Movie review: Avatar! (and the problem with PETA’s love of it)  »

PETA awarded director James Cameron their 2010 Proggy Award for Outstanding Feature Film. Huh? Is that an actual award? Working off of PETA’s recommendation, I went to see it. I disliked this movie for several reasons, but let’s overlook the remarkable racism and sexism for now and deal solely with the rationale behind PETA’s commendation. First, PETA praises Avatar because the CGI visuals required no animals to be used in making the film. While I doubt Cameron would have thought twice about using animals if it made sense for his film, whatever, fine; I’m right there with you there, PETA.

The organization goes on to contend that Avatar's central themes are the interconnectivity of nature, and that all animals should be “treated with kindness, respect, and dignity.” So, let’s discuss Avatar’s animal themes. When the soldier dude in the blue-people suit first goes into the woods and meets the real blue lady, they fight a pack of threatening animals and end up killing at least one. She chides him for being all macho and happy that they fought off the animals, claiming that any animal death is a travesty and an affront to nature. Fair enough. I’m still with you, PETA.

THEN THEY GO HUNTING. Wha? The blue lady teaches the blue dude how to be an official Space Smurf, which apparently includes honing your hunting skills. They do thank nature for the bounty and request forgiveness from the spirit of the animal. Is that enough? Would you eat beef if Tyson first thanked “Mother Nature” and requested forgiveness from the cow?

But what really confused me about PETA’s endorsement is that by rationalizing hunting through the approval of an omniscient “Mother Nature,” Avatar tacitly approves of the idea that it is “natural” to eat meat. The nature argument goes something like this: Since humans are the smartest animals, since we sit atop the food chain, since we have done so since the beginning of time (and apparently even do so on other planets, despite Avatar’s insistence that Pandora has loads of very tasty fruit), nature provides a mandate to hunt and eat animals. Nature wouldn’t provide steak if we weren’t supposed to eat it with impunity. It’s unfortunate that an animal has to die in the process, but it’s nature’s fault, not ours.

What’s my problem with the nature argument? Well, it turns out humans created the concepts of “nature” and the “food chain.” Every animal that dies to feed humans does so not because it is the “way of nature” but because of a decision by humans. We, not some nebulous natural force, make these decisions and determine how to view the world around us, so we must take responsibility for our actions.

So while I appreciate Avatar’s message of respect between all life and the planet, the idea that Avatar’s mother tree oversees all of nature and approves of its inhabitants eating animals seems to fly in the face of that respect. Here on Earth, there are no universal truths emanating from “Mother Nature” or anywhere else dictating that humans do anything, much less eat animals. Rather, we’re in charge and must collectively make decisions that ensure “kindness, respect, and dignity” toward all people, animals and the planet, even if it means changing practices that are allegedly “natural.” How to equitably reach such an outcome is a wholly separate discussion, but I would suggest hunting an animal for any reason doesn’t exactly respect its dignity.

I’m really mystified why PETA would laud this movie—the last thing animals and vegans need is a global blockbuster suggesting that eating meat is “natural.” And I think Avatar would have done just fine without PETA’s dubious recommendation. Oh, and by the way, James Cameron actually used animals when filming Avatar. Whoops! Good going, PETA!

C’mon The Hurt Locker! Sweep the Oscars!

When he’s not slowly burning out his projector bulb, Zach Cincotta is an entertainment and business attorney representing awesome bands, record labels, and other small businesses. His previous movie reviews for Vegansaurus can be found here, you can contact him here, and follow him on Twitter here.

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