Ethnocentrism, Romanticism, Exoticism, and Primitivism as Depicted in James Cameron’s “Avatar” Explicatory Essay
Ethnocentrism refers to the way a given group of individuals critiques another, using its own culture as point of reference. In most cases, ethnocentrism is regarded as the belief that one’s culture is superior to another or is the most preferred compared to the one being reviewed (Lundberg, 2001).
Ethnocentric individuals feel that their culture and way of life are better than those of other people. For this reason, ethnocentrism is seen as a negative practice that consists of two main problems; prejudice and racism (Diamond, 1994).
Ethnocentrism is depicted in most scenes of Avatar; the film outlines Na’vi’s ways of life and the way the protagonist is forced to profess the culture before being admitted into the community. Ethnocentrism in the movie is also seen in Jake Sully when he judges Na’vi’s culture using his own culture. Sully is stopped from swatting the trees as they are considered as spirits in accordance with the Na’vi culture.
The concept of romanticism does not only include the aspect of love as many people would think; it also includes other aspects such as symbolism and mythology.
Symbolism and mythology are accorded great importance in romanticism. The two aspects are highly valued in romanticism because they can be used to value individualism and appreciate nature, without applying the one-to-one communication used in parables (Lutz & Collins, 1993).
There are a number of characteristics of romanticism, which are depicted in the film Avatar. The elements of romanticism that are heavily featured in Avatar include the positive reception towards nature, the preference of emotion as opposed to logic, and considering individuality, a valuable thing.
Sully, the main character, tries to bond with the Na’vi people to lure them to issue their land to humans. However, this changes when Sully finds the culture of the Na’vi people more interesting than his. He decides to follow his heart and what he feels is right for him to do.
The concept of exoticism refers to a tendency of some ethic groups, especially those seen to be more powerful, to influence how people live in a given area. The concept can be expressed as a presentation of culture of a given group of people to be used by another one whose culture is seen to be inferior.
Exoticism may be presented in form of humanism, ethnocentrism, or primitivism. Exoticism in films and other literary works is linked to the desire for wealth (Malinowski, 1961).
There are several elements of exoticism in the film Avatar; firstly, Sully, who is the main character, easily embraces the life style of the Na’vi people. Sully finds the Na’vi culture endearing given that it encourages all the species to co-exist in peace and harmony with each other and the environment; consequently, he decides to leave his own culture.
Secondly, the other humans are persuaded by Sully to adopt the culture of the Na’vi people since it is regarded as the best. However, most of them refuse to give in to the request and continue living according to their own culture.
The concept of primitivism is used to denote simplicity in behaviour or one’s way of life. The concept encourages people to live a life without unnecessary complications. The concept is also used in referring to the artistic acts that originate from enlightenment (Torgovnick, 1991).
The film Avatar is entirely based on historical allusions, which explain how people relate to the world around them. The Na’vi people seem to appreciate leading simple lives and tend to attach great importance to things that other people would consider meaningless. For instance, the Na’vi people consider trees as spirits and feel that the trees should be protected from any kind of harm.
In conclusion, the film Avatar clearly depicts ethnocentrism, romanticism, exoticism, and primitivism. The four concepts are portrayed in the film’s setting and the behaviours portrayed by the main actor, Sully, as well as the Na’vi people.
Diamond, J. (1993). Race without colour. Discover Magazine, 82-89.
Lundberg, A. (2001). Being lost at sea: Ontology, epistemology and a whale hunt. Ethnography, 2(4), 533-556.
Lutz, C. A., & Collins, J. L. (1993). Reading national geographic. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Malinowski, B. (1961). Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc.
Torgovnick, M. (1991). Gone primitive: Savage intellects, modern lives. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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