Further to the “Avatar” Post: the “It’s Just a Movie” Argument

So I brought up my reasons for not liking Avatar on the Etsy forums the other day (check out the thread HERE if you’ve got some time on your hands).  I’ve gotten some interesting opinions and arguments.  But one particularly distasteful point keeps coming up: the “it’s just a movie” argument.  Here’s a few samples:

pinque says: “it is just a movie. I try not to dig too deep or I will give my self[sic] a damn headache and not enjoy anything in life”

ManicManx says: “Sometimes a movie is just a movie.
I like to go to a movie for enjoyment.
I really enjoyed this movie.
If it was[sic] realistic I might as well stay home and do my taxes.
That would be more than enough drama for me.”

bluecitrusart says: “Too much analyzing, seriously. It’s a movies[sic],
it’s entertainment,[sic] it’s not a political agenda.
I didn’t see any racism there,[sic] it was beautifully done,[sic]
I escaped reality for a while,[sic] it was GREAT.”

This really saddens me.  Some of the people making this argument are people who I have a lot of respect for as artists, and yet it seems that they just don’t see the power that art has.  Shakespeare says that “art … holds the mirror up to nature”, but even that is shy of the mark:  art both reflects and affects the world.  The ability of mass media to reach millions of people at a time only multiplies this property: when everyone is experiencing the same thing (be it a movie, TV show, piece of music, whatever), that piece of art has the ability to shape how all of those millions of people see the world.

So when we are presented with something like Avatar, which holds up racist stereotypes, we can’t in good conscience just sit back and enjoy.  We can acknowledge what is good about the film — it really is very pretty — but then we need to get down to the serious business of analyzing what we have been given.  And that analysis really doesn’t have to be an in-depth one.  I apply critical theory techniques to give a serious reading of what I see — but that’s just my university training coming out.  Just acknowledging that there is an issue, even if we don’t go too far into dissecting it, is enough.  Saying, “yeah, I saw that there were some racist implications there” confronts those implications.  It stops you from accepting and absorbing them.  But if we simply suspend our disbelief and let the movie wash over our numbed brains, we are accepting this message at face value.  We are accepting racism, in the name of mindless entertainment.  I can’t think how that could be more selfish.

This argument especially bothers me when it is applied to kids.

jenNco2 says: “Here’s why I liked it. It was pretty and entertaining and my 12 year old kids could follow it. They enjoyed themselves there and it was visually beautiful. Sometimes, for me, a “pretty” movie with an easy plot is good once in a while.”

Holy.  Crap.

You took your kids to this movie, and DIDN’T take the opportunity to teach them that racism is wrong?  I don’t think I even need to comment on that.  Just saying it is enough.

Another argument that has been made is the “stop looking at it and it will just go away” argument.

KarmaRox says: “if people quite thinking ‘racism’ at every turn of the corner, racism is[sic] this world will die out.”

Now, that argument may work for monsters under the bed, but for a more tangible threat it’s a bit of a silly thing to say.  If we stop thinking about climate change, will it stop happening?  If women stop thinking about the “glass ceiling” in the workplace, will they suddenly (with no further effort) start being appointed to high-level positions in business?  It’s the same with racism.  Yes, if absolutely everybody on the planet stopped thinking about race as a dividing factor, it would go away.  But not pointing out racism as it appears only empowers those who create such messages, allowing them to continue spewing hateful garbage.  Saying “hey, that’s racist,” doesn’t take a lot of effort — but it’s standing up for what’s right.

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