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Eugene Weekly : Notes From The Riverside : 1.14.10




Precious Avatar

Aliens walk among us

By Mark Harris

If we could project ourselves into an Avatar of Precious, what unobtainium could we extract from under the Home Tree of culture? I make this conceit, riffing in part because of the reviews of those movies sharing the same page in this newspaper Dec. 24. 

Avatar is science fiction fantasy, Precious is a representation of actual reality. An avatar, for those of you not old enough to remember, originally was an incarnation of god in a particular form: as Rama and Krishna are Avatars of Vishnu. An  avatar is someone who embodies or manifests an idea or concept. In cyber context an avatar is simply a three-dimensional image used to represent an Internet user in cyberspace. What element would we need to project ourselves into Precious’ reality to create the real vision and empathy prevent her dysfunctional creation, and provoke her functional freedom?

Precious is the movie representation of Sapphire’s book Push, but the movie is considerably less heavy than the book, commodified as it is for majority white audiences who may miss, as I feel the Weekly’s reviewer missed, the central points of the movie. Precious is an obese teen parent, living in Harlem with her incredibly abusive mother, (the movie spares us the mother’s molestation of Precious in the book) who collects welfare checks while foisting the Down Syndrome oldest child on her own mother. 

Precious’ children were fathered by her HIV-positive father, and while illiterate and experiencing spirit-crushing verbal, emotional, and physical abuse amidst poverty, she fantasizes about a different life. We see this in disassociative flashbacks while she is being raped. We see this as she is grooming herself for school, when she sees not her actual image, but a Kim Basinger look-a-like. 

That millions like Precious are produced intentionally and deliberately, that welfare is an extension of slavery, trapping generations in systemic bondage, unless they can free themselves from those bonds of ignorance among other things, is not really revealed directly by the film unless you know what to look for.

Clearly the keys to her freedom are not being proffered to her by the public school system or the welfare system which failed her and her family. Just as obviously there is an element of unobtainium emitting empathy, insight, and hope present within her charter school teacher and hospital nurse that isn’t being offered by the system.

In Avatar unobtainium is a crystal with magnetic superconducting properties which make it nifty for space travel. It also creates a field which connects the lifeforms of Pandora, in a seamless web of interspecies communication. In Avatar it’s the usual colonial corporate American script, where a young white Marine is projected into a colored alien body, to strategically learn the ways of the “blue monkey” native savages so they can be moved, assimilated, exterminated, in the name of corporate profit, uh … progress. Humans can have a Pandoric empathy for the lifeforms and aliens among us like Precious, without 3-D glasses. 

Each one, teach one.

Mark Harris is an instructor and substance abuse prevention coordinator at LCC.