Pharyngula

James Cameron:one of us?

James Cameron was caught in an interview saying what he really thinks about Glenn Beck, Fox News, global warming denialists, and let’s just say he uses a few terms that would send the Colgate Twins to their fainting couches. He also happens to be a vocal celebrity atheist.

I’ve sworn off agnosticism, which I now call cowardly atheism. I’ve come to the position that in the complete absence of any supporting data whatsover for the persistence of the individual in some spiritual form, it is necessary to operate under the provisional conclusion that there is no afterlife and then be ready to amend that if I find out otherwise.

I guess I shouldn’t have bothered with the question mark in the title.

Comments

  1. #1 KOPD
    March 25, 2010

    Sweet. Now if only we could get Kirk Cameron to grow a brain.

  2. #2 'Tis Himself, OM
    March 25, 2010

    Hey Mooneybaum, an atheist called a practicing Mormon an asshole. You should write a special post explaining how Cameron isn’t showing the proper respect to the Mormon cult. And while you’re at it, you should also explain how Glen Beck isn’t really an asshole.

  3. #3 Tulse
    March 25, 2010

    I’d be more impressed with his atheism if he hadn’t directed a movie that posited a world-spanning consciousness that links all organisms together and absorbs their mental essence at death.

  4. #4 aratina cage
    March 25, 2010

    And they say that atheists cannot find the inspiration to create great works of art?

  5. #5 Zeno
    March 25, 2010

    But the world-spanning consciousness is science fiction. God, on the other hand, is fantasy.

  6. #6 mfd512
    March 25, 2010

    How do we know James Cameron isn’t God? Certainly carries himself that way.

  7. #7 AJ Milne
    March 25, 2010

    Beck: ‘Many people believe James Cameron officially has tossed his hat in the ring today and is officially running for anti-Christ…’

    That bastard. I’m screwed.

    (/Shreds own nomination papers…)

  8. #8 nigelTheBold
    March 25, 2010

    I’d be more impressed with his atheism if he hadn’t directed a movie that posited a world-spanning consciousness that links all organisms together and absorbs their mental essence at death.

    That’s really nothing new in SF. Alan Dean Foster used that for his Midworld stories, for instance. And it’s not much different than “uploading your consciousness” that’s a staple of William Gibson novels, and used by the likes of Fred Pohl.

    My biggest problem was the lack of subtlety. “Dances With Aliens,” indeed.

  9. #9 aratina cage
    March 25, 2010

    *shakes head* @ #3

    “Mental essence” = memories, and memories can be transmitted. There is zero woo in that.

  10. #10 Tulse
    March 25, 2010

    it’s not much different than “uploading your consciousness” that’s a staple of William Gibson novels, and used by the likes of Fred Pohl.

    Sure, but there’s a big difference between using this trope in a transhumanist context and using it to create an SF version of Gaia. Don’t get me wrong, I like Cameron’s work and I thought the movie was OK, but it certainly came off as pro-squishy-spirituality to me.

  11. #11 Stephen Wells
    March 25, 2010

    Hate his movies, but I like the “cowardly atheism” tag. I hear the cry of “splitters!” even now :)

    Magic and deities are absolutely fine in their proper place; fiction.

  12. #12 Givesgoodemail
    March 25, 2010

    @1: “Sweet. Now if only we could get Kirk Cameron to grow a brain.”

    Now, now. He’s got a brain. It’s just stuck at the reptile stage (“I’m scared! Let’s fight!”).

    That’s all fundie behavior is…fear of the unknown.

  13. #13 AJ Milne
    March 25, 2010

    My biggest problem was the lack of subtlety. “Dances With Aliens,” indeed.

    Oh my, yes.

    I mean, it was eye-poppingly gorgeous, yes. But even for someone who generally agrees with the notions that yes, nasty military cultures can be a mite short-sighted and not fucking up the world should be something of a priority, and who generally doesn’t mind this being mentioned now and again, Avatar was often a bit didactic…

    (/Y’know… The way Liberace was often a bit flamboyant.)

  14. #14 MoonShark
    March 25, 2010

    Glenn Beck reponds (the text gives all the pieces if you can’t stand Beck on video)

    It’s mostly as dumb and warped as you’d expect. Although as much as I hate to say it, I do have to agree with Beck on the Celine Dion song.

    I’m slightly more inclined to see Avatar now, knowing that the money won’t go to some reality denier. But it still sounds like a terrible plot.

  15. #15 toth
    March 25, 2010

    Mediocre movie, smart director.

    I’d be more impressed with his atheism if he hadn’t directed a movie that posited a world-spanning consciousness that links all organisms together and absorbs their mental essence at death.

    Really? Does the term “fantasy” mean anything to you? Do atheists have to make everything they create mirror reality?

  16. #16 Benjamin Geiger
    March 25, 2010

    Gooble gobble!

  17. #17 a.human.ape
    March 25, 2010

    I’ve sworn off agnosticism, which I now call cowardly atheism.

    I don’t see much difference between agnostics and Christian fundamentalists/Muslim terrorists.

    The agnostics say they can’t be certain there’s no magic fairy hiding in the clouds, which is as idiotic as saying the Easter Bunny could be real. They are sucking up to religious extremism when they say that, and that makes them worthless scum.

  18. #18 AJ Milne
    March 25, 2010

    … Actually, the other bit with Avatar that pretty much made me grind my teeth was the insanely drawn-out ‘boss battle’ bit, where the baddie even, yes, effectively kills a dog…

    I think at this point I would have paid Cameron (or hell, as long as I’m fantasizing, can we get Whedon?) cashy money for some director’s cut where the big baddie swaggers into that scene, starts into what looks like it’s gonna be a big scenery-chewing monologue, and yeah, the music swells as tho’ we’re going into that standard shit all out, the hero looking on balefully and in dread, in the attitude of ‘here it comes’…

    And then the villain trips mid-sentence into a man-eating plant, there’s a loud but very short <gulp>, as it swallows him, followed by a short interval of complete silence…

    (/And then credits.)

