Animals, Rights, and Avatar

First, a disclaimer. I’m no film critic. I might see one film a year, and I had no intention of seeing James Cameron’s Avatar.

In the Age of Twitter, who could miss the descriptions, the accolades and admonitions?

Hoping to fall asleep on my transatlantic flight, I unwrapped the headset. On came channel one, and the 20th Century Fox icon–and there it was.

If you’ve ever met a vegan, you’ll know how I am. We read the ingredients. A seal of approval, then, for Avatar’s 100% human cast. Some pointy-nosed, nectar-slurping horses appear, get ridden into a fiery battle, and fall over. But they, and all the other odd, semi-Earthly animals of Cameron’s planet Pandora, are artists’ work. I’ve read since, though, that the actors underwent professional training specific to their characters: hand-to-hand combat, arrow or rifle use, horseback riding. Caveat emptor.

But what of the broader view? What’s the message of this film? One of my friends sums it up as “bio-engineered beings, pious hunting rituals; a white guy to the rescue.” Yet Evo Morales praised Avatar for confronting capitalist exploitation.

Yes, there’s a contradiction embedded in this admittedly fascinating film. An animal-rights perspective can shed light on this. Let’s do it.

Queering rescue

Avatar’s central personality is Jake, an action figure deployed to infiltrate, yet destined to save, the Na’vi race (“race” is the word used in the film). Pandora’s people aren’t fair-haired. They run through the jungles with bare feet and feathered arrows; they have tails and the glowing eyes of wildcats. Jake, their human champion, was trained by the U.S. Marines. But I’m staying awake.

Jake enters the scene on a wheelchair. It won’t matter. A human would die in Pandora’s atmosphere within four minutes, so Jake will use a remotely controlled stand-in: the tall, blue, carbon-reinforced “avatar” body. The invasion will pay well, but it’s the hardest gig a mercenary could imagine. According to the ruthless Colonel Quaritch — who serves the corporate operation to snatch the mineral “unobtanium” (coveted as an energy source on Earth) from under the locals — Pandora would make Hell look like a resort.

But at least Jake can alight on the planet in a durable body. The avatar — laboratory-made, in Frankenstein fashion, from human and Pandoran DNA — receives its connection with Jake’s brain. Then, the wide-eyed ex-Marine, ten feet tall with gleaming eyes, arrives on Pandora, swashbuckling, barging headlong into the foliage, and into some displeased and extremely strong Pandoran animals.

Jake is open to risk and learning from any able teacher. This, it turns out, is the key to survival and personal development on the largely untamed planet.

Grace Augustine, the principle scientist overseeing the avatar project, is Jake’s first guide on Pandora. The next mentor will be Neytiri, a Native Pandoran hunter destined to become Jake’s mate.

Neytiri’s parents are true partners: one, a respected chief; the other, the people’s spiritual leader. Eywa, the great mother, is the universal intelligence connecting all beings, sending out wood sprites, resembling luminescent dandelion seeds, as communiqués. There is gender in the film. There is heteronormativity. On the plus side, these aren’t used by the filmmaker to titillate the audience, or to rile feminist thinkers. Well, maybe I’m a bit generous. Caveat emptor.

Dominion: On Pandora as on Earth

There’s also a sharp dichotomy separating the humanoid Na’vi and all other Pandoran life. Yes, the Na’vi have several nonhuman traits, but they’re thoroughly human in their dominion addiction.

The Na’vi are animal trainers. Just as we do, the Na’vi expect other animals to bow to them when challenged. The Na’vi traditions presume a special right to use the others to serve them, and they use other animals as weapons of war. The Na’vi even train some Pandoran animals to help them kill others. And they call the training and use a bond.

It seems natural on Pandora. The Na’vi have tails they can connect, like extension cords, into other animals. But when a Na’vi hunter sets out to bond with an animal to ride for life, the animal will try to kill the hunter first. Notwithstanding this resistance, James Cameron makes Na’vi dominion appear benign and natural — by rendering the animals’ own daily lives and desires invisible.

“I see you” is the Na’vi greeting, conveying respect, understanding, and love. Neytiri and Jake connect in this way, making the military invasion impossible for Jake to continue. But the lives of other animals are foreign and unseen.

Avatar does not address extinctions (which, our Earthly biologists now know, comprise the greatest threat to survival of all known life). But to reinforce the dichotomy between one special species and all others is, arguably, to promote the worldview that hastens extinctions.

Biologically incorrect

Avatar clearly ridicules humanity’s continual battles and Hollywood’s lust for them; and yet, Jake’s ability as a warrior and a hunter is — just as clearly — valuable to the Na’vi.

