The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Jan 122010

I just saw Avatar in 3D, and was struck by the generational themes.  Yes, the computerized graphics (a la Lord of the Rings) are spectacular, and the avatar framework (a bit like the Matrix) has a cutting-edge feel on the IT front.  Hollywood spent a zillion dollars producing this film.  It does have a big-movie and definitely big-budget feel to it.  I’m sure it will make lot of money, especially abroad.

Thematically, however, this movie is not Millennial (born 1982-200?)at all.  It’s a Boomer (born 1943-1960)  blue-zone culture war script.  The thinly veiled allegory has the U.S. military killing innocent, close-to-Gaia aliens on behalf of a “dying civilization” that has ”already killed mother earth” on our own planet.  The sound track sounds like Enya.  We (the audience) are supposed to be moved by naked aborigines who hold hands and sing kumbaya-like in communion with the great spirit—and cheer when they kill large numbers of uniformed U.S. soldiers in combat.  The movie’s biggest villain is a hands-on career noncom officer who has dedicated his life to service and speaks in the vernacular of the USMC.  The analogy to U.S. troops in Asia is pounded home mercilessly—from references to “shock and awe,” to the rare mineral the Americans are seeking to extract from this planet, to the way alien women are shown ululating in support of their male warriors.  The viewer is constantly reminded of what this film is “really” about.

In this movie, Barack Obama (to say nothing of George Bush) is cast in the role of Curtis LeMay.  Launch another predator missile, anyone?  Some Boomers applauded vigorously at the end of the movie, the last time I’ve seen that since “V for Vendetta.”

Many Millennials, especially urban bi-coastals, will love this movie.  But I doubt that most Millennials want to see something so laden with moralizing self-condemnation.  They certainly don’t want to see their own peers and nation existentially portrayed as a force of evil.  (That was a Boomer youth script.)  As for those Millennials who now serve in the Marine, Army, and Guard units doing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have talked with many of them.  They truly believe, more than young Generation X (born 1961-1981) soldiers ever did, that they are making the world a better place.  They really like the brand-new Navy recruiting slogan: “America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good.”  I guarantee you these Millennial soldiers won’t be applauding Cameron’s movie.

For what it’s worth, I took along my 10th-grade son to see the movie.  His only terse comment, upon exiting, was: “OK, that’s three hours I’ll never get back.”  On the way home, he purged himself of all the Enya by listening, loud, to his Linkin Park and Incubus.

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  • Wiz83

    I saw the movie and found it very entertaining and thought-compelling. However, I can see why some may not like it since it obviously reflects a certain ideological perspective. There is definately a vivid parrellel to historical events. Yet, I don't see as much an allegory on Vietnam but more as the U.S. government's cruel treatment of Native Americans in the past and injustices committed against other indigenous peoples by Western powers. It's definately not going to rub right-wing gung-ho patriot types the right way nor will it bible thumpers for its romanticising of nature-based religion. I guess all you can say is it's not everyone's political cup of tea and you'll either like it or not.

  • SiliconValleySteve

    My 10th grade son laughed and said it reminded him of the Ferngully cartoons he saw as a child.

  • Steve

    Interestingly enough, James Cameron (director) has had this story and 80 page script on the shelf for 18 years. He wanted to produce this film a long time ago, but he felt that technology was not ready to do it justice. I tend to agree about the dated moral messages. On the other hand, a lot of the sci fi aspects of this were quite good I felt, way better than a lot of the more recent “writing” we see coming out of hollywood. I enjoyed the 3D experience, but I have to agree about the moral message being targeted towards Baby Boomers, of which James Cameron is a member of too I might add.

  • kathleen

    Interesting views. When I was watching this (I am '56 boomer) with my ('85 millie son) I kept thinking I was rewatching Dances with Wolves, which was an ok movie but I thought was outdated at that time. My son really liked this movie, I was impressed by the seamless transition between graphics and reality but my son was impressed by the moral lesson, I admit i was very surprised by this. My husband and I tend to be more sarcastic than our son. We rewatched it after buying the DVD I was soon bored but my son was still impressed. Still surprised by that. He is a college grad from Texas A & M and conservative I am the more liberal one of the family. He was raised in a rural/military community.

  • You say “The thinly veiled allegory has the U.S. military killing innocent, close-to-Gaia aliens on behalf of a “dying civilization” that has ”already killed mother earth” on our own planet.” I say thinly veiled version of Disney’s Pocahontas that came out when Millennials were kids. Thanks for writing this. I hated this movie for it’s complete lack of originality. I also read criticism of this being a ‘white guy hero fantasy’. Thank your James Cameron for letting us Millennials once again “paint with all the colors of the wind”. Also thank you Kathryn Bigelow for continually making great movies.