Recovered Writing: SFRA 2010 Paper, “James Cameron’s Avatar and the Machine in the Garden: Reading Movie Narratives and Practices of Production,” June 26, 2010

This is the thirty-fifth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This example of Recovered Writing is an essay that I wrote for the 2010 Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) Conference in Arizona. I delivered the paper on June 26, 2010 on a panel moderated by my dissertation advisor Donald “Mack” Hassler and with my wife Yufang Lin (who presented a paper evaluating Avatar in terms of postcolonial theory). I wrote about our experience at the Arizona conference here.

This paper is one that I had hoped to return to and publish on, but I can’t figure when I could do it at this point. So, I offer it to you to read and think about.

James Cameron’s Avatar and the Machine in the Garden: Reading Movie Narratives and Practices of Production

Jason W. Ellis

In an earlier essay, I argued that Cold War autonomous technologies and fictional robots replace humanity in the so-called American garden, the idyllic pastoral imaginative space that continues to carry a hold over the American imagination according to the respective work of Leo Marx and Sharona Ben-Tov. At that time, I could not find a work or example counter to the paradox presented by Marx and Ben-Tov, which is that in choosing to embrace technology and industrialization over agrarianism at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we, meaning Americans, have continued to move further away from that ideal while retaining a trace of affection for it. Furthermore, Ben-Tov demonstrates that we continually try to return to the garden through technological means, which paradoxically keeps us away from the garden. For Marx and Ben-Tov the emphasis is placed on the narrative itself–the stories about the intrusion of the machine into the garden. I, on the other hand, believe that it is equally important, to consider the confluence of story and the production of that story, and the way those two things relate to the emblematic machine in the garden. I argue that Avatar, on the level of narrative, re-inscribes and challenges the concept of the machine in the garden. The humans and their machines invade Pandora’s idyllic garden as part of an imperialistic expansion of capitalistic rapaciousness. The tranquility of the pastoral scene is disturbed and broken by the technological ends of industrialization. Concurrent with this narrative, Cameron presents an alternative in which Pandora complicates what Marx calls the “pastoral ideal,” which he locates “in a middle ground somewhere ‘between,’ yet in a transcendent relation to, the opposing forces of civilization and nature” (23). Pandora is those things, an in-between space, but it is also, as I will show, a fusion of the pastoral and the technological into a third way, a techno-ecological possibility for hope in a sustainable world–something we are far from achieving on Earth. Despite these possibilities, I will conclude by arguing that the practices of making this film, the techno-scientific methods and practices of contemporary science fiction filmmaking undermines, in part, Cameron’s best intentions to run counter to internalized narrative constraints.

To begin, Leo Marx writes that “The pastoral ideal has been used to define the meaning of America ever since the age of discovery, and its has not yet lost its hold upon the native imagination” (3). This is true still today and it is re-established in Avatar. Cameron himself says in an interview that the film has “a garden theme with teeth and claws” (“Avatar: Making a Scene”). Jake Sully, a warrior from the human “Jarhead clan” or Marines, guides the audience through the film’s fictional world with the aid of his sense of wonder fueled by his bodily escape from the confines of a wheelchaired existence. Through Jake’s exploration in his remotely controlled, Na’vi-human spliced avatar, his remote controlled organic embodiment, we discover that Pandora is a lush environment, and its flora and fauna share many similarities to life on planet Earth while having significant “cognitively estranging” differences such as extra appendages, exotic colors, bioluminescence, etc. Furthermore, the life on Pandora is unified through its rhizomic network of plant and animal life that either connects into what the Na’vi call their goddess, Eywa (call this an established or emergent deity as you will), a world totalizing essence that enables what I call a dynamic homeostasis. Pandora, prior to humanity’s arrival, seems to be idyllic and senrene, life going about doing what it does, the Na’vi living and dying, creating stories and myths, living their lives through their own social reality as they saw best while acknowledging the significance of the greater world: the planet itself, of which they are each contributors, collaborators, and codependents. They live off the land, and the land sustains itself on the practices shared by the Na’vi and apparently all life on Pandora.

