Foucault and the Fire Nation


So I decided to talk about Avatar the Last Airbender again, but this time in relation to Foucault. As i read this chapter in Moberg I could help, but compare it to the world of the Avatar, more specifically the Fire Nation. For some light back story it goes back to Roku, Aang the current avatar’s past life, and when he was dealing with the Fire lord during his time. The Fire lord felt that his nation was in a great era of peace and felt that they should share this peace to all the other nations. This is the problematize part of the situation. The path that he takes is to go and conquer the other nations and have the fire nation control them, so they can experience peace. There by creating war among the nations against the Fire Nation. The problem of no peace creating the problem of war, so that it can create peace, obviously it didn’t work out very well since they created a 100 year war. Roku died trying to keep balance by keeping the nations separate, but this then paves the way to the current world in the Avatar world with Aang as the next avatar.

Next, is the current time in the series, in regards to the Fire Nation. The main people to look at is Princess Azula, super bat shit crazy and in the picture above, the banished Prince Zuko, Mai, and Ty lee. Each of them are have noble blood and taught to behave a certain way. For them their socialization is that they have to be obedient children and do as they are told and if they do that they will grow up to have the power. For Mai, especially her father is a political noblemen and she is raised to not speak unless spoken to and to be the good daughter, so as to not disrupt her father’s career. They all had minute control over them because they were of higher status they had to constantly train in all different areas ranging from school studies, especially history lessons, all the way to firebending discipline and control, or if you are not a firebender it was combat skills. This goes for the whole nation they are put into schools and have very structured lives. The repetitive exercises for them would be mastering an area of some sort of offensive or defensive skill. For Mai, it is her throwing daggers skill. Ty Lee it is her acrobatic skill along with her Chi Blocking techniques. Zuko, it is his firebending , but he get frustrated because it doesn’t come naturally to him like his sister Azula. Finally, Azula is a firebender protege, she goes through very expensive exercises to make sure her technique is flawless. In the picture above is when we see her doing a form of firebender, where they create lightning and she is trying to do it perfectly except one hair is out of place and must doing again until it is perfect. For these future leaders of the Fire Nation they become part of the detailed hierarchy. No one wants to screw up when they are around for fear of being punished. In the third season, Aang attends a fire nation school for a day and sees that they put the fear in the kids that their leader the Fire Lord is always watching and his military is everywhere and reports to him. They cannot even have dance parties becomes expression and creativity is not allowed because it causes thinking differently. This is where the normalizing judgement comes into play. For Aang he lived 100 years ago and went to the fire nation and dances and fun was allowed, but now things have changed for the worse. The children in the Fire Nation are taught at such a young age that conformity and well behaved is the norm and thinking freely and go against the group you are abnormal. For Aang he gets into trouble a lot because he challenges what the history books says against his people, even though he is in disguise and pretending to be a normal kid, and he dances in music class, while everyone else looks at him like he is crazy. When the teacher stops him Aang admits to not being a good player of that instrument, and the teachers say no all that hula baloo foot work is not allowed. he then tells him that sometimes one gets so moved by being a part of the Fire Nation that they cannot help but act out and that if he wants to he can march in place since dancing is not allowed. Aang then throws a secret dance party to show the kids that it is ok to express yourself, have fun, and let loose.

So as you can see there are so many ways that the Foucault theories of govenmentality and power can be seen in the things we watch today without even realizing there are more examples of this in the show, but I encourage you again to go and watch it and look for it yourself. if anyone wants to talk more please comment I can talk about Avatar the Last Airbender all day. Oh and of course legend of Korra, but that’s a whole other topic.


10 thoughts on “Foucault and the Fire Nation

  1. Holly B. says:

    Based on your description, it sounds like the Fire Nation is controlled by very strict rules set by the ruling powers. Everything is under constant surveillance by the leaders of the nation. This sounds like it fits quite well into Foucault’s ideas of power and they way in which those who hold the power make all the rules for the society. I really like your comparison and it seems as though the Fire Nation is a great example for Foucault’s theory.

  2. Heather M. says:

    Tom I love you and your addiction to Avatar! I really like the way you put this together. The Fire Nation is a great example of Foucault’s theories. Zuko is definitely an example of evolutionary change within a culture.

  3. briennekelly says:

    I never realized how much anthropological theory can be applied to so many things, especially this television show! Mind = blown

  4. Mike Kruk says:

    Tom, I am totally a fan of you relating concepts to Avatar the Last Airbender seriously the amount of excitement reading this post is beyond spectacular, I love it, we could almost do a semester of Anthropology of Avatar the Last Airbender, with the last quarter being Korra as a way to compare the growing modernization to the other nations! I would also like to say that, even though the Fire Nation currently has a very structured lifestyle, as indicative by Aang’s experience 100 years prior, it was not always that structured. I would say that this highly structured lifestyle is more indicative with war-time life, as we can see changes in the focuses of all the nations (minus the Air Nomads) to become more structured to be able to attack and defend when the time arrives. This can be seen with the Northern Water Tribe’s military prowess and their huge ice wall to protect them, with respects to gigantic walls, Ba Sing Se is equally fortified and life has become hard with war-time politics. So as a result from Fire Lord Sozin’s “war for peace to prevent war” the politics and lifestyles of all the living nations have been changed.

  5. Do you think the creators of this series aimed at all at their viewers a sense of promoting our own positive behaviors? That is, do those that watch the show feel compelled to act bravely or honorably because their favorite characters do so?

    • Don’t many ‘kids” tv shows do that on a regular basis? It’s enculturation, but enculturation to a hegemonic standard. As you can imagine, I just hate the ‘after-school special’ kind of tv show for younger viewers.
      And that’s part of the reason why Hunger Games much a big splash in Young Adult literature. A female protagonist, it was not about being good but about making moral choices, which makes Hunger Games potentially non-hegemonic.

      • Tom Montemurro says:

        Some seem to do that, but they all seem to try to make it in the world we live in per say for example in the US. With the last airbender they create a whole new world and bring in different cultures. Each nation has its own practices that’s why I was so drawn to it and I’m sure if they could they would get off of nickelodeon and be aired on a different station.

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