Much has been made of the racial and religious undertones to director James Cameron's 3D science fiction epic, Avatar. Many see in the film an analogy to the first European settlers of America, with the futuristic human military representing Europeans and the blue aliens Native Americans. Quite a few bloggers and columnists picked apart the historical analogy, looking for revealing biases. But what if Avatar's strange retelling represents American cultural trends that go far beyond just this one film?
Over at io9, the Gawker-owned niche blog about all things science fiction, Annalee Newitz thinks Avatar is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to white guilt and white America's desire to re-frame ourselves as the saviors, not conquerors, of Native Americans. She asks, "If we think of Avatar and its ilk as white fantasies about race, what kinds of patterns do we see emerging in these fantasies?"
These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color - their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the "alien" cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become "race traitors," and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It's not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it's not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It's a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.