Author and indigenous rights advocate George Monbiot notes that Avatar has a justly critical message regarding the violent conquest of the Americas for land and gold; Colonel Quaritch’s “pre-emptive” attack on the Na’vi, who won’t leave their cultural home, fits the same pattern of dominance. And Cameron has indeed persuaded film-goers to cheer for the indigenous people, not the US military. But war is one group’s seizure of another, often presented as necessary, even benign. Monbiot doesn’t notice, but that’s just how the Pandoran animals are treated.

Avatar never visits the deep level where all oppressions connect, from whence they spawn social injustice, ecological injustice, and the degradation of the environment and all living beings. Cameron intentionally presents the Na’vi as a community we can understand, but that will subliminally reinforce the idea that we’re at the top of the food chain — and, for starters, that’s biologically incorrect.

Maybe I’m too demanding. But I think this constant assumption of human supremacy keeps our messages from being as nuanced, complex, reality-oriented and powerful as they could be. Respecting other animals would mean respecting the land they inhabit, and that would present an environmental platform of viable strength.

A place in history

Grace Augustine’s avatar project is biologically brilliant. But Earth-based technology can’t overcome the self-contained Na’vi. The biggest flop of all is the hideous force of Colonel Quaritch’s shock-and-awe bomb attack.

When the Colonel moves in to destroy the tree that connects the Na’vi culture directly with the life force of its ancestors, the daring pilot Trudy Chacón is next to rescue Jake. And the dashing Neytiri overpowers the Colonel. Pandora’s free-living animals, too, join the climactic battle.

Of course, the animals might well sense their own interest in helping the Na’vi. But no one says that. Why is it all framed around Jake and the Na’vi? (It’s not enough to reply that they’re the more advanced species, given Avatar’s obvious message that our idea of what’s advanced is a problem.)

In the end, to demonstrate a complete commitment to Pandora, Jake must perform the Herculean task of taming a Toruk — an immense flying predator that only five Na’vi have ever managed to ride. It is an act of dominion, of taming, then, that wins Jake a place in Na’vi history.

That finally allows Jake to abandon the body of the ex-Marine. While most of the vanquished Earthfolk prepare to return to their dying planet, it will be the Na’vi who enable Jake to convert permanently into the avatar body, and escape a moribund Earth.

The humans didn’t rescue anyone.

So…was Evo Morales right?

Yes and no. The message that Earth is doomed and we must escape to another planet is more Stephen Hawking than Evo Morales. Moreover, the film cost hundreds of millions; and a whole lot of carbon-emitting travel (not just mine) has been involved in the making and viewing of it.

The film is generating a lucrative trend in computer games. Avatar’s Twitterer urges you to “maximize your Avatar Blu-ray experience” by getting all the latest gizmos, and has announced Avatar events at Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart. Mattel jumped in with high-tech Avatar toys that “trigger special features like attack mode.” McDonald’s put Avatar figures into Happy Meals. Chip York, Coca-Cola’s Worldwide Entertainment Marketing Director, announced “authentic and exclusive” Avatar gadgets, proclaiming, “Avatar shares the same aspirational, edgy and unconventional brand values as Coca-Cola Zero.”

None of this is surprising; the film’s hallmark is ambivalence. James Cameron is following it up by visiting the Amazon rainforest (via aircraft, we can assume) to oppose the culturally and ecologically troubling Belo Monte dam project. Tom Philips, in The Guardian Observer, recounts Cameron’s impression of the scene: a real-life Avatar confrontation in progress!

OK, but the kids won’t see what animal agribusiness has done to our world’s rainforests when they grab Avatar toys from their Happy Meals.

With producer Jon Landau and 20th Century Fox, Cameron has also partnered with the Earth Day Network to plant trees. I say to myself, this is not a bad thing. Cameron might be able to put all that wealth and influence where it can do the most good.

And yet, my ambivalence won’t go away. It’s difficult not to be haunted by the same feeling that animated David Byrne’s view of Eminem: “I find rebellion packaged by a major corporation a little hard to take seriously.”

Lee Hall is legal director for Friends of Animals, an animal-rights advocacy group founded in New York in 1957. Lee can be reached at: leehall@friendsofanimals.org. Follow Lee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/VeganMeans. Read other articles by Lee, or visit Lee's website.

