On the elusiveness of science fiction and art

(Don’t read this if you haven’t seen Avatar).

Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic highlights an idea that has come up with regards to Avatar (Avatar As Dances With Wolves – Ta-Nehisi Coates). The idea centers around one of the “white guy goes native” and talks about how this comes up in Avatar and Dances With Wolves. I’ve also seen it come up in discussions around “District 9”.

It’s odd to me, because while I can see how Cameron borrowed from the Western genre, by placing the film in the future and by borrowing images from other genres and events, he dilutes the ability of someone to say that the protagonist represents white Europeans. If anything, when the great tree is destroyed, I thought of the Na’vi as being New Yorkers and the great tree being the World Trade Towers. (The parallels in the imagery is strong.) So are the Na’vi a) native peoples, or b)  New Yorkers or c) something unique?

I  think they are something unique. I think Cameron is drawing from a number of sources in order to tell his story. That’s one of the great benefits of the SF genre, and one of the freedoms that artists have generally. Likewise for the director of District 9, Neil Blomkamp. With SF, you can break free of history and current events to examine ideas the way you would like to explore them. They can help shed light on history or current events, but there is as much divergence as there is convergence. Likewise, as an artist, you can make things up, and as an artist working in SF, you can make things up even more. (Though even SF has it’s limits). The audience is free to interpret your work as they will. But  that also means that people can agree and disagree about the intent of the work and the creator. That is the wonderful thing about the elusiveness of science fiction and art.

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