Life, Art, Life

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(Crossposted at Arcade.)

I remember hearing once that FBI agents who had wiretaps on various mafia operations noted a change in the speaking style of the gangsters they were monitoring after Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather was released in 1972.  The real gangsters began imitating the patois of their film counterparts, thoroughly identifying with their brutal ethos. 


Today, I found another example of film invading life.  Palestinian protesters are reportedly dressing up as Na’vi from James Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar.  The AP notes that these activists have compared "their struggle to the intergalactic one portrayed in the film," and are opposing the separation barrier Israel has constructed in the West Bank.

Ignoring the fact that Avatar depicts an interplanetary — not intergalactic — struggle, we should ask, What does this mode of activism say about how narrative templates and popular culture shape everyday life and real-world political struggle?  Obviously, unlike the case of The Godfather, Palestinians don’t think they literally are the Na’vi, but to what degree can digital blue aliens serve as the locus of identity-formation, ethical self-definition, and new conceptualizations of human rights (ironically, or perhaps necessarily, triangulated off of the digital non-human)? 

Is this an example of activists cleverly appropriating popular culture, or an example of popular culture even more cleverly appropriating the imagination of activists?  Or is this perhaps an example of the desperate lengths to which an activist must go to get our attention — by flattering our pop cultural vanity?  Would I have written a post about Israel and Palestine if these activists had not dressed up like fictional blue aliens in a blockbuster film?  The answer is probably no.  Is that a problem? 

1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Thanks for sending the link, Jon. The AP article I linked to indicates the Na’vi-impersonating Palestinian protesters were protesting against the separation barrier, not for BDS. But even if they were, the open question for me isn’t what James Cameron personally thinks on these matters — I’m willing to bet the Palestinian protesters don’t regard him as their guru or as a uniquely noteworthy moral authority.

    Rather, I am interested in why we pay attention to political conflicts when people put on blue face paint, but ignore similar protests, conflicts, and situations when our pop cultural vanity isn’t part of the equation. By “we,” I don’t mean individuals, who naturally vary in levels of attention, but the system of the U.S. media and the myriad individual choices which lead editors, publishers, and producers to deem one sort of story newsworthy, while another doesn’t make the cut.