Avatar’s Confused Sexual Politics

Christopher Faris’s reflections on Avatar and its cross-species relationship between the human and Navi characters got me thinking about the film’s other psycho-sexual pathologies.

Like Chris, I too found the inter-species romance disturbing, mostly because of the allegory’s reverse-implication that Native Americans are tantamount to a different species than Europeans. I just had to keep reminding myself that since the 1960s, Star Trek has made non-human aliens the official surrogates for non-white ethnicities in sci-fi. In most cases, therefore, I have to accept it as a genre convention. (Speaking of surrogates, Bruce Willis’s movie Surrogate did more interesting things with the same concept, like men using female surrogate bodies to be non-op transexuals.)

In Avatar, however, the cross-species intercourse cannot be excused as just an allegorical necessity because of the emphasis on the Navi hooking up (literally) with Pandoran animals of other species. Lest the audience be allowed to insist that these pony-tail USB ports are non-sexual interfaces, Sigourney Weaver jokes that playing with them is akin to masturbation.

The protagonist is also told that, unlike with Pandora’s equivalent of horses, his flying dragon will be his partner for life, whom he will identify by a combination of love at first sight and an aggressive mating ritual. Furthermore, he is told, his lifelong relationship with this animal must be monogamous. (Never mind that he trades up before film’s end.) When they do finally reach complete union, the struggling animal’s whole body tenses for a moment, then suddenly relaxes, exhausted but peaceful.

The sexual shorthand is obvious enough, but the rapey connotations make it all the more disturbing, like James Bond’s conquest of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, a lesbian who struggles against Bond’s attempt to rape her, but once conquered, is converted to the virtues of heterosexuality and thankful for Bond’s insistence on enlightening her.

A movie subtler than Avatar might be suggesting that any taming of animals by humans for their use is a kind of exploitation if not rape, but this film’s portrayal of it in terms of the circle of life and mutual respect between species makes the other messages of the film all the more confused. Cameron’s peculiar interpretation of the motto Make Love Not War seems to be: If you want something from an uncooperative species, Penetrate Them Not Kill Them.

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8 thoughts on “Avatar’s Confused Sexual Politics

  1. johnlebaptiste says:

    Hey, this film sounds pretty good. How old did you say you have to be to see it?

  2. Nobody says:

    I think these Pixar movies are usually rated U.

  3. ‘U’ as in ‘Uuuuuuu mum, can I go and see that film where Marcus from Terminator bums a blue dragon’?

    (sorry for the coarseness. I’m standing in as ‘Purveyor of Ribald Comments’ (Purv for short) for Old Rope of http://www.oldrope.wordpress.com fame while he’s Argentina where the internet hasn’t been invented yet).

  4. Nobody says:

    Don’t apologise; this post was pretty much asking for it.

  5. Thruout the movie, I was momentarily messed up by many of the similar things that have been mentioned here, but for the most part, I overcame them as my pleasure progressed. Even the over zealous expression of “corporate greed” or the “over-zealous military commander” were accepted as being a critical section of the story.But there one small issue that (oddly enough, I guess) irritated me. There was no way to go back and watch it after, but I’m pretty sure that when the Colonel was killed, he took his hands off the robot controls, trying to remove the arrow/bolt. Yet, with the Colonel’s death, the robot TOPPLED OVER! I would have expected such a machine just to simply stop moving and stand there.

  6. Thruout the movie, I was momentarily jarred by many of the same things that have been discussed here, overall, I overcame them as my pleasure continued. Even the heavy-handed depiction of “corporate greed” or the over controlling were accepted as being a critical section of the film.But there one small issue that (oddly enough, I guess) irritated me. There was no way to go back and view it again, but I’m pretty sure that when the Colonel was killed, he took his hands off the robot controls, trying to remove the arrow/bolt. Yet, with the Colonel’s death, the robot TOPPLED OVER! I would have expected such a machine just to simply stop moving and stand there.

  7. Nobody says:

    How disappointing, Tonya. The mere substitution of a few words of Porsha’s spam does not make this spam your own work.

    Plagiarism is always ugly, but comment spam plagiarism is the ugliest.

  8. Second-hand spam? It’s like WWII London all over again.

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