James Cameron's Avatar has been greeted on the right with the kind of immediate snarling antagonism reserved for Oliver Stone pics. In an article titled "Cameron's 'Avatar' Is a Big, Dull, America-Hating, PC Revenge Fantasy," Big Hollywood's John Nolte called it "Deathwish 5 for leftists." No less an authority than MovieGuide, "the family guide to Christian movie reviews,"awarded the movie"four Marxes and an Obama" for its "abhorrent New Age, pagan, anti-capitalist worldview that promotes Goddess worship and the destruction of the human race"—an unfortunate formulation that also happens to clip most of my favorite Disney movies. Drudge has been providing a daily drip-feed of joy-killing stories: "Vatican says no masterpiece," "Audiences experience Avatar blues; depression and suicidal thoughts. ..." In the words of one right-wing blogger: "This is cinema for the Hate America crowd."
Once you've gotten over your shock at seeing James Cameron pilloried as a typical Hollywood liberal—dude wrote Rambo for heaven's sake!—the first response to this is: What took them so long? Ever since George Lucas revealed that the real model for his evil empire in the Star Wars movies was not Britain but America, it has been common practice for the makers of summer blockbusters to encode cryptic commentary of American foreign policy into their car chases and fireballs. Last year, The Dark Knight descended into a probing disquisition on the efficacy of torture. This summer, the makers of Star Trek conducted an equally spirited back-and-forth on the merits of diplomacy versus the phasers when dealing with obstreperous Romulans.
None of those movies made a billion dollars in 21 days, however. Not only is this criticism of Avatar the first time the right has dipped its toe into the phosphorescent waters of allegorical science fiction, but it's also the first time it has mobilized a hate-a-thon against a movie that stands to become the most profitable of all time. Normally when right-wingers come gunning for a movie, it's meek, well-intentioned granola like Lions for Lambs, Rendition, or Good Night, and Good Luck—movies that can only perform a single one-armed push-up before collapsing facedown into the mud. When Michael Medved published his snit-fit broadside against Hollywood liberals, Hollywood Versus America, in 1993, he reserved the full force of his fury for such muscular Trotskyist tracts as Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, Total Recall, and The Prince of Tides, thus proving that when it comes to threatening the very fabric of democracy, the only thing that rivals heretical sex and bone-cracking violence is a picture about therapy with Barbra Streisand. Or maybe I am misinterpreting Medved's thesis. Maybe it was just: Barbra Streisand!
A blockbuster like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, on the other hand, Medved wisely body-swerved, since it would have scrambled his narrative: Liberal elites have forgotten how to make good old-fashioned movies for real America. Cameron's Avatar therefore puts the right in a bind. Having for years cited the failure of movies like In the Valley of Elah and Lions for Lambs as proof that Hollywood is too liberal-elitist to connect with the real America, they're now turning on a movie that has done just that. Writing in the London Daily Telegraph, Nile Gardner professed himself astonished by "the roars of approval which greeted the on-screen killing of US military personnel." They "were a shock to the system, especially at a time when the United States is engaged in a major war in Afghanistan. ..." He concludes that Avatar is "one of the most left-wing films in the history of modern American cinema, and perhaps the most commercially successful political movie of our time."