Stop applying your agenda to Avatar (and everything else)

Over on Sociological Images Lisa evaluates Avatar(spoiler alert) Unfortunately, she’s got an agenda, and is seeing what she wants to see instead of what’s actually there.

First off, she says that the Na’vi “… are, in short, the stereotypical “noble savage.” Which as I stated in my review of Avatar, is simply false.

The Na’vi are never portrayed in the classic sense of “noble savage”. They are noble yes, but your classic “noble savage” (at least as I’ve seen it) is also, “savage”, “primitive”, and simply “doesn’t know better.” You will find none of that in this film. The Na’vi are simply an indigenous people with simpler technology than ours…

Furthermore, they have spent years being taught our modern advances and ways and have chosen to reject them. They are never portrayed as “savages”.

Lisa says that “After they win the battle, Sully assumes the role of chief, with the highest ranking female at his side.”

This is simply not true. While this may be assumed to happen after the film ends it does not happen in the film. During the film Jake always shows deference to the chief and never tries to overstep his place in the tribe (excluding trying to come back after being sent away for his perceived betrayal of them).

But Sully is not only a superior human being, he is also a superior Na’vi. After being briefly ostracized for his participation in the land grab, he tames the most violent creature in the sky, thereby proving himself to be the highest quality warrior imaginable per the Na’vi mythology.

While the last sentence is true the first is arguably false. At no point in the film does it make any claim, explicit, or implicit, that Jake (Sully) is “superior”. He’s more courageous than most, and certainly has a strong moral backbone, but that’s not superiority. He’s not stronger, faster, smarter, or more educated than anyone else in the film. He’s just a good guy with courage. And there’s nothing preventing anyone on this planet from becoming that themselves. We can identify with Jake specifically because he’s NOT superior. He’s an “average joe”.

He gives them hope, works out their strategy, and is their most-valuable-weapon in the war.

This is true, but not quite how she suggests. He does give them hope. If he is the one to work out their strategy it is never shown, and if so it proves he’s a freaking terrible strategist because he has Na’Vi on horses ride straight into machine guns instead of hiding in trees and sniping.

There’s a good look at the racial politics of Avatar here, and if you doubt the words of us white folk, you might want to ask yourself why the Native American Times seemed perfectly happy with it, or why Wes Studi lent his voice to the film. If go into this determined to see it as “liberal guilt made flesh” that’s probably what you’ll come out with, or maybe you’ll see it as “The most expensive piece of anti-American propaganda ever made.“ Or maybe, you’ll just go and enjoy it as an excellent film with the simple message that the environment is worth protecting and that people unlike you are still worthy of your respect. You get out of it what you take into it.

[Update] Miller says:

I think you should mention that when Jake went after the toruk, his reasons weren’t simply to prove that he was in any way superior to them as a warrior (as Lisa more or less says) but to win back the Na’vi’s estimation of him since he had so indelibly lost it with his “betrayal” the scene previous. the only thing he was proving in that act was his sincerity in saying that he would do anything he could to win back their trust and to help save them from being wiped out. if he failed in his attempt at taming the last shadow, he would have surely died. and seeing as he had lost everything else (his position with the humans /as well as/ the Na’vi), there wasn’t anything left for him to live for anyway.

I agree.