Tag Archives: We are secretly still in elementary school

Controlling Passion: Fire as Emotion and Desire

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(This is a simul-post with Ignitum Today)

Remember that series we started? With this handy-dandy little reference sheet? Well, you’ll probably need the Fire Nation blurb for this post.

In the Avatar universe, fire plays the role of energy and passion, requiring balance and control to keep it from devouring everything in its path—and ultimately devouring itself. The fire-bender characters met in the series are often acutely aware of this and, by their attitude toward fire and fire-bending, serve as examples of different responses to the power and pull of our passions. The character known as the Deserter (properly called Jeong Jeong), a Fire Nation general-turned-hermit, captures the problem of the passions in his lament: fire is a powerful force with great creative potential and a pivotal role in human life; yet its very use predisposes the fire-bender to yield a little more room to fire. Without the proper discipline and moderation, even the best-intentioned and most vigilant bender could cause great destruction, even self-destruction. So too, the human passions are a great good and indispensible to human life; yet if simply yielded to passively at each opportunity, emotion and desire alone would certainly lead someone astray into great harm.

Some of Aang’s first attempts to fire-bend serve as a good example of this danger. In his need to master fire-bending in order to fulfill his mission as the Avatar, Aang seeks out the aforementioned Deserter, a great fire-bending master, to teach him this art. When Aang finally finds the Deserter and makes his request, the hermit reveal’s the great danger that comes from someone playing with fire. For someone like carefree Aang, childlike and sometimes childish, the power of fire would simply be too great to trifle with; for someone with less pure intentions, the consequences could be even graver. On these grounds, the Deserter initially refuses; but after great insistence, Aang finally secures the Deserter’s help, on the condition that Aang train with unrelenting discipline.

So far so good! After much training, Aang learns to control his breath.  (For the most part.) Under constant pressure from Aang to be allowed to play with fire, the Deserter leaves him with an ember, burning a hole through the middle of a leaf which, in true Japanese style, Aang is to keep from burning out to the edges.  In his excitement, Aang expands the ember into a whole flame and begins to manipulate it freely and playfully. Katara, who stands nearby watching, recognizes the danger Aang is playing with and warns him; but her words of caution fall upon deaf ears until Aang accidentally burns her hands with his fire-bending tricks.

Such an example of the danger that comes with fire-bending may not be so serious; in fact, Katara is able to heal herself with a water-bending technique she soon discovers. But, for fire-bending and the human passions alike, a more unhinged person might let loose something much graver through rampant desire and emotion. Admiral Zhao, the Fire-Nation leader of great ambition, personifies this more serious danger in his obsessive hunt for the Avatar—much like the imperialism of the Fire Nation as a whole. In the climax of the same Deserter episode, Admiral Zhao tracks Aang down to the Deserter’s location and leads a group of Fire-Nation gunboats to secure both fugitives—a perfect means to satisfy his ambitions. But when Aang confronts Zhao, he shows himself to have learned his lesson as well as he shows Zhao to be self-destructive in his heedlessness: by simply allowing Zhao to expend himself in fire-bending attacks, avoiding them with graceful control, Aang successfully leads Zhao to destroy his own ships with his reckless assault. In this way, the inferno of unchecked passion or fire-bending ultimately undermines and extinguishes itself.

The dangers of unrestrained emotion or desire are thusly displayed in fire-bending. However, more positive examples of properly cultivated passion exist as well. The Deserter, in his great sorrow over the rampant destruction caused by fire-bending, shows a path of self-denial and resignation in his refusal to fire-bend except for the most serious reasons. On the other hand, Uncle Iroh leads a more harmonious life as a fire-bender, informed by well-ordered passions. Far from abandoning the art of fire-bending, Uncle Iroh perfects it in his mastery of lightning-bending, a very demanding technique possible only for the most disciplined masters. Yet this expertise does not come from heedless indulgence but from great self-mastery: a trait also on display in Uncle Iroh’s personality as a whole. Rather than fixating upon the great objects of ambition common to the series’ unbalanced firebenders—power and wealth and honors—Uncle Iroh is most memorable for his great Chestertonian appreciation for the simplest of goods: innocent pleasures like a cup of tea or a game of pai sho. So too does his humble demeanor, good-humored and self-effacing, contrast sharply with the feverish personalities of Admiral Zhao or Fire Lord Ozai, who are so consumed by self-destructiveness and self-import. In these ways Iroh shows that with fire-bending—like the human passions—rather than needing to be unequivocally renounced altogether or extinguished, a life of full flourishing embraces both the intensities of emotion and desire as well as the fundamental vision of the true good needed to shape these into a force which can be genuinely creative.

