On Mash-ups, Pop Culture and the Questions We Never Ask
It started as a joke, but Daniel Mendelsohn saw something more. After the release of James Cameron’s Avatar, audiences were quick to draw thematic comparisons (or outright mimicking) of similar films, such as FernGully, Dances With Wolves, and Disney’s Pocahontas. The result of such comparisons led to two hilarious mash-ups:
Avatar/Pocahontas Mashup from Randy Szuch on Vimeo
But, as Mendelsohn points out in an excerpt published at NPR, we are all missing the point. He states:
As it happens, the movie that haunts Avatar—one that Cameron has often acknowledged as his favorite film—is one that takes the form of a fable about the difference (and sometimes traffic) between fantasy and reality; a movie whose dramatic climax centers on the moment when the protagonist understands that visually overwhelming and indeed politically manipulative illusions can be the product of “highly skilled, highly labor-intensive simulations” (a fact that does not, however, detract from the characters’, and from our, appreciation of the aesthetic and moral uses and benefits of fantasy, of illusion). That movie is, in fact, the one the Marine colonel quotes: The Wizard of Oz. Consideration of it is, to my mind, crucial to an understanding not only of the aesthetic aims and dramatic structure of Avatar but of a great and disturbing failure that has not been discussed as fervently or as often as its overtly political blind spots have been. This failure is, in certain ways, the culmination of a process that began with the first of Cameron’s films, all of which can be seen as avatars of his beloved model, whose themes they continually rework: the scary and often violent confrontation between human and alien civilizations, the dreadful allure of the monstrous, the yearning, by us humans, for transcendence: of the places, the cultures, the very bodies that define us.
We came for the laughter, but stayed for the chilly actualization of the White Savior Complex and our anxiety surrounding identity and politics. Damn it, Mendelsohn, can’t we just thoughtlessly consume our lovable 3-D blockbusters?
You can hear Daniel Mendelsohn present these ideas and his book, Waiting for the Barbarians, tomorrow night, March 11, 7 p.m. He will be in-store to answer audience questions, sign books and further explain why James Cameron has no interest in humans.