Insidious Hippie Values, Now in 3-D.

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(Twentieth Century Fox)

Via Kevin Drum, Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times offers an interesting exploration of conservative enmity toward Avatar. On the surface, the criticism was pretty predictable – after all, the bad guys in the film are military contractors, and the noble Na’vi, instead of worshipping the kind of god who smites infidels and spends his time worrying about where his creations are putting their naughty parts, have a Gaia-type theology. And it has the benefit of actually being true – their planet really is one big organism in which all living things are connected to each other. Typical hippie claptrap.

On the other hand, as I watched it and the climactic battle was approaching, I found myself thinking, “Gee, you know what would be really radical? If instead of taking up arms to cast out the imperialist earthlings, the Na’vi undertook a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience.” That might have been dramatic in its own way, but it couldn’t compare to a good old-fashioned ass-kicking, which even liberals look forward to. Storytellers of all types know that if their narrative establishes someone as the story’s bad guy, the audience needs to see him get his comeuppance, good and hard. Otherwise they’ll leave the theater feeling desperately unsatisfied. It’s just how stories work.

But conservatives are right that lots of Hollywood films further liberal values. These days they show gay people as human beings (instead of just wacky neighbors, which they were up until quite recently), corporations are more often than not portrayed as villainous (or at least soulless), and film characters don’t spend a great deal of time in church.

But there are also ways in which standard Hollywood fare serves conservative values, particularly Bush-Cheney values. On film, guns are plentiful, evil is pure, and violence is nearly always the answer to any problem. If you’re a one-issue Second Amendment voter, you’ll never find a greater friend than a Hollywood director. Nevertheless, it’s fun to see John Podhoretz bleat about the film’s “anti-American, anti-human politics” (you know how much liberals hate humans), and proclaim that “Avatar is blitheringly stupid; indeed, it's among the dumbest movies I've ever seen." Really? I’m not saying Avatar is The Seventh Seal or anything, but Podhoretz is supposed to be a movie critic. Didn’t he see Battlefield Earth? Or Showgirls? Or From Justin to Kelly? Heaven forbid a powerful alien species gets a hold of those – they’ll invade our little orb just to stamp out the evil minds that created them.

--Paul Waldman

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