Cheering American Casualties? Avatar and the Global War on Terror
Sean Heuston

This essay explains the surprising ways in which Avatar (the top-grossing film of all time in the U.S. and worldwide) shows the pervasive influence of the so-called Global War on Terror; rearranges prevailing American assumptions about good guys and bad guys; positions an American military-industrial complex as the film’s source of malefactors; uses post-9/11 visual rhetoric to indicate that the film’s American military personnel are themselves effectively terrorists; and prompts audience members to cheer when American military personnel are killed in the film (a remarkable feat for a major American film released and re-released while real U.S. military personnel were dying in real wars). Although Avatar features private military contractors rather than active-duty U.S. military personnel, the film’s use of military jargon, rank structure, uniforms, and materiel encourages audiences to disregard the distinction, as do frequent references to protagonist Jake Sully as a U.S. Marine when in fact he is a paraplegic former Marine. This essay also analyzes important shots in Avatar to explain their powerful post-9/11 visual rhetoric; explains how such images relate directly to famous images from the real 9/11 terrorist attacks; and thus situates Avatar within a larger field of action films that employ post-9/11 visual rhetoric.

Full Text: PDF     DOI: 10.15640/rah.v3n3-4a1