  19. #19 Tulse
    March 25, 2010

    Does the term “fantasy” mean anything to you? Do atheists have to make everything they create mirror reality?

    Of course not. That said, there are plenty of SF and fantasy writers whose works are in line with their real life beliefs (see, e.g., Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials). I just find it odd that someone who wrote and directed a movie about how the natural world is all interconnected into a global consciousness which absorbs the mental essence of the dead and directs the actions of organisms is an atheist. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that from the film.

  20. #20 Shala
    March 25, 2010

    James Cameron just continuing to be awesome.

    Great director and great man overall (not fun to work with though). I even loved Ferngully For Adults (Avatar).

  21. #21 Wes Dodson
    March 25, 2010

    The problem is you find out and then forget again as soon as you are reborn.

  22. #22 toth
    March 25, 2010

    Of course not. That said, there are plenty of SF and fantasy writers whose works are in line with their real life beliefs (see, e.g., Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials). I just find it odd that someone who wrote and directed a movie about how the natural world is all interconnected into a global consciousness which absorbs the mental essence of the dead and directs the actions of organisms is an atheist. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that from the film.

    Surprise is certainly a reasonable reaction–I wasn’t expecting that he was an outspoken atheist myself. But you said

    I’d be more impressed with his atheism if he hadn’t directed a movie that posited a world-spanning consciousness that links all organisms together and absorbs their mental essence at death.

    as though the content of his movie had a detrimental effect on his atheism. That’s what I don’t understand.

  23. #23 SC OM
    March 25, 2010

    I didn’t know about the tomb ‘documentary’. Sounds pretty bad:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lost_Tomb_of_Jesus

  24. #24 startlingmoniker
    March 25, 2010

    Gabba gabba hey!

  25. #25 TWood
    March 25, 2010

    When it comes to all the gods of all the religions it’s easy to be atheist.

    When it comes to whether or not there is an intelligence at work in the universe, I still have to say agnostic. Which has nothing to do with an afterlife, so I thought that was an odd criterion for Cameron to use.

    invisible pink elephants

  26. #26 Tulse
    March 25, 2010

    as though the content of his movie had a detrimental effect on his atheism. That’s what I don’t understand.

    Perhaps I was unclear — I merely meant that despite claiming to be vocal atheist, it seems his atheism does little to inform his art (unlike, say, Pullman, and unlike how the religious views of Lewis affected his art).

  27. #27 Romeo Vitelli
    March 25, 2010

    He probably decided to renounce religion when he lost the best director Oscar to his ex-wife…

  28. #28 rob
    March 25, 2010

    @AJ Milne: kinda like Boba Fett!

    @mfd512: trick question. Lemmy from Motorhead is god.

  29. #29 Lukas
    March 25, 2010

    I really don’t mind supernatural stuff in works of fiction, but even so… as far as I remember, there was nothing supernatural in Avatar. Even the religion of the Na’vi was based on actual natural systems that existed on their planets. They did not worship that tree out of superstition, they worshipped it because it was some kind of naturally grown Internet.

  30. #30 llewelly
    March 25, 2010

    I seem to remember reading somewheres that James Cameron worked on The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which I thought advocated psuedo-archeology. ( See here.) Let’s not have a repeat of the Bill Maher fiasco.

  31. #31 fauxrs
    March 25, 2010

    I merely meant that despite claiming to be vocal atheist, it seems his atheism does little to inform his art (unlike, say, Pullman, and unlike how the religious views of Lewis affected his art).

    So what? I agree if you watch that film (which had no business getting a best-picture nomination) one wouldnt assume he is an atheist, but so what. Must his work reflect his atheism? of course not.

    Its just a flippin’ movie!!! There are those on teh right who complain the movie casts the US military in a bad light and reflects negatively on capitolism….its MOVIE FICTION not a documentary for fek sake.

  32. #32 Shala
    March 25, 2010

    I really don’t mind supernatural stuff in works of fiction, but even so… as far as I remember, there was nothing supernatural in Avatar. Even the religion of the Na’vi was based on actual natural systems that existed on their planets. They did not worship that tree out of superstition, they worshipped it because it was some kind of naturally grown Internet.

    Yes. Even their deities were actually some sort of scientific explanation.

  33. #33 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de
    March 25, 2010

    I’d be more impressed with his atheism if he hadn’t directed a movie that posited a world-spanning consciousness that links all organisms together and absorbs their mental essence at death.

    The big difference is that they actually have proof their god exists though because they can connect to it. They have justification for belief even if how it’s there and how it really works is unexplained, there is proof it really is there.

    But it still sounds like a terrible plot.

    It’s not a terrible plot… it’s just not an original one.

    Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and Ferngully are the exact same plot, just with different characters and settings. Cameron claims he took the idea from a book series called Noon Universe.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noon_Universe

    But, “Dances with Wolves” won 7 oscars plus another 30 awards and 20 nominations… and most of the good ones like “Best Picture.” Can’t be that terrible of a plot.

  34. #34 Samantha
    March 25, 2010

    Has anyone else read the comments to the article in the first link? I really am just sitting here hoping that most of them are repeat posters or that Glenn Beck did indeed send his hordes, because nine out of every ten comments there are trashing Cameron for “believing” in Global Warming/Climate Change.

