MSNBC’s David Shuster Defends Liberal Avatar, Attacks ‘Shameless and Crazy’ Conservative Critics

MSNBC host David Shuster on Wednesday attacked conservatives who have a problem with the liberal agenda of the film Avatar, dismissing their arguments as "shameless and crazy." Shuster and New Live co-host Tamron Hall seemed bewildered by right-wing complaints about the environmentally-themed movie.

Talking with film critic Mike Taibbi, Shuster derided, "Could this be just about the political strategy of punching up? That the Weekly Standard, or whoever wants to criticize, they can get a little bit of attention for their point of view, as shameless and crazy as it may sound, by attaching themselves to a movie that's doing so well?"

Shuster appeared skeptical that anyone could have a problem with the movie, which features peace-loving blue aliens fighting evil capitalists and their mercenary military force. He dismissed, "You could say it’s like Pocahontas meets Platoon, meets Jurassic Park. I mean, all of them had subtle messages, some of them not so subtle."

However, back on the December 14 Today show, director James Cameron admitted the agenda of the movie. He asserted that the human characters in the movie "are doing the same thing on another pristine planet that we've done on Earth." He also added that greed and imperialism tend to "destroy the environment."

A transcript of the January 6 segment, which aired at 3:37pm EST, follows:

TAMRON HALL: In today's close-up, conservatives are outraged over the hit movie, the blockbuster film avatar.

DAVID SHUSTER: That's right. The blockbuster flick from Titanic director James Cameron is, if you read some of the conservative reviews, over the line. They argue it trashes military contractors promotes the environmental agenda and has a 1960s Kumbaya feeling to it. Confused? NBC’s Mike Taibbi, who has seen the movie, is here to explain. Mike?

MIKE TAIBBI: Well, you know, David, it does all of that but it does so much more. No, I was in London reporting when the movie premiered in London. And some of those earlier reviews were critical about the money. They were talking about spending three to five hundred million to make this. Some people wishing- some reviewers wishing that Cameron would fall off his ego perch at that point, because he spent so much and the movie would bomb. But, then the reviews that you’re talking about started coming up, all political in nature, and none of them have anything to do with the numbers.

HALL: Well, this is incredible, because we did this-

[Cuts to videotape package]

TAIBBI: Just about all the critics agree, Avatar's special effects are beyond dazzling. The conflict between human corporate raiders from Earth-

[clip from movie]

UNIDENTIFIED CHARACTER: You've got to obey the rules.

TAIBBI: -and the strange blue tinted race on the planet Pandora-

UNIDENTIFIED CHARACTER: We have an indigenous population of humanoids called the Na’vi.

TAIBBI: Is all relentlessly breathtaking, especially in 3D. Well, you don't sell a billion tickets this fast unless there's also story, even a story some early, negative reviews called simplistic, heavy-handed and boilerplate and one big cliche. Politically conservative critics have gone further. One reviewer calls the story of a human, undercover spy who sides with his new, blue brethren against the mercenary army that hired him a "big, dull, America-hating PC revenge fantasy. Others say, typical Hollywood.

UNIDENTIFIED CRITIC: Avatar is a movie that’s masquerading as a critique of capitalism. But, it also a movie that could never with have been made without our kind of a competitive capitalistic society.

TAIBBI: Before it’s release, Cameron himself, who as the director of Titanic, knows a bit about blockbusters, seemed unsure of exactly how Avatar would do. He said it did have a legitimate love story at the core and a message right for the times.

JAMES CAMERON: Once people start talking about this emotional reaction they are having to this movie and the word of mouth spreads, I think we won't fall as quickly as most films fall.

TAIBBI: An awful lot of film goers agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The message worked as clear as day that- You know, it was amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I thought it was great because it was more, like, environmental. It was kind of like a love story. Also, it was action.

TAIBBI: Veteran film critic Jeffrey Lyons says the filmmaking draws you into an amazing story period, the message just one part.

JEFFREY LYONS: It works on every level. It’s almost a perfect movie.

TAIBBI: Whether it's perfect or not, or whether it’s the message or the movie making, as the saying goes, money talks. Avatar is now the fourth member of the billion dollar movie club, the fastest to get there and still flying high. How is that for a message? [Pre-packaged segment ends.] The fastest to have been-. You know, all movies are about good versus evil. Other movies where the evil is the American military, American police. Think of the Bourne movies. Think of the Die Hard, on and on and on. But this one because it casts the human race as bad guys and American military. Even though it’s not the military- they’re mercenaries in the service of capitalist corporation- has the conservative blogosphere going nuts about this.

HALL: This is the second big blockbuster we've seen. You know, GI JOE, there was conservatives came out and said it was anti-American because the GI Joe heroes weren't wearing the American flag. Their uniforms were black and did it represent America? But, obviously this hasn't hurt the money. And you say that’s what you say it boils down to.

TAIBBI: Not even in the red states, Tamron. In the red states, it’s doing just as well as the blue states. Nobody cares. You don't make a billion dollars if you have a lousy story.

SHUSTER: Could this be just about the political strategy of punching up? That the Weekly Standard, or whoever wants to criticize, they can get a little bit of attention for their point of view, as shameless and crazy as it may sound, by attaching themselves to a movie that’s doing so well?

TAIBBI: Hey, you're part of this whole political thing. So, everybody’s going to shoot that both ways. And, they are They are taking shots even if it's just to get attention, to get us talking about what they are saying.

SHUSTER: Plus, every movie has a message. You could describe this movie as- You could say it’s like Pocahontas meets Platoon, meets Jurassic Park. I mean, all of them had subtle messages, some of them not so subtle.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org