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Domination and Rape in Avatar: This Is “Respect” for Animals?

February 16, 2010

Avatar is many things. It is popular. It is beautiful. It is raking in the big bucks. But what it isn’t is a film that advocates respect for nonhuman animals, despite the fact that some, including some mainstream animal advocacy groups, have argued it does. As stunning as the film is visually, it also reinforces the idea that humans have the right and the duty to dominate, “tame,” and make use of animals — that nonhuman animals are resources and tools – and I’m troubled to see it praised as “respectful” of those animals when it simply is not. In one jarring scene, that domination of animals even resembles rape so much that the longer I’ve thought about it, the more horrified I’ve become.

I saw the film opening weekend and spent the duration feverishly scribbling notes in the dark for a post that, in typical Stephanie fashion, I’m just now writing a couple months later, so I almost feel like I need to go see it again before commenting on it; I can’t even make out half my notes. But bear with me here because I’m going to write the post anyway.

I will not argue that there aren’t some good messages embedded within the film — there are, and who I was 10 years ago, with a less critical eye and less awareness, would have had mostly adulation for it. From an environmentalist, “respecting nature” perspective, there is good in Avatar, the same good I saw, as a kid and in later years, in the remarkably similar FernGully (see the add-on at the end of this post for my FernGully-Avatar commentary). 

But a lot of the good is superficial. And there are problems. Big ones.

Others out there have explored the issues of racism and sexism (and more) in Avatar, so I’ll stay more narrowly focused here while recommending that you do read those posts when you come across them; for starters, check out “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like ‘Avatar’?” and “Dances with Discrimination: On ‘Avatar,’ Racism, Misogyny, and Disabled Prejudice.”

On the nonhuman animal front, the first moment in the film that likely strikes many as being “respectful” of animals comes when Neytiri, the native female protagonist, mourns over the animal she was just forced to kill in order to protect intruding white-guy Jake Sully and angrily admonishes him that this animal’s death (i.e., at this time, in these circumstances, for this reason) was unnecessary and was nothing to celebrate. Similarly, she later teaches Jake to “respect” and thank/pray over the animals they hunt down for food. These scenes actually would have had my approval once upon a time; my path to where I am now included a stopover at the “respect the animals who die for you” mindset. But I’m grateful that I long ago realized the meaninglessness of those thoughts and expressions of respect in the context of my causing totally unnecessary harm, harm that wasn’t somehow lessened by my supposed respect. 

There is certainly a difference between indigenous cultures’ hunting-for-survival and our mainstream society’s choice to kill (and pay for killing) not out of necessity but for taste, to fulfill selfish “I like it” desires; I’m not criticizing the former here. But absurd is the idea that if we just partially appropriate indigenous rituals and express “respect” for and pray over the animals we’re killing (or paying to have killed), we’re somehow absolved for the unnecessary, brutal taking of lives — and this seems to be the troubling message many people take from such films. (Please see item #6 on Mary’s post “On Indigenous People and Animals” at Animal Person. See also I, Bonobo’s delightfully angry recent take on privileged Westerners’ attempt to use the “native/aboriginal defense of meat eating.”)

But the starkest example of domination of animals in the film — and, if you ask me, a scene that is chillingly reminiscent of a rape scene —  came with the ikrans (or banshees), the enormous bird-like animals resembling pterodactyls. Neytiri takes Jake to where the ikrans are gathered, in their home, and tells him that to become a complete Na’vi warrior – a “real man,” if you will — he must choose one of them as his own. He will know the ikran he is meant to bond with on sight — and he will know that the ikran chooses him too if the ikran fights back and tries to kill him (“no means yes” and “she’ll fight you, but you know she really wants it,” anyone?). It is Jake’s duty, while the animal fights him off, to “bond” with the animal by overpowering him, tying him up, climbing on top of him, and inserting a part of his body into the body of the animal while his victim desperately fights him off. 

Once he has done that, once he has successfully dominated the animal and physically inserted himself into his conquest, the ikran is defeated; the ikran goes still and quiet, and Jake wins. “That’s right–you’re mine!” Jake boasts. The animal has been successfully dominated, his will and spirit broken – and the defeated being now belongs to Jake. The animal has been transformed into a mere tool, a being with no right or ability to refuse Jake’s wishes. And now that Jake is both physically and mentally inside his victim, he must immediately fly (“ride”?) the animal to “seal the bond.” (Note: The ikran Jake dominates in the film is referred to by Jake and Neytiri as a “he,” before Jake has even “chosen” an ikran, though we don’t learn or see — as far as I can recall — how Jake knows which ones are female and which are male. What’s relevant is that the ikran was the other, the lesser being in comparison to the human male, the being to be dominated, but still, try rereading these preceding two paragraphs with female pronouns in place of  male pronouns and “the ikran/animal” if you don’t yet see how starkly this mirrors a rape scene.)

