It’s nice if the writers and artists of said show appreciate you. Without a fan base, many programs linger and die unmourned deaths, remembered on message boards in blurry screencaps or YouTube videos watermarked with the TV channel’s logo. Creators of entertainment should, if they’re kind and, more importantly, smart, appreciate the audiences that have championed their fame.
They still have no obligation to love their fan base back with the same fervor that the fans love them. The stories a show tells are its own. Even a program’s most fervent follower isn’t entitled to change the content the artist wants to deliver.
Fans can love that content. They can hate parts of it with a fiery passion. They can hate it for an ending that, to their minds, doesn’t quite work, and they can sure as hell critique it. Sites like this this one wouldn’t exist if we weren’t allowed to analyze and question our entertainment. Still, one can’t change what’s broadcast into a TV box unless they’re providing or else hired to shape that content.
The animated fantasy martial arts show aired from 2005 to 2008, a family show with a wide ensemble cast which stars the spirit of the world in one of his many human incarnations, Aang (voiced by Zach Tyler Eisen). It has nothing to do with James Cameron’s Avatar films and has regrettable connections with M. Night Shyamalan’s lackluster 2010 live-action adaptation of the series, The Last Airbender.
Detailed, often spiritual, and sometimes just plain beautiful to look at, the heavily Asian influenced fantasy show is a bright jewel in Nickelodeon’s recent programming.
It has garnered a huge following, not only among children and parents, but young adults who identify closely with some of the teenage protagonists. This includes, Katara (voiced by Mae Whitman), an approximately 14-year old member of the Water Tribe and the earliest ally of the show’s protagonist, and Zuko (Dante Basco) the show’s fire bending antihero and conflicted villain who makes good.
Katara has found a lot of popularity in fan fiction and fan art as a cypher for girls and young women. She’s thoughtful and loses her composure in only the most tense of situations. A number of fans have devoted very detailed fan fiction, art, and communities, meanwhile, to pairing her off with the anguished Prince Zuko.
I would by lying if I said I didn’t think pairing-off polar opposite characters as couples is bad storytelling. It’s a reliable plot, a very well used trope at this point but one that fosters great chemistry between leads. It’s an easy idea, though, and a classic arc that, according to a very relevant TV Tropes article, is at least as old as Much Ado About Nothing.
A couple of problems surface with being zealous about this pair. The first is that the contingent of fandom that adores the couple, “Zutarans,” has some very vocal members who insist that the relationship be canon and that the creators have actively made fun of the fans for thinking they were supposed to be.
This may be the case in all honesty, though, because of the second problem: the characters in question meet only a few times before teaming up at the end of the last season. The screen time they do share involves Zuko: invading Katara’s village in search of Avatar Aang (“The Avatar Returns”), tying her to a tree (“The Waterbending Scroll”), attacking her (“The Siege of the North,” “The Chase”) and betraying her (“The Crossroads of Destiny”).
It’s a testament to the power of tropes that this little shared screen time and animosity is interpreted as a love connection. Popular entertainment conditions its viewers to expect certain developments in a story. When two beloved characters pay attention to each other in a certain context, that translates as “romance” for any audience that has a passing familiarity with Beauty and the Beast.
Even if that context is violence.
Maybe especially if that context is violence, judging by the number of fans who respond strongly to Zuko tying Katara to a tree. It is fantasy, I guess, and a fictional hate-to-love romance is better than audiences attempting to reconstruct it in real life. It’s excellent catharsis.
But that isn’t the story Avatar: The Last Airbender wanted. The context of Zuko and Katara’s relationship is violence up to the end of the third season, where he understandably has to work for her trust. Katara, meanwhile, spends a lot more time supporting and building an emotional bond with Aang. He’s a suitor that, while a year younger than her, certainly seems like a gentler, more stable option than the moody Fire Nation prince.
Stability doesn’t make for a very good will-they-won’t-they romance, however, but that’s not what the series creators wanted to make. This isn’t due to a lack of “appreciation” on their part, it’s just that an earth-shattering, high-drama romance wasn’t a part of the series’ shape. Co-creator Bryan Konietzko, for his part, certainly adores his fans enough to make a Tumblr account with daily images of the next series set in the same universe, The Legend of Korra. Which I find to be quite nice.
Fans, of course, are entitled to loving a show for their own reasons and taking from it what they like best, especially if the things they like best feed a burning passion that would otherwise go hungry. The original show, though, is ideally beholden to no one but the whims of the artists and the vision that they try their best to bring to the rest of the world.