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June 20 2015

Anonymous said: i thought the fire nation somewhat were white people?

element-of-change:

dear anon,

I can see why you might think this given these kinds of complexions:

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are the ones we see for the most important/main characters of Fire Nation descent

but don’t let the paleness fool you, especially when Airbenders and Earthbenders can be just as pale

every cultural detail we observe for the Fire Nation departs from an Asian or non-white point of origin

and let me clarify that by saying:

every cultural detail we observe within the Avatar universe departs from an Asian or non-white point of origin.

are there twentieth-century “Western” influences such as jazz and art deco in Korra, yes definitely, but they are translated through the Asian or Northern American Indian culture that grounds the fictional universe and has grounded the fictional universe since its inception

anyway, while the Earth Kingdom more obviously represents China, with a mix of Korean and Mongolian cultures, the Fire Nation seems to be a more ambiguous mix

most people leap to say the Fire Nation represents Japanese culture, and in a way it most certainly does, but there’s more to it

Though you can chose fashion, cuisine, musical instruments, calligraphy, or any other number of material cultures as examples, I think architecture best illustrates the kind of cultural influence that went into the crafting of this fictional culture…

so you have obviously Japanese architecture:

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The Fire Sage Temple on The Crescent Island, for instance

or both the old and new Fire Nation Royal Palaces:

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the stacked look of the different floors, the ornamentation at the corners…it recalls Japanese temple architecture from several different periods

the nobility seem to build their mansions in a similar style, as we see with Master Piandao:

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as you can see with this second example, Piandao has a Japanese style garden, complete with a Fire Nation-stylized torii gate, a bamboo forest, a rock garden, etcetera

yet that’s not where things end! The Fire Nation has several ancient cultures embedded within the mainstream Japanese-inspired culture of the larger islands

akin to Japan, it is an archipelago

again, akin to Japan, there are many peoples and cultures inhabiting the different islands

for instance, the older Fire Sage style seems more akin to South East Asian architecture, perhaps inspired by the pagoda of Thailand or Burma:

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it’s no mistake the statue in the background there resembles a Buddha which Thai and Burmese practitioners of Buddhism cover with small leaves of real gold

diversity in the Fire Nation doesn’t end here, however!

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remember the Sun Warriors? The first Firebenders to live in peace with nature and the Dragons? The ones who first learned the forms of Firebending from the Dragons?

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their people and garb and architecture were inspired by ancient Southern Native American cultures, such as the Aztec or Maya

Obviously, whichever Fire Nation culture you observe, and from whichever perspective you approach it, you will see that there is nothing “white” or “European” about the Fire Nation cultures!

You will find this for every culture introduced in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Again, every point of departure for the cultural influence in this universe is non-white.

While the process of modernization that took place in order to make The Legend of Korra recognizably analogous to the ‘20’s culture of our world - which was dominated by Western, global, hegemonic popular culture - certainly incorporates a fair share of Western cultural practices, these practices are steeped within the pervasive Asian/non-white cultural background established in the original series. Hence, we hear jazz licks and upbeat swing articulated onerhu and other East Asian instruments, we see skyscrapers topped with temple-style architecture and Satomobiles with windows that appear like Japanese shoji.

one last bit: it’s important to recall that with the origin story of Avatar Wan we discover all human cultures in this world derived from the same place:

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though there were dozens of Lion Turtles, each guarding a different people with different customs, this foundation could not be more evidently Asian in its mythos

all Avatar cultures developed from this starting point, the human world carried atop the shell of a giant turtle, the World Turtle or Cosmic Turtle which is a myth in India, China, and certain Native North American Indian cultures.

in short, this show did its homework too many times to count. oh and none of the cultural influence is white.

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