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Sunday, 01 August 2010

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Rich Puchalsky

I liked this post -- well, the first half of the post. The second goes partly in the wrong direction, I think.

It's series canon that Aang is 12 and Katara is 14. Does that make him "her younger charge" and her "motherly" and "relatively adult"? No, not really, except insofar as girls tend to get social skills earlier than boys do. Is there still an undeniable creepiness to their romanticism? Well, yes, because he's 12 and she's 14. Watching the series, I had to rationalize this by thinking that maybe whatever planet Avatar was set on had longer years than Earth does, so that Aang was maybe 15 in our years, but of course that isn't series canon at all.

So, why is the Katara-in-the-play oversexualized? There are many possible reasons, of course, but the one that I think you are missing is that a number of things in this episode are direct responses from the creators of the show back to fans. For instance, the play depicts the giant drill episode as exceptionally dull because the fans found it so. The Ember Island play does double duty not only as a recap of the show for younger viewers but also as the series' response to its reception. The audience for the show -- the actual Aang, Katara and so on -- don't only figure as us, as viewers. They also figure as the creators of the show looking at how we the viewers have seen it.

Katara-in-the-play is oversexualized, in part, because fans have taken the character further in that direction than the character design indicates. (I tried Googling Katara to find out what her official age was. The top Google search suggestion after typing "Katara"? "Katara pregnant".) There's a huge amount of series interest around Katara in her romantic relationships -- Aang, Jet, Zuko, and there's even a joke about Haru, responding again to fans -- which is all there by design. But Sokka has a lot of different romantic interests as well, and oversexualization didn't become a joke for him. It's because Katara was seen archetypally no matter what her character design was. As I mentioned in comments to the last post here on Avatar, anime series in America archetypally have a female character who blathers about peace a lot and is the main romantic prize. Katara fell into that role in the fan viewpoint despite the creator's efforts to put her close to it but not quite there.

Donald Douglas of Long Beach City College

Scotty: RMP = unreliable, and you obviously didn't need to troll that far back to find some disgruntled students. But no matter. It's a useful resource for insecure non-tenured faculty looking to stand tall over something, anything.

Here's some testimony and commentary I noticed you'd rather not share in your prick-swinging attacks: 'Summer School 2010 — One of the Best Classes in Memory'.

Check back with me when you actually make it around the block once or twice kid.

Dan

So basically what you're getting at here is you're a Zutara shipper.

SEK

Rich, more in the morning, as that comment deserves more than my lesson-planning-addled brain can currently handle.

Donald, if you're going to boast about how much your students love you, you may want to try to take a photograph of their thank you card after your session ends, otherwise people might think you encouraged your students to grade-grub. Not that you did. I'm just saying, you may want to edit the properties on that photograph lest people think that.

Dan, did you mean "shtipper"? In which case, emphatically "No" ... which was sort of the point of the entire post.

SeanH

The fake waves are also, I think, reminiscent of the stylised ocean on the 'world map' in the opening sequence of each episode.

Rob

Unsure how you can mention Aang being played by a woman and not mention how Aang is a lot like Peter Pan. Besides them being boys that fly around a bunch the whole problem in the world is due to Aang not wanting to "grow up" and instead he runs away. It also might be the writers acknowledging they've matured the characters without being able to actually have them age. The characters, especially Aang and Zuko, seem much older after season 1 even though the entire time frame of the series is like 4-6 months. I think the writers boxed themselves in greatly by setting up such a short time frame and that hampered the series. And say if I was making a motion picture about the story the firs thing I would do is age some of the characters.

If I get a chance to view this episode again soon I may have a few more things but then again I might not...

Martin Wisse

Schipper, SEK, as in "relationship", as in fanatically devoted to a certain interpretation of a relationship between two given characters in a show or story based on little less than your wish to make it so. Cf. tvtropes.

SeanH

Oh, for context on the Aang/Katara thing, the spin-off features Tenzin, the son of Aang and Katara.

SEK

Martin:

Schipper, SEK, as in "relationship", as in fanatically devoted to a certain interpretation of a relationship between two given characters in a show or story based on little less than your wish to make it so. Cf. tvtropes.

I see ... in that case, the answer's still "No," because I'm just trying to model a reading here without having much of an investment in one. (And anyway, in the next series, the Avatar will be Aang and Katara's daughter, so it's not like positing that relationship is much of a stretch.)

Sean:

The fake waves are also, I think, reminiscent of the stylised ocean on the 'world map' in the opening sequence of each episode.

That's a really interesting point, so much so I'm not entirely sure what to make of it vis-a-vis my framing thoughts. More on that later today, then ...

Rob:

Unsure how you can mention Aang being played by a woman and not mention how Aang is a lot like Peter Pan.

I didn't mention it because it didn't occur to me. Physically, yes, absolutely; but in narrative terms, the two could hardly be more different. I haven't read the book in decades, though, so would need a refresher before I ventured in that direction.

Rich:

It's series canon that Aang is 12 and Katara is 14. Does that make him "her younger charge" and her "motherly" and "relatively adult"? No, not really, except insofar as girls tend to get social skills earlier than boys do. Is there still an undeniable creepiness to their romanticism? Well, yes, because he's 12 and she's 14. Watching the series, I had to rationalize this by thinking that maybe whatever planet Avatar was set on had longer years than Earth does, so that Aang was maybe 15 in our years, but of course that isn't series canon at all.

