I Believe Aang Can Save the World: Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Place in the “Literary” Canon
Dr. Curtis Gruenler
In 2005, children’s television network Nickelodeon first aired a new show entitled Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA). In its three-season run, it won the hearts of children, adults, and critics alike. Although clearly a popular show, we must ask of it the question we frequently ask of popular books. Can we consider it literature? To answer this question, we might look to see how the show holds up when compared to three emerging spheres of literary criticism: feminism, disability studies, and ecocriticism. If we look at what critics in these disciplines have generally said about how true literature approaches their respective social issue, we can easily say that ATLA meets and surpasses their expectations. ATLA raises awareness about emerging cultural concerns by presenting the show’s ideal society as an inherent part of its world, suggesting change in understated yet visible ways. As a result of its progressive host network, ATLA takes a groundbreaking approach in exploring these issues, but subtly enacts it so that the audience sees this attention, but does not feel pressured to comply.
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