Then, the humans arrive on Pandora and the story re-establishes the American myth of remembering the idyllic garden while encroaching on that garden with the technological artifacts of industrialization. Delivered by interplanetary starships, the humans set to work strip mining Pandora of what ultimately becomes the unobtainable precious element, named with slight tongue in cheek, Unobtainium. The humans demarcate their space from the surrounding idyllic garden of Pandora, only going out to take the minerals so desperately sought to assuage the troubled economy back on Earth while occasionally attempting to negotiate with the native Na’vi inhabitants for the so-called “rights” to mine the Unobtainium beneath Hometree, the megalithic old-growth tree that is home to the Omaticaya clan. The corporate-led humans and their military goons go out in heavy machinery that literally rips, burns, and blows-up the Pandoran jungle and sacred sites on their way to Hometree. These machines rupture the natural world orchestrated by the goddess Eywa. This is not to say that the natural environment is not valued in some way. The corporation is concerned about its image back on Earth. The corporate fear is that by killing human-like lifeforms will make the company look bad, which will, in turn, effect the bottom line and the stock price. Corporate conscience is thus dependent on perception back home rather than any moral or ethical compass. The Unobtainium must be obtained at almost any cost.

Jake Sully, to be sure, is an interesting hybrid character in the film. He is our guide to this eruption of human machines in the Pandoran garden. He learns the circuits of the human conquest while discovering the circuits of life on Pandora. Jake’s hybrid or cyborg existence bridges the human and Na’vi divide. However, he is, with his avatar, another technological machine entering the garden. As a Harawayan cyborg, he does represent the possibility of emancipation of historical modes of domination through technology, but it is also the case that his avatar is as much a symptom as a cure to the machine intrusion into the garden.

Regardless of Jake’s problematic status as imperialist and appropriator of the Na’vi’s myths, he also represents the audience’s admission to an alternative possibility, not in opposition, but in resolution of the nature-technological divide. I contend that Jake and Pandora itself are hybrids that achieve this resolution. His avatar brings him closer to the nature of Pandora, but it is initially only through the apparatus of the avatar remote control technology that he can step away from humanity into the interconnected real and social worlds of the Na’vi. Human technology allows him to see the possibility of love and connection on the other side of the divide, but it is the Pandoran technology-like organicism, that allows Jake to transcend his human body and its technological assemblages to cross the divide in the final scene to become fully Jake of the Omaticaya people. The queue, which the Na’vi and seemingly all other animal life on Pandora appear to have, is a braid of neural tissue that facilitates a link between minds, to the goddess, and to the planet. It is an organic version of the jack from The Matrix. Besides living as one with the planet, the queue and the rhizomic network of plant life on Pandora, enables a kind of sharing–of emotions, memories, and relationships–that leads to cooperation, not domination

Cameron’s Pandoran fusion of the natural world and the network into an organic vision of sustainability and cooperation between life and planet challenges the pastoral ideal described by Marx. It taps into the artificial division of objects and subjects in modernity described by Latour. It is a different way of thinking about hybrids and cyborgs. Everything about Pandora concerns the proliferating hybrids of Latour. Under the surface of the first human-centric narrative, which divides the world artificially into objects and subjects, the Pandora narrative reveals how these things are blurred. The organic network brings together the Na’vi with the rest of the life on their planet. The social intermixes with the natural, and vice versa. And, all of this is accomplished through the network, or what the Na’vi consider Eywa.  Eywa is a planetwide cyborg and a system of social relationships in which the social extends beyond the Na’vi. Haraway insists “that social relationships include nonhumans as well as humans as socially . . . active partners. All that is unhuman is not un-kind, outside kinship, outside the orders of signification, excluded from trading in signs and wonders” (8). Eywa and the life of Pandora are inextricably intertwined in an unimaginably complex social relationship, and they “trade in signs and wonder” on a daily basis, but most visually evident in the rearguard response by Pandora at the film’s conclusion. It is, from the human perspective, the hybrid and socially interconnected features of Pandora that represent a third way, a different and revitalizing possibility for life beyond industrialized exploitation of the land and people.

