tvSmarter – Life in a TV Nation

Avatar and Suicide

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Thanks to Chris for sending me this CNN link on Avatar, and how it is effecting some viewers:

James Cameron’s completely immersive spectacle “Avatar” may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.

On the fan forum site “Avatar Forums,” a topic thread entitled “Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible,” has received more than 1,000 posts from people experiencing depression and fans trying to help them cope. The topic became so popular last month that forum administrator Philippe Baghdassarian had to create a second thread so people could continue to post their confused feelings about the movie.”

“Ever since I went to see ‘Avatar’ I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na’vi made me want to be one of them. I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it,” Mike posted. “I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in ‘Avatar.'”

Being a huge science fiction fan, I did go and see Avatar and can attest to it’s amazingly beautiful portrayal of a Utopian Pandora.

Buy why would it have such an extreme effect on so many people?

I think that Peter Stromberg, not talking specifically about Avatar, nevertheless does an excellent job describing the general effect:

“This is especially important because entertainment (such as TV, movies, novels, sports events, and so on) aims to provide powerful emotional experiences. As we all know, our emotions can strongly influence our assumptions and actions in ways that remain at least partially outside of our awareness. Thus it is possible to be influenced by entertainment without really knowing that this is happening.”

A good example of this is what I call “romantic realism.” These are images that are similar to the world we live in, but somehow better. Think, for example, of a TV ad for food: the beautiful food sizzles and bursts with flavorful color, it is surrounded by gorgeous people having great fun as they consume the food. It’s like life, but better. Romantic realism is sold directly to people (movies, for example) and is also used to promote products.

There is a cumulative effect of observing these romantically realistic images day in and day out: We begin to be convinced, on an emotional level, that there is a world like our world but a little bit better. We begin to wonder why our own lives are marred by imperfections. We are prone to fantasies that our lives could be transformed “if only” If only I could get a new cell phone, if only I could lose weight or get cosmetic surgery, if only I could get a date with Mary…”

Dr. Stromberg goes on to write “Entertainment can be a lot of fun, but it may also contribute to a sense of dissatisfaction with real life.” As it happens there is are a number of studies that support that supposition:

“Desperate Housewives  and other TV soap operas may help make adolescent girls desperate for a thinness few can healthily achieve, new Australian research suggests.”

“We found men who were exposed to images of the so-called “ideal” male became more depressed and significantly more dissatisfied with the size and shape of their own muscular build once they were exposed to those commercials.”

“Women Of All Sizes Feel Badly About Their Bodies After Seeing Models”

“Men are barraged by images of unobtainable women in the media, making it difficult for them to desire the ordinarily beautiful.”

Avatar is an extreme example of “romantic realism”. Nature on Pandora is more beautiful than nature on earth. The humanoid Na’vi are more beautiful and sleek (and catlike) than any human on earth.

What struck me reading about Avatar was that the movie stars who played the main characters looked pretty plain in comparison to how they looked once they were computer enhanced. Usually we viewers just have to compare ourselves with beautiful movie stars, but with Avatar even the movie stars just don’t look that great in comparison to the extremely gorgeous Na’vi.

Another point is that Avatar, as with all movies, portrays life as much more exciting than in real life. The story-line seemed to cover about a 3 month period in a little over 2 hours. So the two hours only covers the highlights. The time spent doing day-to-day stuff is glossed over. If we spent 3 months watching “Jake” learning the language, learning how to hunt, having long conversations, eating, etc., it would get pretty boring very quickly.

Chris also pointed out to me the “actual message in the movie about the destructive nature of humans”, which is a good point that hadn’t occurred to me.

Again according to this CNN link on Avatar:

“One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth. I so much wanted to escape reality,” Hill said.

It is pretty scary what we are doing to our environment and to each other. Unfortunately escaping into fantasy, and ignoring our problems has become all too common, and all too facilitated by commercial interests who would like nothing better than for everyone to spend all their free time in front of the tube, immersed in a fantasy tv/movie land.

One thought on “Avatar and Suicide

  1. I totally 100% agree with the comment; “One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth. I so much wanted to escape reality.” I felt so depressed for about 3 weeks after watching the movie Avatar. I just wanted to be like the Na’vi, I wanted to be in their world. And when I look at what we humans have done to our Earth, our only Earth… it makes me hate my own race… Our world could almost be just as beautiful as Pandora if we would’ve preserved what we have and not un thoughtfully destroyed it. James Cameron did nothing wrong, he just opened my eyes to what we humans are really good for on this Earth…


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