Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Why Avatar the Last Airbender is Still Significant

There’s been some familiar faces popping up on my Facebook feed lately, and no it’s not because my mom found an old photo album and has been talking about the fact that I was Dracula for Halloween about six times. Avatar the Last Airbender has returned to Netflix and it feels like everyone is talking about the old gang like it was 2005 again. The interesting thing though is that when Disney added The Simpsons and Gargoyles to Disney+, the memes and conversations weren’t nearly as prominent, so what is making the world go gaga for Appa?

Spoiler alert:

A Dystopian Future
Follow me on this cause this might get complicated:
One of the reasons fans are re-identifying with The Last Airbender is because, like Aang, we’ve woken up into a world that feels darker and more terrifying than it used to be. We meet Aang and the gang right after his 100 year nap, so to us the world is as it is with the Fire Nation putting a stranglehold on most of the other nations, but Aang doesn’t see it that way. He remembers a world where people from all nations lived in peace, and where he had friends of every nationality. Compare that to our modern world, where only a few months ago live was as it had pretty much been, with words like pandemic restricted mostly to fiction. We’re living in a world changed by forces we have little control over and are forced to cope day to day, and sometimes even hour to hour, just like Aang.

The Classic Adventure
As much as people love to talk about how innovative The Last Airbender is, when you get down to the bare bones it’s the classic good guy vs bad guy narrative. Yes *Spoiler* some bad guys become good, and we show how more complex situations can be as expressed through excellent writing, but the story is that there’s a big bad evil, a time limit, good guy has to stop big bad evil. There’s a comfort in having a clear good guy to root for, someone we can get behind and identify with their struggles. Aang is not a Mary Sue, he has to work for every inch of progress he makes. His friends have struggles, they have moral dilemmas, but in the end we know the good guys win. It’s the kind of narrative that, again at this time, we need right now.

An Escape for Everyone
Right now everyone is looking for what Wade Watts in Ready Player One called “an escape hatch from reality”. Some are escaping into Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Others have found refuge in shows like Tiger King and the latest seasons of Rick and Morty and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but Avatar the Last Airbender is a show the entire family can sit and binge without having to be a gamer or cover young eyes and ears. If it had been out a month ago it would’ve made my list of shows you can binge with your family without hesitation. It is something that we can talk about to get away from the news, thinking about what we’ve lost, and what could be coming around the corner.

This year has been bad, more for some than others, but I believe that Aang can save the world, if only for a half hour at a time.

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