    This one is particularly good:

    TEA PARTY AMERICANS BOYCOTT THEIR MOVIES SHUT THESE COMMIE LOW LIFE SCUM UP- TELL THEN TO KEEP THEIR LEFT WING COMMIE OPINONS TO THEMSELF NOBODY CARES —

    Are there really a large percentage of Americans that think like that? Really?

  35. #35 Brownian, OM
    March 25, 2010

    Are there really a large percentage of Americans that think like that? Really?

    Yes.

    But it still sounds like a terrible plot.

    Bah. I’m tired of Avatar trashers. Since when did I fall through a wormhole into an alternate universe where Shakespeare in the Park sells out every summer because North American audiences are screaming for good plots?

  36. #36 Maslab
    March 25, 2010

    Are there really a large percentage of Americans that think like that? Really?

    I certainly hope not. Probably a troll or dozen.

  37. #37 Darrell E
    March 25, 2010

    Posted by: Tulse | March 25, 2010 10:04 AM

    Does the term “fantasy” mean anything to you? Do atheists have to make everything they create mirror reality?

    Of course not. That said, there are plenty of SF and fantasy writers whose works are in line with their real life beliefs (see, e.g., Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials). I just find it odd that someone who wrote and directed a movie about how the natural world is all interconnected into a global consciousness which absorbs the mental essence of the dead and directs the actions of organisms is an atheist. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that from the film.

    Did you see the movie or just read reviews or comments by others? You seem to be making a worst case interpretation of this element of the story, which is perfectly fine, and maybe exaggerating a bit.

    The interconnectedness was presented as a feature of one particular planet, not a general feature of the natural world. Though they may be fanciful and extremely unlikely, non supernatural explanations where given, mostly by a scientist character.

    The interconnectedness was a physical reality, and it was explained that the physical connections were of a density and complexity comparable to the human brain and capable of passing information in a manner analogous to neurons. Fantastical yes, but not mystical. Except as viewed through the perspective of the natives.

    I do agree that Avatar was really lacking in the story deparment, but I have nothing negative to say about this little part of it.

    As for Cameron’s comments here, two big thumbs up. I had no idea. I want to see a lot more highly visible people telling it like it is about scumbags like Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly, Coulter, etc. Without being inhibited by worries of how it might affect their image with certain groups.

  38. #38 Multicellular
    March 25, 2010

    @34

    Has anyone else read the comments to the article in the first link?

    Yes, I did. I looked like some right-wing bloggo sent his minions over to do his/her bidding. That would never happen here. (JK PZ, I love stacking the polls).

    @6

    How do we know James Cameron isn’t God? Certainly carries himself that way.

    Well, he certainly has more money than God. But come to think of it, so do I.

  39. #39 mikerattlesnake
    March 25, 2010

    I didn’t see Avatar (and still haven’t seen Titanic, though that’s neither here nor there), but #3 coul also be describing the Force. I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if George Lucas was an atheist just because he came up with the Force.

  40. #40 gr8hands
    March 25, 2010

    C’mon guys. Next you’ll be complaining that there wasn’t a real “Jack Dawson” or “Rose DeWitt Bukater” or even a Coeur de la Mer diamond on the real Titanic!

    Gay writers can have straight characters. White writers can have Black characters. Atheist writers can have gods.

    Does anyone think that Beverly Cross actually believed in Zeus, et al. when she penned Clash of the Titans?

    Get a grip!

  41. #41 Maslab
    March 25, 2010

    I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if George Lucas was an atheist just because he came up with the Force.

    Perhaps these two examples of two people pointing at something with an appearance of being supernatural and saying “Here is what makes sense. Your religion does not do this.”

  42. #42 Tony Jolley
    March 25, 2010

    @ #10

    Sure, but there’s a big difference between using this trope in a transhumanist context and using it to create an SF version of Gaia. Don’t get me wrong, I like Cameron’s work and I thought the movie was OK, but it certainly came off as pro-squishy-spirituality to me.

    The whole planet is essentially a giant brain/computer. I don’t see any squishy spirituality in there.

  43. #43 Sili
    March 25, 2010

    Meh. Who cares?

    But, “Dances with Wolves” won 7 oscars plus another 30 awards and 20 nominations… and most of the good ones like “Best Picture.” Can’t be that terrible of a plot.

    Titanic.

  44. #44 Alverant
    March 25, 2010

    Tulse, Pandora didn’t abosrb consciousness when the natives died. The Na’vi connected to their planet while they were living and “uploaded” their memories there. It doesn’t quite explain the “soul” transfer at the end. But the combat walkers had their own problems too. Sometimes you have to bend the rules a little for the sake of a good story.

    And yes, I do think Avatar had a good story. Sure it was repeated in earlier films, but so what? That doesn’t make it a bad story. Cameron retold the story wonderfully and better than many others. What ever happened to going to the movies to be entertained?

  45. #45 tradewinds
    March 25, 2010

    Loved Avatar. Anything that can keep me very still for 2hrs 40 mins had to be good. NO 17, I think you just called Carl Sagan an asshole.

  46. #46 gr8hands
    March 25, 2010

    The Force is “an energy field created by all living things, that surrounds and penetrates living beings and binds the galaxy together.” Clearly not supernatural.

    George Lucas has attributed the origins of “The Force” to a 1963 abstract film by Arthur Lipsett, which sampled from many sources.

    http://www.adherents.com/people/pl/George_Lucas.html

  47. #47 Feynmaniac
    March 25, 2010

    Glenn Beck reponds

    It’s weird that Beck calls Avatar a “Smurf-murdering movie?, since he probably got the idea from this South Park episode that ridiculed him mercilessly (and James Cameron to a lesser extent).