I’ve read and heard people refer to what happened between Jake and the ikran in this scene as “bonding” and to their post-”bonding” relationship as one of linked partnership, even symbiosis. And that’s rubbish. This was not a scenario in which each party sought out the other, for mutual benefit. The being in power dominated/raped the “lesser” being while the victim fought him off — and that we (and Jake) were essentially told, “if your victim fights you off, it means he wants it” was beyond sickening for me. It far too closely parallels the “you know you want it” mindset and words of real-world rapists. And the relationship between the two following the domination/rape scene was not a symbiotic one. The ikran became subject to Jake’s will; the ikran got nothing out of their “relationship.”

So — respecting animals? Celebrating our interconnectedness? Hardly. Whether you see this scene as more reminiscent of a horse being “broken” or a woman being raped, or you see elements of both in it and see both brutal acts as stemming from the same problem, mindset, and system (as I do), domination is the theme. When I read that PETA had awarded Avatar for reflecting the “importance of treating all living beings, no matter how ‘strange’ or ‘alien,’ with respect and dignity,” I wanted to punch a wall. Should we also give awards to rodeos because their organizers and participants express “respect” for the bulls, calves, and horses they torment, dominate, endanger, and kill? To the man who guns down deer every winter but “respects” the animals’ beauty? To the woman in the dairy industry who “loves” cows but who routinely restrains them and shoves her arm deep inside her fellow females’ rectums as part of the repeated insemination-rape all dairy cows must endure (yes, rectum: arm up the rectum to manipulate the cervix from the inside, syringe up the vagina)?

Animals in Avatar are viewed just like animals are viewed in our real world. We kill them if we want to eat and wear them; we break, manipulate, and dominate them, in the most brutal and despicable of ways, if we want to use them. And even if the entirety of the rest of the film had promoted some notions of real respect for nonhuman animals, that wouldn’t have made up for the negatives. The events and implications of this one scene alone were disgusting enough to make me scoff at the idea that James Cameron, down deep, whatever his conscious intentions were, sees nonhuman animals — and oppression, domination, and violence in general — any differently from the average person on the street.

Avatar‘s hero succeeded in “saving” the poor, defenseless natives; in wooing the indigenous female protagonist; in not only becoming one of the natives with astonishing speed and ease, but even becoming their best warrior/leader in generations; and even in dominating Pandora’s most independent and fierce animal. The list of problematic victories goes on. Avatar has broken technological ground, but the themes it features and the values and views it reinforces? Status quo. Status quo dressed up gorgeously to seem like something else, but status quo nonetheless.

The FernGully connections, if you’re interested:

FernGully came out when I was in fifth grade, the same year I had a remarkable teacher who taught and encouraged environmentalism and respect for nature, and the lessons from both the film and the teacher stayed with me. Once upon a time, I had the movie all but memorized. So no small part of my attempt to scribble notes in the dark theater included taking note of the many — and specific — similarities to that beloved childhood movie. Here are just some of them:

  • The outside human from the industrial world who comes to this stunning, magical forest world with intentions of helping exploit it
  • The other-worldly native inhabitants in touch with this place — its trees, water, beings, spirit
  • The outside white human becoming one of them in appearance (as a Na’vi-looking avatar in the current film and still as a human but one shrunken down to fairy size in FernGully), so as to experience their world
  • The romantic pairing of male outsider and wise, in-touch-with-nature female native
  • The scenes where she teaches him to feel the trees’ pain (this was one of the moments in Avatar that led me to jab the person next to me to whisper-shout, “Ferngully!”)
  • The Home Tree in Pandora and similar tree in FernGully
  • The moments when the romantic pair go running through the nighttime, bioluminescent forest, and whatever they tap lights up with color
  • The scene in which the male-outsider protagonist starts physically beating against the smoke-spewing machine (“the leveler” in FernGully), whose mission he was once a part of, that has come to destroy the forested world he now loves

You’d have a tough time convincing me that someone or multiple someones among James Cameron and his team hadn’t watched FernGully, many, many times. I’ve seen repeated references to the similarities to Dances with Wolves too, but here’s my confession: I’ve never actually seen it.

38 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2010 10:15 am

    I loved the film for one. But a few things I keep noticing in all criticisms is that people keep treating the N’avi as if they are humans. They are not. They are nonhuman animals. I assumed in the film that their killing of animals was because they were cat-like, likely omnivores close to carnivores or carnivores and were killing because they needed to.

    The domestication stuff did irk me slightly but I appreciated it as a bond rather than a breaking (except for the bird-like animals which were “broken”. That part I took issue with).

    But the N’avi were other animals which is why this is an animal liberation film. They were also part of an ecosystem as they did not pretend to be “top of the food chain” like humans. While they preyed on some animals, they were also prey for others (Turuk Makto or however you spell it).

    I understand the white male supremacy thing as well. However, the male in there was basically molded by strong female characters. He would have been dead a thousand times had it not been for Sigourney and the female members of the tribe. The female shaman also pretty much ruled the tribe even though they had a male “leader”.

    I don’t know. Hollywood is always racist, sexist, etc. But James Cameron made Aliens, with Ellen Ripley, one of the greatest female movie characters ever.

    There are definitely issues with this film but I want to keep the focus on the fact that both it and District 9 had different SPECIES being exploited, not different races. While it may make for good racial allegory, don’t lose the species message. ;-)

    I wrote about it here real quick but didn’t do as decent and indepth analysis as you. http://arphilosophia.blogspot.com/2010/01/district-9-avatar-missed-messages-of.html

    • February 16, 2010 10:30 am

      I suppose we disagree on a fundamental point — that we’re supposed to see the Na’vi as nonhuman animals. They’re not human, no, but they’re humanoid. I think we’re absolutely meant to relate to them as the human-types of Pandora, as much as another race as another species, as our counterparts. And as I more or less said in the post, I wouldn’t condemn real-life Na’vi for their ways of living (and eating), but my concern is the way we look at such depictions and then try to appropriate bits and pieces of that for ourselves (on this point, I defer to Mary’s commentary in that post I linked to).

      More later on the other points — am heading out the door. :)

      • February 16, 2010 1:24 pm

        Yeah I hear you there. My idea has been to redirect people to see them as another species. But I definitely agree with most of your post, the white romanticism of indigenous folks, and so on.

    • February 17, 2010 2:29 pm

      But James Cameron made Aliens, with Ellen Ripley, one of the greatest female movie characters ever.

      Oooh, oooh, huge Alien fan here! Ditto: Cameron’s T2. (Linda Hamilton’s biceps, hello!)

      I’ve long heard Cameron criticized for sexism, but never really bought it because his female characters are usually so strong and powerful. But re: Ripley, in Alien Woman: The Making of Lt. Ellen Ripley, authors Gallardo & Smith argue that Aliens is actually the least progressive film of the quadrilogy. It’s a complex, nuanced analysis, but basically, in Aliens, Ripley is given license to act like a badass because it’s in the role of a protective mother. Newt and Hicks fill the roles of Ripley’s daughter and husband, forming a pseudo nuclear family which must be protected at all costs. Set against the backdrop of the “Reagan-era,” feminist-backlash ’80s, it’s an interesting take on the film. I highly recommend the book!

  2. February 16, 2010 1:01 pm

    We must be about the same age–I loved FernGully! My 5th-grade science teacher showed it to us to raise our budding environmental awareness. :) I haven’t seen Avatar yet, and don’t really feel a strong urge to, but I’m really glad to have everyone’s perspectives on it. It can be so hard to separate the hype from what’s really there.

  3. February 16, 2010 1:48 pm

    I saw Avatar only once, and the “domination” scene was so blatantly mirrored on rape that I was highly uncomfortable with it. There are many other issues I have with the film’s stereotypes and questionable messages, but you’ve hit the one that I think disturbed me the most.

  4. February 16, 2010 5:29 pm

    I am interested to see your thoughts on the following,it doesn’t have to do with Avatar directly and I would have written you an email but I couldn’t find a contact info..
    Ironically PETA is who gave me the info to become Vegan 10 years ago when I was 16.However the more I educated myself the more I discovered PETA does that is against the animal rights movement.For one they feel all pit bulls should be killed.A few years ago when there was a intense Pit Bull Holocaust happening I contacted Ingrid Newkirk with a direct certified letter as I thought surely she and PETA would start a campaign in support of protecting Pit Bulls as it is the mentally disturbed “care takers” who abuse and train the dogs to abuse that should be punished not the dogs.PETA write back that they feel Pit Bulls, all pit bulls should be “euthanized”aka murdered.
    A plethora of disturbing actions on PETA’s behalf came to light from starting a bizarre campaign of asking society to call fish kittens in a weird attempt to get people to associate one animal they find cute with another & when my husband and I pointed out that is like asking society to call African Americans dark light people, we also began to see how many of the poster people for PETA are not only not Vegan but in many areas openly and actively wear fur, many are porn stars ,promote tested on animal products and love to talk about eating meat however all that supports their constant talk of go vegetarian (not vegan) which promotes an equal amount of murder and torture to all the animals killed for dairy.The worst aspect of PETA that we found very dangerous is their promotion of kill shelters and constantly putting down the no kill movement often posting one sided rare cases where things had gone wrong at a particular no kill shelter and claiming that this was how all no kill shelters are run.They also wrote us that the best solution for all the homeless animals is not to set up properly run no kill shelters or educate humans on animal appreciation and liberation or help provide low cost spay and fixing but to KILL all homeless animals and we found many respected animal groups who spoke out about PETA contacting them to offer to help place animals and than killing them at PETA.When we contacted PETA about all this they avoided direct answers and gave vague cut and paste response emails and letters that were full of shallow excuses or did not answer at all as they have ignored the following:
    I am beyond disgusted to discover the facts about Ingrid Newkirk and her support of bestiality
    THIS is the woman who runs PETA?my god..she need her head examined.This is the last straw. I am not only dropping my support of PETA but boycotting them.Ingrid Newkirk is Vile.
    http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/individualProfi

