Monday, July 15, 2024

There is no war in Ba Sing Se—and Gaza

By Jan Andrei Elizalde | March 22, 2024

“There is no war in Ba Sing Se” is a line any Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) fan can recall at the drop of a hat. The story behind this line goes beyond the show’s family-friendly and lighthearted humor, despite it becoming one of the most popular—albeit dark—memes the fandom drew from the series. 

For context, this line was cited—memorably so—in the second season of the series when Team Avatar visited Ba Sing Se, the capital of the Earth Kingdom, to warn its leader of the Fire Nation’s plan of invasion. Despite such warnings, the Earth Kingdom continued to brainwash its citizens through a hypnotic light and the mantra, “There is no war in Ba Sing Se,” ultimately violating their people’s right to be informed of their nation’s state. But that’s besides the point.

Today, the line between fact and fiction is starting to become all the more blurry. Ever since the resurgence of the “ATLA renaissance” due to the release of its live-action adaptation last Feb. 22, conversations about its dark themes and undertones—such as war, trauma, child abuse, and more—have become increasingly evident on social media. 

In contrast to Ba Sing Se, there truly is no war in Gaza. A war requires an armed conflict between two states, to which Palestine—the nation of Gaza—simply does not have the resources for. And while there is no war in Gaza, there is a genocide—and it never stopped since its oppressors, Israel, planned to “wipe out Palestinians” from their land. 

The genocide in Gaza is undeniable—it’s happening in front of our very eyes. But it is a fact that is overshadowed by social media algorithms that, instead, cater to funny cat videos and popular dances. Ever since ATLA’s live-action adaptation became the talk of the internet, netizens have been expressing their frustration and empathy toward the series’ victims—fictional ones, mind you—without realizing that our reality parallels the contents of their screens. And honestly, it’s frustrating. 

When I watched the first episode of its live-action adaptation—eager to rekindle my love for the show—I was surprised by the amount of traction it gained on social media. While I was scrolling through X (formerly known as “Twitter”), around hundreds of thousands of its users were cursing the Fire Nation for wiping out the “Air Nomads” and, with it, Aang’s culture. Familiar, right? And then it dawned on me: isn’t the same thing happening to Gaza?

Palestinians are on the precipice of becoming the non-fictional counterparts of the Air Nomads. With Israel’s intent—which their officials carelessly publicized—to erase the Palestinians’ nation, the horrors portrayed in the series should be a wake-up call for everyone to continuously protest and fight for Palestinians.

While there is no war in Gaza, there is a genocide. And choosing to neglect our responsibility in fighting for them makes us no better than the fire-bending villains of ATLA.


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