For these reasons, Avatar is a science fiction film that challenges the theories of Marx and Ben-Tov. The narrative of the Na’vi and their planet Pandora demonstrates a hybrid possibility for nature and the social. However we may want to conjecture how Pandora came to be the way it is, the bottom line is that it exhibits the characteristics of the things that have in the past been purified as object or subject. Furthermore, Ben-Tov, building her own theory of the artificial paradise, says, “Unlike the texts that Marx surveys . . . science fiction does not try to temper hopefulness with history” (9). Avatar does revert to the sense of hopefulness that Marx describes in relation to the desire for the mythical idyllic garden and American pastoralism. But, as I said above, the film provides an alternative to Marx’s machine in the garden narrative. Yes, it is tempered with hope, but it is hope in new way that fuses the pastoral with technology and the social with nature. Avatar, as a result of its hybrid embedded narrative, is a counter example to what Ben-Tov characterizes as science fiction’s attempt “to create immunity from history,” which “reveals a curious dynamic: the greater our yearning for a return to the garden, the more we invest in technology as the purveyor of the unconstrained existence that we associate with the garden. Science fiction’s national mode of thinking boils down to a paradox: the American imagination seeks to replace nature with a technological, man-made world in order to return to the garden of American nature” (9). The Na’vi/Pandora-centric narrative challenges this mode of thinking. Pandora represents a natural world that also enjoys and makes use of abilities that we would otherwise characterize as technological in nature. Homeostasis, networks, and dynamic load balancing are all technical concepts on Earth, but they are developed and put to use in the natural world of the imaginative Pandora. Avatar draws back from what Ben-Tov sees as the replacement of nature with technology. Instead, it is the hybridization of these two artificially separate things. Or, is it?

The curious thing about Avatar is how immersive the experience can be. I saw it three times: once on IMAX 3D and twice on RealD digital projection. Each time that I watched the film, I found myself falling into the experience and its world, but I could not avoid thinking about how Avatar’s seemingly natural environment was made. Cameron took green screen and computer generated imagery (CGI) to all new levels. He effectively schooled George Lucas about how to populate an entirely artificial environment with believable, human-like alien characters. Cameron himself said in an interview, “it was exciting when we rounded that corner and we knew we had true human emotion captured and performed by nonhuman characters” (“Avatar: Making a Scene”). The keyword here is captured, and he goes on to use the word preserve. Using state-of-the-art computer and film technology, much of which he and his subsidiary companies produced, Cameron captures, preserves, and transforms a performance into something radically new. He takes the behaviors, actions, facial expressions, and voices of real people, acting in what is called a “spatial volume,” or a space demarcated as corresponding with some place on Pandora but existing in our world, and stores, manipulates, and creates new imagery and actions that look real but not of this world. A specific example would be the development of the banshee flight scenes. Within the spatial volume, he moves toy-sized banshees through their flight paths, the actors perform on gimbals their flights synced to the flight paths, cameras record the movements and facial expressions of the actors for computer translation, and then finally, Cameron walks through the spatial volume alone with a virtual camera, an Apple iPad sized device that acts as a window into the virtual Pandora environment all around him, to record the scenes he wants for the film. These methods, all reliant on technology, re-inscribe the machine in the garden, or film tech into virtual Pandora. If the Pandora-centric narrative is the garden, despite its elegant resolution of the nature/social and pastoral/machine dialectics, then the way in which Pandora is developed within the memory banks of computers and rendering farms is the re-introduction of the machine into the idyllic pastoral environment. Ben-Tov may not be entirely correct about the way in which science fiction narratives, the subject of her work, represent our inability to restore the pastoral through technology, but she is definitely correct when we step back and consider the way in which an inventive pastoral science fiction narrative is constructed with technology for mass consumption. What this means is that we also need to consider the means of production of science fiction in various media, along with their stories, because the practices and methods of creating science fiction are themselves becoming more science fictional. The meta-narrative of making science fiction is a largely neglected aspect of meaning making that I believe will attract more critical attention as virtuality becomes more established in film production. It may one day be all that we have left when actors perform, in effect, under erasure, and the filmic simulations proliferate.


Works Cited

Avatar: Making a Scene.” Fox Movie Channel. Hulu. Web. 21 April 2010. Online Video.

Ben-Tov, Sharona. The Artificial Paradise: Science Fiction and American Reality. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Print.

Cameron, James, writer and dir. Avatar. 20th Century Fox, 2009. Film.

Haraway, Donna J. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.
FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Technoscience
. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden; Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford UP, 1964. Print.


SFRA 2010, Saturday, Avatar and Empire

Saturday, June 26, was Yufang’s and my big day at SFRA 2010. We missed the first part of the conference, because we were called to the Cleveland branch of USCIS for Yufang’s green card interview. Luckily, we arrived in time for the last full day of the conference and Craig was nice to arrange the panels so that we were able to participate.