    le.asp?indid=2072
    Inspired by ethics professor Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation, Newkirk and fellow animal activist Alex Pacheco founded PETA in 1980. Echoing Singer’s defense of bestiality, Newkirk states:
    “If a girl gets sexual pleasure from riding a horse, does the horse suffer? If not, who cares? If you French kiss your dog and he or she thinks it’s great, is it wrong? We believe all exploitation and abuse is wrong. If it isn’t exploitation and abuse, it may not be wrong.”
    and someone who PETA supports greatly Peter Singer who wrote an entire disgusting article in which he attempts to speak of the molestation , violation and rape of animals as normal:
    http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/2001—-.htm

    furthermore I saw this letter from Ingrid :

    There is almost nothing as shocking as a man forcing himself sexually upon an animal (“PETA, Perverts and Horses,” 21 July). As a cruelty officer, I prosecuted cases in which men took small dogs and chickens into alleyways or elsewhere and raped them, often rupturing the animals’ organs in the process. When I was working with the Washington Humane Society, there was one case that I was unable to find a way to prosecute, which will always haunt me. It involved a sex club run by men who, we had reason to believe, were sexually assaulting cats in a private home.
    It is almost as shocking to read my comments about non-assaultive sexual contact as some endorsement by me or PETA of sexual assault on animals. Let me be clear—as the writer was shamefully not—that PETA and I are totally opposed to any exploitation and all bestiality. Philosophical musings on whether there is cruelty when a girl experiences sexual pleasure from riding a horse who is oblivious to that fact or when someone allows a dog to hump their leg are a far cry from an endorsement of bestiality. Bestiality is cruelty to animals and PETA pushes for laws to outlaw it and prosecution when it occurs.
    Please correct the hideously false impression that Alexander Rubin gave in his guest column.ð
    Very truly yours,
    Ingrid E. Newkirk
    President
    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

    However in reply to her letter I state these points :

    1.firstly humans should not be riding horses as it is a form of slavery eg: stop!go!faster! it is a human being controlling another being’s freedom of movement for their own selfish fulfillment-because they enjoy riding a horse.Leather straps pulling on the sides of their sensitive cheeks and a metal bit are incredibly uncomfortable if not painful.

    2.If a human is getting aroused or climaxing by an activity with non human animals they should not do that activity.Same as if a human was getting aroused or climaxing by an activity with an infant or child they too should not do activities with an infant or child.

    3.Ingrid’s excuse that if an non human animal is enjoying a sexual exchange with a human than maybe it is not wrong is disgusting, horrendous and irresponsible.A human baby or child may seem to enjoy a sexual interaction with human adult or older human but the mere reaction of their enjoyment does not make it moral or ethical.If a child or infant is attempting to engage or responding in a sexual way to anyone they should be told that it is not okay.Basing weather a sexual act is wrong or not on weather the non human animal or human baby or child is enjoying the act is vile and a mentally disturbed way of thinking.

    I am and will always be a Vegan as I will always peak up and out for animals and though PETA does some good, they also do equally a lot of harmful and warped actions.As the so called largest animal rights organization I can not support or stand beside them.

  5. Elena permalink
    February 16, 2010 6:42 pm

    Main message was that everything connects in the world. I personaly didn’t like the idea of them killing animals as well. But you can’t convert everyone to vegetarian at once, since a humongous percent of people are not vegans OR even vegetarians. I think James Cameron threw in a riddle for people, that animals shouldn’t be massively murdered and skinned alive, and should be at least killed as most “humanely” as possible and in less quantities. As wrong as it sounds, it’s still better than what we have today. Also they shamed the humanity for being so unaware, agressive and stupid. Think in steps people, in steps.

    Also there’s a hidden message. Research Esoterism.

    • February 16, 2010 7:02 pm

      there is no such thing as “humanely” murdering
      just as there is no such thing as humanely raping, or humanely molesting or humanely torturing..what all these actions have in common is they are violations
      and unnecessarily inflicted damage, pain and or death
      murdering non human animals in 2010 to eat, to wear, to test on or use as entertainment is inexcusable.
      non of us live in an igloo or remote tribal village
      we all live in modern cities
      the facts about how healthy. moral and ethical being Vegan is is at anyone’s fingertips.

  6. Amanda MacLean permalink
    February 16, 2010 7:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing these interesting points, which I should have caught on to but instead I was sold by the special effects and interesting storyline. I appreciate you shedding light on this and for all that you do for animals :)

  7. veganprimate permalink
    February 16, 2010 10:24 pm

    Thank you. Now I don’t have to watch the movie. It drives me nuts when people claim something is so different, thought-provoking, and whatnot when it’s the same crap all over. Nothing new.

    Just from your description of it, I definitely think that was a rape scene. Ugh! That whole no-means-yes thing is sickening.

  8. Sunny permalink
    February 16, 2010 11:39 pm

    “Avatar has broken technological ground, but the themes it features and the values and views it reinforces? Status quo.”