45 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Maien said on May 21st, 2010 at 9:06am #

    Thank-you! I never had plans/desire to see the film but now have. People were bewildered when I decided that it was a successful propaganda piece subliminally promoting continued violence and dominion. Just like the early Disney cartoons, which I never found funny or entertaining as a child, which are stories of cruelty… teaching children that domination and cruelty were effective social skills. Yes. I am a vegan. Yes, I honour ALL life. This film simply validates that the american dreams of ‘change’ will not occur. Like the ‘New Age’ this film, learns and uses all the right words, ” I see you” “I am another you”… but lacks the courage to change internally. After all, what keeps the current western adventure operating is the deep belief that “I can have it all! so what if i have to kill others to steal! I’m a part of the greatest country on earth!”

  2. lichen said on May 21st, 2010 at 3:55pm #

    I haven’t seen the film avatar, either; but from all accounts it does sound like the film indeed has an underlying uncritical acceptance and whitewashing of right wing practices, such as killing animals.

  3. heather said on May 21st, 2010 at 4:11pm #

    I had very similar feelings upon seeing Avatar only hadn’t managed to translate them into such profound words! One really has to wonder how much of this movie was a genuine environmental message and how much was capitalizing on the current fancy for the colour green (including the green bucks such endeavors rake in). That playboy interview with James Cameron sure was a depressing statement about what drives some of the movie-going public!

    I’d love to see a movie which addresses the many layers and complexities of environmental issues, including the role of our relationship with other animals. I’m curious whether anyone can recommend any non-documentary films which are in line with and promote vegan philosophy?

    Thanks for such an insightful article, Lee!

  4. Ellie Maldonado said on May 21st, 2010 at 7:28pm #

    Cheers, Lee! I’m so glad you’ve addressed Cameron’s portrayal of humanoid dominion on Pandora. Cameron’s fantasy of species on another planet is not unlike human dominion on earth, but in a film that reveals the injustice of a dominant species displacing and exploiting another, it’s inconsistent.

    All the more so in light of Cameron’s statement in The Guardian Observer: “…… The rivers and the forests have a moral right to continue to exist as they have for thousands of years……” Yet Cameron fails to recognize this right in conscious living beings.

    Thank you for another enlightening article!

  5. ivancannon said on May 21st, 2010 at 11:02pm #

    Damn people. lighten up! It’s not a documentary. For all the things you notice that the film doesn’t do, you fail to give it credit for what it does do. It’s a huge step in the right dircetion for a film of its magnitude. It depicts a God that is part of nature and not removed form nature. It presents The Great Tree as a symbol of nature and describes its interconnections as superior to a human brain. It demonstrates Man’s propensity for destruction by the falling of The Great Tree to mechanized, militarized, corporate profiteering. It places both animals and plants in direct communication with humans – all behaving harmoniously, not just humans dominating them. It shows the killing of an animal with a sense of sacrifice and respect for the animal not unlike some native american traditions. And it preserves hope. Whereas in many blockbusters, where the nuclear bomb saves humanity, in this movie the big bomb misses the mark due to different tribes coming together to defeat the greedy machinery and the unfeeling humans that drive them. It’s not a perfect representation of Vegan ideology and it is has some typical Hollywood misgivings, but Avatar deserves some credit for a big step in the right direction for the blockbuster genre.

  6. Deadbeat said on May 21st, 2010 at 11:43pm #

    ivancannon writes ….

    Damn people. lighten up! It’s not a documentary. For all the things you notice that the film doesn’t do, you fail to give it credit for what it does do

    To say “lighten up” disparages and diverts from the seriousness of the issues being raised. Also your analogy regarding Avatar is dissimilar from the path Chomsky is on regarding Zionism’s influence on the U.S. policy. and its nexus with Capitalism. Much more serious than Avatar — don’t you think.

  7. brianct said on May 22nd, 2010 at 3:30am #

    yes ive seen AVATAR and yes i loved it…as for the article…did you really understand AVATAR or were you disappointed the director didnt ask your advice?

    What is AVATAR all about? Well its about US and NOW.

    The film references numerous present and past issues…Jakes being in a wheelchair allows cameron to comment on the way vets get dissed by the gov..It has a corporation using ablackwater type militia to deal with the natives…it shows helico[pter gun ships dealing with the savages, and allows the Invasion of iraq to get its first real drubbing.

    ‘The Na’vi are animal trainers. Just as we do, the Na’vi expect other animals to bow to them when challenged.’

    NO, Na’vi are not animal trainers…they dont have circuses or side shows, they dont put animals in cages or experiment upon them. They are realists like most traditional peoples, and unlike Vegans.

    ‘Jake is open to risk and learning from any able teacher. This, it turns out, is the key to survival and personal development on the largely untamed planet.’

    untamed? isnt that a good thing? even Vegans show their imperial carnivore heritage…as for personal development…Pandora is not California

    ‘In the end, to demonstrate a complete commitment to Pandora, Jake must perform the Herculean task of taming a Toruk — an immense flying predator that only five Na’vi have ever managed to ride. It is an act of dominion, of taming, then, that wins Jake a place in Na’vi history.’

