Brooks is right when he says the story teaches that, “Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.” What he fails to do is connect this to the urges of our own liberal imperialists and humanitarian interventionists, who are constantly warning against leaving other nations to their own devices and who are frequently complaining about our boundless benevolence that is repaid with contempt or indifference. He might consult his colleague Thomas Friedman on this point, since Friedman seems to think that most Muslims worldwide are “holding our coats” while we do all the heavy lifting on their behalf and that Afghanistan can be likened to a “special needs baby” that we as a country have just adopted.
Even though Serbia had been on the Allied side in both world wars, and therefore had been as much on “our” side as any nation in Europe, it became the enemy in the eyes of most right-thinking Westerners, and it was the Serbs’ status as European Christians that made them ideal as a target of intervention. In other words, a version of the fable Brooks described became official policy. The truly offensive thing about all this is that Brooks will safely deride the fable and its assumptions when it appears in a meaningless blockbuster film, but he isn’t going to challenge or reject those assumptions when they inform real and destructive policies around the world.
I don’t agree at all about intervention in Serbia, which I think had nothing to do with the fact some Bosnians are Muslim (I also believe that the United States helped avert tens or hundreds of thousands of more deaths by intervening, I know not everyone agrees). But Larison is right that it is interesting to see one hawk prattle about “special needs babies” while another screams about a movie preaching a message that is condescending to people in other countries.
What Larison doesn’t get to, and what I’m curious about, is why the neocons are going all out against Avatar. The last time I remember them going nuts about a movie was “Munich” and the motivation there seemed a lot more obvious.
I like that Larison also discussed Avatar in a separate post without having seen it. That’s something I enjoy doing too.