  48. #48 eddylinc
    March 25, 2010

    Off topic a bit, but here’s what the lovely religious-right seems to think is ok as a form of healthcare protest:

    http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/36034_Jim_Hoft_%28Gateway_Pundit%29_Staged_the_Carnahan_Coffin_Stunt

  49. #49 Chris Hegarty
    March 25, 2010

    For a second I thought the headline of this post was “David Cameron: One of us?” I almost had an aneurysm. I’ve been following British politics too much lately.

    As for Avatar, it was decent. It’s pretty much the same storyline of Pocahontas (the Disney one; not what happened in real life).

    Chris
    http://hegartyblog.wordpress.com

  50. #50 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de
    March 25, 2010

    But, “Dances with Wolves” won 7 oscars plus another 30 awards and 20 nominations… and most of the good ones like “Best Picture.” Can’t be that terrible of a plot.

    Titanic.

    What was wrong with Titanic? The boat sank and DiCaprio died? What more do you want?

    Plus, when Neil deGrasse Tyson complained about the incorrect, starry sky after the boat sank, Cameron did something about it. In the director’s cut, they got Tyson to provide the correct north atlantic sky.

    That’s gotta be worth something.

  51. #51 Tulse
    March 25, 2010

    My original comment was really intended as an off-hand observation of irony, and really wasn’t meant as a deep statement about the nature of art or Avatar. That said:

    Did you see the movie or just read reviews or comments by others?

    Yes, I saw it and enjoyed it quite a bit, but it didn’t strike me as particularly atheistic in its outlook. That’s not a condemnation, but just something I see as ironic given what I’ve just learned of Cameron’s beliefs.

    The interconnectedness was presented as a feature of one particular planet

    Of course it was — I never said it wasn’t. But it is silly not to see the theme of the movie as arguing for “interconnectedness” of nature in general, just as it is silly not to see Star Trek IV as an argument against wiping out whales in general, or the original Rollerball as an argument against corporatism in general.

    The interconnectedness was a physical reality

    Right, and in Soylent Green overpopulation was a physical reality — are you saying that story isn’t implicitly arguing against overpopulation?

    Again, I really did like Avatar, and yes, I thought it did a good job of “naturalizing” a mushy Gaia account of the world. But I think it’s silly to say that the film did not have a pro-environment message that it pushed with that mushy Gaia account (and I say that as a lefty pro-environment person), an account that in our world isn’t true.

    The whole planet is essentially a giant brain/computer. I don’t see any squishy spirituality in there.

    You don’t think that this setup, especially in the context of the evil corporation that wants to do resource extraction, isn’t intended as a message relevant to Earth? In other words, you don’t think it isn’t co-opting squishy spirituality?

  52. #52 uulargh
    March 25, 2010

    Damn, does this mean I have to actually like James Cameron?

  53. #53 jerthebarbarian
    March 25, 2010

    @47:

    It’s weird that Beck calls Avatar a “Smurf-murdering movie?, since he probably got the idea from this South Park episode that ridiculed him mercilessly

    hmmm. Another data point for my “Glenn Beck is really a performance artist out to put Andy Kaufman and Sacha Baron Cohen to shame” dataset. It’s a small dataset, and not really a very convincing one, but little inconsistencies in the character of “Glenn Beck” make him seem suspicious.

    Right now I’m still firmly in the “Glenn Beck is a raving loonie who did too many drugs and drank too much and it’s damaged his brain” camp. Which is also a good explanation for the inconsistencies. I was in the “Glenn Beck found a good gig fleecing rubes but can’t quite keep it consistent” but he’s gone past the Ann Coulter line with that kind of persona which puts him too far past the border into crazytown for me to think he’s just fleecing rubes at this point.

  54. #54 Brownian, OM
    March 25, 2010

    Loved Avatar. Anything that can keep me very still for 2hrs 40 mins had to be good.

    I made the mistake of having a little too much coffee the morning before I saw it at a matinée showing, and watched the last 2 hours and 22 minutes of it with a distended bladder. Still couldn’t leave the theatre mid-show. (I found the movie slightly less engaging on my second viewing, but I augmented my interest by attempting to catch a glimpse of Neytiri’s nipples. I blame/thank Star Trek: TOS for piquing my interest in blue-hued women.)

    Anyway, if I wanted a complex story led by dynamic characters that aren’t easily categorised into facile dichotomies of good and bad with no clear arc or easily predicted outcome, I’d have left the theatre and lived my damn life.

  55. #55 False Prophet
    March 25, 2010

    #29. @Lukas:

    And that’s the only thing that kept me from dismissing the movie as yet another “noble savage”/white liberal guilt tale. The Na’vi couldn’t just pick another tree. Hometree was effectively a combination of the Library of Alexandria and Westminster Abbey. Its destruction was the murder of their culture, not just some shelter they were using.

    #35, @Brownian:

    Shakespeare ripped off most of his plots too (and most weren’t that great). If some literary theorists are to be believed, there are only between 3 and 52 plots (depending who you believe) that get recycled over and over again. It’s all about execution. Avatar was fine. It was very pretty, used the 3D effectively, was well-paced and explored one or two interesting ideas in a very superficial way. But I didn’t think it came up with any innovative ideas–just filmmaking technology.

  56. #56 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    March 25, 2010

    Asked by THR if he felt the right wing’s attacks against him were continuing, Cameron replied: “They’re not attacks. They’re just people ranting away, lost in their little bubbles of reality, steeped in their own hatred, their own fear and hatred. That’s where it all comes from. Let’s just call it out. Let’s have a public discussion. That’s what movies are supposed to do, you know, you can have a mindless entertainment film that doesn’t affect anybody. I wasn’t interested in that.”

    Not taht I disliked avatar, but it /was/ a mindless entertainment film…

  57. #57 amphiox
    March 25, 2010

    In other words, you don’t think it isn’t co-opting squishy spirituality?