    Jake does not tame the Toruk nor does he tame the Ikran,…were you paying attention? That tsaheylu is not taming (aka bronco busters) but joining.

    ‘None of this is surprising; the film’s hallmark is ambivalence. James Cameron is following it up by visiting the Amazon rainforest (via aircraft, we can assume) to oppose the culturally and ecologically troubling Belo Monte dam project. Tom Philips, in The Guardian Observer, recounts Cameron’s impression of the scene: a real-life Avatar confrontation in progress!’

    i guess you walk on water….youve used a computer to write your article..please dont be a hypocrite.

    ‘Avatar never visits the deep level where all oppressions connect, from whence they spawn social injustice, ecological injustice, and the degradation of the environment and all living beings. Cameron intentionally presents the Na’vi as a community we can understand, but that will subliminally reinforce the idea that we’re at the top of the food chain — and, for starters, that’s biologically incorrect.

    Na’vi are not at the top of any food chain….or did you miss the Thanator and Toruk/..

    My impression is you hated the film before you saw it:

    ‘First, a disclaimer. I’m no film critic. I might see one film a year, and I had no intention of seeing James Cameron’s Avatar.’

    and you hate it after you reluctantly saw it.

    Im a vegetarian..unlike your veganism i dont make it some sort absolute.

    what apity that so many on the left and radicals like the author prefer to behave like the right…and attack the film of the year: AVATAR …because the director didnt ask their advice

  8. brianct said on May 22nd, 2010 at 3:33am #

    ‘Cheers, Lee! I’m so glad you’ve addressed Cameron’s portrayal of humanoid dominion on Pandora. Cameron’s fantasy of species on another planet is not unlike human dominion on earth, but in a film that reveals the injustice of a dominant species displacing and exploiting another, it’s inconsistent.’

    there is no humanoid dominion on Pandora…that upsets those who think their should be. Theirs no exploitation(or did u miss Neytiris lament for Sezes death?
    Once again low level humans seem unable to see what in front of them…No wonder they were sent packing from Pandora.

  9. Rehmat said on May 22nd, 2010 at 6:00am #

    Gilad Atzmon called it the biggest anti-war film of all time.

    http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/film-review-avatar-a-humanist-call-from-mt-hollywood-by-gila.html

    But, then we all know that animals in the West enjoys more rights than people belonging to certain minorities, such as, Blacks, Latinos, Arabs and especially the Muslims.

    Europe’s Muslim factor scares Zionists
    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2009/08/01/europes-muslim-factor-scares-zionists/

  10. Ellie Maldonado said on May 22nd, 2010 at 2:47pm #

    brianct 3:30am: “The film references numerous present and past issues…Jakes being in a wheelchair allows cameron to comment on the way vets get dissed by the gov..”

    That’s one of several references in the film that I think demonstrate the celebration of strength and dismissal of what is perceived to be weak. Recall that Grace Augustine first wondered if Jake could be useful to the project. Augustine didn’t share Colonel Quaritch’s penchant for violence, but the idea can easily slide into a belief that the strong are entitled to dominion.

    I agree the fantasy invasion of Pandora can be compared to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but since the Na’vi are indigenous people, there’s an obvious comparsion to the U.S. colonization of the land and peoples of the Americas and of the islands that supplied resources — but both, I think, are references to the belief that power has a “right” to dominion.

    brianct 3:30am: “NO, Na’vi are not animal trainers…they dont have circuses or side shows, they dont put animals in cages or experiment upon them.”

    Ever hear of training a dog to do exactly what the owner want the dog to do? Domesticated nonhumans are trained in every possible way, and if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, they often get killed — that’s to say nothing of domesticates who are bred for the sole purpose of being killed. Circuses and labs are not the only forms of exploitation.

    brianct 3:33am: ” Theirs no exploitation(or did u miss Neytiris lament for Sezes death?”

    Lamentations don’t dissolve exploitation. In the Avatar fantasy, the Na’vi don’t breed and collect nonhumans as we do, but I think the “bond” that forever obliges them to live under Na’vi control is also domestication.

    brianct 3:33am: “there is no humanoid dominion on Pandora…that upsets those who think their should be … Once again low level humans seem unable to see what in front of them …. etc…. ”

    If you let go of the anger, you might be able to see what Lee so clearly explains — the film misses the deepest level of oppression at the root of all others: the oppression of nonhuman beings.