    I’m actually really surprised that people (I guess a lot of people..?) actually considered the plot “groundbreaking”.

    I liked Avatar (though also agree with the issues) – but one of the first things I said when I got out of the theater was that it was a very classic/familiar story that had been done well; that it was a totally blockbuster, hollywood movie that was remarkable for being enjoyable despite that, and how it was cool it that it happened to promote a couple good concepts inadvertently while entertaining people.

    I mean, it would’ve been awesome if it’d actually HAD a pro animal rights message instead..

    • Daniela permalink
      February 17, 2010 2:41 am

      We should work on one! It is not impossible!
      It would be awesome indeed

  9. February 17, 2010 7:30 am

    Sunny,
    I too was surprised about the “groundbreaking” rumor. Maybe when folks were touting uniqueness they were referring to technology and also to the idea of the avatars. But the story (outside of the avatar concept)? Tiresome, insulting, offensive, and not groundbreaking.

  10. February 17, 2010 2:12 pm

    I’ve read and heard people refer to what happened between Jake and the ikran in this scene as “bonding” and to their post-”bonding” relationship as one of linked partnership, even symbiosis.

    If by “bonding” you mean “Stockholm syndrome.” Snort!

    Awesome review, Stephanie!

  11. ethix view permalink
    February 17, 2010 5:36 pm

    Stephanie,

    I have been wanting to thank you for this site and for your clear, eloquent, and powerful commentary for some time. So, thank you!

    The visual feast of Avatar mesmerized me. At the same time, I watched in disbelief and disappointment when the message I was hoping for did not materialize. “Same old, same old”, albeit beautifully packaged.

    As to indigenous subsistence hunting; what is true subsistence? And, what is respectful and dignified treatment of other species? The Inuit shamelessly champion the Canadian commercial seal slaughter because any bans on importing the skins of seals makes it more difficult for them to sell to fur markets. They claim that the bans threaten their communities’ “survival”. The Nuu-Chah-Nulth claim that they have the right to slaughter sea otters for ceremonial purposes, so that their traditions may “survive”. Natives sell their bear hunting licenses to trophy and “sport” hunters and work as hunting guides. The Nunavut government and Canada’s Inuit actively oppose attempts to place the polar bear on the endangered species list, for obvious and self-serving reasons.

    I have stopped buying into the myth that indigenous peoples treat the land and other species with respect, as they continually claim to do. When it comes to the use of nonhumans for pleasure, profit, or human benefit, no one is exempt from my condemnation, no matter how politically incorrect that may be seen to be.

  12. February 18, 2010 1:16 pm

    Stephanie,

    I have not seen the movie as I knew I would dislike very much the “pray for the animals you kill” message.
    You are an insightful thinker and an incredible writer..I love this blog.
    You are an avatar… in the sense you represent what a fully realized animal rights person should….could be. All of you here…
    Thank you!!!

    Philip

  13. anonymommy permalink
    February 24, 2010 2:02 pm

    First of all, I think you’re all smoking something. I saw the entire film as gorgeous and beautiful. Certainly not some white man’s infiltration of native society, blaspheming upon indigenous belief systems. The so-called rape scene you refer to was nothing but exhilarating and interesting. I AM A RAPE VICTIM. It was a horrid experience that I’ve brought with me my entire life, and casually using some scene in a beautiful film to push a political/controversial hot button in the name of rape is absurd and down right demeaning. I didn’t see the scene that way at all. On the contrary, I simply watched as an outsider sharing into the secret world of the people of Pandora. We can’t possibly understand their meanings, methods or reasons for doing things…just like the white invaders of America or slave traders in Africa. The way the people of Pandora interacted with the environment, plants and animals was nothing but beautiful naturalism at it’s finest. A lesson we all should learn. Your angry review of the film sounds creepily similar to the complaints by fundamentalist christians of the film that it is a blatant anti-christian film…which is also incorrect and ridiculous. When people are challenged with their own poor behavior, they look for someone else to blame ALWAYS. Sad.

    • March 3, 2010 12:53 pm

      I’ll be glad to respond to this later when I have more time, anonymommy, even though I find it totally obnoxious to use an anonymous pseudonym to come to a site and start a comment with “you’re all smoking something.” Very adult of you.

      Like I said, more later, but for now, just saying something was “nothing but exhilarating and interesting” without actual analysis and without counters to my own points and analysis is less than convincing. And maybe, just maybe, considering that you obviously don’t know me or apparently my motivations, you shouldn’t assume that I’m “casually” using rape “to push a … hot button.”

  14. Porphyry permalink
    March 3, 2010 4:30 am

    I enjoyed Avatar, but yes, quite a few cultural trances were employed.
    “The religious/spiritual magic is real!”
    Perhaps for the Na’vi, but for us Earthlings, it’s all nonsense. If Sigourney Weaver’s character could produce half as much credible data for human religions it might add some legitimacy to religion.

