“This may be the last time we’re all together. But no matter what the future holds, no matter how far we travel, a part of us – a very important part – will always remain here, on Deep Space Nine.” – DS9’s finale, What You Leave Behind Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s finale aired 17 years ago, and as much as the new films have brought the public back to the classic science fiction franchise, Star Trek always worked best for me on the small screen, telling human stories through actors with rubber prostheses attached to their faces. I miss that type of Trek, the tales it told. Deep Space Nine is my favourite Trek. While other shows in the franchise featured starships flying around the galaxy in search of new life and civilizations, DS9 stayed put, concerning itself with the day-to-day happenings of its sprawling cast living within its constructed universe. Onboard this ramshackle space station situated near Bajor, an alien world emerging from decades of brutal occupation, actions have weight, carry short and long-term consequences. …
Several weeks past, I attended a workshop on the use of storytelling for effective social engagement. Sitting at my table was a doctoral student interested in better ways to communicate concepts of ecological economics to the public. As we chatted about the various metaphors embedded within conventional economics, particularly around growth and development, I started thinking about stories that focus on the challenge of communication and the power of metaphor. Searching my mind for examples, I found myself returning once more to the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation for inspiration, this time to an episode titled Darmok.
“Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You may remember me from such nature films as “Earwigs, Ew!”, and “Man Versus Nature: The Road to Victory.” The Simpsons started life as a quirky satirical parody of the typical American middle-class family three decades ago and has since become a cultural touchstone for entire generations of viewers. There’s not much the longest running sitcom in US television story hasn’t spoofed and parodied, and that includes humanity’s relationship with nature. Season ten’s Bart the Mother is not the only environmentally themed episode of the series, but it is my personal favourite. As the last episode voiced by the legendary Phil Hartman (RIP), Bart the Mother is not only an intriguing and hilarious story about the consequences of introduced species, but also explores the mentality with which we engage with the world around us.
It may seem excessive to devote an entire write-up to a single character, but I believe Aang, the chief protagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender, warrants such an exploration. In an age of brooding, melodramatic, and angst-filled heroes, Aang provides a refreshing counterexample to what it means to be an emotionally intelligent, internally resilient, and ethically principled individual. His role as the outsider to a war-torn world, coupled with his unique upbringing and temperament, makes his character growth throughout Avatar fascinating to watch.
One of the most well executed aspects of Avatar: The Last Airbender is its depiction of the four elemental nations of its fictional world. The depth and care taken to create the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads contributed enormously to the richness of the show, creating a world of diverse cultures and perspectives. This helps to separate Avatar from many contemporary and more derivative works of fantasy. Embedded within the fictional world of Avatar is the idea that each society and its people reflect the tendencies of their element. But after a century-long absence of the Avatar, the nations have become stagnant, unbalanced, dysfunctional, and in need of serious reform. In this entry, I’ll explore how the protagonists of Avatar serve as agents of change in the world by embodying the best qualities of their respective elements.