  11. Ellie Maldonado said on May 22nd, 2010 at 3:02pm #

    Rehmat 6:00 am: “But, then we all know that animals in the West enjoys more rights than people belonging to certain minorities, such as, Blacks, Latinos, Arabs and especially the Muslims.”

    I agree the rights of minorities are violated, but nonumans actually have no rights. Rights are given to humans who control them, whether they care for them or kill them.

  12. lichen said on May 22nd, 2010 at 3:57pm #

    “For all the things you notice that the film doesn’t do, you fail to give it credit for what it does do. It’s a huge step in the right direction”

    The film DOES nothing; most right wing hags will watch it and it will never change an iota of their point of view. Frankly, I’m tired of hearing this or that thing is a “step in the right direction” I fell down the stairs a long time ago–I cannot take anymore positive thinking bs about this or that being a “step.”

  13. Hue Longer said on May 22nd, 2010 at 4:26pm #

    #

    Deadbeat said on May 21st, 2010 at 11:43pm #

    “ivancannon writes ….

    “Damn people. lighten up! It’s not a documentary. For all the things you notice that the film doesn’t do, you fail to give it credit for what it does do”

    To say “lighten up” disparages and diverts from the seriousness of the issues being raised. Also your analogy regarding Avatar is dissimilar from the path Chomsky is on regarding Zionism’s influence on the U.S. policy. and its nexus with Capitalism. Much more serious than Avatar — don’t you think”.

    DB,

    Yet again you find a strange place for your lunacy. You are giving people fighting Zionism a very bad name. Mebosa has got nothing on you.

  14. Hue Longer said on May 22nd, 2010 at 4:42pm #

    I got to watch the movie on a trans pacific flight (the only reason I would have watched it and I suggest others with hungry special effects receptors also watch it on a tiny screen with mono sound…the movie sucks)

    I think going after it for animal rights in even an ecological macro care angle may make it seem like that’s the only angle and accepts the sold fake left stance that it’s somehow an anti-war movie.

    I think it’s more clever than Dances with Wolves because it allowed the white American sounding guy to actually lead the stupid natives in attacks against other American sounding white folks but the same message of superiority and fake romantisized notions of empathy were all there. Anyone getting off on the justified violence of the flick is still relating to the wrong characters and is easily manipulated

  15. ivancannon said on May 22nd, 2010 at 4:49pm #

    In response to deadbeat – May 21st, 2010 at 11:43pm

    We certainly need to take animal rights seriously, as well as the role that media plays in framing public opinion, the links between religion and politics, and the degree to which corporatism is intertwined with politics. “Zionism’s influence on U.S. policy. and its nexus with Capitalism” relates to the domination of animals – and plants, minerals, water, and air and the role of such resources in geo-politics. Blaming the Jews seems weird to me. Why single out the Jews. All religions are guilty of the separation of humanity from the natural world and such separation leads directly to dominion. This discussion concerns the role of a movie in propagating the idea of dominion while apparently neglecting real world activities that promote dominion – and this movie, more so than any other movie in history to reach an audience of comparable size, is clearly supporting a different kind of religion – one without a singular Godhead and one that values the natural world. The kind of religion promoted in Avatar is contrary to Zionism and amost every other religion and thus should be considered a great triumph toward the creation of a world view that respects animals and nature as a whole. So “lighten up” and stop being so critical of the minor details.

  16. Ellie Maldonado said on May 22nd, 2010 at 5:26pm #

    ivancannon 11:02pm: ” It shows the killing of an animal with a sense of sacrifice and respect for the animal not unlike some native american traditions.”

    Joseph Campbell explains that indigenous hunters acknowledged nonhumans are living beings, and the myths that surround hunting were created to relieve the hunter’s guilt.

    I agree the Native American myth of a Great Animal Spirit who directs nonhumans to be killed for indigenous hunters, and then rewards them in the spirit world, is very similar to the Na’vi myth of a Nature God.

    Feeling guilt for hunting in abject survival is more than most meat-eaters comprehend, but the sense of sacrifice and respect are based on myths that contradict the reality — nonhumans don’t want to get killed.

  17. brianct said on May 22nd, 2010 at 5:33pm #

    elle:
    ‘Ever hear of training a dog to do exactly what the owner want the dog to do?’

    where have thery trained any of the animals to do what they want them to do? You will notice in the background Na’vi doing manual work.

    the animal rights take on AVATAR is really going off the deep and despreate end.

    ‘If you let go of the anger, you might be able to see what Lee so clearly explains — the film misses the deepest level of oppression at the root of all others: the oppression of nonhuman beings.’

    thats amusing Elle, as Lee and You are the ones fuming that Cameron didnt ask your advice.

