Interview with Vincent Cheynet, editor of La décroissance.
Isn’t the movie Avatar just a nice entertainment that you have to take as such without being scroogy?
Vincent Cheynet : My nephews defended me like that. They explained to me that this film was extremely well made. After seeing it in the cinema in 3 dimensions, I confirm it. I saw it for work, because I hate to go and lock myself in dark rooms to be in front of a screen again. The problem is also the means that are put at the service of this show. Beyond its success — Avatar is one of the few films to bring crowds back to theaters — the film is a global event that goes beyond its cinematic character. Like Marianne, the mass media were enthusiastic about the « green » character of the film: « In short, it’s good to see a blockbuster about ecology. An Ipsos survey revealed that in 2021, 79% of young people said they were interested in the theme of global warming. The Greta Thunberg generation that sees in Avatar like Reporterre a « denunciation (of) the despoliation of indigenous lands and the destruction of ecosystems by humans » is touched in the heart(1). » As this clip shows, nothing could be further from the truth than to present this film as innocent entertainment. This is also evidenced by the impressive number of academic books and collapsologists who present it to us as the grand narrative to solve the ecological crisis. Impossible to list them all here. Let’s take some examples with Damien Deville and Pierre Spielewoy. The two French academics discuss in a very serious book published in 2020: « The movie Avatar marked his time, he also marked our adolescence. […] Confronted with their own vulnerability, the Na’vi will sublimate the relationships that unite them to the land… » (Tana, 2020). Same enthusiasm on the other side of the world with their colleague Glenn Albrecht. The Australian professor enthuses about the feature in his The Emotions of the Earth (Les Liens qui Libèrent, 2020), « a book of paramount importance » according to collapsology pope Pablo Servigne. Let’s go back to France with Nicolas Hulot and Frédéric Lenoir. In a common work, From one world to the other, Time of consciousness, these stars of media wisdom say: « What James Cameron’s film evokes very well, AvatarPandora is a parable of a world where feminine values, such as harmony with the environment, collaboration and protection of the weakest, are emphasized, in contrast to Earth, where the masculine values of domination, predation and competition prevail. (Fayard, 2020). One wonders if our two philosophers have seen the film. But we know since the continuation with the great feminist Mr. Hulot.
More seriously, how can we characterize the discourse of James Cameron’s new film?
Whether it is Avatar I or II, the word that characterizes it is contradiction. More than that, I would say that it expresses a rise to extremes. Let’s take an example with the website Reporterre of the former environmentalist journalist of Le Monde Hervé Kempf, quoted by Marianne. We find all the main features of the current ecological ideology. Faced with the few criticisms addressed to the film, he hastened to defend it: « The second opus ofAvatar However, it is the protection of the oceans and the members of the Metkayina tribe, with their turquoise skin, who conclude their plea. They live in harmony with coral reefs, lush mangroves, winged crocodiles, jellyfish and giant butterflies. Their equilibrium is broken with the arrival of humans, overarmed, who have no qualms about turning the sea into a battlefield(2). « . But what vision of social organization does the film promote? Among the good guys, the system is perfectly clannish. Bigger, stronger, more authoritarian leaders rule without sharing. Only the chief’s wife has the right, a little, to speak. But she must quickly bow to her husband. On several occasions the hero, also a tribal chief, repeats: « The role of the father is to protect his family. One is then surprised to read the site Reporterre, usually so quick to chase away any trace of patriarchal discourse, abandon here any spirit of critical analysis! We are however far from his usual recommendations of direct democracy, or even of a consensus system where one debates by waving one’s hands until one reaches an agreement… Without even mentioning the ecofeminism that would have been found by Messrs. Hulot and Lenoir. Our two ecophilosophers confuse the defense of women with their fantasy of fusional regression with Mother Earth.
Avatar is not green?
