How to cure the Avatar Blues

I was innocently browsing through my twitter list yesterday when I came across this article on CNN. The gist of it is that many people are experiencing depression after watching Avatar because the fictional world depicted is so beautiful and amazing that life back here on earth seems drab and boring.

Many people have responded to this story with shock and derision, and this definitely hints at some pre-existing issues for the folks who are feeling suicidal after watching a sci-fi film, but it also concerns me for another reason. It suggests a troubling lack of knowledge about the real world.

One person quoted in the article said: “When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed … gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning. It just seems so … meaningless. I still don’t really see any reason to keep … doing things at all. I live in a dying world.”

This really bothers me, because despite all the nasty things that humans have done to the world, it is a far cry from a dying world! (And if our world really is “dying” then shouldn’t we be out there trying to save it rather than despairing?) I can tell you this: studying other planets makes you realize that Earth is a paradise. And believe it or not, many of the “creative” flora and fauna in Avatar are based directly on living things here on Earth, past or present.

Remember those glowing spiral “plants” that Jake taps, causing them to curl up into their stem in the blink of an eye? They’re real! They exist in miniature in coral reefs around the world as “christmas tree worms”.

Jake Sully walks in awe through a glade of giant christmas tree worms.

Actual christmas tree worms in Bonaire.

What about those glowing mushrooms that he plays like drums? Yeah we’ve got those. Again, much smaller, but similar.

Glowing mushrooms really exist too!

And of course the seeds of the Tree of Life are obviously based on real-world jellyfish. James Cameron is a guy who knows all about the weird living things on our planet. Heck, have you seen his documentary “Aliens of the Deep”? It’s pretty obvious where he got some of his inspiration for the creatures in Avatar!

A deep-sea jellyfish from Cameron's "Aliens of the Deep".

Ok, but what about the sweet dragon-like creatures that they ride? I think people would notice if we had those flying around, taking out our helicopters and planes! Well no, they don’t exist now, but go back to the mesozoic and there are plenty of flying creatures, including this one which was taller than a giraffe when on the ground:

And how about good old Quetzalcoatlus, with a 30 foot wingspan?

Quetzalcoatlus had a wingspan comparable to some airplanes. The silhouette should look familiar to anyone who has seen Avatar...

So that’s the biology, but what about the moon itself? What about the floating mountains? The spectacular rock formations? Well, habitable moons probably do exist, and there are astronomers searching for them right now. Floating mountains would be rather difficult, but superconductors do, in fact, allow things to levitate. Take a look at Joe Shoer’s post about Avatar’s floating mountains if you don’t believe me. And the rock formations? Well, Earth doesn’t have arches of rock following magnetic field lines like iron filings, but we do have some pretty spectacular stuff, like caves full of giant crystals:

Spectacular crystal formations? Yeah, we've got that.

My point is this: yeah, it’s a shame that Pandora isn’t real. I was sad too when the movie ended and the credits rolled. But the world we live in is just as amazing. You won’t get rid of the Pandora blues just by watching Avatar endlessly, or running out and getting the Avatar video game. But much of what was in the movie was based on real things here on Earth. Many of the photos I’ve shown here are relatively recent discoveries. There is plenty of wonder to go around and plenty more to discover. And if you get tired of Earth, there are other planets in our solar system. Tired of those? Check out exoplanets. Still not enough? Head into the realm of astrophysics and you’ll never get bored. And for those longing to live like the Na’vi there are options too. Anthropologists regularly study native cultures and learn their ways. Or you could become an archaeologist and learn about past cultures by studying their artifacts.

Still not enough? Well, then instead of living in someone else’s fictional world, why not make your own? Become a science fiction or fantasy writer and see if you can do better than James Cameron. Who knows, maybe someday people will see your world and long to go there too.

Avatar’s vivid world should not be a source of depression, it should be a motivation to seek out (or create) the beautiful and the interesting and the fragile in our own world, to study and learn from it, and to preserve it so future generations can experience the wonder as well.

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40 Comments on “How to cure the Avatar Blues”

  1. John Says:

    I was thinking much the same thing after reading that article, though I came across it at discovery.com (shame what’s happened to that site). All I could think was “Wow, do these people need to get outside.” Our /world/ isn’t grey… our CITIES are. Get out of the city, and see what our world is really like. Just go for a walk in the woods, or go fishing on a lake. Go camping, or just go to a park and watch something other than the people. Pandora’s awesome, no doubt. But so is Earth. For now, anyway. Maybe the best thing about Avatar is that people are feeling this way. Maybe more will become environmentally conscious and actually do something to stop the spread of “grey.” Let’s hope.

  2. Chgowiz Says:

    I second Ryan’s suggestion about “Planet Earth” or visit a Natural History museum or just take a 2 day hike without cell phones, netbooks or other electronic devices. Our planet is so beautiful and so real that it is overwhelming.

  3. Katherine Says:

    Nice post! I haven’t read the article you mention, but what it’s describing is pretty much what I was afraid would happen after people saw the movie (and was therefore one of my biggest problems with the movie). If people need to take their frustration out an “evil” mining company, those exist in real life, too! And the environmental, social, and cultural devastation they cause is very real. Obviously I’m politically biased, but here’s a website chock-full of info: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/

    (and thanks for the nod to anthropology ;))

    • Ryan Says:

      Cool, thanks for the link!

