Avatar demonstrates how symbolic resources circulate in the global media ecosystem in complex and contradictory ways. On the surface, Avatar is a typical product of the culture industry. Its production, marketing, product tie-ins, and normal hype that accompanies blockbuster films point to it being just another Hollywood spectacle appropriating social anxieties for profit. In particular, the film was criticized as a simplistic New Age fantasy that demeans and stereotypes indigenous cultures. Yet audiences reacted profoundly to the movie. The film visualizes a war of opposing knowledge systems: one based on the commodification of natural resources versus a sophisticated ecoculture struggling against colonial forces of extraction and destruction.
Into the Wild depicts the real-life story of Chris McCandless, who goes on a journey to come into contact with the “wild” in Alaska. This is a strong example of the wilderness environmental discourse, which has a long tradition in Western visual and literary culture. Students can discuss how wilderness is represented as different than, or other than, civilization. Does this film enable people to feel more connected to nature, or disconnected?
The Day After Tomorrow is considered a quintessential eco-apocalypse film. It’s an example of clif-fi (climate fiction), which depicts a worse case scenario for climate tipping points. It’s a good source to discuss how to communicate about the dangers of global heating. Eco-apocalypse is one of the most common environmental discourses used by environmentalists. The question for students is, how effective is this? Does watching it change people’s understanding of the climate?