    “Using animals, so long as we treat them well, is nature’s way!”
    I disagree for the reasons already stated. Praying for the slain animal spirits? Please. It may be meaningful on Pandora, but on planet Earth it’s twaddle. But, but, we can’t hate primitive peoples can we? They are, like, in touch with nature and spiritual energy man! That falls flat when people have an overabundance of plant food at our local supermarket.

    Meh, as far as that stuff went during the film I just put it aside as metaphorical messaging that we should be more environmentally conscious. My mind was bent on metanylasis of how the audience was watching this environmental message with lush jungle landscapes but the movie was almost completely digital requiring an astonishing amount of technology and computer computations so that an audience could sit in a dark room watching a screen with 3-D glasses and positional audio.

    Really though, the humans were only at fault with the Na’vi because if they were going to slaughter them, they should at least have said a prayer. Or eat them.

    Rita Laws offers another perspective on the appropriation of Native American’s as our archetype spiritual hunters.
    http://www.ivu.org/history/native_americans.html
    Great interview archived at Animal Voices”
    http://www.animalvoices.ca/node/35

    Telepathy and mind reading is a common Sci-Fi theme. In Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, you get the new age “we are all one with the universe so how can the universe hurt itself” concept from the Man from Mars who has telepathic abilities with everything including grass. He stands on the grass because he grass doesn’t mind and that’s the purpose of grass and he’s fine with eating meat for the same reason, that’s why livestock exists… right?

    On the other hand, Star Trek’s Vulcan science officer, Mr. Spock, communicates with non-humanoid sentient life and Vulcans are vegetarian, most likely vegan. However, Star Trek’s “sentience” implies intelligence (sapience – wise, to judge), not feeling (senti – to feel), but the Horta was a rock creature with no discernable eyes, mouth or anything humanoid really, without a mind meld it would have been impossible to communicate with her. During the mind-meld, Spock could feel her pain as she struggled to protect her eggs from reckless human miners. It’s a nice touch that Vulcan’s are not only vegan, but also intelligent and logical; not irrational like brash humans.

    Fast forward to Star Trek the Next Generation and humanity has finally caught on to reason when William Riker boldly states, “We no longer enslave animals for food purposes.”

  15. Yiwahikanak permalink
    March 29, 2010 8:06 pm

    Haven’t seen Avatar, mostly because the first moment someone described it to me, it sounded like the ‘noble savage’ crap that does us nearly as much harm as aboriginal peoples as being called savages.

    Anyway, you linked to some interesting blog posts but I did want to bring the following quote up from I, Bonobo, as comments on that blog were closed.

    “Do inuits living in igloos hunting seals have internet access? No. Do tribes living in the bush have internet access? No. People in dire circumstances, people in remote areas, people who live where there are no plants DO NOT HAVE FUCKING INTERNET ACCESS!”

    I just wanted to point out that people who can be very good at seeing stereotypes and not buying into them can also have their blind spots. I think the above quote highlights this well. Inuit do not live in igloos any more than my own people live in tipis. Shockingly enough, we do in fact have internet access in isolated northern or bush communities. We also retain our strong ties to the land despite the ‘western influence’ of said internet.

    My only point in bringing this to your attention is…it’s good to check one’s perceptions from time to time, because those stereotypes we expect others to be more consciously aware of can creep up on us unaware from time time time as well…

  16. Kaden permalink
    May 3, 2010 9:10 pm

    ok, you people are pretty sad. one its just a movie, two this crap about rape is pretty rediculous to me i mean if the ikran wanted to it could have flown away like every other ikran did but it choose to fight him, so he defended himself by capturing the ikran and then bonding with it. now if truly the ikran had no freedom do you think they would have let him/her go free and wonder in the tree, no they would have caged it and let him sit there to rot until the master decided to come back and ride him/her again. also when jake sully got back into the avatar body and was alone after the home tree had been destroyed who was to come back for him but is loved ikran. so if you see what im saying the ikran still has freedom and was definatly not raped.

    • RadicalReason permalink
      September 11, 2010 10:35 pm

      I’m going to address both of the points you made, one by one. Here goes:

      1. “Just a movie”
      This is the entertainment industy we’re talking about… It has the power to influence young minds – children. They are our future. If they begin to think human domination is justifiable, then Earth is basically screwed.

      2. “this crap about rape is pretty rediculous” “”it choose to fight him, so he defended himself by capturing the ikran and then bonding with it.”
      Are you saying that rape is of no importance in “just a movie”? The Ikran was defending himself. Jake was the attacker and he could have backed off if he wanted. “Capturing” signifies offense, not defense.
      As for the matter of the Ikran coming to Jake’s rescue… It’s called Stockholm Syndrome. You can Google it.

      Please learn how to spell and capitalize (hint: you click the shift button). Thank you.

      • Tha Hazzuccino permalink
        September 18, 2010 1:33 am

        Did people suddenly think that the navi and pandora were real because it was in 3d or something? No, it really was a just a movie.

        and this is how movies go: they create rules for their own universes. the rule for this universe was: if the ikran is meant to be yours, meant to be bonded with you, IT IS GOING TO FIGHT YOU. that means, it’s going to make you deserve to ride it. also, it being a movie, the scene of acquiring an ikran had to be exciting to watch. it couldn’t just be, “oh hey jake, jump on my back and ride me, we’re in the wild here.” people would have felt the scene was lame.
        but back within the movie universe, every other ikran that didn’t want to be bonded with jake didn’t care for him one way or another. there was no forcing of the ones that didn’t want him.

        for me, this scene makes perfect sense. the ikran is this wild, free, powerful creature. it will let you bond with it, if you can handle it. it shouldn’t just roll over and let you ride it. it means you must be tenacious to earn the right to fly.

        btw, why do women want to be impressed before letting a guy date her or sleep with her? because it’s a display of quality, so that the woman knows she isn’t giving herself to some lame-ass loser. and as far as i’m concerned that’s perfectly acceptable to me. (okay, i know this isn’t always the case, but it illustrates my point.)

        people find any reason to be offended. really, stop fighting for the animals on pandora.

  17. August 21, 2010 9:51 pm

    Thank you Stephanie for pointing out what I thought was by far the most disturbing part of the movie! I for one really enjoyed Avatar, saw it 4 times in theaters (three of those times were in Imax) and thought the effects were beautiful. But each freaking time I saw that scene with the ikran I just got more and more sickened. I was recently watching the dvd and I had to fastforward the scene, it’s so disturbing. That is just some BLATANT rape imagery (and kaden, I’m guessing most people don’t think Jake literally raped the ikran–i mean we don’t even know how the navi have sex–the whole point is that it’s just a sick and unnecessary display of male domination that on screen comes across as an analogy for human rape).

    Also, from a movie perspective, that scene is just way too long and I actually think it’s completely out of character for Jake to claim “YOU’RE MINE” and not say something like, “and I am yours.” Up to that point, the whole “nobody owns anything, we are all part of one world” spiel seemed to be the message that the movie was supposedly trying to get across.

    Side note: Kaden, just to be clear, I’m seriously not saying that Jake literally raped the ikran, but I wanted to make a point about your argument anyways. Saying that it wasn’t rape because the ikran had the freedom to fly away instead of “choosing” to fight Jake kinda makes it seem like because the ikran “chose” him then he deserved whatever happened to him after that. Obviously I’m not saying that you think that in the real world victims of rape deserve their rape, I don’t know your worldviews at all, I just wanted to point out a really common (and really damaging) rape myth: victim-blaming. People will often say “oh, she chose to have a drink”, “she chose to wear that outfit”, “she chose to hang out with him”—essentially, she chose to act like a human being with the same legal rights as everyone else—and yet people don’t bat an eye when she is “punished” for her actions and instead blame her for her “choices.” Well what about the rapist who chose to fucking rape her? I’m just saying.

    Also, I know Avatar is “just a movie,” but I don’t think that we should underestimate the power and influence of movies…They kinda both reflect social norms and help shape those norms. So I am all for people voicing their opinions about this kinda stuff and I for one really like learning about things I may have overlooked when I watched.

  18. GLaDOS's Mailer Daemon permalink
    October 7, 2010 11:46 pm

    Oh look. A commentary on your article. (Yeah, I was bored)

    https://files.me.com/abacusdesign/yezn34

  19. Amelia permalink
    January 18, 2011 12:40 pm

    Seriously?

    come on, its a film for starters, and a damn good one at that. The Navi live amongst side the animals in harmony. 1. animals kill eachother as it is in the food chain, thats called nature and it happens all the time,, sorry to break it to you. And its how other animals survive. its called life. seems the film wasnt fairytale enough for you, and the reality was a little too much 2. ‘rape’? sorry thats hillarious, how exactly were they raping the animals lives? Those ikran live free in the skies, and in a sense they have a bond with their rider, a friendship. so mate chill out a bit.

    Its a film which supports the animals and nature, thats one of its main themes, and its amazing how you have missed that and reacted to it like that. Appreciate the film for its push on all things living fighting back and being in one with nature. Not little scrawny things that you really dont need to pick up on

    • GLaDOS's Mailer Daemon permalink
      January 18, 2011 2:01 pm

      The author of the original post is indeed fairly ignorant.

      The author fails to even acknowledge the other more prominent perspective, being that the exchange is actually consensual, as is mentioned in the movie itself, and the Na’vi and the Banshees simply have developed an odd sort of symbiotic mutualism, but one with certain requirements. Earlier on, it is most likely that there wouldn’t be a struggle between the two at all, but with that inexperienced and unfit Na’vi would pair with a Banshee, and from the looks of Jake’s first flight, those who would have been worse off than him would probably have gotten both of them killed. Thus, the behavioral tendency to engage in a struggle to “test” the fitness of the Na’vi emerged as a component of their symbiotic mutualism, which at the worst case would result in a Na’vi dead, rather than both of them in a more likely accident.