      I probably should have emphasized the social/environmental/cultural aspects even more. A lot of the CNN article was people wishing they could be Na’vi or live like them on a pristine planet. Seems like the logical next step is to do what we can to learn about and preserve our planet and people.

      But, I got carried away looking for pictures of cool creatures so the post ended up as mostly biology… :)

  4. Jenni Says:

    Here, here! Go out and discover the beauty of our world!

  5. Christine Says:

    Nicely put–We had a lunch table discussion after reading the article with the same ideas you presented. There’s so much focus on how we’re “killing our world”, and doubtless we need to focus our efforts on taking care of it, but as a result people think that the world is dying or dead. Really they just need to go camping–take a long weekend into the mountains, or go scuba diving, or if they aren’t the outdoorsy types, watch Planet Earth like you suggested. There is so much beauty in our Earth…Heh, I was going to post something similar in my blog…But since you put it so eloquently, I don’t feel the need to.


  6. I notice the undersea animals and giant crystals are all inhabitants of Mexico. I think I’ll just visit down there. maybe I have had enough of snow?

    • Ryan Says:

      You may not want to visit the crystal cave… It’s 40 degrees C in there, and requires special gear to survive for very long.

      • Floyd Says:

        Even hotter than that. I know one of the cave scientists (Penny Boston) who have studied Crystal Cave, and recently saw her presentation on that amazing room. Temperatures in Crystal Cave are so high (49 degrees Celsius or 120 degrees Fahrenheit), that scientists can only enter that room with personal air conditioning equipment to keep themselves cool, and only for short periods of time.

  7. Debbie Pumarada Says:

    Dont forget bioluminescent bays… We have three (and a fourth that is too polluted to see), they have tiny organisms that light up when you touch then, it looks very much like when they were running aroung that forest at night. These water-based Eco-tourism companies should capitalize on this, “Avatar got you down? Come to our _______ tour to experience the magic of Pandora! IRL!!!!!”


  8. nice sharing. very wonderfull

  9. deathfleer Says:

    avatar is a great masterpiece. The cartoons are so real.But my imaginations are chased towards the helpless,innocent and powerless people gunned and hit by off-target bombs.

  10. ikarus Says:

    I really like the comparison between human and animals from pandora

  11. Vicky Says:

    great post… it’s about what we can learn and take away from the film, and finding tiny bits of beauty and amazement in our world.

  12. Alex Says:

    Great post this should help the avatar blues victims find the color in our world


  13. [...] this is exactly the point made at Martian Chronicles, our first stop at the carnival, who tells us How to Cure the Avatar Blues; so head there to take some time to wonder at Earth’s own beauty to [...]

  14. Ludmoore the alquimyst Says:

    With so much stupidity around us how could us value our creativity? Pity. 21 century. Evolved civilization, a well grown culture. Don’t tell aliens that, it’s a lie. We have a lot to learn from our own creations. So, as Eminem says, We made you!


  15. [...] Yet it is precisely that which makes the message of this movie so important.  The possibility of this movie inspiring an invigorated world-wide interest in environmentalism is truly stirring.  The messages of the movie; that the humans have “killed their mother” and that “there is no green” left on planet earth, that human actions are mainly destructive and motivated by greed, are warnings to present generations.  The beauty of Pandora and the simpler, nearly utopian existence of the Na’vi is an admonition to our society to stop destroying our own naturally wonderous planet. [...]

  16. Scott Says:

    Thank you for saying something about this. That article struck me too.

    The glowing crystal things are beautiful, but so was the sunlight on the water tower this morning, and the things going on in the dormant patch of woods between the houses this afternoon when I went to take a walk.

    I think the problem (post-avatar depression – couldn’t find it in the DSM) has a lot to do with how we rank and determine beauty.

    Looking at another planet does bring you back to this one! So true.


  17. [...] de citit și un răspuns interesant la articolul de pe CNN, referitor la faptul că lumea noastră nu este tocmai gri, doar că noi ne [...]


  18. That’s not surprising — it completely validates Aaron Bady’s spoiled little boy critique. As I said indirectly in my article Lab Rat Cinema: Monetizing the Reptile Brain, instead of any kind of social or environmental activism we get tantrums of “Why can’t we stay in Never-Disneyland FOREVER, mommy?”


  19. [...] but still. I don't know if this counts as bio-luminescent, but a glowing tobacco plant, glowing mushrooms and glowing puppies. Society: "You must look like this. You must have this kind of career. [...]


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  30. freebies Says:

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  31. [...] Martian Chronicles: How to cure the Avatar Blues The Martian Chronicles: Frickin’ Laser Beams: Fact vs [...]


  32. [...] How to cure the Avatar Blues « The Martian ChroniclesJan 12, 2010 … July 26, 2010 at 9:23 am. [...] Martian Chronicles: How to cure the Avatar Blues The Martian Chronicles: Frickin’ Laser Beams: Fact vs [...] Reply … [...]


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