Why It's OK for Conservatives to Enjoy Avatar

With more than a billion dollars in global ticket sales, Avatar can’t be ignored as a cultural chord that is resonating around the planet. And anytime a movie sells more than $350 million worth of domestic tickets, it seems safe to say that a lot of American conservatives are lining up to see it. Are we being tricked into paying to see an ecologically correct story about imperialism, military brutality, and corporate greed? Or should we just shut up and enjoy the film like everyone else? I say the latter, despite the movie’s overtly partisan politics.

Although some liberals deny that director James Cameron has loaded up the left side of the scale, all doubt is expunged when the evil Marine commander (Stephen Lang) commands his troops to “fight terror with terror” (the phrase “shock and awe” is used, too) by attacking the peaceful, innocent blue sweeties, the Na’vi, who ask only to continue living in the tree/goddess/apartment complex they call home. The Marines are tools of a heartless corporation dedicated to mining the invaluable resource under the tree, called “unobtainium.”

The jokey name of that mineral, though, should clue you in: the movie (unlike the much more deeply thought-out The Dark Knight, with its fiercely argued gloss on the Bush years) is not to be taken as an earnest parable for our times. As the Joker might put it to conservatives who don’t like Avatar: why so serious?

Cameron probably felt that he was landing a few swift jabs to the Bush presidency, military contractors, the oil companies, etc. But he has his priorities in order. All of those elements are background. The movie is a thrilling adventure and a fantastically vivid fantasia. Its politics essentially boil down to three cheers for the plucky little guy and a big fat raspberry to the all-powerful system.

There’s a reason why that theme works so well, in so many movies from the Charlie Chaplin era all the way up to Transformers, one of whose hero-bots is named “Bumblebee.” It’s universal and it has equal pull with left and right. Who doesn’t think of himself as a brave, resourceful soul up against daunting odds? From tea partiers fighting the government blob all the way to the head of that blob (President Obama, who during his health care campaign kept portraying himself as the little guy’s defender against evil insurers), everyone wants to be the underdog. Nobody wants to make or see movies about loving the overdog.