Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quasi-Native Informant aka Mestizo Colonial Subversive aka the Avatar is never blue

Jake Sully asks, "Did I pass?"

It's funny that Avatar should come out right after I read The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) by Jacksonville native James Weldon Johnson, a book that foregrounds the phenomenon of racial "passing" as white among blacks. Like Titus Kaphar's painting Mother's Solution (2009) in which the artist physically cuts out a figure to symbolize the narrative of a light-skinned black daughter being sent off to live among white people as a matter of survival and economic strategy, Johnson (who also wrote the Negro National Anthem) depicts the triumph, tragedy, pain, and loss for the protagonist who sheds his black identity in exchange for a comfortable, violence-free, economically mobile white lifestyle. The protagonist is kind of like a white avatar.

Avatar the movie, however, does not care much for the point of view of the non-white (I guess blue) humans/humanoids. In a flip version of a book like The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Avatar fantasizes "going native" from the uncritical point of view of the white male savior. A fun movie but hardly perfect (see here and here), Avatar speaks to a number of used (but not really useful) tropes that begs to paste Tom Cruise's face (a la The Last Samurai) onto Jake Sully's 10-foot blue, abbed-out physique.

If only the Na'vi really existed, maybe all the earth's multicolored people would really unite to colonize their ecosystem. But since they don't exist then blue will always signify the very real brown and black, non-Western Other. Buck naked beast riding beasts.

We learn from Avatar that with technology we can choose our identity and "live among the savages" if you wish, so below are a few samples of appropriate avatars for the fantasizer of the Fil Am Funk.

For the mestizo in you that knows both the lives of the savage and the civilized, the benighted and the enlightened, perhaps a Jose Risully will do. "Is it PCN season already?" Jose Risully asks, his abs ripped from pre-performance crunches. A Revolution deferred, until Filipinos ride atop flying dragons...

Or, to stay faithful to Avatar's great white male hero complex, maybe a more transparent MacArthur-esque embodiment will do. "Fight for me, and I will deny you your promised veterans' benefits!" Then they will build statues for you and name highways after you.

This one is for a post-racial America...reveling in its own veiled imperialism. Does Afghanistan have bulletproof hammerhead rhinos? Cold War-era U.S.-made weapons? Yes? Oh. "Philippines, we will penetrate the MILFs," JakeBama Sully, the global everyman, warns.

But, why ruin a pretty face? You're the master user, the supreme agent. "Plug me in!" says Jake USBully. For the internet, virtual network, wired/wireless generation, Jake's hair can freakishly copulate with your database. Plug and play...and ride your beast.

Yes, you can pass...but is it worth the loss? And more importantly, whose triumph is at stake?

Ewok: "Who wouldn't want a face like mine?"