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Is the Medium the Message? Avatar’s Avatar

Box 3, Spool 5 has some commentary up in response to my own take on Avatar, emphasizing the contradictory nature of a big-budget Hollywood film and its proposed criticism of Capitalism. First though I want to address his thought that not all of the message is found in the medium (which leads to his larger point):

The technical feats Kvond explains are interesting, but only in the sense that here the most ‘natural’ is reached by way of the most artificial, an irony which mirrors deep ecology’s unavowed projections onto nature. It is on one level impressive what the capitalist spectacle can do with (or perhaps as) technology, though the film’s implicit reflections on subjectivity are to me less intriguing than the political message the film tries to convey; not all message is medium.

Just to be clear as to the reading I was making of Avatar, it is not strictly that the medium is the message so much as the modes of communication enact the very relationships (and values) that the film was attempting to forward in a very specific fashion. This is to say, there is, or can be, an enactment of avatarship in the very experience of watching a film on Avatar ethics, really almost a Brechtian involution. One need only take your glasses off for a minute during the film to realize the differences brought to bear. That this is accomplished through a new severing of affect from space, and then its restitching, yes, this is a powerful metaphor or even mode of analysis for society and personhood, but the medium is not the message to the degree that the message is dis-associated from the medium in a manner that leaves Box 3, Spool 5s point untouched.

If one is looking for performative contradictions that disqualify the ideologically critical position Cameron takes, one might ask as well whether Box 3s own participative purchase of 3D glasses and expensive movie, and her/his use of the commercially simulative blogged medium also disqualifies a critical engagement with the all-encompassing thread of Capitalist relations (the octopus arms are everywhere!). I rather take a different position. Capitalism is not “the enemy”, huge spectacle productions are not simply or reductively pacifications. The location of critical change does not really come outside of relations, but is immanent within them. Oppositional thinking is often weak and relatively impoverished, fueled by counterproductive angers, fears and projections. The idea that “Copenhagen debating hall” was something more than Avatar the movie, more than a spectacle of specific device…yes, from where are our freedoms to spring? In a certain regard I find “hegemony” boring.  That is not because I don’t believe that hegemonies exists, but rather that I believe that questions of hegemony are more complex than is often appreciated. It just is too easy a word. The importation of hegemonic values is always integral to the exaption of those human forms for new and different uses, and the concept of radical break is, frankly, over-rated.

If there was a “radical break” in Cameron’s message, it was the innovation of new aesthetic experiences of some very old themes, it was the affective way that the (political) consciousness of the viewer was regrafted onto her or his very skin, engaging the verities of space itself. It was Kantian from the inside out, where the categories become twisted and externalized through performative construction. Does this mean that Real 3D is inherently liberal, or even ecological? No, though I have argued that there are suspensions that were accomplished in that film that do have strong ecological content or possibility. It may very well be that this is because Real 3D, as we in a historically contingent fashion experience it, is metaphysical. And from that displacement into metaphysics, an ecology of persons and planet can be argued. And because aesthetically expressed, felt.

Avatar: The Density of Being

Let’s just say that I am recovering. It is a carefully sculpted onslaught, discretely spaced with only a few flaws, but an onslaught nonetheless. And I am recovering. It’s Pocahontas meets Full Metal Jacket meets The Diving Bell and the Butterfly meets Alien meets Coming Home meets Dragonheart meets Dersu Uzala  meets Brainstorms meets Total Recall meets The Legend of Zu meets Tron meets Dances with Wolves meets Final Fantasy IV meets Logan’s Run, all of this meeting Ecological Crisis ideology meets Indigenous nostalgia meets Disney ethnic cliché and New Age ascension, and all of that sum colliding with the categorical mytho-aesthetic effect of the first Star Wars and possibly 2001. The storylines and plot topologies proliferate at animation-cell frame rates so synthesized, so graced, they are no longer borrowings, but rather operate like flipped gateways for infusions that simply cannot be qualified, nor controled. The movie downloads the viewer with such ferocity and such poetic space the film bends back cinema upon itself, and introduces its content – the question of Avatarship - into the very experience, pulling out from technological increase and its inherent relatability the buried question of sensitivity, connection and projected identification, in short, the implied organic mutuality in everything our machines have brought us. Cameron and his magicians in such a threshold defying 3D invade our bodies and throw out our affects into the arms and sinews of operators which defy all of our repeated attempts to take map of where we are. This past movie recognition, this ethnic familiarity – are the Pandorans African Maasai, elegant Native American Indians, Thai-Myanmar Pa Dong Karen, naked Amazon natives, or even cats - inundates and torques the viewer in a transport that is more than pleasured, more than reflective. It is free…free in only the sense that aesthetic renewal can be free. One is tossed outward amid the equally familiar ideological landscapes of ecological nightmare (however this reads for you), and you are vividly aware of its artifice. But in that practical synthetics the technological nervature examines you and opens you out across the help even to your well-honed intellectual compass. You rifle through cartographies, all of them familiar, all of them critically engaged, but grid on grid, none of them suffice. The imagined-to-be trite self-discovery of the main character’s authentic warrior thymotic spirit (that template) sheds all of is scales amid an interaction with image and physical movement that perhaps only equals the dislocations and alien projections of scuba or spacewalk. If anything else is communicated here, technology is sense, and sense is technology, within the scope of global concern. Nevermind that every Na’vi looks the connotations of every supermodel distortion of mundane biology. Nevermind that videogame freedoms populate with every stigma of ideological absorption. Nevermind that mythologies fragment into flattened space confrontations. The whole thing escalates far beyond its means, revealing how Ideals throw us forwards, how when technologies and techniques are sufficient, they compel the spirit into new-born orbits of extreme decay and apogee, flights that must have been there in the thousands of memory verses when one of Homer’s avatars was repeating the invented history of the Greeks with muscular hexemeter and rhythm in the residue glow of camp-fires.


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