This is also one of the major contradictions of the film, which is based on the most advanced technology. It allows the reconstruction of a completely artificial universe. But what does he present to us? The apology of the savage, the primitive. But this savage reconstituted by the digital technique is fantasized, magnified. Everything is bigger, more beautiful, stronger. In contrast to the rantings of Messrs. Lenoir and Hulot, the part of the weakness of natural condition is precisely evacuated by this numerical recomposition. Here we « enjoy without hindrance » while riding reptilian birds or winged dolphins. The toys of the consumer society (motorcycles, jet-skis, helicopters and all the rest) then seem very bland next to them. The savage remains through its social organization, as we have seen: it is the law of the jungle, the reign of the most beautiful and the strongest. But this law is very similar to the law of liberal capitalism and its society of the spectacle. The savagery is represented at its apotheosis when the hero’s wife sees her child killed. She then turns into a mother wolf and goes on a vengeful rampage. It then commits a real Rambo-like butchery against modern humans. The latter are presented as villains by nature. One expects to see the audience rise to its feet to cheer him. The spectator is led to commune in the barbarism against his species.
Is there an evolution between the first Avatar and its sequel?
This sequel to the first Avatar is entitled The Way of the Water. Quite a symbol. One asserts to us in a pseudo-ecological fishing, it is expected, that » the sea is our mother » . Avatar I invited us to melt into the reign of the undifferentiated, the Great Whole, by communicating with Mother Earth, the Pachamama, Gaia, through a magic tree to which we link ourselves with our mat. Bad luck for bald people like me, who are excluded. I say this as a joke, but not only; there is no place here for weakness, for the crippled and the deranged of life. It’s just a gym full of winners. With this sequel, we go even further. The Way of the Water is the promise of a return to the lost intrauterine paradise! What was foreseen by Messrs. Lenoir and Hulot in their elucubrations. An academic work published in 2020(3) delivered us cash this most often unthought aspiration: « If our culture dissociates us from nature, our body has never separated us from it. It is up to us to find this living womb which, at our birth, appears as an extension of the maternal womb in which we lived as a fetus. [It is up to us to find this womb and to burst the invisible bubble that we have shaped while growing up, enclosing us in our individuality. Then, the world can join us by itself, like an amniotic liquid which immerses us. The chapter was entitled « For an « amniotic ecology ». We are in the middle of it. In this digital paradise, we also have « spiritual brothers » and « spiritual sisters » in marine mammals, necessarily good and wise. Here we are in the middle of antispeciesist and animist theories, especially in the middle of angelism. The real villains are the humans who arrive with their machines, necessarily destructive to the wild and primitive nature supposedly defended by the film. Again, what a paradox, when everything here is almost virtual. We are at the antipodes of Ivan Illich and other precursors of degrowth defending a simple and controlled technique. We are even further away from a truly ecological and human vision of our condition, underlining our weakness in nature, the need to dissociate ourselves from it in part, and the importance of mastering the tools and machines with which we equip ourselves to live. One wonders what will be able to propose us of more regressive still the following episodes. This pantheistic vision refers to the current fashion of witches, naturally present in the film. One wonders why only their female side is currently retained, because there were wizards. This pseudo-feminist and ecologist contemporary vision omits as much the barbarities such as the human sacrifices which were linked to them. It took all the enlightenment of modernity, and even religion, to put an end to it. Before the release of the second episode, I observed this: « Many of the gurus of collapsosophy, the name of the wisdom born of collapsology, reveal that they were fascinated by the film Avatar. This film by James Cameron is for them a kind of great biblical story. It is easy to see why. This pseudo-ecology is the perfect fruit of liberal capitalism. Like him, the law of the jungle is their ideal. Wolves and innocents share it(4) « . In short, Avatar should be taken very seriously. I named the religion that he spreads in the form of a trinity, « Gaia, Greta, Tesla(5) « . This techno-New-Age neo-religiosity constitutes a great religious discourse of our time. And for our teenagers, his planet Pandora is a lost paradise reachable through digital technology.
- « Écolos, geeks, familles : comment James Cameron a mis tous les Français d’accord avec « Avatar 2 » », Marianne, 10 janvier 2022.
- « Avatar 2 » est-il « horrible et raciste », comme l’en accusent des Amérindiens ?, Reporterre, 23 décembre 2022.
- Jacques Tassin, Pour une écologie du sensible, Odile Jacob.
- « Un monde désincarné et numérisé est un monde de mort-vivants », Limite, 18 mai 2022.
- « Sauvons Greta! », La Décroissance, numéro 168 d’avril 2020