Avatar and Empire

NEW YORK – Do nations have psychological processes – even Freudian processes, such as collective egos that can be injured, and repressed guilt feelings that can well up from the collective unconscious – just as individuals do? I believe that they do.

I also believe that just as an individual’s dreams and slips of the tongue reveal his or her repressed knowledge, so a culture’s “dreamwork” – its films, pop music, visual arts, and even in the resonant jokes, cartoons and advertising images – reveal the signs of this collective unconscious. Moreover, a nation’s “irrational dreamwork” often reflects its actual condition more truthfully than its “ego” – its official pronouncements, diplomatic statements, and propaganda.

So take this theory with you when you see James Cameron’s Avatar , and watch for two revealing themes: the raw, guilty template of the American unconscious in the context of the “war on terror” and late-stage corporate imperialism, and a critical portrayal of America – for the first time ever in a Hollywood blockbuster – from the point of view of the rest of the world.

In the Hollywood tradition, of course, the American hero fighting an indigenous enemy is innocent and moral, a reluctant warrior bringing democracy, or at least justice, to feral savages. In Avatar , the core themes highlight everything that has gone wrong with Americans’ view of themselves in relation to their country’s foreign policy.