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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A Quick Rant Before English Class

I was just looking through my information regarding my long-distance course, and I’m starting to get very frustrated. There is a lot of work and talk that I don’t understand and I am getting very frustrated with the amount of reading that I have to get done in the first week. For one thing I need to read the first five chapters of my text book, as well as a bunch of things for the Bible. The Bible thing isn’t really a problem, I’ve read most of it during the time I actually took a class on the Bible. It’s really the first five chapters that bother me, as well as the fact that I have no idea how to run an internet course.

The entire fact I’m taking an internet course seems rather unproductive. Every time I look at it I’m reminded of how much I hated the last internet course I took. This one may be better, but only marginally. I’m sure the teacher is more competent and the readings actually make sense and doesn’t involve reading that horrid George Eliot novel, but I still hate the idea of taking an internet class. I only am taking it because I plan on having a double major in English Lit and Religious Studies, and it wasn’t offered anywhere else.

I guess my main problem is that I don’t have anyone who can tell me how this works at the moment. Since I don’t have a set time, it doesn’t really feel as important as my other classes. There isn’t any human interaction. I forgot that this was a reason I dropped out of my other internet class. I’m not sure if I’ll drop out of this one, but it is looking like an option I am comfortable with.

What is Surrealism?

Today a friend asked me what surrealism is, which is something that I believe I have a better idea of then the average North American. I’m not completely certain that I gave him a proper definition though, so this blog post is to give my definition of what surrealism is.

The word “surreal” was first used by Apollinaire to describe a play he wrote called “Les Mamelles de Tiresias,”(French for “The Breasts of Tiresias”). The Wikipedia no longer explains what this play was about, but I don’t think the breasts were that  integral to the plot (or what passed for the plot), but it ended with a moral in favor of sex. I have read a bit of his poem “Zone,” which was a bit surreal itself, since it used the metaphor of Paris as a field of sheep or something like that. This all happened around 1917, and Appollinaire would shortly be biting the bullet in the trenches, so he won’t be coming into this.

We know go to the Dadaists. The Dadaists were a fun-loving bunch of anti-artists who generally were not fans of the factory of death that was WWI. Their argument went something like this.

  • Modern society is based on the achievements of the rational mind (i.e. railroads, industry and such).
  • Our society is slowly crumbling apart because of the onslaught of this pointless, stupid and machine death-factory of the Great War
  • THEREFOR, our rationalist society is the cause of this war. It is evil, or at least not very efficient, and thus we should mock the hell out of it. Let’s go shock the academy.

And thus the Dadaists were born, largely in Switzerland. Dadaism lead to all kinds of fun things to shock the old fogies, such as toilets claimed to be art, placing random words together to make poems and getting dressed up as a funny pope thing and intoning meaningless nonsense.

As fun as it must have been to be a Dadaist, they were not really an art movement meant to last. This leads us to a young French man named Andre Breton. Andre Breton is the guy if you want to know about Surrealism, largely because if there wasn’t an Andre Breton there wouldn’t be surrealism and Dali would have just been considered weird. Breton got his start in the Dadaists, but was also very inspired by his time as a doctor during WWI. He worked at a psychiatric hospital and hanged out with a lot of crazy people. Among these crazy people was a guy called Jacques Vache. Very little is written about him on Wikipedia, except that he was a bit of an anti-social jerk, Andre Breton was pretty taken with him, and he wore a monocle. O, and he apparently OD’d on opium in 1919. Vache was also a fan of another crazy guy called Alfred Jarry. Jarry wrote a bunch of plays about a guy called King Ubu that were apparently violent and banned shortly after the first performance. Jarry’s a big name in Surrealism, as like Appolinaire he is very direct precursor.

Anyways, back to Breton. Around 1924, he wrote a little document he liked to call The Surrealist Manifesto. To Breton, surrealism was…

Psychic automatism in it’s pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

…and this proved to be popular among various French artists. Andre Breton was able to get together a bunch of people to start what he called the Bureau of Surrealist Research, under the direction of a guy named Antonin Artaud, who was an interesting guy who I try reading but find a bit to angry. The Bureau’s main goal was to experiment with Surrealism so that it could exist outside the world of art; that they could basically make a working competitor to scientific rationalism. Artaud was a big guy in this, as he saw that Imagination was just as real as the rest of reality. He believed that what we consider real is merely part of a consensus and he for one was not for the consensus he had to live in; kind of like Mage: the Ascension. If they had LARPs back then, he would be an interesting person to run one. Actually, I think that the Surrealists in general would have loved the concept of LARPing and would have probably done some very fun and crazy ones.

So if I had to give a definition of surrealism, I would probably go for that definition, a rejection of rationalism that exists largely within the world of art, but is trying desperately to get out. No, surrealists are trying desperately for surrealism to replace rational thought. My own opinions on this are that I have sympathy for the surrealists, but I also am a bit cynical about the whole enterprise. While Imagination is beautiful and not wholly separate from reality, I do not think that the surrealist idea of ultimately replacing the rational with the surreal is feasible, or even ultimately desirable. This undesirability is due largely because I don’t know how normal humans would react if we all abandoned rational thought. Would we become more violent, or would we just all become fishmalks? Yes, it is possible that this could lead to a reversal where individual people become irrational, insane beings and countries are all rational entities that don’t waste money on war and stuff like that, but that could just because the government is busy investing money in clown cars for immigrants or breeding winged giraffes or something. Also, everyone would be too busy slapping each other with fish because they’re all crazy fishmalks to slap other nations with fish.

Still, Surrealism does exist in the world of the imagination and that has got to count for something. While we have yet to make a full summoning of surrealism into our plane of existence to overthrow the tyranny of the machine-gods of Rationalism we can still imagine worlds of sock islands and purple otters and whiskey trees, or stuff we’d rather imagine because who the hell wants a whiskey tree besides alcoholics and bootleggers?

Anyways, that’s my definition of Surrealism. Hope you enjoy.

Alan Moore: Art is Magic (my responce)

This video, which had damn well better be up, is from the documentary The Mindscapes of Alan Moore. Somebody put up a lot of cool stuff from that very nifty documentary, and it has been something I return to for contemplation.

Alan Moore has been my first real stepping stone for me to seriously look into the world of the occult. This is largely due to Alan Moore making it look fairly non-occult and scary. In his series of comic books, Promethea, he makes it look pretty cool. It was very colorful and non-threatening, and while scary at some points, it didn’t really seem to be something that would damn my soul to eternity. While I’m still wondering if Christianity and whatever it is Alan Moore is supposed to be are compatible, I am fascinated by his beliefs regarding magic and art.

So is Alan Moore right? Are the goals of Art and Magic so easily together? I don’t believe that they are that tied together, there is a lot of art that I would say does not fit the qualification of magic. The question that should really be asked is does Art affect the outside world, or does the outside world affect Art?

Art is definitely something that lives in both worlds, by which I mean the Macrocosm, the world we share with everyone else, and the Microcosm, the world of our perception. It can exist in a physical plane, were we can see it or read it or hear it, but we also see it when we look at it. This causes us to interpret it, which gives it existence in the microcosm. This can cause the audience to think about things if the artist decides to do thus. So yes, I believe that Art can affect the world around us.

The problem is this is not being used in a beneficial way, as Alan Moore is saying, but that most of the modern-day equivalents are working in advertising or mediocre Hollywood films. They have the most power over the various Microcosms of individuals, as film is the most prevalent form of artistic communication. The problem is a lot of this isn’t that good and is seen largely as entertainment, as compared to something that could benefit humanity as a whole. There is also the issue that if we were to somehow overthrow the advertisement/Hollywood control over symbols, we (and I mean Alan Moore and myself and whoever else wants to give this a go) would just become propaganda. Not that this is something that is going to happen in the near future, because I’m not the kind of person to become a propaganda minister, because I have talent. Also, I’m smart enough not to get involved in any revolutions.

So anyways, what I really wanted to talk about was that I believe Alan Moore has a point here and that if I am going to be a writer, and I am going to be a writer, I should be prepared for my ideas to take hold on the world. This is a bit of a problem, because I’m not sure what my goals are in my writing. Here’s a list of recurring themes that exist in the things I plan on writing.

  1. We should probably not be to excited about Richard Dawkins and his gang of Athiest sharpshooters
  2. The State is the House of Satan and any follower of God and Truth should not hold any magistrasial position. This holds to anyone seeking a political revolution. Anyone who claims that God put him or her in any form of position of power, is lieing, a heretic and possibly the Antichrist. (I am open to voting however)
  3. Art is a magical force that can affect the world around us, but it’s being misused by the mainstream media, advertising and Hollywood’s poor examples of film. (AVE HERZOG!)
  4. Probably something involving God, inspired by my Christian Anabaptist routes and things like that, but with syncrenetsic elements that combine aspects of the Western Mysteries, Sufism and Eastern Religions.

I have been working on this for to long, and like the thing on Jodorowsky’s Tarot, I will return to it soon. Probably more sooner then the Tarot thing.