Male Role Models in Avatar: The Last Airbender

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About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is an Editor-at-Large at Good Men Project, and possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. David in SLC says:

    I too had the luxury of watching the show in one sitting right before the series finale came out. Good thing too because when I finally did sit down to watch this show, I was amazed at the quality of the writing and the voice acting and craved more with each episode. This is without a doubt the best animated TV show ever next to the all-time champ, Batman: The Animated Series.

    Avatar is funny, grand, heart-breaking, scary, insightful, warm – it runs the gambit of human experience and I’m a better person for having watched it. I mean that. Relating to Iroh was one of a few tools I used at that time to work through some ages-old pain I had been holding on to.

    This is great show to watch with your kids – heck, any kid really. You’ll be amazed that they get the subtlety and they’ll be amazed that you aren’t some stodge ol’ grown up.

  2. Excellent article!

    There WERE a couple bits and pieces in the show that I thought were iffy. For instance, Katara is all over Aang in several points, then when he loses the battle at the fire palace, Katara is no longer all that interested. Suddenly, he saves the day in the end, and Katara is finally like “okay, NOW, I like this guy”. But that’s up for interpretation. It WAS however, widely discussed and debated.

    In this article, it would have been nice to see a bit about Zuko as well. His development is essentially a materialized manifestation of many adolescent/young adult male’s lives. It’s basically like Iroh’s story. The world judges him not as a person, but by his skills as a firebender. As such, he becomes consumed by his need to restore his image and prove himself , even when it means sacrificing his own values, simply because people don’t give him respect until he proves himself (in contrast to his sister, to seems to get it intrinsically). This relates well to the male ego, where men are judged not on their intentions and values, but their abilities or mistakes alone.

    Later he’s face to confront this past when joining the gang. Now that he KNOWS who he is and has learned from his mistakes, he still has to deal with owning the mistakes he has learned from.

    And even before then, when traveling the earth kingdom, he takes an apologetic hiding stance for the intrinsic hate directed towards him because of the mere fact that he’s a firebender. He later proclaims his identity, leaving any judgments to that village, and them alone. Which they then of course forget all the help he gave in precedence to their prejudices towards him as a firebender.

    I so so easily relate this to my own apologetic stance as a man being raised in a school that only really taught feminism. I felt being male was something to be ashamed of, and that people had a right to distrust me. Now, is how I see it, I am a man and I have my desires, beliefs, and drives. If people don’t want to trust me because I’m a member of the “oppressive gender”, that’s their prejudice, not my disrespect.

    Overall excellent article, though, and FABULOUS show!

    • I second that. A bit about Zuko would’ve been right up this article’s alley, particularly as he represents the problematic side of men attempting to live up to stereotypes, and the expectations of others in order to be deemed worthwhile.

      But that aside, I loved the show and will definitely watch the next one. Seriously, before I used to pity children’s television programming, but now I’m confident there’s at least one decent show for them (and me) to look back on.

      • Mark Neil says:

        “particularly as he represents the problematic side of men attempting to live up to stereotypes, and the expectations of others in order to be deemed worthwhile.”

        Agreed, and I think that applies as much to ang as it does to zuko. Ang was continuously being pressured to fulfil the prophecy in the ways others had interpreted it, and had those pressures and expectations on his shoulders throughout the series. in the end, he needed to find his own way.

    • Noah Brand says:

      I love Zuko as a character, but I was mainly focusing on the three-age role models (Shades of the maiden/mother/crone archetypes, really) and I have a hard time seeing Zuko as a role model. I can’t imagine watching the show with a kid and saying “See Zuko there? That’s who you should be like.” I mean, if I’m just going to start talking about characters on the show who are awesome and brilliantly written and engaging, this article would be tediously long.

      • “I can’t imagine watching the show with a kid and saying ‘See Zuko there? That’s who you should be like.’”

        Excellent point. I guess I wasn’t thinking so much “role model” as “relatable character”. still, I needed to find SOME excuse to talk about Zuko! haha

      • I could see pointing to Zuko in a positive way as a role model around Season 3. He really does become a hero in his own right, and his transformation from villain to good guy is probably something a lot of boys could relate to in their experiences with the demonization of masculinity.

        But that’s just me =P

        • Agreed. I can understand Noah going for the young/middle aged/old setup but from what I’ve seen of Zuko (I’ve never seen the entire series) I would say that his transformation from villain to hero at such a young age makes him a notable character.

    • ascendingPig says:

      I think Katara’s disinterest in him after the battle at the fire palace makes sense when you consider that *he* didn’t lose the battle, *they* did. She’s upset, she’s questioning her priorities, and of course she’s not interested in romance after such a huge failure on both their parts.

  3. Badi Morris says:

    I would have loved to have a mention of Iroh’s son, that episode where he has a picnic on his son’s birthday and sings that song makes me tear up every time. Such a good show.

    • David in SLC says:

      “Tales of Ba Sing Se”

      It is also the first episode to be aired where Mako does not perform Iroh’s voice. He had died during the recording process and was replaced by his protege for the remainder of the series.

      FYI – Nickelodeon has put up TWO episodes of The Legends of Korra on the website. They are set to debut tmrw (3/24/12). The show itself doesn’t debut until mid-April.

  4. CajunMick says:

    Loved this show. It was great to watch with my son. It gave us opportunities to discuss themes brought up in the episode.

  5. Jaime Herazo says:

    Those who enjoy cartoons with the given characteristics (excellent writing, great non-stereotypical characters, fantastic animation, top-tier voice acting and so on) and can look past gender stereotypes, must do themselves a favor and check out the latest My Little Pony series. Little to no males in that one though.

    • I’ve heard the same thing! A friend of mine who is, like, super masculine (Totally opposite the gay stereotype), was telling me about how much he loves that show. I’m thinking “Dude…My Little Pony? Like the annoying toy commercial that always came on between episodes of avatar that made me lose whatever hope I gained for nickelodeon?” But I’ve heard this from several people as well. Fascinating. It’s one of those shows I may just have to check out.

    • Mark Neil says:

      Those ponies are dangerous:

      That said, I haven’t actually seen the show, but I do watch out for all sorts (I’m a 3D animator. I love watching cartoons so much I made a career of it :D)


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