Avatar the Last Airbender and Anthropology

       So I am a huge Avatar the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra fan and through this class I am now applying these theories to the things I love. The show, Avatar the Last Airbender, is about a world where people can bend the different elements earth, air, fire and water. There are nations and cultures that are related to the elements and each nation is filled with people who either bend that element or don’t bend at all. Then there is the Avatar and he/she is the only one born in each generation that can bend all the elements and create balance between the different nations. Once the avatar dies it is reborn into the next nation in the cycle of elements.

      The show talks about how the FIre Nation felt that they were Superior to the other nation and through the extra boost of a comet they wiped out all of the Air nomads because the next Avatar was to be born in that nation. That takes place a100 years before the show starts by the way. Long Story short the main character Aang was frozen in an ice berg for 100 years and is the long lost Avatar and it is now his destiny to stop the new Fire Lord from conquering all the other nations.

       OK now comes the long awaited anthropology part… Like many cultures that we have in our world each are different and unique to their traditions. The way that they view the world is similar to how Margret Mead and Ruth Benedict viewed our world in that their are patterns in place you wouldn’t normally see as related. They talk about gender roles and how they are formed at an early age and can vary by culture. In the show on of the companions to Aang on his journey is a young waterbender girl named Katara and she is the last waterbender in the South Pole. They both travel to the North Pole to seek training in mastering waterbending. When they get there they get a rude awakening when the find out that female waterbenders can only use their waterbending for healing purposes only. This doesn’t stop her from proving her worth to be a master waterbender. Similar to how Mead and Benedict didn’t let the fact that they were women get in the way of them getting their views of the world out there for all to read. Another example is that the group gets shown that not all people that come from the Fire Nation is bad from what they are lead to believe. They start to see that getting to know people on an individual bases can give you more insight into the culture then what you thought you knew. They found out that sometimes what seemed to be random events and encounters had more meaning behind them. Zuko is a good example of many things, he is the banished crowned Price to the Fire Nation and is only allowed back when he captures the long lost Avatar. Zuko showed that he had a lot of internal conflict inside of him because he founds out that he had lineage to a previous Avatar and to the Fire lord that destroyed the Air nomads. His mother showed him love and support and his father looked at him as he was lucky to be born. Also, you could probably say that Zuko had a little bit of an Oedipus Complex because he hates his father because he doesn’t know what happened to his mother when he was a child. Another thing would be that the Avatar sees the world as divided but equal and learns that it doesn’t have to be that way and that everyone can accept the different thinking that other cultures have.

          Oh and i should tell you that there is Professor Zei, Head of the Anthropology department at the Ba Sing Se University. The episode he is in is Season 2 episode “The Library” and he is so fascinated by everything and wants to find an ancient spirit that has collected a museum of everything. The spirits name is Wan Shi Tong and he is still collecting every bit of information and is a never ending process as we all know. I just thought it was funny the professor and the spirit never stop wanting to learn and for the professor he dies still trying to learn everything he can.

      Sorry if this isn’t too interesting, but this is one of my all time favorite tv shows and to be able to apply something i love to the things i study in school makes it that much easier to learn. Everyone should check it out if you haven’t already.


7 thoughts on “Avatar the Last Airbender and Anthropology

  1. briennekelly says:

    I share the same love for Avatar: The Last Airbender!! I took a liking to the whole premise of the show especially because of its cultural aspects (and not to mention its variety of characters).
    Also, I was glad that Katara played such a strong role in her world. She defied social restrictions and proved that she could be just as powerful as elder waterbenders.

  2. Mike Kruk says:

    I would say my love for both The Last Airbender and Korra rival yours and I was so excited about seeing those series being great examples for anthropological theories! I would say these are accurate claims, that the particular situations that are encountered throughout the series are far more important than what the assumptions are made by each of the four nations: not all Firebenders want to burn and destroy everything, Earthbenders are not all cold and logical as the rocks they bend (as seen by King Bumi), the different gender roles between the North and South Watertribes are not so rigid, and not all Airbenders must follow a pacifist life style (even though they may enjoy it). In the series there are also people that do not fit the role of any benders or nonbenders, people who are rarely seen but are equally important because they break the stigma of the “one bending rule” as well as create conflict and thought-provoking questions to different cultures within the “Four Nation” framework, those who are able to bend multiple elements, such as the Sandbenders (which was just a variation of Earth and Airbending), or people with unique abilities (such as Bloodbending or Metalbending). With these unique encounters, the generalizations do not explain the particulars, which may lead to a paradigm shift from something cold and unchanging to something flourishing, colorful, and full of particulars that create the whole.

  3. I’m so glad someone else put this into words. I’ve been rewatching a lot of these episodes lately and I keep thinking, “I’ve found Anthropology again!” I really like how you tied in Benedict and Mead with Katara and the women of the Northern water tribe. :3

    • Tom Montemurro says:

      Sorry I can’t believe I forgot to explain that. Well the South Pole waterbenders were not as traditional the Northern Water tribe. So in the show you learn that Katara’s grandmother was from the North Pole and moved to the south because of their strict traditions such as per-arranged marriages.Then the war happened and all of the waterbenders were rounded up and captured leaving the south pole watertribe in ruin.That was then now the south pole is hardly a city anymore and more consisting of a few huts with women, children, and the elderly. All of the men, non-benders, went off to fight in the war. Women stayed back because they needed someone to stay back and look after things.
      The southern tribe also showed men and women fighting the firebenders in the beginning of the war. One has to wonder why that stopped when they made the women stay back to look after the kids. Was it because they felt that they needed at least one parent and the mothers were the likely choice or was there still a little gender bias going on?

      Have you watched the show before?

  4. I never knew the show was bigger than “good versus evil”. It is incredible entertainment but in the few episodes I’ve seen, I did not witness the blatant allegory for interaction between different human cultures. The fire nation almost appears to resemble America in some regards, I’m certain there are people in other countries who assume each and every American embodies the ideals of the country they life in. This is why I keep a canada t-shirt around when I travel.

  5. Amanda Sailors says:

    I’m really glad someone else tied in anthro theory to their favorite tv show. I will have to check this out!

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