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My Jealousy Knows No Bounds

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While procrastinating on a lot of work I desperately need to do, I stumbled across Leah Libresco’s update on her Halloween costume and then started following some trackbacks to find other things she’s made.  It reminded me (very acutely, I’m afraid) that I haven’t had enough time to sew in something like two months.  The most sewing I’ve done in weeks has been simple mending, like darning my sweater-tights with thread (yes you can do that).  And it appears that my Christmas break will be spent sewing liturgical vestments (not a bad thing at all!).  So I guess I won’t have time to work out my Raine costume… the one I’ve been wanting to make for years…

…it’s okay, Raine.  Some day I’ll look like you.  Maybe at Comic-Con some year.

The Basic Storyline and Structure of Avatar: the Last Airbender (Book One: Water)

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(This is a simul-post with Ignitum Today)

As an introduction to the series of posts on this animated TV series, I would like to introduce the characters and the plot.  Be warned: this entire post-series is one long string of spoilers, so if you’re not familiar with it and want to be surprised, don’t read this.  If you aren’t familiar with it and don’t plan to watch the series or don’t care if the plot is ruined for you, this is the post (and series) for you.

We will focus for now on the first season (or “Book”): Water.

The World:

There are four groups into which people are born.  These groups are defined by the elements they can bend (bending is a type of psychokinetic martial art manipulation of the Empedoclean elements).

Earth: The Earth Kingdom is very reminiscent of imperial China.  It consists of big cities with sophisticated technology and clever inventors, each city ruled by its own king.  The capital is Ba Sing Se /bah-sing-say/.  Members of the Earth Kingdom dress in shades of green and brown.  Earthbending is associated with a firm “center” but flexibility and creativity.  They tend to be offensive fighters.

Water: The Water tribes live at the North and South Poles and appear to be Inuit.  The Northern Water Tribe is a massive civilization made of ice and snow, and its city layout is reminiscent of Venice with canals being one of the main methods of transportation.  The Southern Water Tribe is much more like what people imagine when they hear the word “Eskimo”: a small village of igloos and tents.  It is also very lacking in benders, unlike the Northern Tribe–the Fire Nation did its best to exterminate the benders of this tribe.  Also, all its men are helping the Earth Kingdom fight the Fire Nation’s invasion.  Members of the Water tribes dress in shades of blue, with white (sometimes fur) trim.  They are often wearing long sleeves and/or parkas, depending on where in the world they are.  Waterbending is associated with fluidity, flexibility, and creativity.  Most waterbenders can manipulate water into and out of its frozen state at will.  They can be either offensive or defensive fighters.

Air: The Air nomads live in the sky.  Literally.  Air temples are usually on the tops of mountains or in the sides of cliffs–basically, as far away from easily-accessible as possible.  You can only get there on a flying bison.  The air nomads of the Eastern and Western Air Temples are modelled after Tibetan monks.  All Air Nomads seen in the series have been airbenders, most likely because of their civilization’s monastic way of life.  Air nomads dress in yellow and orange.  Airbenders, after a certain point, receive airbender tattoos: a series of blue arrows tattooed over their bodies with their points at the center of the forehead, the centers of the backs of the hands, and the centers of the tops of the feet.  Most airbenders shave their heads; some grow facial hair.  Airbending is associated with flightiness but revolves around meditation and control.  They tend to be defensive (non-violent) fighters.

Fire: The Fire Nation heavily resembles feudal Japan.  Society revolves around a very strict system of “honour,” where in order to maintain the honour of your family you must not dishonour yourself.  Exile is a very real thing in the Fire Nation.  Since in this series, the biggest plot point is that the Fire Nation is attempting to rule the world with force (and to keep it down with martial law, once it’s conquered), the Fire Nation itself is difficult to describe because of its far-reaching arm.  Under the rule of Fire Lord Ozai, the Fire Nation has a primarily military presence in the world.  Members of the Fire Nation dress in shades of red and often look militaristic or samurai-esque, even when not in battle.  Firebending is associated with power and passion but revolves around control through proper breath control.  They tend to be offensive fighters.

Cast of Characters

The Good Guys:

Aang: The Avatar.  He is discovered in an iceberg in the first episode, but you don’t find out he is the Avatar until the second (they were initially aired back-to-back).  This means that he is pivotal to the survival of the world: he is the only one who has the capability of controlling all four elements AND he is the bridge between the mortal and the spirit worlds.  He is an airbender from the Southern Air Temple.  At the time of the series beginning, the airbenders had all been killed by the Fire Nation–but he didn’t know this because he was frozen in stasis in the iceberg for 100 years.  Because of this stasis-freeze, he is still twelve: the age he was when he froze.  He is a happy and bouncy personality, but still understands his responsibility as the Avatar.  He also has a very strong desire to help everyone with whom he comes into contact.  His job is, literally, to save the world from the Fire Lord.