      The author should realize that their relationship makes sense in terms of symbiosis. Evolution isn’t “nice” or “compassionate.” It just is.

  20. Tasha A. permalink
    February 7, 2011 3:54 pm

    I agree with some of your points but others I disagree with. Here is my option on this post. You or others may agree or disagree with me.
    1) I see your point (and agree to some degree) when refurring to the ‘respect’ shown when killing the creatures in the film. But I also disagree. As humans we kill for fun, trophy items and such. We show absolutly no respect for what we kill and eat. (thats evident in factory farming and people’s choice not to change it.) But the natives kill for need only and not for selfish reasons, and show respect for the creatures that they kill. If more people showed respect for living creatures, there would be FAR less animal abuse and such.

    Even if someone choses to ‘take from the film’ that the idea, it’s okay to kill a creature with disgusting brutality as long as you show respect. They are still not actually respectful to the creature. Just taking in a meaningless, religous and empty concept.
    If they actually had respect for the creature they wouldn’t allow it to be killed in such a disgusting manner. (Buy buying it or supporting it in many ways.)

    2) ‘Rape” scene:
    Again, i agree with some of your points. But I personally think, that coming to the ‘rape’ conclusion for this scene, is evidence of the sickness of the human race. (not saying one is sick to come to this conclusion but that we are so overexposed to rape and such that we see it in innocent things.). For example, I watched that scene in the movie and the rape idea, did not even cross my mind. My impression was a condensed taming process. But with the evidence you have given I can see why you/others would see it as rape. And even broguht me to question what I previously thought of the scene. But I do know that if you overanylize anything, you can see it as somthing it was not ment to be. I am confident that this scene was not ment to be a representation of rape. It can look like it to one who is trying to over complicate or analize the scene.

    As for your point that “The ikran became subject to Jake’s will; the ikran got nothing out of their “relationship.” Isnt that true with all of our pets? For example a pet dog. People get warm fuzzy feelings from adopting a dog, thinking that the animal needs us. (Nothing wrong with adopting pets… mine are adopted.) But my point being we think they need us, in reality we need our pets alot more then they need us. Yes, we give them food and shelter… all of which they could find on their own without us. So there for, is it wrong to have a pet dog because it gets nothing out of the relationship? Of couse not. The ikran didn’t seem miserable with Jake… yes it was tamed but not separated from its wild habitat and customs like our pets are.
    Yes, the theme is domination. But not all domination is wrong. Look at a pack of wolves. One wolf dominated the rest in order to keep order and stability to the pack. Even a realtionship must have a ‘domination’ in the sence that both partners cannot make the choices… especally there is a disagreement. One (usally the man) must make the final choice but also be prepared to take the brunt of the reprocussions his choice brings.
    If we don’t ‘dominate’ our pets they are mentally unhealthy and their home is in a constant state of chaos. I did not find Jakes relationship with the ikran unhealthy and over dominating.

    3) Movie similarities. So many similarities between
    avatar and Furngully! Quite amusing actually eh? But when i saw Avatar for the first time I thought “Pocahontas”! All three movies have such similarities. I think it’s good to have a movie like that in every generation. Happy Feet for example…
    It wasn’t the plot (no matter how unoriginal) that make Avatar such a hit. It was the special effects. Not matter what the veiws, every single person who saw it can’t disagree that is was breath takingly beautiful!

    Thanks for reading.

  21. Tasha A. permalink
    February 7, 2011 4:08 pm

    By my post I ment no disrespect to you or your veiws. I think what you do is wonderful and amazing! It is an isperation to me and to others, I’m sure :) I just disagreed with this particular post. Keep on fighting for animals and their rights, they are worth it!

  22. dave permalink
    April 22, 2011 8:12 am

    mmmmm, i had a delicious steak last night!!!!!!!!!!

  23. Steven Wilson permalink
    August 6, 2012 6:51 pm

    I know that this is years after your original post but my children are yet again watching Avatar and some of the scenes you mentioned also bothered me too which explains me finding your page and commenting. I agree with most of what you’ve said and want to add one thing about which I’d like to hear your comments.

    In the scenes where they kill animals and pray their respects, it seems to me that it would be far more merciful to kill the animal and *then* spend time praying. Instead, they fatally wound the animal, say a self-serving, self-aggrandizing prayer, and *then* put the beast out of its misery.

    I am not a hunter although I have nothing against hunting but even in nature (most of the time), predators kill their prey as swiftly as possible. This seems to me to be the only humane way to hunt. Save your prayers for bedtime.

  24. tony permalink
    August 26, 2012 2:48 pm

    philosophically, we almost could not be any more different concerning animals. yet the hypocrisy of this movie still screams at me from somewhere inside gap between us. i hate this movie, and its shallow excuse for a plot: poorly written agenda-ed sci-fi, laced with rape fantasy and cultural chauvinism. and it is a shame that it gets so many accolades, and it is unlikely to be forgotten because it was the first of its kind technologically.

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