Its no secret that Avatar the Last Airbender is the best children’s show ever created (debate your auntie). Now that the hype has died down, I question the future of television culture, or lack thereof.
On June 28th, Avatar the Last Airbender dropped off of Netflix’s Top Ten after holding this ranking since its premiere in the U.S. on May 15th. For over a month, people relived their childhoods while other people discovered theirs for the first time. Its no secret I regard this show highly, and that’s because it single-handedly shaped a generation.
If you think I’m exaggerating, you’re going to have to show me the Pulitzer prizes you’ve won. I reckon its less than a children’s show.
Personally, I have wanted to own a DVD set of that ATLA ever since the final credits of the last episode rolled onto my boxy television screen on July 19th, 2008. For YEARS I have been itching to watch this show again. There have been a few banned YouTube videos that have tried to release episodes, but the closest I could ever get was reviews and analyses online. Then, on the legendary day of May 15th, 2020, Netflix Headquarters decided to bless us.
But maybe that wasn’t the best option.
Blasphemy, I know. Before you burn me at the stake, let me explain.
If you’re a millennial, you remember having to tune into a show in order to watch the next episode. It’s strange to realize that this is not the reality future generations will experience. Everyone used to be excited to attend school or work after an episode aired that night, just so they could discuss the evening’s highlights. It was a slow burn to a season’s end, and the payoff lead to catharsis or chaos. Either way, it was an experience that one shared with others.
I believe the rise of streaming is pushing towards an even more individualistic culture rather than a collectivistic culture.
I understand that streaming has existed for a while now. This individualistic culture isn’t new, but it is continuously adapting. There is enough content to suffice an individual’s narrow scope of acceptable entertainment. If there isn’t, they can just watch the same things over again.
Have you ever wanted to rave to a group of people about a show, but no one was watching it? Or they hadn’t caught up in the season, so you couldn’t spoil it for them? Or worst of all – everyone was watching a show you knew was arguably terrible by comparison? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have turned to the internet to find comfort in that show’s fandom.
For the cavemen out there, a “fandom” by Urban Dictionary’s terms is “an innocent word used for describing a cult of sleep-deprived people who obsess over one or multiple comics, books, tv shows, movies, video games, etc.”
Fandoms have allowed people to foster mini-communities which make them feel less ridiculous for investing their time and emotions into fictional characters. I am proudly a part of the Avatar the Last Airbender fandom. However, I don’t know how long fandoms can even survive. I had been waiting YEARS to be able to freely watch Avatar the Last Airbender. Now that I can watch it whenever I want…I don’t. I still love it and always will, but watching it now doesn’t feel the same.
I have been doing an analysis of every episode as to compare my views as an adult to my experience of the show as a child. So far I’ve gotten through 13 episodes. My two small nieces have watched episodes sporadically, and almost never in consecutive order. Two other family members have sped through the series in days, then promptly said “I need to watch it again, I didn’t really absorb it.” None of us have watched an episode together as a family, and this is because we like to operate on our own, individual schedules. Even though we are all watching the same show, the way we are watching it distances us.
It has been said that Game of Thrones was the last cultural T.V. show. People gathered to see its season premiere and there is one video in particular that showcases the vibrancy of that community. You know the one.
People gathered this way for Harry Potter movie premieres (dressing up in wizard gowns like complete nerds…I totally wasn’t one of them.)
Ultimately, I’m afraid that people won’t gather like this again. Physically, or otherwise.
COVID has prevented us from being in crowds and streaming has prevented us from gathering online, so what’s left? I’d love to say watch parties, but even those are pretty niche.
I remember as a child, seeing Aang battling Ozai on the night of that final episode of ATLA. I knew that millions of people were watching and experiencing the same things I was. At that moment, I knew that there had been a shift in history. I wish I was exaggerating, and maybe that would make me seem less obsessed, but even as a child I truly knew. I had never seen a character choose peace over violence and still win. The next day at school, I had to decide whether I agreed with his final choice or not, before I discussed it with my friends, and what that said about me, and what their opinions said about them.
Having immediate access to television and movies is convenient, but convenience doesn’t equate to a greater experience. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should return to old broadcasting methods (frankly, I don’t have the patience either). There should instead be a new way to showcase entertainment that once again brings people together through their similarities rather than driving them apart through their differences.
Overall, I hope the next generations are able to experience cultural shifts in entertainment as they happen – collectively.