Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Technology, Love, And Cameron

I haven't seen Avatar and don't plan on it either. So, I don't know whether it is "an overlong pastiche of anti-corporate clichés and quasi-mystical eco-nonsense." Although, I 'spect it is.

However, I do think Poulos is onto something here:
The great liberal hope, dramatized potently by Cameron, is that science will freely enslave itself to whim without will, which is love. Love — transcendent love, species-hopping love, galaxy-crossing love, love between beings who fully inhabit their own bodies and beings who pilot their semi-inhabited avatars from a ship somewhere not very nearby in orbit. Love is the magic word, the only key that can rescue science from will and so achieve the inescapable, otherwise impossible task of interpreting the inescapable, otherwise meaningless natural world.

The conquest of technology by love has been a reoccurring theme in Cameron's work. In The Terminator, the love between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor literally creates the person who will redeem humanity from its future technological folly. In Terminator 2, the love between Sarah and John Connor and the albeit odd form of love between John Connor and the Terminator are what save the day. Titanic is a love story set upon one of humanity's most emblematic examples of technological hubris. I haven't seen The Abyss recently enough to give you the love technology interaction, but I'm sure it's there.

Also, while I'm on the topic, Conor Friedersdorf's favorable review simply doesn't make logical sense. He wants to have it both ways. "Unlike Peter Suderman, I don’t think that the corporation in the film is meant to stand in for all corporations. It is one evil actor." Likewise, for war, "Avatar is only anti-war in the sense that it condemns one of the most nakedly unjust military ventures ever portrayed on film"

But then it tells a universal story, "In Avatar, we’re shown a foreign world where creatures and nature are similar enough to our world that we understand them, different enough that they can help us reflect on ourselves and our planet as never before, and rendered so spectacularly that as much as any movie I’ve ever seen, we’re able to conduct this mental exercise by really feeling that the creatures and habitat we’re viewing are authentically there and different"

In fairness, I know what Conor is trying to get at here. The evil corporation and its war are only necessary devices to tell a timeless story. Their similarity to recent events and capitalism are only because Man has flaws. But then, isn't that an indictment of recent events?

The problems with Conor's logic are most obvious here: "The film isn’t an indictment of capitalism, a system based on mutually consensual trade, though it is implicitly against the imperialistic exploitation of faraway people who happen to live atop precious mineral resources. That you equate the two doesn’t say much for your opinion of capitalism!"

Implicit in Suderman, Poulos, et al's accusations of anti-capitalism is that many liberal-types believe that capitalism itself is imperialistic exploitation. See Klein, Naomi. Suderman, Poulos & Co. are assuming, correctly in my opinion, that Cameron makes little distinction, in his mind if not in the film, between capitalism as mutually beneficial trade and capitalism as exploitation. Perhaps there's some display in the film of super awesome mutually beneficial trade, but absent that I'd say one ought to assume Cameron is in the capitalism as imperialism camp.

I understand why I didn't notice Conor's logical issues previously. I have an ecumenical and can't-we-all-get-along outlook, as does he. However, it seems to be both his starting and end point. If he needs to abstract a movie to a universal morality tale while simultaneously and incredibly arguing that the morality tale doesn't apply to present circumstances in any narrowly political way, then he'll do it. Maybe, if I ever get around to seeing the movie, he won't sound as foolish, but I fear, given the reaction of others toward the movie and that much of this doesn't have to do with the particulars of the film, he'd seem even more foolish afterward.

1 comment:

Withywindle said...

I also think love is the solution to technology. But the point of my rhetoric schtick is to fuse love and reason, not to switch from loveless reason to reasonless love. From where I sit, Cameron's solution relies on, and reinforces, a false and pernicious dichotomy.

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