Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Avatar Activism, The Harry Potter Alliance, and Pop Culture Fandom as the gateway to Social Activism
November 18, 2010 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Back in February 2010, Palestinian activists dressed up as Na'vi and Avatars to bring more attention to the weekly protests against the West Bank barrier. Video of the costumed protest was edited to blend with Avatar footage, to emphasize the protesters' message. In another pop-culture world, The Harry Potter Alliance have run campaigns that tie themes from the stories to real-world issues, in an effort to translate the energy of fans into energy to get active in civil engagement, including a a fundraiser in January that raise raised $34,000 to support Haiti relief efforts. These efforts have been labeled "Avatar Activism," as discussed in a a recent Le Monde diplomatique article and a related piece on NPR.

The article from Le Monde diplomatique likened the current costumed and themed activism to the Native American disguises of the Boston Tea Party and the Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans.

Another campaign from The Harry Potter Alliance included collaboration with MassEqaulity, a Massachusetts LGBT group, to "Wrock 4 Equality." The groups put on a a Harry Potter-themed concert, and a "House Cup Competition" to get members active phone banks, to raise points for their chosen house.

Avatar imagery and themes were used in a campaign not related to the Palestinian protest. In February, as an ad appealing to Avatar director James Cameron was published in the film industry magazine Variety, on behalf of the Dongria Kondh tribe in eastern India. In July, people dressed as Avatar characters to bring more attention to the actions of the major mining company, Vedanta Resources, against "the real Avatar tribe" of the Dongria Kondh. Then in August of this year, India blocked Vedanta's project to mine one of the tribe's sacred hills.
posted by filthy light thief (15 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's a minor quibble, but I really hate seeing a joint Israeli/Palestinian protest glossed as "Palestinian activists," as if anyone who marches against her own government's policies isn't a real Israeli. (Not that I think that's what you intended.)
posted by theodolite at 1:09 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was wondering if there was any better short-hand for that - it's a vague term, which could mean activists who are pro-Palestinian rights, or someone of Palestinian origins who is an activist for something. I thought about it, but decided to stop searching for the perfect phrase and move on with things.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:16 PM on November 18, 2010


Wow. You think this will help Americans "get it"?
posted by LordSludge at 1:47 PM on November 18, 2010


As an unabashed HP fangirl and a lukewarm enjoyer maybe sort of if it hadn't given me a terrible migraine of Avatar, I am annoyed that Avatar got the term on the basis of alliteration. That is all I have to say about that.

Haven't fans been raising money for unrelated causes for ages, though? Every fanrun convention I've ever attended with more than 100 people has some sort of charity auction. Penny Arcade's Child's Play efforts come to mind as a contemporary headlining example.
posted by Mizu at 1:48 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


filthy light thief: "I was wondering if there was any better short-hand for that "

How about just "activists"? You identify the cause in the second half of the same sentence, so that seems like a workable solution.

We should have a jingle for MeFi Teaching Moment, a-la this
posted by yiftach at 2:04 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mizu: "As an unabashed HP fangirl and a lukewarm enjoyer maybe sort of if it hadn't given me a terrible migraine of Avatar, I am annoyed that Avatar got the term on the basis of alliteration."

Suggest alternatives, and maybe they will catch on.

Mine:
Hogwarts Helpers
Dumbledore's Activists (not alliteration, but a riff off the DA)
posted by I am the Walrus at 2:07 PM on November 18, 2010


I think it's a bit odd to conflate Avatar-inspired activism and Harry Potter-inspired charity. Even with the extremely problematic aspects of the CGI'd Pocahontas that is Avatar, it is clear that it has at least been used by indigenous activists and their allies (from Evo Morales down and including Palestine activism) because of a central theme, either solely from the desire to bring publicity to causes, or even mixed in with the film having a bit of resonance with those activists. The images, plot and themes of Avatar are used as a hook even for those outside of "fandom". Where the Harry Potter stuff seems to be another fandom charity (like the aforementioned Child's Play).
posted by Gnatcho at 2:07 PM on November 18, 2010


The House-Elf Liberation Front and DA notwithstanding, although I wonder if someone hasn't awkwardly used the House-Elf Liberation Front to discuss superexploitation of immigrant domestic workers or something like that
posted by Gnatcho at 2:13 PM on November 18, 2010


Yes, fangroups have raised monies for charities for some while now. The Harry Potter Alliance celebrated it's five year anniversary on October 10, 2010, so they're not new at this sort of thing. Looking at their recent charity work, it's mostly petition signing and "getting out the word" about the causes, but I thought that getting people to volunteer at phone banks was pretty impressive, and they've also donated 54,896 books over two book drives.

Gnatcho - the LMd article focused more on the Avatar stuff, and tossed in Harry Potter Alliance as a side-note. NPR made Harry Potter more prominent to play up the opening of the new movie. And the HPAlliance (kind of) used the House-Elf Liberation Front to discuss Fair Trade.

LordSludge: Wow. You think this will help Americans "get it"?

The way I saw it, it's not just about Americans understanding the conflict. Avatar opened first in London, then played in world-wide. And the clear distinction in the movie of (Primitive) Natives with vivid blue skin vs Invading Army is a simple way to depict sides and gain international attention, even just as an oddity. Eye-catching Pop-Culture short-hand, perfect for media attention.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:25 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the costumed antics of Fathers 4 Justice in the UK.
posted by benzenedream at 2:47 PM on November 18, 2010


Eye-catching Pop-Culture short-hand, perfect for media attention.

Except that over-simplified good-and-evil Hollywood themes are obviously poor metaphors for real life.
posted by three blind mice at 3:43 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think this isn't the right strategy to pursue, at least as far as Americans are concerned. The problem is, the Na'vi fought - and I don't think the idea of a shift in image from evil terrorists to positive freedom fighters is one that Americans are willing to consider at this point in history. Hell, 'freedom fighter' is probably more often used as a snarky euphemism for terrorist than for anything else. I think they'd have a lot more success pushing the idea that they've become nonviolent. Actually, that might be a really good idea to push right now - has there been any kind of attack recently? It feels like it's been pretty quiet.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:45 PM on November 18, 2010


I watched the YouTube video, and I was blown away at the way those people repeatedly threw back tear gas grenades at the troops who were shooting them.
posted by fake at 5:43 AM on November 19, 2010


In fact, you need not eliminate violence completely before non-violent protests become effective, Mitrovarr. Instead, you need a movement whose leaders are really credibly committed to non-violence. There were plenty of violence during India's revolution and the Civil Rights Movement, but Ghandi and Martin Luther King made their followers rise above it.. and do so visibly.

There is no shortage of Israelis and Palestinians who'd follow a non-violent movement for the liberation of Palestine, well you see them here for example. There has however never been a Palestinian leader who could give such a movement real credibility. Arafat just set a very bad example from the beginning.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:50 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


More Avatar activism, in the theme of gaining attention for an environmental cause: mentioned as Environmentalist cosplay in China on io9, but the Na'vi were just a few of the thousands of protesters who were marching against the proposed Kuokuang Petrochemical plant in Taiwan. And again, they were interesting enough to get camera time in news coverage. It almost seems like such distinct costumes almost make the news coverage in distant lands more about the crazy cosplayers and less about the actual protest.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:58 AM on November 19, 2010


« Older Will it Blend - Doctor Who and the Daleks...  |  Time Magazine (with commentar... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments