With Love, VincentToday's Tune:
To start us off: if you are an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan and you have not already heard, the first two episodes of the new Avatar series, Legend of Korra, are available as a FREE DOWNLOAD from iTunes. And if you never watched Avatar, you should watch this show anyway because it looks full of promise and seeing the first series is not a requirement. Although you should watch it anyway because srsly REALLY GOOD and also it will ground you in the world a bit better.
Next: I've seen the first two episodes, but since they haven't officially aired on television yet, this post will not contain spoilers. Rather, it will be discussing the show in a generalized way and incorporating a larger topic. And that topic is:
Boys, apparently, have nothing to read these days, particularly in the YA section. All of the books, apparently, are written specifically for girls and about girly things that boys just don't find interesting. The protagonists, apparently, are all females concerned with romance-y elements, and it's all about... well, I don't know, okay, all I know is that it has to do with girl junk. It seems that boys no longer want to read once they hit puberty because the well of "boy books" has dried up. Either that or they jump immediately to "real/serious/exciting" adult fiction and bypass YA entirely.
A lot of people make these claims. The marketing research tends to support the claim that boys aren't big YA purchasers. The claim is not unfounded, and I'm not saying it is. However, I do think this issue is a lot bigger than writing more "boy books" that specifically cater to boys and "boy things," and I also think that it's kind of... well, BS. I think a lot of boys WOULD be interested in books with female protagonists and "female issues," just as women have always found ways to relate to male protagonists and "male issues." Unfortunately, I think society is teaching them that they shouldn't while simultaneously supporting the idea that they deserve special books just for them because OF COURSE it's understandable that you don't want to read about GIRLS, Junior. WHY WOULD YOU LOL.
Before I start repeating arguments that have already been made, let me just direct you to this blog post by Saundra Mitchell wherein she says pretty much exactly what I'm thinking.
And I'm kind of hoping that no one pipes in with WELL WHAT IF PEOPLE JUST DON'T *LIKE* ROMANCE, HUH? YOU CAN'T MAKE PEOPLE LIKE THINGS THEY DON'T LIKE! This isn't about forcing people to like romance novels. *I* don't generally enjoy romance novels, although I've been known to read and like them on occasion. This is about 1) the assumption that female authors using romantic tropes are automatically writing "romance novels" while male authors using the EXACT SAME TROPES are not, and 2) boys who won't pick up books by or about females, regardless of content... or whose parents won't pick up those books for them.
And 3) the fact that I think boys can, do, and will enjoy and appreciate female characters and stories about the female experience.
Which brings me to the Avatar series.
When Avatar: The Last Airbender came on the scene years ago, it was a runaway success. Wildly popular among young, old, female, and male audiences alike. The title character of the series was a 12-year-old boy, but he was far from the only significant character on the show. The female characters were treated with such care, given such personality and power while still remaining undeniably female. And boy watchers? They noticed.
One of the fandom's favorite characters is a young female Earthbender named Toph. Originally, the creators of the show had planned to make her a well-muscled teenaged boy, but they eventually decided to invert the trope and go with a petite pre-teen girl. It may have been a risky move, what with boys apparently being turned off by girl characters who act like girls, but it was a move that resulted in some incredible feedback.
The boys liked Toph. No, the boys LOVED Toph. Many listed her as their favorite character. Many wanted to dress as her for Halloween! True, Toph was a tomboy, but she also had distinctly female issues and fears. She wanted to be respected by her family, and simultaneously missed them despite their reluctance to let her do her own thing. She worried about being pretty. She could dress as a lady of the court and behave accordingly. She flirted with and crushed on boys. And you know what? Boys. Still. Liked. Her.
After the wild success of The Last Airbender, Nickelodeon has revived the world of Avatar with a brand new storyline. However, they've made some changes. The protagonist and her peers have been aged up -- they're now 16-18 instead of 12-15. The overreaching scope of the world and the heavy traveling of the original series has become a steampunk-y city full of new adventures. And? The protagonist is a girl. You know what this means?
It means that while the original series had a distinctly Middle Grade epic adventure feel to it, this new series is likely to feel a lot more like... Young Adult. That tricky area where boys apparently get lost and lose interest in hearing about girl protagonists and their girly issues.
But the funny thing is, the male fans of the original Avatar do not seem deterred by this. They are not rolling their eyes and going, "Ugh, a girl." And Korra is, I can assure you, a girl. She's a skilled fighter who promises a lot of high-octane action scenes and fight sequences, but she is undeniably female in her speech, mannerisms, and behavior.
I will grant that I have only seen the first two episodes of the series, and I have no idea the direction future episodes will take. Still, if this first taste is any indication, it will be an incredible and enlightening journey. The Avatar creators have a knack for inclusiveness and mindfulness in their characters. I do not doubt they have great things planned for this show.
What does this all mean? The creators of the show were careful to indicate that the Avatar cycle tends to run male-female-male-female, so Korra's sex came as a surprise to no one. The original series set up the world, its rules, and the fandom's investment in the characters. Now they're delivering a show that people are already lining up for. But will this change anything? What will young men take away from this?
I'm already predicting arguments about how Avatar is more adventure-action based, and this is what appeals to boys and will overshadow the fact that Korra's a giiiiirl. However, all of the action will not change the fact that Korra's coming at this experience from a female perspective. There are plenty of YA novels with female protagonists that contain action and adventure, yet there's still the insistence that it's the femaleness of it, the fact that the narrator's a girl, the girl-centric worldview, that distances male readers. So which is it? They can "forgive" a female protagonist in a cartoon, but not in a book? Or maybe we're all looking at this the wrong way. Maybe this is and has always been about character, worldbuilding, and strong writing, not the sex of the protagonist. And maybe people are all subconsciously assuming that female protagonists indicate a lack of those things, and/or projecting that on young boys.
I hope this is a move that will help marketers, boys, and society in general realize that boys can and will go bonkers for a female protagonist and her female perspective. I hope this is a step toward breaking down the idea that boys simply can't find any way to relate to girls. Even the very "boy" based original series did not shy away from romantic storylines, and I doubt this show will, either.
I'm actually curious to see if there's a noticeable drop in male viewership with this series. Time will tell.
You'll be hearing more about this from me as the series progresses and breathes, I'm sure ;) In the meantime, what do you think? Will you be watching? If you're male, has Korra's sex had any impact on your desire to watch the series?