Katara: The only bender left in the Southern Water Tribe.  She and her brother Sokka (below) discover Aang in the iceberg when they are out fishing.  She is very maternal, as she has had to take care of the household chores since her mother died at the hands of a Fire Nation invasion.  Her father is fighting with the other men from the Southern Water Tribe.  Katara and Sokka live with their grandmother, Gran-Gran.  Katara seems to be about thirteen.

Sokka: Katara’s older brother.  He is a non-bender (which means he can’t manipulate any elements) but has a good mind for strategy.  He often fills the role of comic relief and is usually hungry.  He has been the “man” of the village for two years now, since all the grown men left to fight.  He seems to be about fifteen.  His weaponry consists of a mace and a boomerang.

 

Momo: Aang’s flying lemur.  He is adorable and can always find food (often making him friends with Sokka).

Appa: Aang’s animal companion (all Avatars have one).  He is a flying bison.  Like Aang, he has arrows on his body at his head and all his limbs (he has six legs and a very big, flat tail).

The Bad Guys:

Prince Zuko: Son of Fire Lord Ozai; he has been exiled and must capture the Avatar in order to regain his honour.  He has a flame-shaped burn scar on his face from a vital backstory plot-point.  He is a firebender with a tendency to let his temper get the better of him.

 

General Iroh: Zuko’s uncle.  Also exiled, so he travels with Zuko and teaches him (as well as talking sense into him).  The comic relief for the bad guys, Iroh is a funny old man with a passion for tea, food, and pai sho (an invented-for-the-series game which appears to be like mahjongg with some elements of Go.)  If you try to harm Zuko, though, he will kick your butt faster than you can blink.  Iroh is also a firebender (which is why he teaches Zuko).

Commander Zhao: A generally bad guy.  Commander in the Fire Nation Imperial Army.  He hates Zuko; Zuko hates him.  Much more about him later, as he has a LOT of issues.

Did we forget anyone?

Goodness in the Media: The Series

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Goodness in the Media: The Series

(This is a simul-post with Ignitum Today)

After reading the positive comments on our post on Ignitum Today, Quill and I have decided to turn it into a full-fledged series, starting with Avatar: The Last Airbender–from the beginning.  The purpose of this post is to do two things.

1. To announce that we are, in fact, turning it into a series (and we’ll post as regularly as we can; no promises though, since the school year has started up again) and are very excited to begin.

2. To open the discussion to readers who are familiar with the series (and maybe with our past writing) and tell us what they’d like to see.  A scholarly analysis?  Drawing out the implicit moral system?  Just a review?  Remember–this isn’t a zero-sum situation, and it will be constantly growing.  If we write a post about something and a commenter on that post raises an interesting point to discuss, we can do another post on it.  On a similar note, what point of departure would be preferable?  Start with an important topic in Catholic life and see how the series relates to it?  Or instead, start with the series itself and see what themes emerge that are resonant with the Faith and life of the Church?

Goodness in the Media: Avatar: The Legend of Korra

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(This is a simul-post with Ignitum Today)

As Catholics, we live in the world but are not of it; we must dialogue with the culture but not fall prey to the worship of it.  And, in some cases, we must be able to cite common cultural references of our generations and be able to discuss them with our peers and friends.  After all, what is friendship but shared interests?  (Aristotle would suggest this is merely one kind of friendship, but that is a post in and of itself.)  For many years now, television has been a part of entertainment.  From “I Love Lucy” to “The Brady Bunch” to “Pokémon,” each generation has something they remember in particular.

One of the latest crazes which has been sweeping the generation who affectionately call themselves “90’s kids” is a callback to a show which ran on Nickelodeon as part of Nicktoons.  The first show, which started running when many 90’s kids were within the targeted age demographic (those born from 1990 to 1993, however, were just older than the target audience), was Avatar: The Last Airbender (or in Europe, The Legend of Aang, according to Wikipedia).  The three seasons of this show were so well-received that the writers promised a sequel, which was released this year.  Avatar: The Legend of Korra just finished with its first season finale (and ridiculously epic story arc) a couple weeks ago.  It was the talk of Facebook and much of the internet (right after Avengers) and rightly so–the writing was top-notch, the characters were lovable (or hateable), and the plot had matured since the first series.  The conflicts were believable and the action scenes so well-choreographed and well-drawn that both of us regularly found ourselves rooting for the good guys out loud.  And best of all?  It was, and is, a kid’s show.  So there is nothing excessive which frequently inhibits the near-nonexistent plotline of “adult” shows such as How I Met Your Mother (which really needs to end [1]).  Since the writers are writing for children, it has to be engaging, clever, fun, and–above all–age-appropriate.  Not to mention that a large amount of college students were watching the show as it came out because they watched Airbender as children.

