On Avatar when nothing but boredom grows


A couple of weeks after we took our kids to see the movie, Avatar, I opened an e-mail from a friend praising the movie’s environmental ethics. Well, my friend wasn’t the only one doing the praising; he included a copy of something written by a guy named Gilad Atzmon.

Before I get into Gilad Atzmon and his science fiction-ish name, I should mention our own reactions to the movie. It was my wife Sharon who kind of put a wrench in it for us. “It’s just like FernGully,” she said as we left the theatre. And so it was. In FernGully tiny pixies live in a mythical rainforest paradise, which is threatened by humans. The pixies capture a human, shrink him down to their size and take him along on their adventures, during which he falls in love with one of the pixies—and the entire pixie race.

So cutting to the chase, FernGully has almost exactly the same plot as John Cameron’s Avatar, which has bigger pixies, more evil humans and phenomenal environmental destruction—just what we humans do best, obviously. FernGully laid it out first and Avatar simply repeated it with far more spectacular technical events 17 years later.

Sure I liked the digital effects. But for that kind of storyline I prefer Dr. Suess’s “The Lorax.” The famous kids’ book came out in 1971, and without any special effects at all, presented us with the Once-ler, who manages to cut down every Truffula Tree to supply his Thneed factory (as a grown up kid you should know that Thneeds are the shirts that everyone needs). If you want to save the 60 bucks it costs to take your kids to Avatar, you could pick up The Lorax for less than a third of the cost, though I don’t know which purchase is harder on trees.

This brings me to the ironic side of the story. In Cameron’s digital screed on the evils of human technology, he launches us into some of the most powerful storytelling technology of all time, the world of CGI-engineered humanoids. If the medium truly is the message, Avatar the machine-generated product is about as far away from naturally occurring biology as one could possibly get.

Not that I’m against machines. I own a few. But none of my machines actually fosters in me a feeling of oneness with the environment. And that includes my digital camera, which has me concentrating more on the quality of the image than actually experiencing nature. It’s the whiz-bang of the technology including the creation of the biomechanical avatar himself, and not the power of the story that impresses us about Avatar.

That’s not exactly how this Gilad Atzmon sees it. On his website he writes, “Avatar may well be the biggest anti War film of all time. It stands against everything the West is identified with. It is against greed and capitalism, it is against interventionalism, it is against colonialism and imperialism, it is against technological orientation, it is against America and Britain.”

Well, as I just said, Avatar IS all about technological orientation. And do I agree the movie is anti-war. But anti-Western? I wouldn’t be so sure. I could see its premise as anti-human, at least in light of our rapacious behaviour toward our environment. I’m pretty certain that John Cameron isn’t naïve enough to think that human rapaciousness is limited to Western cultures.

So what is the futuristicly-named Gilad Atzmon on about? Well, turns out that Atzmon is a rather famous British jazz sax musician who was born in Israel and has evolved into a bit of an anti-Zionist. He doesn’t exactly approve of the methods of the Jewish state, and hints at a global Jewish-led New World Order conspiracy.

Far be it for me to dismiss the possibility of a global conspiracy. Hell, that’s always fun to think about. And on Atzmon’s site there’s a link to another even-quirkier conspiracy theorist I’d never heard of—one James Orlin Grabbe. He’s dead now, so we can all relax; he’s not much of a threat. But he was interesting.

Turns out that J. Orlin Grabbe, a.k.a. JOG, was one of the first weird Internet cult heroes. He grew up in Texas in a religious family, was a real math genius, went on to get a B.A. in economics from Berkley and studied for Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. There he specialized in the study of financial derivatives, futures trading, foreign exchange markets, graduating in 1982. After that he signed up as an assistant professor at Wharton, where he more or less pioneered the study of international finance. In 1986 he wrote the book, “International Financial Markets,” which is still in use today to teach students about derivatives.

Among JOG’s weirder exploits was a bogus alterego known as “Bob, the Sex Candidate” who ran for the US Presidency. In an interview with Larry King, “Bob” promised to introduce free government-run brothels to the public, which would be staffed by conscripts who didn’t wish to serve in the military.

Before entirely dismissing Grabbe as a complete eccentric we should acknowledge that he was a serious researcher with a wicked sense of humour and a strong political conscience. One of his papers, “When Osama Bin Ladin Was Tim Osmon,” is a semi-famous Internet exposé on Bin Ladin’s days as a CIA operative working in the US long before the 9/11 event. There’s a lot more of this on the Net, if you’re inclined toward that kind of thing. If true, there’s a lot more we’re not being told about undercover activities leading up to the war in Iraq, and Grabbe was both curious and crazy enough to pursue it.

I have a friend who writes to me frequently about the state of the world, especially about the recent sub-prime financial collapse. Like Grabbe he believes that the “invisible hand” of a small cadre of global elites is behind this and other financial hijinx, all of which is either leading us to global war or to a single world government, or both, inevitably toward an authoritarian future. It’s something that Grabbe, with his attraction to politics and chaos theories, would appreciate. I’ll have to tell my friend about him.

Just thinking about all of this conjures up an Orwellian sense of dread though, doesn’t it? Or maybe the dread comes from nothing happening at all—only the dreadful boredom of driving back and forth to work in the cold weather, and the thought of the next snowstorm.

It’s no wonder we Canadians love our movies and the Internet in January.


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