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Pandora's Hope

I was watching TV the other night when a commercial caught my eye. It's the exceptional ad that does this, since I usually have commercials muted so I can focus on constructive things instead. In this case, I immediately recognised, entirely against my will, the iconography of planet Pandora from James Cameron's Avatar, a movie I never saw. I was wondering if this meant we were getting an imminent Avatar sequel and was just beginning to ponder the ramifications of that before the true purpose of the commercial became clear: Opening in May of this year in the Animal Kingdom park of Walt Disney World Resort will be Pandora: The World of Avatar, an entirely new land attraction that seeks to create the world of the beloved film in physical form.

My first thoughts were, unironically, “well, that's going to do incredibly well” followed soon after by “this seems like a good fit”. Though the religiously ecstatic paean to CGI that is Avatar at first glance seems like a strange fit for the ostensibly environmentalist tone of Disney's Animal Kingdom, the connection seems like a much more intuitive one if you look at it deeper for ...

Going Native

Avatar is progressive in many ways.  It represents racism towards native people as stemming from imperialism.  It notices that imperialism is about capital accumulation, indicting a corporation along the way.  It shows an 'economy' in which spines can be repaired, but only if you have the dosh.  It metaphorically revisits the violent imperialist foundations of America - and any such settler colonial state - in a forthrightly disapproving way.  It supports the right of native people to violently resist conquest, even when Americans are doing the conquering.

Fair enough.

However, it is also deeply patronising towards native people.  To quote David Brooks' article in the New York Times:

It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.

And, even better, here's ...

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