Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Blue Klux Klan

I have not seen Avatar. I generally wait until the fuss has died down for new films, listen to a range of opinions and then decide whether to see it in the cinema (on a day when all the little popcorn-crunchers are at school) or wait until it turns up in the bargain bins. This one sounds like its special effects might make it worth a cinema trip.

So it has an eco-message. I don't care. So it's basically 'Dances with Smurfs' or 'Pocahontas in Space'. There are only about seven basic plots in existence and every story involves re-use. The Magnificent Seven was The Seven Samurai remade and I enjoyed both. How many of Clint Eastwood's cowboy films had different basic plots? Star Wars followed a similar spaghetti-western format with small-force-defeats-superior-force and it all hinged on the actions of a single character. They are films, not real life. In real life, no commanding officer with half a brain is going to let his entire mission depend on one soldier making it through impossible odds.

Fiction is meant to be fun. It's supposed to take you into an illusory world where you're not just hearing, reading, watching the story, you feel as if you're in it. Sure, stick a message in there if you want but don't force it. If the message becomes the main focus of the story then you've blown it. The story becomes a lecture. It breaks the illusion and nobody will buy it.

On the other hand, there are those who seek out a message in every book, film, magazine, TV programme or blog. Usually the same message. The one they want to find, no matter what the story is about. These days, it's usually racism and some are willing to stretch the definition to its absolute limits, and beyond, to fit their preconceived message into whatever is before their eyes.

Will Heaven is such a message-seeker. He has decided Avatar is racist because one side is blue and the other is not. As I said, I haven't seen the film but if it follows the standard plot for such films, the blue side are bound to win even though the humans have guns and the blues have sticks. To Will, the blues represent every minority everywhere except in countries where whites are a minority, and the humans (of all colours, creeds and gender) represent the evil white man. Minorities of Earth, rejoice. Under Emperor Will, all are eligible to join the Blue Klux Klan. Actually, aliens are usually blue or green precisely to avoid any human race links. Blue and green people don't exist, therefore blue or green people must be aliens.

There was an episode of Star Trek (the original series with William Shatner) that did explore racism in a very clever way. Two aliens were fighting, both were black on one side of their bodies and white on the other. When questioned as to why one of them thought himself superior when they were both half-black and half-white, one alien said "Are you blind? He's black on the left side and I'm black on the right." Nicely done, I thought. A racism-based plot with neither black nor white portrayed as the good guys or the bad guys. However, most films don't have racist plots. It's a very difficult one to balance so only the bravest film-makers will touch it.

Will Heaven notes in the comments that he does not accept anti-white racism under any circumstances. He regards it as a form of self-pity. I'm sure he'd enjoy a midnight stroll through certain streets of certain towns, to be found all over the world, because he's white and nobody, anywhere, is racist against whites. We could club together and get him a ticket to Zimbabwe. Jolly Bob Mugabe just loves us honkies, you know.

In Will's World, 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' must be racist because the smart Il Buono is white, and the dim and volatile Il Brutto is Mexican. We'll overlook the evil one, who is also white, because he's not patronising the minority character and that doesn't fit the agenda. 'Star Wars' is racist because Darth Vader's suit was black and Luke's spaceship was white. Even in the 'Alien' films, the alien was black. If you want to find a racist subtext, you'll find it. Any connection, no matter how tenuous, will do.

Lord of the Rings must have sent Will into orgasms of imagined racism. Hobbits are white, orcs are coloured (I think. They were covered in so much dirt it was hard to tell). Sauron is depicted in black, Gandalf becomes 'the White', the elves lose their power because of the actions of the evil imperialist white humans and hobbits, and the elves have to leave their lands as a result. All the orcs are killed.

Will, as a global warmist and ecoloon supreme, must have hugged himself in glee when the trees came to life and destroyed the mechanised land of Saruman the White (yep).

Sometimes there really is a not-so-subtle dig. Remember Waterworld? The seas had risen to cover the entire planet and nobody alive remembered land. It had been a while. Yet the Evil Ones, the Smokers, still had plenty of cigarettes and lived on a rusting oil tanker half-full of flammable liquid. Where did they get the smokes? Why hadn't they blown themselves up long before the droning mutant arrived? How did they refine the oil into aviation fuel for their plane? They made no obvious attempt to grow anything on the deck, nor to go fishing, they looked and acted like middle-ages village idiots apart from the vicious elite. How did they survive?

There were plot holes in that film you could fly an airbus through but it didn't matter - the scriptwriter wanted his evil ones to be 'The Smokers' and no mere plot chasm was going to prevent that. It destroyed the film's illusion. Everyone else was using sail but the Smokers had oil. Everyone else was struggling to survive but the Smokers had no apparent need of food or drink. The Smokers had an apparently endless supply of ready-made cigarettes, perhaps from a magic vending machine on their oil tanker. The message was clear - eco-life good, oil-life bad and to drive the point home, the bad guys all smoke too - but the story's credibility was ruined by overemphasising that message.

Will must have loved that one. When one floating village tried to kill the mutant just because he was different, Will could have engaged his 'racism overdrive' again although the mutant was white, which must have set Will's internal gears grinding.

Any work of fiction must, above all else, be enjoyable and for that to work it has to be internally consistent. It doesn't have to be real but whatever world it portrays must have logical rules and stick to those rules throughout. As long as Avatar does that, I'll be happy to sit back and watch the aliens fight the spacemen. Just for the fun of it.

I'm not wasting my leisure time in looking for things to be offended at.

8 comments:

The Filthy Engineer said...

Have a happy Christmas.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Waterworld was also a monumental flop. I believe, in fact, it was one of the biggest box office turkeys in cinematic history.

They keep making the same mistakes though. One day the common sense message may drive itself home, but ...

Quiet_Man said...

Just switch off your brain and watch the film and enjoy the effects. Afterwarsds you can pick at the mile wide holes in the plot ☺

Rob said...

Waterworks was the biggest puddle of piss ever, though I refuse to watch The Day After Tomorrow on principle, so I might be mistaken

wh00ps said...

I dunno. people say it's good, a and other people say it's not so good. I think i'll end up watching it when it's a fiver in Tesco, although i've got a fortnight off so i may change My mind.

Incidentally, if it didn't tell me which was which at the start of The Good The Bad... i don't think i'd be able to tell which was which. None of the main characters are particularly pretty or honourable.

Martin said...

I've seen articles claiming Avatar is:

Racist
Communist
Environmentalist
Libertarian (as well as anarcho-capitalist)
and anti-consumerist.

Fuck. People, make up your minds.

Leg-iron said...

I watched 'The Day After Tomorrow' on bargain-bin DVD. At that price, it's fun for the special effects but if you've ever learned any science, try to silence that part of your brain for the duration of the film.

Not always easy...

Grumpy Bear said...

I thoroughly enjoyed Avatar. Wasn't sure if I would but the CGI is amazing with an engaging story too. I did notice the environmental and race aspects but I can look past those things and enjoy a good work of fiction.

Just make sure you see it in 3D!

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