Our day began with the 11:00am paper session: Avatar and Empire. Mack Hassler expertly moderated the panel, which included presentations by me (“James Cameron’s Avatar and the Machine in the Garden: Reading Movie Narratives and Practices of Production”), Yufang (“A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema Concerning White Males, the Military, and the Alien Other: A Reading of Avatar Against Apocalypse Now”), and Jari Kakela (“Robots, Rationalism, and Endless Growth: The Role of Frontier Expansionism in Asimov’s Work”).

In terms of the theme of the conference, Jari’s presentation was right on the money. I enjoyed hearing his reading of Asimov with Turnerian manifest destiny. Before I made the switch to more contemporary science fictions, I cut my teeth with Asimov at Georgia Tech and in my first SFRA paper. Jari demonstrated that Asimov’s robot and Foundation stories still have much to offer us in thinking about the continuing American project of frontier expansion.

Yufang and I each had terrific responses to our essays. Janice Bogstad, Andrew Hageman, Richard Erlich, and this year’s Pilgrim Award winner Eric Rabkin, among others, provided some insightful comments and tough questions. In particular, Eric’s observations on the positive aspects of Avatar are important to keep in mind–even for us who made critical analyses of the film, but Janice was quick to point out the difference between our works, particularly Yufang’s, as analysis and readings versus attacks. We had a fantastic discussion during the panel, which carried over into the hallway afterwards.

I should also say that this was Yufang’s first SFRA, and it was the first time that we presented together at the same conference (though we have presented together before at the AGES Symposium before at Kent State).

After the panel, we went to lunch with Mack and Sue Hassler, Adam Frisch, William Sun, and Jari. Then, it was off to the 2:00pm roundtable on Immigration, Alienation, and Arizona SB 1070.

Further Musings on Avatar: The Na’vi Aren’t As Primitive As We May Think

Neytiri of the People. Image copyright 20th Century Fox.

Today, our good friend Masaya took Yufang and I out to lunch at Pufferbelly’s in downtown Kent. It was the first time that Yufang and I had been there, and it was certainly a wonderful treat.

While we were all talking about the Oscars and Avatar’s loss for Best Picture, Masaya mentioned a conversation about Avatar that had taken place in Kevin Floyd’s Marxism class. Another student in the class had talked about the economic imperialism presented in the film. I have already addressed this to some extent in my earlier post on Avatar, and it is certainly something that my friends and I have discussed ad infinitum. However, this got me to thinking about something that I had overlooked before.

Leo Marx, in his book The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, argues that America, following the engagement of the Enlightenment idea of progress, desires a return to the idyllic garden, an Edenic existence, the pastoral. However, our progress, precipitated by technological subjugation and domination of Nature, paradoxically moves us further away from our desired goal of a pastoral existence. And the more that we use technology, the more incapable we will be of reaching the idyllic pastoral.

The Na’vi in Avatar live a pastoral existence, at one with nature. As Swaralipi mentioned in her comment to my earlier post on Avatar, she “will never forgive Cameron for depicting the Na’vis so simplistically in their pristine pre-colonial state.” This pre-colonial state, apparently untouched in a visible way by the human imperialistic incursion, is one form of the pastoral existence described by Marx. The Na’vi are interconnected with their world and environment, and as a result, live with that system as one within a plurality of lifeforms without regret and without malice. Seemingly, they have done this without the need of technology. In fact, they appear to be primitive–the post-Darwinian notion that social groups pass through a series of stages on their forward march to modernity.

However, this outdated notion of social evolution is exactly what I want to argue against. The thing that I noticed during our talk today, which had been staring me in the face, was that the Na’vi are not primitive despite our attribution of primitiveness and backwardness on them. Instead, the Na’vi are much further advanced than we humans are with our starships, mechs, guns, and remotely controlled avatar technology. Perhaps the Na’vi developed a sense of modernity like we experience in our future human selves in the film (i.e., reflecting on the post-Darwinian social evolutionary scale they would be very old), or, more likely, the Na’vi developed in a much different way than humanity did on Pandora. Perhaps it was a co-evolution of lifeforms to integrate into the planetwide network governed by the goddess Eywa. Furthermore, the Na’vi are more connected to ‘technology,’ at least in the human sense, through the networking capability of the life on Pandora. They fuse with the planet, and they fuse with one another. Through their connection they are able to see, not just literally see the physicality of one another, into one another. It isn’t the brain-tunneling sequence when Jake enters his avatar body that is really exciting, it is instead the interfaces made throughout the film by the Na’vi–something that Jake learns to do in time on his path to appropriating the Na’vi myths in order to effect a anti-colonial revolution, as Swaralipi discussed in the previous post’s comments.

