencils for Kids is “a not-for-profit grassroots organization, to support the educational needs of the community of Libore in Niger, Africa. Basically, the school system in Libore is so poor that thirty children have to share a pencil. One pencil. Hearing that I began to cry, because the thoughts of children being deprived of something like a pencil is almost like someone not being allowed to have food to me. This is why I want everyone to know about Pencils for Kids, and to give them lots and lots of money. My parents get me a box of 97 pencils for my birthday every year and that can’t be more then ten dollars. You can find the Pencils for Kids go to www.pencilsforkids.com to donate. They need alot of money, not just for pencils but for books to write in and actual schools.

Please donate and give them lots of money.

University, Role-Playing Games, My Spiritual Journey and Socializing

Well, it’s been awhile since my last post, so for this one I will be going over recent events in my life.

University

Several papers have been assighned to me, and I will shortly be starting on my various projects. Thankfully, they all have various levels of fun. The least fun paper will be about the development of pacifism in the Mennonite Church in the context of the Munster revolts. That said, this is proving to be very interesting for me as pacifism is the number one thing that I picked up from my Mennonite upbringing, and it will deal with issues that I find very interesting, such as radical revolutions in a Christian context and the interplay between pacifist resistance and violent revolution.

My next paper, for Philosophy of Literature, will be a paper on a book outside my current subject matter. I was feeling kind of down about my success in this class, as half the books I need to read I am in great fear of actually reading. Thankfully, while I was reading the assignment paper I was overjoyed that one of the options. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky is one of my favorite writers, and unlike Brave New World, these are books that I would greatly like to read again. This was made all the better in that I was wearing my Dostoevsky t-shirt. Yeah, that’s how big a fan I am, I have Dostoevsky’s face on a t-shirt.

Finally, the crowning achievement in fun papers, is my Survey of British Literature paper. This is my first creative writing assignment in a University class. One of the options I had to take was to write a Petrarchan sonnet on the subject of nature. This I did, and now I have to compare it to two other sonnets from the Romantic period. I’m very glad that this was an option I could take in writing a paper. Also, I had been toying with writing sonnets for sometime, but this is the first time that I have ever completed one.

Role-Playing Games

Basically, I’m in one. I’m playing in a Hunter: the Vigil game. This is a follow up to the last update, and I am playing the “offbeat FBI Agent.” The game is going pretty well, even if it’s just me and another guy. Mind you, the other guy is playing a cop, so if we don’t get any other PCs not involved in law enforcement, we got ourselves a cop show. Only instead of tracking down heroin dealers, we’re investigating spontaneous combustion.

Yeah, people spontaneously combusted. The Storyteller doesn’t even know how that happened. I’ll probably have to do a write up for the character at some point.

The Changeling Camarilla game also looks like it will come up soon. Last I heard it will be starting around March.

My Spiritual Journey

I’ve been learning a lot about how Christians can be real dicks, mostly to other Christians, and I’m beginning to get a bit feed up with Abrahamic religions for awhile. Because of this, I have been looking a bit into my esoteric interests in spirituality. This has taken me to an area of town I have little experience with, which was fun and educational. It turns out that the place I was looking for had been closed for 12 years, but it was still nice to get out and use the bus station. I have also found another place that deals in New Age stuff which is closer and has free tea. Since I’m a University student, free things are always good, and it’s kind of interesting to have tea out of a crock pot.

I’ve also begun more regular tarot readings and so far I have received what I believe to be accurate predictions, especially with the Rider-Waite deck which I have a batter handle on then the Marseilles deck. I am keeping a special book to keep tabs on the tarot readings, with notes on what the cards said at the time, as well as what I believe the predictions to be. My¬† last reading was two or three days ago and was with the Marseilles deck. The readings were largely mysterious to me.

Socializing

While on the bus to the closed bookstore, I had the good fortune to meet an individual who was reading a magazine. I noticed that he was reading about the tarot, and since I’m very interested in the tarot I decided to talk with him. Turns out he’s a poet and invited me to a local poetry get together. I’m looking forward to this, as it gives me a chance to brush up on reading my poetry in public.