    Sure, but in terms of his atheism, so what?

    Atheism doesn’t insist that phenomena that may be perceived spiritually cannot exist, only that they have naturalistic, and not supernaturalistic, explanations.

    Nor does it deny that such phenomena cannot have important sociological or psychological sequelae.

    The movie presented a phenomenon that could be interpreted as spiritual, that certain characters within the movie believe strongly to be spiritual, and presents it as important, but shows in the end that it has a completely naturalistic explanation, an explanation that does not diminish, and in fact increases its importance. (Because the gaia-world is in fact a physical reality and not an imaginary or supernatural construct, it can in fact be harmed, which brings urgency to the plot and immediacy to the message)

    That, to me, is an intensely atheistic theme.

  58. #58 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de
    March 25, 2010

    Not taht I disliked avatar, but it /was/ a mindless entertainment film…

    Who ever said it wasn’t? But you gotta admit that’s some damn good mindless entertainment…

  59. #59 Alverant
    March 25, 2010

    #55 I think you have a good point in that there’s only a limited number of plots. It depends on what you do with it. I think Avatar was wonderfully executed even if used Plot #4 and a dozen other films used it before in a similar way. I think the plot was kept simple so it was easier to be immersed in the setting. Most of the people who I know which saw the movie said that the time flew by. That wouldn’t have happened if the movie was more complex.

    Look at James Bond movies. They pretty much follow the same formula but there are good Bond movies and bad Bond movies. But they’re all kept pretty simple. You’re told who the villain is, you prove the villain is bad, you stop and kill villain. Have a drink and sleep with the girl. The End.

  60. #60 johnlock
    March 25, 2010

    #17: very well said! Surely agnostics must be neutral on the issues of global warming and the holocaust as well. After all, if they haven’t done their own first-hand research they are compelled to allocate 50% probabilities all over the shop, are they not?
    Of course, some people might be offended by that, so let’s just adjust our belief system accordingly.

  61. #61 destlund
    March 25, 2010

    The more I hear about him lately, the more I like him. I don’t like his movies, but I admit, if it were my job to make movies, they’re probably the kind of movies I would make. Populist schlock with an embedded (although vague) political message, concerned always with raising the lowest common denominator (not reaching the pinnacles of the art).

  62. #62 Brownian, OM
    March 25, 2010

    Shakespeare ripped off most of his plots too (and most weren’t that great).

    You’ll get no disagreement from me on that point. But isn’t that what writers do?

    If some literary theorists are to be believed, there are only between 3 and 52 plots (depending who you believe) that get recycled over and over again.

    How many ways are there to describe things that happen to humans? We eat, sleep, fall in love, fall out of love, get sick, get poor, get rich, and eventually die. I suspect that if any writer or filmmaker ever truly came up in with a novel plot, we wouldn’t understand or like it anyway.

    That said, I also suspect that there are novel ways of telling the same stories, and some of those can be seen in the oral and other stories of people from vastly disparate cultures, such as those of foragers or otherwise non-industrialised agriculturalists. Having encountered some of them, I can say that they make little sense to Westerners enculturated in a story-telling history derived from the Greek tradition.

  63. #63 Rey Fox
    March 25, 2010

    “I’ve come to the position that in the complete absence of any supporting data whatsover for the persistence of the individual in some spiritual form, it is necessary to operate under the provisional conclusion that there is no afterlife and then be ready to amend that if I find out otherwise.”

    Why, it’s so…sensible.

  64. #64 David Marjanovi?
    March 25, 2010

    I don’t see much difference between agnostics and Christian fundamentalists/Muslim terrorists.

    Dude?

    look.

    What was wrong with Titanic? The boat sank and DiCaprio died? What more do you want?

    Day saved.

    Plus, when Neil deGrasse Tyson complained about the incorrect, starry sky after the boat sank, Cameron did something about it. In the director’s cut, they got Tyson to provide the correct north atlantic sky.

    Impressive.

  65. #65 AJ Milne
    March 25, 2010

    You’re told who the villain is, you prove the villain is bad, you stop and kill villain. Have a drink and sleep with the girl. The End.

    Everything I needed to know in life, I learned from James Bond:

    – There’s never a wrong time for a good martini.
    – Or good sex.
    – Or bad sex.
    – Or a vaguely witty rejoinder.
    – Like just after you’ve dumped the evil villain into his own pool of acid. That’s always a good time.
    – Go ahead and sleep with the villainess. You know you want to.
    – And the heroine. Same reason.
    – And her girlfriend. If there’s one in the picture.
    – And her girlfriend’s girlfriend.
    – Always carry a fountain pen that explodes.
    – The villain will monologue. This is just what he does, and honestly, it’s his favourite part of the day. You should politely listen for a bit while getting the exploding fountain pen ready. It’s just how these things are done. Simply punching him in the face just as he’s starting is really incredibly bad form. Just rude, really.
    – Also her girlfriend’s girlfriend’s girlfriend.
    – And the hatcheck girl.
    – And her girlfriend.
    – Keep your tuxedo ironed. A high stakes game of poker may break out at any moment. It’s best to be ready.
    – Witty rejoinders while dispatching generic henchmen are generally discouraged. It’s just paying them too much attention, and also generally bad form. These guys hate their jobs, actually, and prefer to be dispatched quietly and quickly so they can get on with their death. Besides which, if you could be killed with a single half-hearted chop to the neck, would you want people going on and on about it? I think not.
    – Stay properly literate in opera. At the very least, learn to pretend you are. Evil transnational plots have a way of breaking out in dreadfully cultured European centres, and it’s just terribly gauche while staking out the evil cabal’s meeting during Don Giovanni to have to ask that usher guy ‘Whyinhell is everyone screaming in Italian?’
    – And the hatcheck girl’s girlfriend’s girlfriend…

  66. #66 William
    March 25, 2010

    I don’t see much difference between agnostics and Christian fundamentalists/Muslim terrorists.