So, my early idea is that the Na’vi are the technological gurus that we wish we could be. They have attained what is unattainable for the Americans described in Marx’s book. The Na’vi have the best of both worlds–through the ability to connect to Eywa, they have an amazing ability to communicate, remember, and coexist–something that Cameron expertly provides a sort of rational explanation for through Grace’s scientific investigations. Paradoxically, most of the humans just can’t make the leap to understand what the Na’vi have, and what Ewya/Pandora (if we can say the two are the same or pointing to the same signification) represents. The Na’vi are where we, and the other Americans in the film (something I would call, perhaps, wishful thinking on the part of Cameron), would like to be, but we cannot apparently figure out that Unobtainium and the rapacious exploitation of Pandora are not where we want to be. The capitalist drive has run the Enlightenment train of progress off the tracks, and the hybrid Jake Sully (human/avatar) is able to bridge the divide and show a way to what the Na’vi and their world have already accomplished, whether it be from some earlier design in the distant history of the Na’vi or a natural evolution that has taken place in that particular environment. Whatever the case may be, it is sufficient to say that the Na’vi represent the return to the garden with a kind of technology, at least what we think of as a kind of technology–networked communication–plugging in, that supports their natural and cooperative existence. Instead of the Na’vi’s connecting ability moving them further away from the garden, it enables their integration into the garden.

And a concluding thought: Perhaps the Na’vi are one possible solution to what we think of as the Singularity, or they could be an anti-Singularity, a controlled and conscious response to the unknowable promises and perils made possible by unconstrained technological expansion.

Nay to the Naysayers: Avatar, Credit, and Intertextuality

Even now, months after its premier and its loss for Best Picture at the Oscars, there are still folks online who won’t stop nitpicking Avatar’s ‘sources.’ This in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal. It is important work to uncover the intertextual sources of works of art, including Avatar. It is a necessary and significant contribution to map out the network within which Avatar and other works are situated as well as consider the influences exerted by and on the work within the ever shifting lines of connection. However, what I take issue with is that so many folk frame Cameron’s work in terms of stealing and plagiarism. I have read it on listservs and Facebook, and Google helpfully suggested “Avatar steals plot.” Cameron has a gift, like many other gifted science fiction authors, to synthesize and pull together disparate ideas from culture and merge them into a cohesive work that has a wide audience appeal. Avatar is his latest foray into the science fiction field, and it is by far his most successful attempt at doing so.

Avatar includes themes of cultural imperialism, white man’s burden, and economic exploitation. It brings in ideas from other science fiction including waldo bodies, or remotely controlled organic bodies. He attempts to rationalize the Gaia hypothesis. The alien protagonists have accents, they seem stereotypically Native American-like (they wear feathers with an unknown origin–there was one point in the film I believe I saw a flock of birds escaping from a tree, but I do not know if they had what appear to be feathers), and they have a world consciousness/awareness. And yes, they are blue, as are many other fictional depictions of extraterrestrial life.

Simply put, Cameron knows how to dip into what Damien Broderick calls the mega-text of science fiction. The mega-text, an idea Broderick himself borrows from Christine Brooke-Rose, is a corpus of ideas, terms, and usages that authors within a particular genre evoke, use, repurpose, and disseminate through their works. The cool thing about the mega-text is that for those people who read widely within a given genre, they will eventually learn the mega-text and better understand its employment in a given text without the necessity of too much further explanation. Samuel R. Delany has also written on this subject. For example, my earlier use of the word waldo would, for many, tell them that this is some kind of remotely controlled technology that mirrors the body or its functions in some way. The word, originally used in this context by Heinlein, was appropriated by others to convey the same idea, because readers of science fiction already knew what the word meant from Heinlein’s usage. Furthermore, the popularity of Heinlein’s work and the linguistic concision of the word probably also played a part in its adoption into the shared science fiction mega-text.

