Exploring the Philosophical and Cultural Significance of Avatar: The Last Airbender




Bhattaru, Sreya

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The Nickelodeon television series Avatar: The Last Airbender is a popular children’s show, which aired from 2005-2008. My thesis explores the various philosophical traditions and cultural significance of the show to display how it would be considered ‘appropriate’ media by Plato, and therefore, another text of philosophy, introducing the audience to various, realistic depictions of human nature, and virtue ethics. First, I discuss the friendships in the show, while relating them to the different friendships outlined by Aristotle. Friendships were categorized as either having virtue or exhibiting qualities that resembled virtue. In my second chapter, I discover the different eastern and western philosophical influences of the show. I look at Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Kung Fu, and the Presocratic philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, and Heidegger. The show embeds these philosophical traditions in a very respectful and never-done-before way. I found the show to be a potential model for a new type of storytelling that would encompass more complex thoughts about traditional notions of good versus evil. In my third chapter, I analyze a few key characters and their moral formations while using Aristotle and Machiavelli as the framework to view their actions and individual journeys. In my final chapter, I interpret the various contemporary, real-world topics that the show masterfully embeds into various episodes. These include the environment, disabilities, censorship, Asian representation in the media, feminism, and imperialism. I also reflect on my thoughts on the show, both when I saw it as a child and later as an adult, and other viewers’ thoughts on the show, to display the impact it has on people’s lives.