I spent the entire summer of 2009 living in this tiny little Podunk town called Pine Mountain, Georgia. There’s a resort there called Callaway Gardens, and every summer, the FSU Flying High Circus sends 30 or so of its best and brightest to Callway to spend the summer as professional circus performers. The days at Callaway were absolutely jam-packed with performances, training, and other assorted responsibilities throughout the resort (like having kids try some of the circus equipment as part of their day-camp). The nights, however, were restless. Pine Mountain is a town with only three traffic lights. It’s so remote, the nearest WalMart is 40 minutes away in the next town. So, naturally, on those nights when we were too exhausted to drink ourselves silly, we had to find some way to kill time. One way that we did that was by watching all the DVDs that people brought with them.
This was how I first encountered Avatar: The Last Airbender. One of my fellow performers owned Book One on DVD. Prior to that, I had seen bits and pieces as I was scrolling through channels back home, but at that point, I had long since left Nickelodeon behind (I gave up on it after they cancelled Invader Zim). By the time I had started watching it at Callaway, several other people had already gathered together and started geeking out over it. Truth be told, I only joined this group at first because I was incredibly bored and didn’t really relate to any of the other people in our troupe. But regardless of the reason, it didn’t take long for me to get hooked. After watching three or four episodes with the group, I immediately borrowed one of the DVDs and began catching up. I was hooked, and it wouldn’t be long before half or our entire troupe joined in our obsession. It didn’t take long for us to finish Book One, so we hurriedly made the drive one evening to WalMart to find the next two Books on DVD. Avatar screenings quickly became an event. We’d all bring popcorn and drinks and gather around someone’s tiny TV or laptop. When it came time to watch the final episode, we turned it into an event: sort of like our crude version of a VIP premiere.
I’d like to point out, by the way, that this is a kid’s show that we’re talking about. Yet here we were, a group of adults aged 18 to 23, obsessing like we were half our age. But ask any fan of the show, and they’ll tell you that there’s so much more to Avatar than first meets the eye. First off, don’t watch the movie. Seriously, don’t. It’s an abortion. No, I think I’d rather watch someone get an abortion than to sit through the entirety of that film. The show, however, is brilliantly crafted. It doesn’t just construct an exciting narrative, it creates an entire world complete with its own mythology. It then immerses you in said mythology, and shows you an incredibly fascinating world that echoes the magical realism that permeates the stories of any ancient culture.
Oh, and let’s not forget the action. This show has the same sort of high-flying martial arts you’d see in any old-school kung-fu movie or any of its post-Matrix disciples. The show also contains “benders” or humans who have the power to manipulate the “elements” with different styles of Chinese martial arts. As someone who has studied martial arts, this really speaks to my inner-geek, since each “bending” style is meant to mimic the characteristics of that element. Waterbending makes use of the fluidity of Tai Chi, whereas Earthbending makes use of the strong stances of Hung Gar. Firebending makes use of the acrobatic and powerful moves of Shaolin, and Airbending incorporates the elusive and unruly Ba Gua. Of course, this show doesn’t simply use these fighting styles for its action. It also weaves in the ancient philosophies that accompany each style. When I first got hooked, it was truly thrilling to see such brilliant fight choreography being used for a kids show. But to then find that the show’s writers had also added some true depth to the series, I couldn’t help but be impressed. You’d be hard-pressed to find adult TV shows that are as deep as this series. That’s why I, a fully grown adult, have no problem expressing my love of this cartoon.
When subscribers started suggesting that Will and I start watching the series on Netflix, I was immediately on board. Will, like myself, enjoys narratives that create their own world, which is why he loves Zelda and Harry Potter and Pokemon and Lord of the Rings and so on. I knew he would enjoy this show, too. So it didn’t take long for me to start showing him a few episodes, and he’s already on board. He was worried what would take the place of Queer as Folk once we finish it, since we’re currently watching the final season. Luckily, now, we have a show that will easily take its place. I can’t wait to re-watch this series all over again, and I really can’t wait to start watching the sequel series, The Legend of Korra.