Cameron’s Avatar shared in and gives back to this mega-text. Harlan Ellison aside, many authors and readers accept this circulation of ideas within science fiction. The mega-text could be said to be an ancillary or reductive idea from the bigger idea of intertextuality. This is the connections between works and history that has a long history, but has reached a high level of discussion in discussions of postmodernism.

As Linda Hutcheon points out in her book The Poetics of Postmodernism, intertextuality is something that has always been with us. I believe it is something tied to language and writing alike, because communication necessitates a common understanding, and one aspect of that understanding is the conveyance, repetition, and memory of stories and concepts that go beyond the singular signified/signifier relationship. Language is intertextual, and our stories carry forth this intertextuality, too. But what makes postmodern intertextuality different from earlier forms of intertextuality? Postmodern intertextuality is the ironic twist, the challenging of the earlier citation, the questioning of the carried-over idea.

Avatar is, I believe, a postmodern science fiction film in that it appropriates ideas and stories from other texts and situates them with an ironic turn. First, there is the irony of the needed element for space travel–Unobtainium. Interestingly, this is something that falls on deaf ears for many non-science fiction reading or watching friends of mine. However, I believe it is the subtle way in which Cameron introduces this to the audience that it works for the audience as a believable macguffin despite the name. So, the Unobtainium creates the framing irony for the entire film–the thing humanity wants, but ultimately cannot have.

A second irony is Jake’s Na’vi avatar body. As a paraplegic, he cannot use his legs, and the only way he can once again enjoy the sensation of walking is by the amazing technological intervention of the avatar technology. Despite the high cost of getting his legs working again in what he describes as a dire economy, he is lucky in a sense to get to take his twin brother’s place on the avatar project.

And a third irony, which I will conclude this post with, considers Poul Anderson’s formulation of avatar technology in “Call Me Joe.” The first hit in Google for “Avatar steals plot” is a reference to this story, which is about a crabby disabled man who explores the surface of Jupiter with an organically created and remotely controlled body. Over time, the human man’s brain atrophies while his ‘mind’ transfers into his body that is capable of living in the unfriendly for human environment of Jove. This does bear striking similarities with Jake Sully in Avatar, but there are ironic twists to this ‘going native’ story. The first is motivation. Anderson’s waldo driving character is fed-up with humanity and his disability. Jake Sully in Avatar has no ties to others, but he isn’t escapist like Anderson’s character. Instead, he, from the very beginning on Pandora, demonstrates an awareness and wonder at the things he sees and the sensations that he feels both in his human body and while inhabiting his Na’vi body. Jake seeks personal and spiritual fulfillment, something that Pandora and the Na’vi offer him and he fights to retain from his human masters. Jake doesn’t wish to escape his bounds, instead he seeks a meaning to his life through responsibility to a people undeserving of humanity’s exploitation of their planet. The irony for the audience is that Jake, of Clan Jarhead, is more than the stereotypical grunt (something explored in Cameron’s Aliens). Jake’s enjoyment of the process of becoming one of the people and his attraction to Neytiri causes him to loose sight of his original mission and the impending danger to the Na’vi and his life among them. He becomes part not only of an alien being in an alien environment (as Anderson’s character does), but also of a social network, a family, a people, an interconnected system of life that spans Pandora. This is the challenge that Cameron brings to what may be an inspirational story by Anderson–the difference between the lone warrior from the pulps into a contemporary growing awareness (or re-awareness) of the interconnectedness of all life and our social structures.

Cameron didn’t rip off Anderson or anyone else in developing his script for Avatar. There were important transformations to his mega-text derived ideas, and he challenged some of their earlier uses. He took good ideas that have been in circulation for awhile and turned them in significant ways and he did it in such a way that a lot of people were able to connect to his story in ways that people didn’t connect or even know about Anderson’s mid-century story.

So please, let’s move along to more important matters such as the cultural implications of Avatar. What does Avatar add to the mega-text, and what are its cultural implications? What are people walking away from the theaters with? Is it changing their attitudes to imperialism and exploitation, or is it instilling in them a desire to leave Earth for Pandora via Poul Anderson’s escapism?

Read more about Avatar on the official website here, wikipedia article on the film here, and the post-zero about Anderson’s possible influence on the film here.