Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Does Avatar have lessons for us?

I have seen James Cameron’s 3D spectacle Avatar and I am a fan. The advanced technology it uses to create and animate the graceful beings on the moon-planet Pandora bring non-human forms to life with human-like facial expressions and emotions. Actors wearing specialized headsets with cameras recorded their emotions as they spoke and showed fear, anger, tenderness, curiosity, and even love. This digital information was then processed to create the vision we see on the screen. The audience relates to 10-foot blue-skinned people, the Na’vi. These are not cartoons we’re watching, but human-like aliens. Besides the people, Cameron also created a whole world with its floating mountains, communicating trees, and unique plants and animals. The Na’vi are basically hunter-gatherers, who tame, but don’t really domesticate, flying horse-like creatures that help them hunt.

The human (presumably American, but this is 2154, so who knows?) military-corporate complex is the evil intruder set on mining Unobtainium (a ridiculous name, but it is apt) at all costs, including the destruction of the Na’vi people. Scientists who have studied them are present for the appearance of good intentions only. The corporate president and the military commander are both unabashed stereotypes, sadly spouting rhetoric similar to our own military justification for the invasion of Iraq (yep, “preemptive” included), our long disastrous military presence in Vietnam, and our present quagmire in Afghanistan.

The lesson that Avatar seems to offer is that we (American military presence) should just go away. But today’s Los Angeles Times front page offers an intriguing alternative. A Los Angeles-based nonprofit, International Medical Corps, goes into areas that need its services and these places are typically war-ravaged with little or non-existent medical services. Medical personnel are able to go into these areas because they refuse to take sides. They work with the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as other community members. They have a presence in other countries as well. Besides providing medical care, they also train local people. This allows medical services to continue even after International Medical Corps people leave.

It seems that we have been trying to rebuild both Afghanistan and Iraq for years. But we’re rebuilding with tanks and guns and troops and helicopters. The Iraqis don’t “hate us for our freedoms.” They hate us for our guns and destruction.

So, let’s pull out all the troops and bring in medicine and doctors. Let’s build schools and hospitals, not military bases and war rooms. And while we’re at it, maybe we can also figure out how to provide health care for Americans too!

Enjoy Avatar!

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