    Congrats! You are why the “new atheists” are so readily dismissed by so many.

  67. #67 Darrell E
    March 25, 2010

    Tulse,

    I guess I just don’t have the habit of looking at every little detail of a story as an allegory. Sure, it is perfectly clear that JC intended this film to be a sermon about environmentalism and the evils of corporate amorality and greed. And, I’ve got no beef with you or anyone thinking the story was cheesey or whatever. But that is not what I understood you to be criticizing in your first few posts on this subject. I am not sure if this is just a case of not going into enough detail to explain your argument, or if you are shifting the goalposts a little,

    And what the heck is not atheist like about writing a scifi / fantasy story warning about corporate greed and misuse of the environment?

    What the heck is wrong or silly about the idea that everything in existence is interconnected in some way? (And, no, I did not miss that the movie maker was “arguing” for this idea.) But what is mystical, or mushy, about that idea in reality or in the context of this story? It certainly could be portrayed in a mystical or mushy way, but it is also trivially true that in reality there are connections between just about everything, in the sense that the actions or mere existence of mass or energy affects other things, and so on and so on. For example, if humans fuck up the biosphere enough, the human race will be affected, by going extinct. Unless our technology saves some of us.

  68. #68 The Pint
    March 25, 2010

    @65 – Well that took care of my daily “read a funny & snort coffee all over my keyboard again” moment.

    I was surprised at Cameron’s assertion that he’s an atheist, but on further reflection, it’s really not all that shocking. Regardless of how you may feel about the stories in his films, it’s obvious that he puts a lot of time, hard work and a ridiculous amount of scrutiny to his projects. I found Titanic’s story to be overblown (almost had to turn in my chick membership card for not weeping at the end with my girlfriends) but the level of accuracy in the re-creation of the Titanic itself and the technical aspects of the film were damned impressive (I had no idea he’d altered the starry sky at the end of Titanic to reflect the correct star positions of the north Atlantic sky). Given all that, it’s not really surprising that he’d apply the same amount of scrutiny to his personal beliefs.

    As for Avatar, it’s not going to be my favorite work of his (Aliens & The Abyss) but I enjoyed it – the visuals were gobsmackingly beautiful and for the advances in special effects technology alone he deserves high praise. I had a few nitpicking quibbles with the story and dialog (I don’t get the fawning over Sam Worthington – his emoting seems rather wooden and bland to me), but overall I’m glad I saw it in 3D with a large audience as it was definitely an experience to be shared.

  69. #69 Pierce R. Butler
    March 25, 2010

    Brownian @ # 54: Anyway, if I wanted a complex story led by dynamic characters that aren’t easily categorised into facile dichotomies of good and bad with no clear arc or easily predicted outcome, I’d have left the theatre and lived my damn life.

    Damnit, that’s a keeper. If you didn’t already have a Molly…

  70. #70 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de
    March 25, 2010

    I had no idea he’d altered the starry sky at the end of Titanic to reflect the correct star positions of the north Atlantic sky

    From what I understand that wasn’t exactly Cameron’s doing and it wasn’t on purpose. It was just his tech people… They did a kind of build half a random sky, then mirrored it to make the other half.

    Most ordinary people wouldn’t notice, but obviously Tyson’s not ordinary. It also wasn’t really that it was wrong, but that we know where, when, and the time the ship sank, so they could have made it exactly right. And it was also because Cameron had payed such good attention to all the other physics in the movie, but ignored the sky, was what bothered him.

    Complaining to the guy at the top was just a way to get them to do it right in the director’s cut.

  71. #71 nonsensemachine
    March 25, 2010

    Damn. I really wanted to continue hating James Cameron, but you have to admire him after that.

  72. #72 Tulse
    March 25, 2010

    What the heck is wrong or silly about the idea that everything in existence is interconnected in some way? (And, no, I did not miss that the movie maker was “arguing” for this idea.) But what is mystical, or mushy, about that idea in reality or in the context of this story?

    What is mystical and mushy is that the notion isn’t true in reality. Yes, it was true on Pandora, and given a naturalistic explanation, that’s not at issue. But you can’t argue that everything is connected in the real world by simply inventing a world in which everything really is connected — that’s just question-begging. It would be like arguing that killing whales is bad by creating a story where a powerful alien artifact threatens to destroy a future earth if it can’t contact whales (Star Trek IV) — sure, if there were powerful alien artifacts with a thing for whales, driving them to extinction would be a bad thing, but that’s not the world we live in.

    As I said, I really didn’t mean to start this whole discussion with my off-hand remark. Avatar is an extremely pretty movie, and I certainly enjoyed it.

  73. #73 aratina cage
    March 25, 2010

    you can’t argue that everything is connected in the real world by simply inventing a world in which everything really is connected — that’s just question-begging
    -Tulse

    I think you’ve got that ass backwards. Pandora lifts a part of our reality, the part where natural resource extraction by humans does place a heavy burden on the biosphere, and amplifies it to a ridiculous degree. Don’t confuse ecology with spirituality.

  74. #74 gdricha
    March 25, 2010

    In response to gr8hands at #40, Beverley Cross (1931-1998, the screen writer of Clash of the Titans, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and Jason and the Argonauts) was a man, Beverley is a unisex name in England. He married Dame Maggie Smith in 1975.

  75. #75 DesertHedgehog
    March 25, 2010

    @65—

    Perfect.

