(some incomplete notes on cameron's na'vi)
Part One: A Tribal, Warlike Culture
I wonder if all of the analysis of Cameron's Avatar is stuck on the White Privilege meme. There's at least one writer who has dealt with the culture clash from another perspective. But it's clear to me that Cameron has some unfinished criticism of America or humanity that needs more exposition.
I find that once one has it in for the dominant culture, its flaws become permanent as do the virtues of all of its victims no matter how great or slight. So Cameron is stuck in that sophomoric muck. Or maybe just his critics are. Since I have already said that Avatar is not sufficiently literate to sustain a cogent critique of America or the West or humanity, despite its attempt, I'll go ahead and talk about what I see as left out. That is to say, here are some things that I think would have to be made explicit if we were to take Avatar's thrust more seriously.
First of all there is the fundamental conflict of the Terran (can we assume that this corporation represents humans or is it just a rogue operation?) economy and the rights of the Navi to self-determination. Can we assume that?
What we don't know is the basis upon which the mining company has established its permission to get mineral rights on Pandora. The company must have either discovered Pandora on its own, or have some tacit approval to acquire the materials. Might it have gotten this from the world around which Pandora orbits? Could the Na'vi we see be some persecuted minority of the Na'vi we don't see? What we do know is that the company does not have a military escort. Its security provision is all from ex-military. They're mercenaries, contractors. Not representing any Terran government. It is therefore, no matter what we extrapolate, a mission which could stand apart from human morals and law. It's only a racial clash if you want it to be.
cameron will never show the flaws of the navi because he has already engineered them to be everything he believes human culture cannot be or once was and lost, which is tribal and connected to ancestry.
one of the big holes in the flick which my son recognized was how easy it was for the humans to beat up the navi. so did the navi have warriors or not? - did they suddenly turn their hunting skills into war tactics?
the navi clans. were they federated? if not, what was the history of the navi individual who mastered the great dragon? why would the navi do so and what kind of authority is that? it's all rather neatly mysterious and ahistorical, and i think it serves the purpose of cameron which is to suggest that the navi are completely pacifist to the point of apologizing to their meat.
but if the navi are territorial, which they clearly are, rather than nomadic, like perhaps the horse clans are, then it's likely that they have had wars with other clans or outcasts. if that was *the* big tree, then there had to be pretenders to its throne.
now it's possible, but never mentioned, that the navi are incapable of that much reproduction, and on a moon that size might have never overpopulated anything or had any such tests of their tribal culture that required them to handle the complexities of cultural dissonance or economics.
something that would have been more interesting, hinted at in the matrix, was that human obsession with sexual reproduction makes humanity a literal plague. this would have been a useful and direct parallel to america's conquering of the west - the simple fact of the matter was that millions wanted in and the only kind of system that could govern millions was something beyond tribalism. both systems cannot be in place as the law of the land.
my point is that beyond the rhetorical question of the authority of the dragon lord, it is obvious that there had been previous calls to war by the possessor of that arthurian sword before, and the law and culture of the navi was to respond to the rallying war cry of whomever tamed the dragon. that was as deep in their dna as anything else in their culture for which they readily sacrificed themselves to battle.
I don't mean to suggest that there is something out of proportion to justice going on here, simply that the Na'vi share with humans respect for the warrior code, and that making war on the Na'vi for territory is a shared value. Nothing quite illustrates this than the scene in which the privilege to speak to the tribe is won by single combat with the tribe's senior warrior.
For his entertainment to be entertaining, the Na'vi cannot be so alien, and they are not.