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Rotting mounds of garbage don’t typically capture my attention for too long. They tend to smell bad, they attract shifty-looking sanitation workers and I happen to be terrified of raccoons. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the large-scale impact of garbage or the importance of how it affects our planet’s ecosystem — I just don’t think it’s anything particularly remarkable to look at.
“Avatar” was the exception.
Billed as the next generation of filmmaking, “Avatar” was in fact one of the most monumental heaps of garbage ever to appear in theaters. It was shallow. It was repetitive. It had a storyline that blended the worst elements of “Pocahontas” with the best elements of “Captain Planet”.
But god damn if it wasn’t the prettiest piece of garbage I’ve ever seen. I was captivated. I’ll even go so far as to say that I liked it. And that scares me.
While I’m not usually one to play up the cultural significance of overhyped, big-name blockbusters, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that “Avatar” is likely to have on the film industry, and on the development of our Internet-fed collective consciousness. “Avatar” is much more than just a bad movie with good special effects; as the second highest-grossing film in history, it’s a sign of the times — a poorly scripted testament to the rapidly evolving nature of what intrigues us. And, by the looks of it, what intrigues us is a whole lot of crap. Glossy, digitally enhanced, multimillion-dollar crap.
To be fair, that’s pretty much always been the case. Never before, however, has so mindless a film gained so much critical acclaim. Scene for scene, the plot of “Avatar” is roughly on par with that of a lesser-known Disney movie. But we all liked it. A lot. Mainly because it was the coolest-looking thing any of us has ever seen. It was a rollercoaster, a spaceship, a dramatic warping of our immediate surroundings. The theater ceased to exist. We were in another world.
Unfortunately, that world was plagued by idiotic dialogue, shamelessly employed stereotypes and heroes we secretly hoped would die. And that’s why “Avatar” — with its exceedingly superficial plot line, its stunning lack of character development and its near-unparalleled box- office success — is a perfect example of how our young, Web-minded generation — perpetually grafted to smart phones and jacked into social-media networks — likes to get its kicks.
It’s becoming more and more evident that what we want is instant gratification, pretty pictures and non-stop visual stimulation. We don’t want to think. We don’t want to read. We don’t want to be challenged, nor made to question what’s before us. Instead of lengthy newspaper articles, we want quick one-line summaries. Instead of complex back-stories, subtle character traits and thought-provoking narratives, we crave a relentless barrage of 3-D bullshit. We want the immediacy of Twitter, the pornographic thrill of YouTube. We want color. We want action. We want it now. And it’s making us stupid.
There’s not much we can do about it, though. At this point, our unyielding drive toward complete digital idiocy has gained far too much momentum for any sort of effective reversal. We’re bound to grow ever more infatuated with technology, ever more impressed by mind-numbing feats of artificial visualization, ever more dependent on our computer-generated intellectual crutches. Hearing my peers — the majority of whom I had assumed to be at least partially capable of intelligent thought — praise the film for its brilliance is heartbreaking. The worst part is that I pretty much agree with them.
But why? Why have I fallen prey to this epic piece of crap? Must I now commit hara-kiri, the ancient Japanese suicide ritual? Will the act of slashing open my abdomen and repeatedly stabbing myself in the throat be enough to cleanse my tarnished soul of this “Avatar”-induced stupidity? And how long will it take my roommate to get the blood stains out of the carpet?
These aren’t the sorts of questions I like to ponder following a Monday-afternoon matinee, but ultimately, that’s what we’re all faced with. “Avatar” has forced us to come to terms with the extent of our social decay. We don’t need it to make sense, we don’t need it to make us think — it just needs to look good.
Maybe the DVD release will help break our trance. Without its kick-ass visual facade, after all, “Avatar” is going to look a lot like a bottom-rung Pixar flick. It’ll be like seeing an average-looking girl without makeup for the first time, or like walking onto the set of “Sesame Street” and realizing that Elmo is just a sweaty nerd with his hand up a puppet’s ass. For now, though, we’re stuck — hopelessly fixated, relentlessly entertained. Oh, how we love our digital garbage — especially when it’s in 3-D.