    I’m adding those to my Everything I Need To Know I Learned From H.P. Lovecraft list (#1— never, never, never be jostled by a Lascar)

  76. #76 Tulse
    March 25, 2010

    Pandora lifts a part of our reality, the part where natural resource extraction by humans does place a heavy burden on the biosphere, and amplifies it to a ridiculous degree. Don’t confuse ecology with spirituality.

    But it’s bad ecology through implicit spirituality. It argues that resource extraction places a heavy burden on the biosphere by personifying that biosphere, and in a way that co-opts the more woo-y pantheist “everything is connected” notions. Sure, it would be bad to strip mine if the planet were one big ball of consciousness, with every living organism part of the larger whole — but that’s not an actual argument against strip mining, since our world isn’t connected in that way. (There are other extremely good arguments against careless resource extraction — it’s just that this isn’t one of them.)

    To be honest, I think that Cameron’s main goal was his environmental message, and the Hometree/Gaia trope was just a way to get there. My point is that a) that’s an odd choice of trope for an atheist, and b) it’s not a convincing argument if the parallels between the fictional world and reality aren’t there.

  77. #77 jcmartz.myopenid.com
    March 25, 2010

    Not to be confused with Kirk Cameron, though!

  78. #78 marcus
    March 25, 2010

    Tulse,@76 Everything on earth is fucking connected alright? Not in the “woo-y” pantheist, Gaia way I agree. But connected is connected. We (complex organisms) all breath the same air, inhabit the same biosphere, to destroy any is to possibly threaten all. AGW demonstrates this very clearly. One of the biggest problems on the planet is that we humans go blithely along like we are the only things that matter when every fucking animal that exists has earned the right to be here by the same test that we are probably going to fail. So if you mean to say that we are not psychically or “spiritually” connected then fine, but the categorical “we are not connected” is a false statement. Sorry if I’m being pedantic. Cameron extrapolated a more “connected” trope but the truth is closer to what he is saying than to what you are saying.

  79. #79 Je craque
    March 25, 2010

    Good for him for being a reasonable human being, but it doesn’t change the fact that the best damn movie Cameron ever made was Piranha II: the Spawning.

  80. #80 Tulse
    March 25, 2010

    Everything on earth is fucking connected alright?

    Did you miss the part where I said I was pro-environment? Yes, everything is “connected” in the standard sense that we share a biosphere. But everything is not connected in the sense that we are all part of some larger mystical consciousness, and that harming any one part of the environment harms that larger being. There are damned good reasons to care for our planet, but believing that it is itself a conscious being is not one of them.

  81. #81 marcus
    March 25, 2010

    @80 Sorry, the statement was just too categorical for me. And I agree. I’m a probably a little overly-sensitive from being called “useless scum” earlier in the thread, since I am agnostic in the sense that I believe “ultimate reality is unknown and unknowable (albeit natural)” not in the sense that I believe there may be a “sky-daddy”. So I do believe that something like Pandora is possible through totally natural processes, though unlikely.

  82. #82 aratina cage
    March 25, 2010

    But it’s bad ecology through implicit spirituality. It argues that resource extraction places a heavy burden on the biosphere by personifying that biosphere, and in a way that co-opts the more woo-y pantheist “everything is connected” notions.

    That kind of misuse of ecological science and the real interconnectedness of life on earth by spiritualists and woo-woo-heads seems a lot like what Chopra is doing to quantum physics. Such pantheism also happens to coincide with some of the spiritual beliefs in cultures that have been historically abused and nearly eradicated by outsiders only interested in profit and social power, and so the woo often gets undue respect by virtue of its adherents. It is too bad because in the end it brings a heavy dose of irrationality to every attempt to address conflicts over resource extraction and usage. I’m not sure I would say that Cameron meant for us to respect such irrationality, though.

    It could be that he did nothing more than pull the typical sci-fi/fantasy parlor trick: What if [insert supernatural being or superpower here] were real? If that is all it was, then of course he would want to make a comparison of the fake version (pantheism) with the real version (Na’vi culture).

    Also, it wouldn’t have been as interesting if Pandora’s planetary mind was presented as just another stunning fact like the floating islands. The progressive discovery of how the Na’vi’s apparent spirituality was actually much more grounded in reality than human spirituality made for a great journey. You could see what makes sense for a Na’vi on Pandora makes little to no sense for a human on Earth, yet showing the outward similarities kind of brought it home.

  83. #83 jafafahots
    March 25, 2010

    Cameron didn’t write Avatar based on his beliefs about the way the universe works.
    He wrote it based on his beliefs about the best way to sell a shitload of movie tickets.

  84. #84 johnlock
    March 25, 2010

    at #81: so you’re saying you believe “ultimate reality is unknown and unknowable (albeit natural)”. Taking such a strong position (the universe is natural) is not an agnostic point of view. I’m not sure what you mean by it but I’m assuming it’s not tautological.
    For my money, nothing clarifies the lines between atheism, agnosticism and faith better than RD’s God Delusion.

  85. #85 Paul
    March 25, 2010

    Taking such a strong position (the universe is natural) is not an agnostic point of view.

    The agnostic part was the “ultimate reality is unknown and unknowable” (also known as strong agnosticism). The “universe is natural” part would be an assumption, based on observation and parsimony, but not in and of itself an agnostic view.

    I do wish we could get away from “agnostic means not sure”. That leaves agnostic as a meaningless label simply demonstrating a person’s inability to make up their mind.

  86. #86 johnlock
    March 25, 2010

    That leaves agnostic as a meaningless label simply demonstrating a person’s inability to make up their mind.

    Good, that’s where I was heading with it.

  87. #87 marcus
    March 25, 2010

    Given that every process in the universe is natural it is not necessarily true that we as humans will be able to comprehend every natural process. Try explaining to your dog that you go to work every day so that you can afford to keep him (or her) in the manner to which they have become accustomed. So rather than being unable to make up my mind I rather prefer to think that I’m just keeping my mind open. Or as a parent just told her 3-year old as I was writing this, “No honey, she can’t play hop-scotch she doesn’t know how to walk yet.” We may never have the time or the talent to “walk.”

