CNN is reporting on an inevitable psychological phenomenon, The Avatar Blues, in which people who immerse themselves in the film have a hard time returning to their normal lives. As one movie fan put it:
"I can understand why it made people depressed. The movie was so beautiful and it showed something we don't have here on Earth. I think people saw we could be living in a completely different world and that caused them to be depressed."
This is similar to the problems psychologists have been predicting for years, as virtual reality simulations have improved.
Look at this 1995 article from the Society for the Advancement of Education:
Pitting the wonders of virtual worlds against real-world duties and concerns, they argue, will be no contest. Legions of electronic travelers will check in to their own little virtual worlds--and they won't check out!
Or this question from a 2007 course at University of California, Santa Barbara, Exploring Virtual Reality:
Is virtual reality generated by a quest for some new art for, or by the desire to replace an incomplete reality by another, more easily mastered one, an ideal, platonic reality?
Depression over our lot in life is nothing new, and neither is destructive addiction to a substitute - think of everything from drug abuse to adultery - but we keep inventing more advanced ways for people to find satisfaction outside of daily life, and the result is that people flee to those substitutes rather than search for satisfaction in the world in which they live.
The CNN article talks about combating the problem by joining support groups, and finding ways to introduce reminders of Avatar into their lives, such as through the soundtrack. These sound like reasonable methods for handling the addiction, but I would prefer to see the Avatar Addicts look for practical ways to make the world around them more ideal, rather than simply pretend it's a different place. Discontent can fuel change, and I believe it should.
For that matter, the same problem afflicts many of our Jewish community's kids. Teens go off to study in Israel after high school, entering a world of Yeshiva and Seminary that they had never imagined, and that seems entirely beautiful to them. Month after month of pure ideological devotion at the most ideological time of their lives, reinforced by wonderful role models in their rebbeim, reinforced by their most respected peers, and facing little outside responsibility - what could be better? And so, many of them face those same Avatar Blues when it comes time to return to Earth.
I believe the answer is the same for our students as it is for the Avatarians. The short-term fix of finding ways to extend the Israel experience into their lives and seeking the support of others is great. For those who can stay in Israel, that's wonderful. Ultimately, though, I believe that the answer for many should be to use that discontent to fuel change, and personal as well as communal growth.