  18. ivancannon said on May 22nd, 2010 at 5:35pm #

    Ellie, beautifully stated. Healthy animals, human or otherwise, do not want to get killed. But they do want to eat. Comfortable humans don’t require meat for survival and thus a stron argument can be made that eating meat is unethical. I am curious, it’s not unethical for a nonhuman carnivore to kill for food is it? Ethics don’t apply to nonhuman animals, right?

  19. brianct said on May 22nd, 2010 at 5:35pm #

    ‘I think it’s more clever than Dances with Wolves because it allowed the white American sounding guy to actually lead the stupid natives in attacks against other American sounding white folks but the same message of superiority and fake romantisized notions of empathy were all there. Anyone getting off on the justified violence of the flick is still relating to the wrong characters and is easily manipulated’

    Hue the humorist…i presume thats irony youre attempting.

    No AVATAR is not an antiwar movie…had it been The Na’vi would have been exterminated..just like many other tribal peoples.

  20. brianct said on May 22nd, 2010 at 5:37pm #

    ‘Joseph Campbell explains that indigenous hunters acknowledged nonhumans are living beings, and the myths that surround hunting were created to relieve the hunter’s guilt.’

    and no non-humans dont want to get killed…nor do non-na’vi…they also dont want to starve…

  21. brianct said on May 22nd, 2010 at 5:38pm #

    ‘Ellie, beautifully stated. Healthy animals, human or otherwise, do not want to get killed. But they do want to eat. Comfortable humans don’t require meat for survival and thus a stron argument can be made that eating meat is unethical. I am curious, it’s not unethical for a nonhuman carnivore to kill for food is it? Ethics don’t apply to nonhuman animals, right?’

    ivan…please dont confuse Elle…

  22. david meieran said on May 22nd, 2010 at 8:26pm #

    Excellent piece! The cognitive dissonance that the film provokes is as tormenting as it is intriguing. But, in the end, capitalism and speciesism triumph. And there’s those racial stereotypes that remain unchallenged.

  23. Ellie Maldonado said on May 22nd, 2010 at 10:52pm #

    ivancannon 5:35pm: “Ellie, beautifully stated. Healthy animals, human or otherwise, do not want to get killed. But they do want to eat. Comfortable humans don’t require meat for survival and thus a stron argument can be made that eating meat is unethical. I am curious, it’s not unethical for a nonhuman carnivore to kill for food is it?”

    Thank you for a reasonable discussion. Nonhuman carnivores are physically dependent on consuming other animals — they have no other choice to survive. I don’t think they’re wrong to live in the only way they can.

    As you said, comfortable humans don’t require meat for survival. If we can be perfectly healthy without meat, we’re morally responsible for participating in gratuitous harm.

    “Ethics don’t apply to nonhuman animals, right?”

    I think nonhuman animals have a sense of what’s right and wrong within their groups, and they have a moral right to live on their own terms.

  24. ivancannon said on May 22nd, 2010 at 11:15pm #

    brianct… Do you think that plants have a degree of sentience? Do you still hear the screaming carots, Clarissa? Carrots and Fava Beans = mmm, good. Is it immoral to eat plants? What about rocks? Do we even have a moral right to breathe, what with the microbes in the air? What about bad animals, like monkeys that steal eggs, is it okay to eat them? What about child molesters? Seems like we could kill 2 birds with 1 stone if we fed criminals to the poor. What about genetically engineered brainless animal clones? Maybe if we eliminate sentience, then we can get some guilt free nutrients. I say we blow the lid off the institutions of moral authority and climb instead into the box that teleports us into Pandora. It’s better to have loved and lost than…

  25. ivancannon said on May 22nd, 2010 at 11:19pm #

    Oops. Sorry, Elle. If I get too reasonable, I become a dull boy.

  26. hayate said on May 23rd, 2010 at 6:22am #

    I think this is the first time I’ve seen a film condemned in a revue because it was not a proponent of a vegan philosophy. :D

    I wonder if any films would pass vegan muster? And why make such a huge deal over this one? There is all sorts of crappy films out that should offend vegans a hell of a lot more than Avatar could. Avatar is one of the very, very few hollywood films that looked even remotely interesting.

    This was one of those many articles I never finished. By the time I got to the second “Caveat emptor”, the author’s self-important spiel already had me nodding off so I skipped the rest and checked out the comments.

  27. Don Hawkins said on May 23rd, 2010 at 7:22am #

    OK, but the kids won’t see what animal agribusiness has done to our world’s rainforests when they grab Avatar toys from their Happy Meals.

