When “Avatar: The Last Airbender” aired on Netflix in May, I was beyond excited. One of my friends is obsessed with Avatar, and she won’t let the rest of our friends forget it; when she found out I didn’t watch the show as a kid, she was shocked. Despite her insistence on me watching “Avatar,” I didn’t end up watching the show until late July—at which point, I immediately fell in love with it. I also couldn’t help but notice how relevant it is to today’s society.
If you haven’t already watched “Avatar” (What are you doing with your life? Watch it!), the plot revolves around the Avatar, the master of all elements: water, earth, fire and air. The Avatar is always reincarnated after they die and acts as the peacekeeper between the four nations. However, an incident occurred that led to the absence of the Avatar for 100 years; the Fire Nation attacked the other nations, seized control and started a hundred-year war. When the Avatar, a 12-year-old boy named Aang, miraculously returns to society, it’s up to him and his friends to bring peace to the world again.
The politics in “Avatar” are relatively straightforward, since the show’s central conflict is about fascism, and it’s relevant to today’s social and political climate in the U.S. Fascist parties in the past all vary; yet, they have some common core characteristics: extreme military nationalism, disdain for any social or political liberalism and a distaste for democracy.
In “Avatar,” fascism is displayed through the Fire Nation, which has an enormous military distributed around the world throughout the war, and soldiers who go through rigorous training camps. The nation is ruled by the Fire Lord, an unelected monarch, and all other political posts, such as the war council, are also unelected.
In an episode where the Avatar spends a day undercover at a Fire Nation school, he sees how their education enables fascism. Any behavior that isn’t acceptable by the Fire Nation or is deemed too radical is met with consequences, such as sending children to military school. Dancing or any form of creative expression is banned, and students are taught that the Fire Nation is the best, that war is necessary and justified, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is awful.
Everything described in the Fire Nation is comparable to the U.S.
The U.S. has the highest defense spending of any nation in the world, having spent over $700 billion in 2019. That’s more than the rest of the world combined, and yet those other countries are still managing to thrive. The American military interferes with other countries and sends its troops worldwide, similar to how the Fire Nation’s soldiers are distributed.
Political and social liberalism is seen as awful by many conservatives today, like it is in the Fire Nation. However, these “radical” ideals (perceived as horrible), such as not using military tactics to “solve” international conflicts, are what Aang and his friends believe in. The Fire Nation shut down any activities that were considered fun, including dancing, which reminds me of when that old video of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing in college was deemed radical by conservatives all across the U.S., even though she was merely having fun for a school video.
As children, we’re taught to love America unequivocally, ignore its many faults, forget our problematic history and proudly recite its pledge. This blind nationalism is what the Fire Nation teaches its children; they too have to recite an oath every day, admire only the Fire Nation for its “goodness” and ignore all of its flaws.
And sure, technically the U.S. is a democratic republic. However, lately, it’s feeling more like a dictatorship.
We have a president who was impeached but not removed from office; instead, he has wreaked havoc on the country and its people for nearly four years. He has sent the National Guard to quell people protesting within their constitutional rights, has over 20 sexual assault allegations against him, is trying to sabotage the election by defunding the U.S. Postal Service during a global pandemic where it’s safer to vote by mail and the list goes on. Let’s also not forget that on Twitter, President Donald Trump declared Antifa as a terrorist organization, even though it’s not an organized group and is actively against fascism; essentially, Trump is equating anti-fascism with terrorism.
The Fire Nation and the U.S. have all too similar political climates. If you love “Avatar” and are a conservative or a Trump supporter, you are blatantly ignoring what the show is trying to teach you.
You cannot vote for Trump and like “Avatar;” it’s simply not possible. Besides being wholly ignorant and supportive of a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic rapist by voting for Trump, you fail or ignore seeing the good that the series is trying to teach its audience. Yes, “Avatar” is technically a kids’ show, but its morals and lessons are authentic and relevant. If you can understand why Aang is trying to defeat the Fire Lord, but can’t comprehend why Trump is an awful person and president, then you can’t be a sincere fan or supporter of the show.