I had a thought the other day about some of the things that shape the future. What guides our actions? One thing that I found is the importance of fiction. I could go on about the myriad of ficticious works that have affected us throughout history, but I will focus instead on James Cameron.
I think about all the films by James Cameron and I find a pattern. Not only in the movies but in the trends of society that those movies emerged into. The Terminator had a prolific effect because even though plenty of works had come out touting the dangers of rampant technology, Terminator showed us the future in 20 years, not a thousand years from now. It came out in a time when computers were fast becoming a reality and we worshiped them for their applications, not worrying about their implications. Then we get a wake up call from our friend Arnold in the form of a robotic hand around our throats. Whether we knew it or not, we began scrutinizing technology a little more closely. We began to study the possibilities of rempant technology and artificial intelligence.
Next was Aliens. Here we see his first attempt to warn us about a great evil encroaching upon humanity: The Megacorporation. Sure there was a horde of acid-blooded, flesh-eating Aliens, but the real villain of the movie was Weyland-Yutani. They were the ones who foolishly colonized a hostile planet (maybe even purposefully?), they were the ones who wanted the Aliens brought back no matter the cost of life, and they were the ones who wanted to turn that creature into a bio-weapon (expanded upon in Alien Ressurection). Unfortunately we didn't quite get the message. We demonized Burke, the slime-ball lawyer who represented the company the enemy, but failed to notice or care that something bigger was pulling the strings behind that traitorous puppet. We see this mirrored in Parker Selfridge, who is blinded by corruption but still retains the capacity to realize the horrors of his deeds.
The Abyss was next for Mr. Cameron. In this film he raised two important issues: excessive military power, and how we treat the planet. In the Abyss we find that we are not as alone in the world as we thought. Instead we share it with luminous beings far superior to us, in technology and morals. Through the actions of a military commando, whose paranoia was born of a fear of an enemy who didn't even exist, we were almost obliterated by the underwater civilization for not living up to our own ideals. However the whining of a film studio saw to it that Cameron's "budgetary blunder" would have nearly 20 minutes cut from the theatrical release, effectively ensuring the messages were lost on the cutting room floor until reclaimed by the Extended Edition.
Then we return to the near future once more with Terminator 2. Here, Skynet is still a threat, but we realize that there is an even worse enemy: ourselves. We see what can happen to people to lose their humanity in the face of annihilation. But more importantly we realize once again that our enemy is not concrete like we'd like to think. A Terminator joins our fight for survival while not caring about his own. Once again however, the scenes emphasizing this were left out of the theatrical release, and the message was diluted. Anyone seeing a disturbing pattern in this censorship? Thank Eywa for Extended Cut DVDs. Like Sarah Connor said at the end, "If a Terminator can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too."
Many see True Lies as a departure for Cameron: not very profound, and certainly less realistic than even a liquid-metal robot. However many fail to understand that Cameron made True Lies as almost a parody of the times, when action films and their action stars ran wild in Hollywood. Many critics could not decide if it was an action or comedy film, but James was still the only one smiling. He was still able to slip in inspiring messages about the importance of family, and deglamorizing the action archetype. Hollywood was calling him "the King of Kaboom". Little did they know they were refering to the soon to be "King of the World"
Titanic came. Titanic saw. Titanic conquered the world. This was the first time since Gone with the Wind that a movie had accumulated that much revenue AND critical acclaim. But through it's shining halo people missed a lot of the important values. Two I find in particular get drowned with Jack: the destruction of social barriers, and the dangers of human pride. Firstly, the love between an uppercrust debutante and a lower class ditch-digger is horribly under appreciated. Once again in our society we find that we don't look for love outside our own social classes or circles. Rose taught us a lesson of love not caring how much money you have. Lastly, and more importantly, Titanic showed us that just because we built it to be invincible, and we say its invincible, doesn't make it so. We thought we had conquered the sea, but the planet reminded us who is really in charge.
Then Avatar. In Avatar, James is repeating these messages, hoping we hear them a second time around: Rampant growth of technology fueling our greed in plundering sweet pristine Pandora; corporate juggernaut RDA doing whatever it takes to slake it's thirst for power; excessive military force perpetrated by a paranoid, bigot like Quaritch; realizing that our enemy is ourselves; peace as the ultimate victory; a princess loving a common warrior (and an alien no less!); we are not as powerful as we think we are. Once again, Cameron gave us a movie that shows us where we are going unless we learn, and teaches us how to find that better future. I like to think that 2.6 billion dollars means we are starting to listen, no matter what those Academy fools say. Avatar has made us look at our world differently (even if it's because we'd rather be on Pandora), and it's helping us realize what we can do to change for the better.
Cameron is not alone in his endeavor. History is full of fiction works that try to get us to learn something. Try reading the works of Ayn Rand like The Fountainhead and Atlus Shrugged. Quite inspiring. But no matter who's voice you listen to, don't forget your own. I love to see that many aspiring writers frequent these blogs, a few of whom have even reached out to me. Keep writing, keep dreaming, and we can build a better future. Irayo