    How long before kid’s start to notice at least here in the States changes to there land there town there city? It’s already started

  28. ivancannon said on May 23rd, 2010 at 9:30am #

    Maybe the kids will make believe that they are both mentally and physically connected to an animal or a tree that is at wat against a machine. Don, what do we do to combat corporatism – aside from boycotting Happy Meals?

  29. Don Hawkins said on May 23rd, 2010 at 9:43am #

    Keep it simple but not simpler and read my last comment much knowledge not information.

  30. Don Hawkins said on May 23rd, 2010 at 9:47am #

    ivancannon here’s a web page and note free book online what a concept.

    http://www.ratical.org/LifeWeb/

  31. ivancannon said on May 23rd, 2010 at 11:10am #

    Book? What’s that? I’ll give Elisabet my full, undivided attention.

  32. Melissa said on May 23rd, 2010 at 11:47am #

    Lee, you’re triggering everyone’s triangles! Congrats on lighting ‘em up.

    Heather, from way up yonder, wondered about a vegan perspective movie.

    Search youtube vids for ‘The Green Beautiful’ I think it is in 9 parts. It is also posted at a website called thecrowhouse dot com.

    Don, I have yet to check out the link to the ebook. I always appreciate free books, thanks.

    As always,
    Peace, Resistance, Hope,
    Melissa

  33. Ellie Maldonado said on May 23rd, 2010 at 10:14pm #

    ivancannon “Oops. Sorry, Elle. If I get too reasonable, I become a dull boy.”

    That’s ok — as it happens, I like your extremely unreasonable comment.
    Of course, we won’t feed criminals to the poor, and plants aren’t conscious living beings, though they do respond to stimuli. Most institutions of moral authority are speciesist and I’m not optimistic they’ll change. I think I’d enjoy visiting Pandora, but only between meals :)

  34. Ellie Maldonado said on May 24th, 2010 at 12:28am #

    “I think this is the first time I’ve seen a film condemned in a revue because it was not a proponent of a vegan philosophy. :D ”

    Had you read the full review, I think it would be clear that it was not written from a sense of self importance, and there was no expectation that Avatar promote a vegan philosophy Avatar is notable because, unlike most films, the story revolves around dominion of species.

    Cameron makes a good case against U.S. imperialism. If he made a film about different human groups, it would not concern animal advocacy — but Avatar is a story about different species, and it’s appropriate to review it from this perspective.

    Cameron clearly shows humans are not entitled to invade and dominate the Na’vi, yet the Na’vi are doing exactly that to other species on Pandora. This, despite Cameron’s statement that rivers and forests have a moral right to exist. So there’s more to Avatar than an adventure in outer space, and Lee’s review gives us reason to think about it.

  35. hayate said on May 24th, 2010 at 5:05am #

    “Had you read the full review, I think it would be clear that it was not written from a sense of self importance”

    I did go back and read it today, out of curiosity, and yes it was. Very much so, the author has all the answers. :D It’s a shallow piece of armchair psychological drivel that leaves one thinking the author was reaching in order to justify his dislike of the film. He even brought up extinctions, as something that the film didn’t discuss, so obviously it must be condemned. :D Some of the comments following the piece were actually better informed and these comment writers seem to have a better grasp of the film’s storyline. But that is to be expected, since these commentators saw the film out of an interest in it, not because they were bored on a plane and watched it to pass the time. Some articles are written to get people thinking and discussing a subject and some are to lecture. This one is of the latter category. Hall got up on his throne and issued forth the wisdom of the ancients and we are all obliged to bow and show our approval of his vast store of knowledge. In other words, the hypocrite was seeking to dominate his readers. Imagine that? ;D

    I personally think that too much is being made about this film. It’s in effect a “shoot ‘em up”. White hats vs black hats. There are added touches to make things different and more interesting, but the plot is a simple, time honoured hollywood story of good guys defending themselves against bad guys. The film is for entertainment, it’s fiction, it’s not a nonfiction documentary being shown as part of a college level biology or anthropology curriculum. The film is being over analyzed to death. My own feeling about why is the message the film gives about those who make aggressive war. A lot of people don’t like that, they still want their wars and they are planning more. They know full well they are being dipicted as the “bad guys” in this film, and that more and more of the public are also seeing them in that role now, and they don’t something like this throwing a wrench in their propaganda efforts. When I see someone use a rather dubious and forced angle of attack on a film like this, it’s my nature to suspect there is something else behind it.

  36. brianct said on May 24th, 2010 at 6:38am #

    David: ‘Excellent piece! The cognitive dissonance that the film provokes is as tormenting as it is intriguing. But, in the end, capitalism and speciesism triumph. And there’s those racial stereotypes that remain unchallenged.’

    your post is agood eg of cognitive dissonance…or didnt you watch the film…calpitalism doesn not triumph, and what specisism? Your just importing your ideology into a new world…the christians did the same thing, and we know what happened after that!

