Orientalism in Avatar

When I first watched Avatar as a kid, I was too young to really absorb the story. Instead, I loved it for all the bright colors and fun action sequences. However, after rewatching the movie recently, I noticed that it follows the basic structure for Orientalism in movies. Jake Sully, a white man, becomes a part of a study of the native “aliens” (the Na’vi) of the planet Pandora. The beginning of the film contains many scenes depicting the Na’vi as a wild and uncivilized group that needed help from humans. The main researcher, Grace, even tried to create a school on Pandora in order to teach them to live like humans. However as the film progresses, Jake begins to learn the ways of the Na’vi people and eventually be integrated into their community. By the end of the movie, Jake Sully acts as the leader of the Na’vi in order to protect them against the humans trying to take over Pandora. Basically, a white American man is thrown into this uncivilized group, learns their ways and begins to appreciate them, and finally ends up being a better version of them and becomes their leader.

I was shocked when I first noticed this. How did a sci-fi movie about an entirely different planet still manage to have Orientalism? This really scared me. A movie that isn’t even about Earth managed to spread the message of Orientalism. What’s even scarier is that Avatar is the #1 top grossing movie. How many people have watched it and not picked up on its problematic message? Although it has been criticized many times in the past, I doubt most of the world really took the time to look into what is so problematic about it. How many children have watched this movie and are subtly being influence they are better than people from other cultures? I also wondered, how many other movies have I watched with not-so-subtle Orientalism that I just didn’t even pick up on? How many other movies are spreading these messages around without anyone noticing or caring? Although I doubt that I will always pick up on all the different problematic themes in movies, I definitely will be paying more attention from this point forward.

Edmund and His Ladies: Lust or Love?

In the play King Lear by William Shakespeare, Gloucester’s bastard son, Edmund, ends up in a love triangle with Goneril and Regan that eventually leads to jealousy and death. Initially when he is staying with Goneril and Albany, Goneril falls in love with Edmund, and he claims to love her as well. Later, Edmund is sent to stay with Regan and Regan and Edmund also claim to be in love. My biggest question is: Is it love or lust?

First up is Goneril, the eldest of Lear’s daughters. Out of all of them, I honestly believe Goneril was actually in love with Edmund. He was the man that her husband never was. He is obedient and allows her to make decisions, but still possesses a lot of manliness and the ability to take control and command others. Plus the fact that he was young and handsome definitely helped. I believe that Goneril fell in love with these qualities and honestly thought she has finally found the man she deserved. Her love is further proved by the fact she had no issue poisoning her sister, even though they were conspiring against King Lear together, in order to keep Edmund all to herself. Then, Goneril shows her full devotion to Edmund when she makes the decision to kill herself after seeing he was mortally wounded. I honestly think that she must have been in love with him for her to decide to die with him.

Second to the chopping block is Regan, the middle child. Of all three, I think Regan was the one most fueled by lust. Most of Regan’s attraction to Edmund is physical and maybe due in part to her husband’s death. To me, it felt more like Regan wanted to possess Edmund and gloat about it to Goneril. From her role in the love triangle, I kind of thought Regan was just trying to “win” in some sort of sibling rivalry. She does whatever she can to seduce Edmund, and claims she loves him. However, something about that proclamation just feels fake.

Last and definitely the most interesting of the three is Edmund. He is caught in a love triangle with the two most powerful women in Britain. I think that Edmund was experiencing a mix of love and lust. Edmund definitely lusted after both women, probably even more so due to the fact that there were two powerful women that wanted him. However, not love in the sense of being “in love” with either Goneril or Regan. I believe that Edmund was in love with the sense of power he got from being these two women’s center of attention. I also think that he was in love with the possible future he could have and he saw that he could use Goneril and Regan to never feel like a bastard again. He went from being the lowly bastard child, always in Edgar’s shadow, to being respected by the royals and having the opportunity to marry into the royal family and be known by everyone. He was in love with the power he suddenly had.

Freedom Flies By

Simon & Garfunkel were a successful folk-rock duo back in the 1960s who had many popular singles and albums. Their song “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” is the second song on their final studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water, which was released in January 1970. Paul Simon originally heard this song in Paris when the Peruvian group Los Incas performed it and he could include it in his album with English lyrics. The words “El Condor Pasa” translates to “the condor goes by,” which hints to the song’s focus on freedom and control.

I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail

Yes I would

If I could

I surely would

In the first verse of the song, they contrast a sparrow and a snail. A sparrow is free to spend its time on both group and in the sky, having no limit on where they can travel. Additionally, a sparrow is a swiftly moving predator that does not have worry about being hunted. Meanwhile, a snail is bound to living on the ground and is an animal of prey, constantly fearing for its life. It is important to note that sparrows eat snails, which adds to the argument that the speaker wants power and to be able to control their own life. This comparison emphasizes the speaker’s wish to live without fear and be able to take risks.

Away, I’d rather sail away

Like a swan that’s here and gone

A man gets tied up to the ground

He gives the world

The saddest sound

The saddest sound

Again, the song emphasizes the speaker’s wish to not be held back from freedom. The simile in the line “Away, I’d rather sail/ Like a swan that’s here and gone” articulates that the speaker wants to be free to go on their own adventures and like a swan, not be bound to one place. A swan is the image of total freedom; they can be in one place or moment and experience it and then move on to the next with no restrictions. The next lines focus on the reality of world. There is a much higher probability that a person will be stuck in one place and sucked into the painful monotony of life. As nice as it is to think about achieving true freedom, it is very unlikely.