A little backstory: The Last Airbender was a lighthearted adventure story, describing the path of the Avatar (Aang, who was the last airbender) as he mastered the art of “bending” all four elements [2].  It had a lovable cast of characters and just the right amount of drama to accompany the story.  As a more-grown-up  sequel, Legend of Korra takes place 80 years after The Last Airbender in a city known as Republic City, in an era very reminiscent of the 1920s.  Its primary conflict is a political one: a powerful speaker, Amon, calls for non-benders to rise against the benders and make them all “equal,” citing bending as an “impurity” and declaring a sort of class warfare on the benders, claiming that non-benders are “oppressed” by the benders.  Korra, the current Avatar [3], is in Republic City so she can learn airbending, the last element she must master.  However, she is rash and hotheaded and often allows her impulsiveness to heavily cloud her judgment.  Shortly upon her arrival in Republic City, she finds herself involved in pro-bending, a new sport developed in Republic City, and the affairs of the City Council–after all, she is a public figure.  Oh, and the scariest part about this whole situation?  Amon has the remarkable ability to take away bending, an ability only known by viewers as held by Aang, the most recent Avatar (and the star of the first series).  And he is hell-bent on taking away Korra’s, in order to make an example of her.  Belligerent and independent Korra finds herself heavily relying on her city friends (who she met through pro-bending) to help bring down Amon.

And now for the good talking points! (Oh, you thought it would be over at the plot summary?  Oops.)  The Equalists, with their communist-style propaganda and secret gatherings, could be any number of anti-establishment regimes.  Visually, the movement calls back heavily to the rise of Soviet Russia or Communist China–an anti-religion, forced-atheism, forced-socialism regime.  Much like the rise of communism in these countries, there were some legitimate complaints with the system: some repression, corruption, incompetent leadership, etc; however, the response to these complaints were the absolute wrong path.  Instead of seeking to change the leadership,  alter the police system, or finally crack down on the organized-crime underground, total revolution and extermination of benders is the path chosen.  Obviously, since this is a kid’s show, the good guys win in the end and Amon is vanquished (after his dramatic and astonishing backstory is revealed, of course)–but the leadup to this ultimate victory is compelling, fascinating, frustrating, and, above all, intense.

The Legend of Korra has been the talk of the internet since it was announced.  It was much-anticipated as it was released, one episode at a time, on Saturday Morning Cartoons.  Each new character and plot twist became ongoing discussions (Tenzin and Tenzin’s beard, anyone?).  And this is because, quite frankly, it is a Good Show.  The plot is good, the morals of the story are hidden enough that they’re believable (friendship, teamwork, and The Right Thing will always win) and there is no smut to be found anywhere. (In fact, it’s so good that I’m considering getting my mom into the Avatar series once we’re done with Firefly. ~Ink)  Stories which have the Good Guys winning in the end will ultimately be more satisfying than “He loved Big Brother” because we as fallen humans crave Goodness and union with that Goodness.  Even by rooting for the Good Guys and watching them win, we feel as though we have shared in some small part in their victory.  A truly good story allows us to share the joys and sorrows of the heroes.  The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra do just that.[4]

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[1] For my rant on why How I Met Your Mother needs to end, drop me an e-mail. ~Ink

[2] These are the four classical elements: earth, air, fire, and water.  To be able to bend them is a sort of psychokinetic martial art, and having that ability in the first place is something with which you are born.  We are not quite sure as to whether or not it is genetic (Punnett square-able or maybe a “carrier” situation) or works the same way as magical ability does in Harry Potter (tends to run in families but occasionally you get a wild card where a person from a Muggle family can use magic or a person from a magical family cannot).

[3] The Avatar follows the same rules as the Dalai Lama.  If they exhibit certain abilities which seem Avatar-like, they are offered a selection of toys and told to choose three.  If they choose the three which were chosen by the former Avatar (and therefore all former Avatars), then they must be the Avatar.  It also has a cycle where each new Avatar is incarnated into one of the four tribes.  The cycle as of Korra goes “earth, fire, air, water,” with Korra being a waterbender and Aang, the Avatar before her, an airbender.  Before Aang was Avatar Roku, a firebender, and before Roku was Avatar Kiyoshi, an earthbender.  But this is extra.  Basically, the writers did some serious research.

[4] We are considering expanding this post into a series of posts which go through both Avatar series individually (and probably story-arc-by-story-arc), laying out the good things.  We also have post-fodder in many other kinds of media.