Avatar: racism and prejudice on Pandora
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Wouldn't it be nice if Orson Welles was right? More on this later. Science fiction is a promising way to explore the nature of various prejudices. It seems that by distancing oneself from the prejudices as found in "real life," or one's own backyard, a useful perspective might be obtained. In science fiction, one tends to explore familiar themes in unfamiliar settings; the distant future, strange imagined environments, societies in the grip of imagined technologies. The point of much science fiction is not merely to gape at the strangeness of an imagined future but to use this strangeness to look at familiar themes from a new perspective. A familiar theme, obviously well suited to this strategy, is the encounter with Otherness and the way prejudice shapes and distorts this encounter. The strategy is really not too different from travel to distant, albeit earthly places, to see how others live. This chapter focuses on racism and religion (although speciesism is also relevant) and offers an account of prejudice through an examination of the 3D futuristic sci-fi thriller Avatar (James Cameron, 2009). The chapter has three objectives: first, to examine and test the coherence of a framework for understanding racist and religious prejudices; second, to use this framework to discuss the nature of the moral failings of such prejudices; third, to disuss how such an understanding is related to proposed ways of dealing with problems generated by racist and religious prejudice, including violence.
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