Great points. I didn't see it until you talked about the movie in a class with the top grossing films, and the escapism of it. I have to admit that I avoided watching the film at first, because I thought it was going to be more of an 'in your face' moralistic tale. I really don't want to spend the little time I have, to go to see a movie that's going to make me feel bad, or preach at me without also being just fun.
A palimpsest is one way to think of part of it, in the sense that we are all a single species, so there will be variations on a theme of what manipulates and motivates us. I mean there's no culture that doesn't develop ways to feed people.
I think what Psyop taught me was that there were people out there who actively think about way to manipulate others through biasing and targeting people with information. You saw it with the health care debate. At this point I see it like I breath, and think, "oh, that's a 'glittering generalization appeal," or, "that's a 'bandwagon' appeal." When you find out that exist flow charts on how to put in social-cultural info on one end to produce predictable behaviors on the other, and that everyone has this knowledge, then concepts like hegemony begin to get fuzzy. Like I can trace out the way Soviet propagandist basically invented most of the arguments made by people in the US far left, and then called those people "useful idiots." So, when you can see these biased information flows and you can't do anything about it, your heart sinks. It's not one sided of course. The themes and narratives on the far right are pretty much manufactured as well.
Every time some far left anthropologist uses a pro argument for Islamic fundamentalists, people that would love to kill that person, I don't see an anthropologist. I see a puppet parroting words and language that were created in a room full of computers by Islamists. I've seen the rooms, and they have better equipment than we do.
So, when people say that we can fight back, I think to myself, 'you mean fight back against information'? The discourse of "fight back" and exactly how to do it are pretty much ready made templates developed by others. And, then when you look at those people, you realize that they are simply carrying out a particular social role and culturally derived set of agendas. Everywhere that I look to find a border for structure or agency, it eludes me.
For example, the movie was essentialized. Humans literally had nothing the Navi wanted, but that's not true in our world. In our world, people want the stuff that others have. Pre-literate people wanted steel knives, and no one had to talk them into wanting them, or told them exactly how to subvert traditional roles or traditions to get the knives. We can couch an argument in universal rights, or brotherhood, or whatever, but very few of us actually mean it. In the 1960's there might have been a handful of people that really felt their hearts hurt with the suffering of others, but most people just liked the sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, and the rebellion. That shit's fun.
I see the protesters in Arizona, but at the end of the day it's just a small group of people arguing for their interests over the interests of others, and manipulating people to join in with them by using symbolic language that stirs the emotions. Nobody's protesting the killing of a UN human rights person in Mexico recently, or the horrible inequality there, etc... Very few people actually gives a shit if they don't have a personal stake in it, or are having fun fighting an essentialized, externalized evil with different names (racism, capitalism, socialism, etc...). I've spent a lot of time in Mexico and know that most Mexicans don't self-identify as "Latinos" or "Hispanics," or any of the other classes of people invented in the US. They think of themselves as Mexicans, or Maya, or Chilangos. They don't give a shit about the plight of Guatemalans in the US, unless they can subvert narratives, symbols, and discourses to manipulate others to serve their own political economic interests.
So, when you say "we" can fight, I look around and don't see a lot of "we." I see a lot of people that are easily manipulated and reactionary.
"Also, it might well be that the discourses that I am producing are “ready made” by others; but it hardly seems like a revelation to me. After all, a person has to be understood within the social contexts in which he or she is embedded. The same could be said for your point of view, just as for mine. Also, just as you are,"
Exactly. I apologize if it has sounded as though I'm in anyway personally including you in any of this critique. A lot is lost in this medium. As far as I can tell, I'm no different in this critique. It is all encompassing. While that is the case, there is the ability to understand this reality, and by understanding it, inoculating one's self. It's like this, if someone watched Avatar and connected that experience with a visceral feeling that motivated them to think or act in a particularly powerful way, and not ever consider the deep line of causality inherent in the process, then they are more or less easily manipulated.
We all come to each experience with the sum total of all past experiences, but when we forget that each experience is actually unique, and deserves it's own attention, then as the Buddhists say, "one has lost themselves." When one biases opinions upon experience in a patterned narrative, then I think the history and development of that narrative is important. How much of the far leftist opinion we've heard (not here) about Avatar is actually based on either the movie, or on real, unessentialized situations in 2010? They might be based on aspects of reality, but many of the simplistic narratives I've heard have come strait out of the Soviet propaganda machine. The fact that most people are unaware of this is a sign of how good the Soviets were. They spent billions every year (more than anyone else) that they existed on propaganda, and we are largely unaware of the effects.
Chomsky has done a great job on deconstructing the themes out of the Capitalist propaganda machine, but the other side of the coin is largely invisible. Many anthropologists still think of the world in terms developed by others during the Cold War. The narrative and discourse they developed no longer fits current reality, but it still colors the discipline greatly.
I think this TED video can sum up much of my point better than I can: