I know I’m behind the curve, but I finally watched Avatar this past weekend. I sat in a theater enshrined in a replica of a Greek or Roman temple, and helped the movie retained its poll position at the box office, raking in $34.9 million this past weekend. (Side note: as I worked on this post, Yahoo informed me that Avatar has now become the all time highest grossing movie at the world-wide box office.)  For those of you who have not seen it, I won’t spoil the actual plot, but I will quote my friend, who upon exiting the theater declared, “if the Blue Man Group and the battles from the movie Troy got together and had a baby, it would be Avatar.”  At the time this seemed a good description, probably because it was much more funny than my other friends comment, “I liked the movie, but I wished it didn’t make humans look like such ass holes.”  To be honest, that is the one that has stuck in my head since last Saturday.

Also on my mind is the 19th century.  This is most like because I’m currently reading Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel by Julia Keller.  If you’ve not read it, I recommend it, as it is completely fascinating.  One of the things I learned is that many of the patent systems around the world are based upon the one we created here in the United States.  But more importantly there was a mindset that was at once both focused on profit and that saw no contradiction between making money and philanthropy.

You may wonder why I mention that when talking about a movie, and the answer is I think that Avatar, at least in terms of the humans portrayed, represents the way that people in the early 21st century view corporations and business in general.  We all seem to think that they “[do] business with led-pipe-cruelty” and that any beneficial actions they take are only motivated out of a need for a tax write-off, good press, or both.  The recent interviews with the heads of Wall Street certainly have done nothing to allay this impression.

But wait!  The 19th century is still alive and well my friends.  At organizations like Project H Design, the idea that one can turn a profit and help the world has not been lost.  Which begs the questions, are humans  ass holes, or is it just that we are usually focused on the wrong thing?  Are people truly creatures that are willing to sanction the use of extreme force to compel  people (albeit, in the movie they were fifteen feet tall, blue, and had tails) to move and justify all kinds of horrendous behavior because we “hate bad quarterly returns?” Or do we rise to our better nature, and sometimes, even with the best of intentions find we have gone down the wrong road?

These questions are much too big for this trifle of a thought.  However, if history is any indication, then people might be inclined to think that the former is the truth.  And yet. If that truly is the case, why does the fiction of every generation tell us otherwise?  We always have voices advocating for the best in us.  We always have those (even if they always seem feeble and few) who stand up and tell us what is right and what is wrong.  In doing so, a majority of us recognize that something is wrong in the world and that we, as a race, can do better.

This, more then the fact that there seems to be only weak competition at the box office, may account for why Avatar is doing so well.  The hero takes the journey from a more or less Machiavellian outlook to the kind of understanding and respect of his neighbor that leads to his active repudiation of his former life.  It is a catharsis at the deepest root of the word (If you can, watch the movie in a replica of a Greek temple…I swear I can’t make that kind of joke up!).  So, as odd as I find it to admit this, Avatar my actually be doing so well, because it is a reminder to us all that we can and should do better, and that sometimes that takes a shifting of viewpoints the will to act against our inclinations and habits.

And as a side note…I totally want one of those flying bird/lizard things.