Friday, September 7, 2012

Corporate Villains in the Land of Blue

James Cameron has created box-office gold more than once. The Terminator, Titanic, The Abyss, and Avatar are a very small slice of his record-setting work. Cameron is also an inventor with scientific and artistic impulses. Avatar advanced the 3D effects while pushing CGI to deliver more naturalistic effects.

Audiences love the rich, earthy, iridescent colors of the Avatar kingdom. Tree branches seem to undulate from an enormous trunk, forming the bones in an elegant, artistic landscape full of vibrant, brilliant colors. Other plant and animal life on Pandora soften the bones, providing safe haven for the Na’vi who are the caretakers, not sovereign masters over all they see. This is evident in the symbiotic dance that exists between one Na’vi and one Mountain Banshee. The creature, so fierce and isolate, becomes a servant when the Na’vi has put aside fear and grown humble. He or she knows that all creatures co-exist, each serving a need, each owing a debt.

This is a lesson reminiscent of the real Native Americans, the first caretakers in North America, one expressed by Chief Seattle:

Teach your children what we have taught our children--that the Earth is our Mother.
Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth.
If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.
This we know.
The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth.
This we know.
All things are connected like the blood that unites one family.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth.
We did not weave the web of life;
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the Web,
We do to ourselves.

Puritans and traders ignored the Native American right to exist upon the land; they took possession of the land and of the people thereon, believing in their scriptural right to hold dominion over the earth and in their innate superiority over all other creatures on earth. In one particularly horrific incident in 1637, the English colonials burn alive six to seven hundred infants, children, adult men and women Pequot to avenge the deaths of a few Englishmen at the hands of a rogue. Only two Englishmen die. About twenty sustain injury. For their clear victory, Captain John Mason, one of the men who led the attack, praises his god for “burning them up in the fire of his wrath, and dunging the ground with their flesh: It is the Lord’s doings, and it is marvelous in our eyes! (Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell 194).”

On the Avatar world, Pandora, the Resources Development Association (RDA), with military support, believes itself as entitled to the land and its riches as the Puritans did. They believe their superior technologies and efficiency are an endorsement from above, one that allows them to destroy the Tree of Souls and lay waste to the Na’vi culture. RDA counts Na’vi life as just one more inanimate obstacle to be overcome in its quest for profit and dominion, and this is a popular Hollywood theme.

We cry as the Tree of Souls falls. We grieve when the evil U. S. cavalry shoots the childlike wolf and slaughters the Natives in Dances with Wolves. We cheer for the kids in Goonies as they uncover the treasure that will save their homes from Corporate Raiders, and we celebrate Katniss’s victory without the complete loss of her humanity. We ache for the indignities that unite the Scots against the British in Braveheart, and we gasp as the Emperor destroys Tatooine in Star Wars.

Each of these tales features an organized, institutionalized Scorched Earth villain. And it is part of the human historical record in the category of Imperialism. Art mirrors life; life inspires art, and the art informs us that power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Such stories bear the stamp of verisimilitude and can be evaluated for the truth they reveal, a truth that supersedes special effects and fantastic places.

Reading Challenge:

Read The Hunger Games trilogy, examining each book for its verisimilitude. How accurately does Suzanne Collins represent humanity in an unimaginably oppressive world?  

Writing Challenge:

Research the facts of an historical Scorched Earth villain. Bring history to life with all its human suffering and, with any luck, human triumphs.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Back to School Basics

Then is a useful adverb to indicate at what point in time something occurred or at what point in a sequence to do something. For example:

·      I left school, then the rains fell.
·      First, open the pantry and remove a loaf of bread. Next, take two slices from the package and place them side by side on a plate. Then, open the jar of peanut butter.

Than is a functional word used in comparisons. For example:

·      One is fewer than two.
·      Corn is more common than maize in fields across the land.

These two simple words have become two more commonly confused. Pay close attention to the one and only vowel in each word, and proofread for that vowel when you reread your writing.