But she does figure as a matronly figure throughout the series, and is mocked for said role in the Fire Nation's play. She functions as such until Sokka takes over the "planning" on their way to the invasion, and once he does, she channels the need to mother to an entire village by becoming the Painted Lady. But I still don't think their innocent, puppy-love relationship is any creepier than, say, My Girl until they see the play.

There are many possible reasons, of course, but the one that I think you are missing is that a number of things in this episode are direct responses from the creators of the show back to fans. For instance, the play depicts the giant drill episode as exceptionally dull because the fans found it so. The Ember Island play does double duty not only as a recap of the show for younger viewers but also as the series' response to its reception. The audience for the show -- the actual Aang, Katara and so on -- don't only figure as us, as viewers. They also figure as the creators of the show looking at how we the viewers have seen it.

I think this is dead on, and it's what I'm going to address today if I find a spare hour or two.

Katara-in-the-play is oversexualized, in part, because fans have taken the character further in that direction than the character design indicates.

This I'm not so sure about, if only because I'm unsure what the distinction between "fans" and "audience" is. More thinking, less typing, is required on my part. I'll be back either later today or early tomorrow, depending on how smart I am this afternoon.

Rich Puchalsky

The distinction between fan and audience, for this particular purpose, is that fans are that part of the audience who are invested enough in the series to have written something about it. Without an opinion being communicated to the series creators somehow (typically through Internet chat / comments, I'd guess), it might as well not have been voiced, because they won't know of it.

And I think you're mixing up the qualities of a matron and those of an elder daughter. Katara is supposed to have had to look after the younger kids in the water village after most of the adults leave. She's teased about mothering people by the others in the group, but she's really doing what elder siblings of semi-abandoned families do for their younger sibs. If there is an incestuous undercurrent to the romance between her and Aang, it's a sister-brother one. In the play, the actor playing Katara even tells the actor playing Aang that she loves him like a brother. That makes her uncomfortable, yes, and the audience as well, but in a significantly different way than the one you're describing. After all, she really isn't Aang's sister, and as they get older -- as he matures into someone who doesn't need to be looked after -- the need for her to be in that role goes away in a different way than if she really was trying to be a fake mother to him.

Rich Puchalsky

"But I still don't think their innocent, puppy-love relationship is any creepier than, say, My Girl until they see the play."

Well... there's the octopus scene. Convenient Youtube clip here. It's the beginning of the "Cave of Two Lovers" episode, which is themed around the Aang/Katara romance and their first kiss. And it's a lot more physically focussed than I expected for characters of this ostensible age. Two-piece-swim-outfit Katara is showing Aang waterbending moves, holds him from behind to correct his stance, and he visibly blushes at the body contact. She's training him in the Octopus technique, and their training battle ends with him grabbing her leg with a water tentacle. There's a whole other anime/manga tradition that they are referencing here, and it's not an innocent or puppy-love one.

Ahistoricality

I'm having a problem with the characterization of the stage waves as "stylized": how would you represent waves on stage? More to the point, would your stage waves replicate the dominant artistic tradition of wave-rendering? If not, how would you expect your audience to 'get' the reference without drawing undue attention to the scenery?

SeanH

And anyway, in the next series, the Avatar will be Aang and Katara's daughter

No no, she is taught airbending by Aang and Katara's son. Link in my previous comment.

NickS

Well... there's the octopus scene. Convenient Youtube clip here. It's the beginning of the "Cave of Two Lovers" episode . . . And it's a lot more physically focussed than I expected for characters of this ostensible age.

I just watched that and, mostly, it makes me think that I just don't have a good enough sense of what flirting looks like among middle school age kids (which would match their ostensible age).

If I think about "12-year old" then I agree, that clip sexualizes their interaction more than I would expect. But if I think that a 12-year old would be in 7th grade, I would say that interactions at that age certainly are sexualized some of the time.

But there is something in that clip that feels odd. If you think they are flirting, the fact that it is presented as that straightforward and, for lack of a better term, flat -- and not emotionally fraught -- feels odd.

I don't know. I considered deleting this comment, because I don't know that there's a productive conversation to be had on this tangent.

Rich Puchalsky

"They" aren't flirting: Katara completely isn't. The one who finds it emotionally fraught is Aang, who has bright red blush marks appear on his cheeks when Katara is in contact with him. So she thinks it's just training; he's suddenly noticed that she's a girl. Not in a puppy-love, innocent kind of way, although of course he is pretty much innocent and seems to have no real idea of what's going on. Plot-wise, it's perfectly consistent with later episodes: Aang has noticed the romantic possibilities between before Katara has. It's also pretty much consistent with what I know (or remember) of what 12 year old boys are like, at least, I was starting to notice things at that age.

But it's unusual for a series to be that up front about it. As Scott says above, he isn't creeped out by their romantic interaction because it seems like an innocent, puppy-love one -- i.e. sexless even in imagination. But really, it isn't that way, and isn't that way right from the start, although Katara seems to be the last to realize it. I have no idea whether the creators of the series put the tentacle erotica reference there on purpose, or whether it's just so much a part of the unconscious anime iconography that it sort of appeared without them thinking about it, but it's there.

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