ljlee: where I work & play (workspace)
Notes on point of view and rewriting )

I'm still somewhat partial to the original version because I wanted to show that even monsters have motivation beyond "I want to make the hero's life miserable," but I think the final cut fits better into the story. For posterity, here is the original:

Original Azula scene )
ljlee: where I work & play (workspace)
Once in a while I just glom onto someone's archive and go through it with the dumb determination of a housecat dismembering a beetle. No doubt this is a horrifying event for said person, suddenly inundated with overly long and often nitpicky comments from some stranger they don't know from Eve, so I understand if I don't get replies. No doubt the author is busy turning off her email notifications, hiding under the bed, or moving to Timbuktu. (Random example is random. I'm sure it's a lovely place.)

For the past few months my victim has been one meltinglacier (Lynn), who has posted numerous short stories for fandoms including Teen Titans, Harry Potter, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. I've gone through her ATLA archive and found some real gems. I won't do a full profile since there's no longer story to serve as a flagship title and because the author is probably in Timbuktu by now, but I did find three stories about Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee that I particularly liked.

Life Lessons, Saving Face, and Airhead show the author's talent for psychological exploration )

I found meltinglacier/Lynn's archive really interesting with lots of good stories and a few outstanding ones. It's a great pleasure of archive-trawling when I discover stuff that I wouldn't have otherwise. And now I can recommend these stories to my friends, and tell them to scare the author with comments from strangers. How's that for psychological horror?
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I guess you really are an ATLA geek if you see the title Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath? and immediately think of Azula. The NYT article is about prepsychopathic, or callous-unemotional (C.U.), children and the research into possible treatment options. It looks like the ATLA writers really did their homework with Azula's behavior. Some interesting bits:

- L., a little girl who appears in the article, seems quite the mini-Azula herself. Enrolled in a summer camp for C.U. children (how is it a good idea to put these kids together for two months?), she snuck toys into the camp and handed them out to children who misbehaved at her command. She also played other children off each other, and Michael, the main kid featured in the article, was taken to detention screaming L.'s name.

- About 50% of C.U. children go onto become psychopathic adults, but more importantly, 50% do not. Warm, nurturing parenting has been shown to improve their behavior. The hard part is, parents sometimes find it hard to emotionally engage with C.U. children. Remember Ursa's "What is wrong with that child" moment? For all the occasional whining about Ursa somehow causing Azula's issues by favoring Zuko, I actually find Ursa's a very human reaction. Trying to connect to a child seemingly incapable of empathy is an act of patience that does not come easily.

- C.U. has a heavy genetic component (I say Azula totally got it from Ozai) and C.U. individuals' brains actually work differently. The parts responsible for empathy and moral decisions are not as active, which is not surprising. The amygdala, which processes emotions like fear and shame, is also less active. Basically the negative stimuli for bad behavior, like scolding, don't have the same effect on these kids. This would explain Azula's total indifference to Ursa's attempts at discipline, and her unusual lack of fear in situations of personal danger such as infiltrating Ba Sing Se.

Again, just because there's a genetic component doesn't mean it can't be treated. There are genetic predispositions for depression, anxiety, diabetes, cancer etc. etc., all of which are treatable. Genetics do not equal destiny.

- C.U. kids might not be much for emotional empathy, but they can grow to gain cognitive empathy: They might not feel others' emotions, but they can recognize (and manipulate) emotions. Coupled with the lack of empathy or morals, I can see how that can turn scary very quickly.

- Maybe C.U. kids will not grow up to have the same emotional motivations for morality, but they can be taught a kind of intellectual morality. I can totally see a prepsychopathic or psychopathic person acting morally if they come to see it in their own best interest, which I believe is basically the plot of the Azula Trilogy (reviewed by me here). This was something Ursa might have done for her daughter, but with her gone and Ozai's influence predominating it became a lost cause.
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Previously in this series, I have discussed the subject of war in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In this post, I'd like to discuss the larger context of the war and how it was handled as a political situation in the show, making it truer to life and more interesting.

At first blush, politics might seem like the polar opposite of what good fiction is made of. All good fiction is about truth, genuine emotion and plausible events. Fiction is the point of the knife where the soul is tested and shows its true mettle... or the lack of it. Politics, on the other hand, is disingenuous and dishonest, all about mouthing insincere slogans that don't mean anything while grubbing for self-gain. Politics, it seems, is about avoiding responsibility, playing it safe and not doing anything meaningful.
So how can a story like Avatar be a political tale? Can it even be a good story if (as I believe) so much of it is about politics? For that, I will talk a little about what I think politics is, before I move onto the role of politics at Ba Sing Se, in the Fire Nation, and for the world at large. 
Reasons I Love Avatar 4, Part 1 (in which the Earth Kingdom kind of sucks) )


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L.J. Lee

June 2016

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