As the end-credits rolled for James Cameron’s new movie, Avatar, the audience burst into rowdy applause. It seemed to me that they were applauding the sheer computerized dazzlement of the show — but in the story itself they had just watched the US suffer a humiliating defeat on a distant planet. In the final frames, American soldiers and the corporate executives they had failed to protect were shown lined up as prisoners-of-war about to embark on a death march.
More to the point, the depiction of our national character through the whole course of the film was of a thuggish, cruel, cynical, stupid, detestable, and totally corrupt people bent on the complete destruction of nature. Nice. And the final irony was that Cameron had used theatrical technology of the latest and greatest kind to depict America’s broader techno-grandiosity — as the army’s brute robotic warriors fell to the spears and arrows of the simple blue space aliens. Altogether, it was a weird moment in entertainment history, and perhaps in the American experience per se. No doubt audiences overseas will go wild with delight, too, but perhaps with a clearer notion of what they are clapping for than the enthralled masses of zombie Americans.