Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On The Last Airbender

I'll admit this story always interested me a little bit, but I am for lack of any social indications a grown man, and thus watching Nickelodeon on a regular basis is not something I can really get away with.

Sure, I'll watch iCarly while making/eating a delicious turkey sandwich, but that show is hilarious, especially while making and eating sandwiches. (It's another great show that's great because it knows its on the TV bus and doesn't try to get a better seat.)

Anyhoo, I did a decent job avoiding all this Avatar nonsense the same way I did Twilight and Harry Potter before that. Sure, I'll watch each of the Potter films once, and maybe again on cable if I can't fins iCarly while making a sandwich, but I will never read or watch anything else in any of those series.

But I never really hated Avatar: The Last Airbender. It wasn't a terrible premise, there appeared to be decent comedy and some serious themes, so it wasn't all TV-Y7. Ironically, I decided I would enjoy the movie and find nothing offensive about it when I got tired of all the ridiculous racial crap going on around the picture. Yes, the argument that the little Eskimo kids are too white is a point, but how many teenage Eskimo actors are there? The bad guys being Muslim? Kind of a problem, except it's M. Night Shyamalan directing antagonists, Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) and Asif Mandvi (The Daily Show). Honestly, if brown people are casting and accepting roles as villains, I feel like white people are trying too hard not to.

So I watched the series. It's like refusing to see a movie before reading the book, or how more likely I will never read the book after having first seen the movie. When possible, I do both, book first. Usually, I just watch the movie, but here I wanted to have a good frame of reference for a Shyamalan trilogy that I'll have to hear about for 4 more years.

And you know what?

In the cartoon everybody is Asian and racist as hell.

In fact, the point, is that the Big Bad is a racist, warlike nation, who by the way are all Japanese. The Fire Nation is all Japanese, samurai warriors and noblemen, peasants, merchants, everybody is from feudal Japan.

Earth Nation? Everybody's Chinese. Mandarin collars and Fu Man Chu's coming out their yin-yangs. Air Nomads? All bald, vegetarian Tibetan monks. The Avatar himself is chosen the same way as the Dalai and Panchen Lamas. And the Water Tribe? They're all Eskimos, except for three guys who live in a mystical swamp straight out of deliverance. If you want to see a white person in Avatar, these are the only ones. (Them and Mark Hamill using his Joker voice for the Fire Lord.)

The point is, in Avatar everyone is Asian unless they're white trash, and mostly these depictions are quite varied and tame from character to character. Edward Said might have had a field day explaining to children how Earth benders are just Westerners playing with Orientalism again, and why they're going to grow up to fear Japanese people, but I'm pretty sure that last bit can be offset by another show featuring a school with a robotic classmate.


  1. I can understand people getting upset when one race plays another, but this is a FANTASY STORY. As in, nothing in the world of Avatar is from Earth. Nothing. Realistically, are the nations aesthetically inspired by actual cultures? Sure. But the fire nation is not Japan. It's the fire nation, with a Japanese aesthetic. So before anyone even attempts to criticize who is playing what race in this movie, let me posit the following:

    If you want to play the race card, no one is fit to play a member of the fire nation since no one can shoot f***ing fireballs out of their eyes.

  2. I like this guy. He's not one for hyberbole or subtlety, but he doesn't let that get in the way of a good story.


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