  37. brianct said on May 24th, 2010 at 6:41am #

    IVAN: ‘Do you think that plants have a degree of sentience? Do you still hear the screaming carots, Clarissa? Carrots and Fava Beans = mmm, good. Is it immoral to eat plants? What about rocks? Do we even have a moral right to breathe, what with the microbes in the air? What about bad animals, like monkeys that steal eggs, is it okay to eat them? What about child molesters? Seems like we could kill 2 birds with 1 stone if we fed criminals to the poor. What about genetically engineered brainless animal clones? Maybe if we eliminate sentience, then we can get some guilt free nutrients. I say we blow the lid off the institutions of moral authority and climb instead into the box that teleports us into Pandora. It’s better to have loved and lost than…’
    ————-

    Ivan: whatever are u trying to say?

  38. brianct said on May 24th, 2010 at 7:19am #

    ‘Cameron clearly shows humans are not entitled to invade and dominate the Na’vi, yet the Na’vi are doing exactly that to other species on Pandora. This, despite Cameron’s statement that rivers and forests have a moral right to exist. So there’s more to Avatar than an adventure in outer space, and Lee’s review gives us reason to think about it.’

    think about what? Im afraid but veganism is not predicted in nature…And the na’vi are not behaving like post agricultural humans, dominating nature.
    Try to enjoy the film without wanting to make it conform to your ideology.

  39. Ellie Maldonado said on May 24th, 2010 at 3:54pm #

    Hayate 5:05am: “these commentators saw the film out of an interest in it, not because they were bored on a plane and watched it to pass the time ……. Some articles are written to get people thinking and discussing a subject and some are to lecture.”

    Your refusal to accept the author watched the film by chance is revealing. It’s obvious you don’t want to think about animal rights philosophy — and it would be more honest to simply say so — instead you criticize the author in the (erroneous) belief that you’re expected to study and worship the author’s perspective. Regretably, I don’t think that merits ongoing discussion.

    This one is of the latter category. Hall got up on his throne and issued forth the wisdom of the ancients and we are all obliged to bow and show our approval of his vast store of knowledge. In other words, the hypocrite was seeking to dominate his readers. Imagine that? ;D

  40. Ellie Maldonado said on May 24th, 2010 at 4:11pm #

    branct 7:19am: “Im afraid but veganism is not predicted in nature…”

    Nothing is predicted — and since nature is based on survival, it’s not unnatural to avoid killing when there are other healthy, if not healthier ways to survive. Veganism is not unnatural.

    “And the na’vi are not behaving like post agricultural humans, dominating nature.”

    There doesn’t need to be a system of agriculture to dominate living beings. The Na’vi clearly dominate other species on Pandora.

  41. Hue Longer said on May 24th, 2010 at 4:47pm #

    Funny stuff Hayate

    Even though the plane offered a good excuse to watch it, I had promised to watch the thing for some critics of mine who insisted that my take on it would change once I saw it…The plane flight and little screen was more perfect for them! Ha!

    As you can tell from my previous post, I’m amused if not dismayed at the angle of vegan criticism this piece takes (but props to the author for pointing out that we all rely on a healthy ecosystem to live).

    As I said earlier, just because the bad guys are clearly the “USmericans” does not mean that we should all think “wow, Hollywood DC is on my side today concerning Empire…what about animal rights”? The goodest good guy is not only a “USmerican” but he’s Christ….I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the propaganda as merely entertainment.

    For the same critics I’ve already mentioned, I promised to watch the hurt locker and had the opportunity on the same 13 hour flight but this terrible movie was all I could bare for one day

  42. Hue Longer said on May 24th, 2010 at 4:50pm #

    dammit, my words now mean nothing as I’ve just done the bear vs bare thing…where’s DB?

  43. Ellie Maldonado said on May 24th, 2010 at 4:51pm #

    Please disregard the last paragraph of my comment posted on 5/24/10 – 3:54pm, as it’s unintentionally pasted from Hayate’s previous comment.

  44. lichen said on May 24th, 2010 at 6:31pm #

    I agree with Ellie–veganism is completely natural, and also, since we don’t live in a fictional “state of nature” it is relevant to point out it is also ethical, better for the environment, kinder, and healthier. The movement to promote right wing practices–inequality, child-beating, animal-killing as “natural” because some indigenous people perpetrated them is an insidious one, and clearly a part of this film. But oh, how sad that someone criticizes some stupid film you watched…

  45. Pipster said on May 24th, 2010 at 8:19pm #

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