  88. #88 Kagato
    March 25, 2010

    I’ve been writing a webcomic (very, very, slowly) about Lucifer, of all things. I’m even working on the basis that many of the events in the Bible were literally true (particularly the more outrageous ones, including those excised as apocrypha).

    That doesn’t mean I in any way ascribe any legitimacy or authority to biblical texts.

    Works of fiction don’t always have to correspond directly to the author’s worldview.

    As always, the Rule of Cool applies.

  89. #89 Jadehawk OM, Hardcore Left-Winger
    March 25, 2010

    I just have one question about Avatar. what did the Na’vi evolve from? everything else on that planet has 6 legs.

  90. #90 Kel, OM
    March 25, 2010

    and let’s just say he uses a few terms that would send the Colgate Twins to their fainting couches

    Do you think Chris Mooney will ever invite you back on Point Of Inquiry?

  91. #91 Kagato
    March 25, 2010

    I just have one question about Avatar. what did the Na’vi evolve from? everything else on that planet has 6 legs.

    In the early scenes of the Pandora jungle, a vaguely primate-like creature is shown swinging through the trees, with arms that fork into two at the elbow. The implication, presumably, that there is an evolutionary branch where the forelimbs have fused together.
    (see about 1:38 in this short video about Pandora ecology)

    It’s a pretty heavy-handed stretch. Having the human-like Na’vi evolve from monkey-like ancestors is a step too far in my opinion; but I guess it’s a natural consequence of A) giving Pandora a distinctive and fairly consistent ecosystem, but B) insisting the main race be fundamentally humanoid ‘so the audience can relate’.

  92. #92 MadScientist
    March 25, 2010

    Ah, good ol’ Jim – I don’t watch his movies (they just don’t appeal to me) but I hear a lot of good things about him. It’s always great to see some sensible celebrities (I really miss the likes of Johnny Carson and Steve Allen – Allen was religious but a great guy) – the celebrity world seems particularly into whatever nonsense is out there. How many gossip mags out there ever paint a picture of a sensible celebrity?

  93. #93 kjd1005
    March 25, 2010

    I can answer the question about the N’avi and six legs vs 2.. you had to want to have sex with the N’avi and they felt that the extra legs got in the way..

    seriously… they designed them and then scaled it back until a reasonable cross section of males (gay and straight) wanted to have sex with them.

    had to lose the legs.. and connect the blinking hair thingy… in the next version they are having sex with their doowas connected…

    the link! the link!

  94. #94 WowbaggerOM
    March 25, 2010

    I saw Avatar, was glad I saw it and recommended that other people see it, too. But that was everything to do with its filmmaking aspects and nothing to do with the plot or the characters; had they all died at the end I wouldn’t have been any less happy with the experience.

    And the dialogue was painful at times – James Cameron’s not quite at George Lucas levels of agonising, but nor is he Joel & Ethan Coen.

  95. #95 Brownian, OM
    March 26, 2010

    And the dialogue was painful at times – James Cameron’s not quite at George Lucas levels of agonising, but nor is he Joel & Ethan Coen.

    This is what happens when you muntxa a tute in the tsahaylu!

  96. #96 aratina cage
    March 26, 2010

    Brownian: “…when you fuck a person in the neural connection.”

    Did you misspell “tsaheylu”?

  97. #97 Feynmaniac
    March 26, 2010

    I just have one question about Avatar. what did the Na’vi evolve from? everything else on that planet has 6 legs.

    I’ve read rumors that Eywa/biological-internet created the Na’vi based on human beings, hence the similarities.

    Whatever the case, Cameron has said he would explain the similarities in the novel of the movie.

  98. #98 Brownian, OM
    March 26, 2010

    Did you misspell “tsaheylu”?

    Not according to this source.

    I don’t think even Neytiri could cure Waltersobchak’s insanity.

    “Saturday, Dr. Armstrong is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work, I don’t get in my avatar, I don’t fucking ride in a Samson, I don’t pick up a gun, I don’t hunt from an ikran, and I sure as shit don’t fucking collect plant samples! Shomer shabbos!

  99. #99 Brownian, OM
    March 26, 2010

    Oops. Dr. “Augustine”. I don’t know where Armstrong came from.

  100. #100 aratina cage
    March 26, 2010

    Brownian, thanks for the link. I see the spelling for tsahaylu/tsaheylu is controversial. (I was using Na’vi – English Dictionary by Taronyu.)

    Just wondering, did I correctly guess at what you meant? (And in regards to that, I eagerly await the tsahaylu-sex scene that is supposed to be included on the DVD version of the movie.)

  101. #101 aratina cage
    March 26, 2010

    #98,

    Oh, it’s a quote from the Dude’s friend. Looks like I got it right. :)

    <Litella>”Never mind.”</Litella>

  102. #102 Brownian, OM
    March 26, 2010

    Just wondering, did I correctly guess at what you meant?

    Ha-ha! Yes! I took the words for ‘mate’ and ‘person’ (couldn’t find ‘stranger’) from the same dictionary you did. And now I see why a quick search in that dictionary for ‘tsahaylu’ didn’t turn anything up. Who knew there’d already be romanisation issues in a language that’s less than a decade old?

  103. #103 aratina cage
    March 29, 2010

    My attempt at translating “This is what happens when you muntxa a tute in the tsahaylu!” into Na’vi:

    Fìkemur ngal leykängen a krr nga muntxa solängi ke awnomuma tuteru mi ketse a’usia!

    Dissected here.

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