Saturday, August 22, 2009

Doing Harm for the Sake of Entertainment?

With all the buzz filling the media over James Cameron's new film, Avatar, I found Libby Purves' piece for the London Telegraph a pleasure to read. Basically, she decided to have it out with Cameron for all the distortions perpetrated by Titanic in the name of better entertainment for his designated demographic of ten-year-old girls:

Titanic traduced the British characters, and falsified the treatment of third-class passengers to score points. It invented a working-class hero for Leonardo DiCaprio to play, but ignored the real worker-heroes, the engineers who kept stoking the boilers to run the pumps and give the rest a chance, even when they must have known they themselves would die. Worst of all, it libelled First Officer William McMaster Murdoch. In Cameron's version, he is a posh git who takes a bribe, shoots a passenger, panics, and commits suicide. In reality, he gave his lifejacket away, drowned, and has a memorial in his home town of Dalbeattie.

The film company had to admit its wicked slur and contribute $8,000 to a prize fund in his name. But the popcorn-munching Kate Winslet groupies won't know that.

I don't care how much money it made: that film stank. I'm glad Mr Cameron has moved on to imaginary blue-faced computer-game critters. At least he can't do them any harm.

Purves' punch line is probably correct. It is hard to imagine Avatar doing anything that would bring harm to virtual denizens of a virtual world. However, that is not necessarily the scope she should be considering. Hollywood has built up a rather impressive track record in creating misconceptions about computers, what they do, what people who use them do, and what people who program them do. I doubt that any advance material will help us forecast whether or not Avatar will offer up a new batch of such misconceptions. After all, establishing too secure a sense of reality might erode its box office potential!

Given that ignorance of history is now part of our culture, it is unclear whether Purves wanted to take Cameron to task for causing that ignorance or simply exploiting it. Avatar, on the other hand, will have an impact on how we view the present, regardless of how much we choose to neglect the past. The funny thing about Titanic is that I have no trouble living in a world in which I can assume it never existed; but, given the impact the Internet has on most of our lives, awareness of Avatar may turn out to be both more likely and more hazardous.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Apropos nothing, I much preferred the (largely unsuccessful) Maury Yeston/Peter Stone Broadway Musical "Titanic." I believe it portrays all the characters sympathetically, and as historically accurately as is possible, given that most of the protagonists could not be interviewed. Music, lyrics and book are elegant and food for thought. Visually, of course, it suffered: People standing on level deck in Act 1, slanted deck in Act 2, The End.