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Editorial

'Avatar' -- torture for conservatives

The award-winning sci-fi film condemns military aggression and so has been denounced by some as propaganda.

January 19, 2010

Now that "Avatar" has been named the best motion picture drama by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., making it a front-runner in the Oscar sweepstakes, does it mean the terrorists have won?

Judging from the anger the movie has generated in some conservative circles, one might think so. Filmmaker James Cameron's science-fiction epic, which is on track to be the highest-grossing movie ever, has been widely derided as anti-American,liberal propaganda. That's funny, we thought it was just formulaic -- if incredibly artful -- escapist fantasy.

That's not to say "Avatar" is apolitical. Set in the year 2154, it depicts the human invasion of the pristine planet of Pandora, after the environment of our own world has been ravaged. The technologically inferior native population is subdued and slaughtered when it stands in the way of a rapacious corporation's pursuit of the planet's mineral wealth. The villains of the piece are immoral executives and scar-faced roughnecks who look and act an awful lot like U.S. Marines carrying out an Iraq-style shock-and-awe campaign.

Cameron hasn't been shy about admitting that he has an agenda. "This movie reflects that we are living through war," the director said recently at a private screening. "There are boots on the ground, troops who I personally believe were sent there under false pretenses, so I hope this will be part of opening our eyes."

So we'll stipulate that "Avatar" promotes a liberal worldview. The question is, why does anyone care?

Directors have been inserting their political opinions into motion pictures for as long as there have been movies. The science-fiction genre, in particular, has a rich history of making social commentary under the guise of futuristic fantasy. "Avatar" isn't as overtly pro-environment as, say, "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," in which the crew of the Enterprise travels back in time to save humpback whales from extinction, or as anti-military as "The Day the Earth Stood Still," in which trigger-happy soldiers and politicians threaten to destroy the planet. Such movies make people think, but as far as we can tell, Luke Skywalker never persuaded anybody to register as a Democrat. In other words, people are smart enough to separate fictional morality tales from reality.

Conservatives offended by "Avatar" can stay home and watch something that conforms better to their political views -- say, "24" on the Fox network, which glorifies the torture of terrorist detainees. But why would they want to? Whether the bad guys wear black hats, turbans or Army helmets, the explosions are just as spectacular.

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