Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In defense of James Cameron and Avatar (sort of)

Stephanie Ernst over at Animal Rights & AntiOppression recently wrote that James Cameron’s new film Avatar, despite what the critics, or even some of the big animal rights organizations say, does NOT show respect for animals.

She takes particular offence to a scene in which the lead character forces himself onto (and into) another creature in order to control him. For Jake to become a full warrior, he must overpower and subdue an ikran, one of Pandora’s flying beasts. Stephanie writes:

“It is Jake’s duty, while the animal fights him off, to “bond” with the animal by overpowering him, tying him up, climbing on top of him, and inserting a part of his body into the body of the animal while his victim desperately fights him off.”

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Stephanie also has a problem with the film’s message that as long as you pray or pay your respects to other animals, it’s alright to kill them (although we don’t actually know why Jake kills the animal and we never see the Na’vi eat animal flesh).

I saw Avatar twice and I personally thought it was an amazing movie. I loved the computer graphics, the music and the way the film brought attention to the environment, capitalism, the use of the military and the way we’ve treated (and continue to treat) indigenous peoples.

Nevertheless, I too was bothered by the “rape” scenes. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time but something about it made me uncomfortable. I was reminded of the way wild stallions or elephants are “broken” but I think I saw it more as some kind of mind control than rape. I’m grateful to Stephanie for making me see what it really was.

I also found it disturbing that PETA would honour a film that promotes the exploitation of other animals, awarding James Cameron with a Proggy (PETA’s progress award) because of the film’s compassion and understanding towards animals.

According to PETA Senior Vice-President Lisa Lange, “We hope viewers will come away from Avatar with a new way of looking at the world around them and the way we treat our fellow earthlings. For helping animals with the positive message of this film, James Cameron is PETA’s ‘King of the World.’”

What? Okay, whatever. I learned long ago that PETA will do or say just about anything (or ride on anybody’s coattails) to get a headline. Remember CloFu (George Clooney sweat-flavoured tofu)?

But I don’t blame Cameron for making a film that promotes the slaughter, subjugation and rape of other animals. After all, Cameron isn’t a vegan or an animal rights activist. If he was, then I’d take issue with him exploiting animals in his films. But he’s not.

A friend of mine was also concerned that the use of violence towards the creatures in Avatar was going to send a message to the public that it’s okay to exploit and kill animals.

I had to remind my friend that the public ALREADY thinks that it’s okay to exploit and kill animals. We live in a society where it’s commonplace and acceptable to use animals for any reason whatsoever.

We kill them for fun, we kill them for food, we kill them for scientific curiosity and we kill them because we think we look good wrapped in their skins. We rape cows, we torture primates, we drown rats and we grind baby chicks alive.

We bash in the heads of turtles with hammers to study their heart rates and drill holes into the heads of hamsters to analyze their sex drives! We even cook and eat animals while they’re still alive. I could go on and on.

Aside from vegans, who make up a whole 1% of the population, everybody else eats and uses and kills animals.

So Cameron wrote and produced a film that depicts animal exploitation. Why are people surprised? Why would he write anything else?

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