I’d rather be a forest than a street

I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet

The imagery of nature in both of these lines highlights the speaker’s wish to retreat from the society humans have constructed. The speak would rather be a forest, something that grows and expresses itself freely, than a street, which is trampled on daily by people. Additionally, in order for streets to be created, they had to destroy some forest and change nature. This point in strengthened by the speaker’s wish to feel earth on their feet. This line shows how the speaker wants to reconnect with a more simple time or place where there people had less responsibilities and were free to truly have full control over their lives.

Lastly, the repetition of the line “If I could” throughout this song adds a bit of reality to the tone. This whole song has a very wishful and dreamy tone to it. However, the repetition of this line makes the audience realize that all of the “I’d rather’s” are just hopes and not true. It is this break into reality that brings the audience a sense of sadness as they realize that the speaker is just reflecting on their life and the lack of freedom and control that they actually have.

Although this song does not contain many lyrics, I think that each line contains endless possibilities of interpretations. In fact, I think this speaks to how well this song conveys a deeper meaning with what may be seen as simple lyrics.

The Beauty of Friendship

In Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Nadia and Saeed continue to drift apart as they begin to build their new lives after leaving their home country. Eventually, once in Marin County, CA, they make an official break from each other and go on to live their own separate lives. Although this initially seems like it is a sad ending because the main characters don’t end up together, I think it was the perfect way to end the book. Realistically, not all couples end up together. Usually in novels when this happens, either someone dies or the characters end up hating each other once the relationship has ended. However, I think that the beauty of Nadia and Saeed’s relationship is that they still cared for and supported each other after the split. Just because they had broken up didn’t mean that they had to disappear from each others lives. In fact, after they first split, Nadia and Saeed met to go on walks and would communicate through text and phone calls because they wanted to ensure the other was okay. After a little while they wouldn’t talk on the phone or meet up as much until all communication completely stopped, but it still took them time to fully break off. There was also no malice in this break because it happened naturally and they both had their new lives to live. They had both cared so much for the other while in their relationship, so even though it had changed from being romantic to more platonic, they were still friends that wanted the best for the other. When they meet up about half a century later in their birth country, Saeed and Nadia found easy conversation “…for they were former lovers, and they had not wounded each other so deeply as to have lost their ability to find a rhythm together…” (230). I think that their reunion shows that even though they didn’t end up together, they still appreciate each other and are friends above all else.

What’s In A Soul?

In part 2 of The Stranger, Meursault is on trial for murdering the Arab man. The government prosecutor tells the jury about how Meursault did not cry at his mother’s funeral, went out with Marie to see a comedy movie the next day, and also helped Raymond beat up his ex. I have no issue with all of these points that the prosecutor brought up, in fact I think they all make a great case against Meursault. However, it is later that I have an issue when the prosecutor states that Meursault lacks a soul. The prosecutor tells the jury that they cannot complain he has no soul, however they can punish him for it “Especially when the emptiness of a man’s heart becomes, as we find it has in this man, an abyss threatening to swallow up society” (101). I find an issue with this argument because who is to determine which people do and do not have a soul. Additionally, a soul is an abstract concept that has many different definitions. Although his argument was effective with the jury, I do not believe the prosecutor should have been allowed to use the idea of a soul as part of his judgement. Yes, Meursault seems to have great indifference to many things in life and does things most “normal” people do not, I do not think that means he has no soul.

Really, what is a soul? Why should the government prosecutor be allowed to use it in his argument against Meursault? I think that if the prosecutor had defined his definition of a soul, I would not have had this big of an issue with it. Then the audience would have had a more concrete idea of what the prosecutor was actually accusing Meursault of. From there, the prosecutor could have provided specific examples of Meursault’s lack of soul that fit into his definition. That way, the concept of a soul would not have been such an abstract argument against Meursault.

A Little Shot Never Hurt Nobody

In part one of the novel The Stranger, the main character Meursault shoots one of the Arabs that followed Raymond to the beach house for no apparent reason. I was left completely perplexed as why he would do such a thing. However, after thinking about Meursault’s lack of care for the world or the people in it, I realized that shooting or not shooting really made no difference to Meursault.

Throughout the previous chapters of The Stranger, Meursault never shows any inclination that he actually attaches meaning to the events that occur around him or the people he sees. When his neighbor Raymond says that he wants to beat up his ex for cheating on him, Meursault sees no issue with this and even ends up writing a letter to the ex for Raymond. From this interaction, I think it is quite obvious that Meursault does not feel or think of things the same way that most people do. I think that he detaches events from the effects they could have on other people.

I believe this detachment is what led Meursault to killing the Arab. Meursault didn’t have a reason for killing the Arab because to him, the question ‘why would you shoot’ and ‘why not shot’ have no real meaning or difference. Meursault even says “It occured to me that all I had to do was turn around and that would be the end of it. But the whole beach, throbbing in the sun, was pressing on my back. I took a few steps toward the spring”(58). Meursault understands that a conflict will occur if he gets closer to the Arab but still does it because he’s hot and wants to cool off at the spring instead of at the house. He doesn’t actually care about the consequences, because he already believes life has no meaning, so what does one little fight really mean. And using Meursault’s logic, if one fight means nothing, then why not just shoot the Arab, since that doesn’t mean anything either.