terajk: Ryoga, grabbing Ranma by his pajama-top and shouting: "Do you remember where my house is?!" (toph fail)
[personal profile] terajk
I should probably not admit this in public:

[Vague Avatar: The Last Airbender spoilers are vague, but possibly not vague enough]


My love of women with disabilities being awesome and interdependent together is officially out of the realm of all that is good and holy. Because, Internet, I have seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I want the impossible: something post-canon in which Toph and Azula have a scam-tastic field trip adventure, evading and outsmarting ableist asshats and punching them in the face.

After 24 hours of thinking, I could see this working if and only if all these conditions (and those I haven't thought of) are met:

1) They're both under MAJOR threat from (probably) the same ableist asshat(s)--like someone/a group of someones who will bring them back to where they can be looked after 24/7. Which would mean that Zuko is a jerkass and the fangirls will cry Toph's parents have learned nothing. They're clueless, but not that clueless.

2) Azula doesn't/can't just fix #1 by killing it (and Toph) with fire.

3) Each of them has skills the other doesn't, which are necessary for dealing with #1.

4) Each of them realizes (and admits) the other has skills that she doesn't and that those skills are necessary for dealing with #1 in a "Without them I am screwed" sort of way.

5) Both of them can put aside their do-it-myselfness long enough to do #4 at all, let alone think of team-uppery. (Toph has a hard enough time doing that with people who haven't tried to kill her for two seasons).

6) They would need to see each other as equals. And Azula...well, no.

7) Before 3-6 can happen, they would need lots of time to ignore each other/do horrible things to each other/ try to sell each other out to #1.

8) It doesn't end up looking like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

9) It has a plot.

Which is, of course, beyond ridiculous. (Doing blasphemous things to canon? I've never done that.) And yet, I will probably definitely keep thinking about this because I want it WITH ALL MY HEART. Sigh.

Date: 2010-09-20 08:53 am (UTC)
rydra_wong: Toph is fierce behind her spiky fringe. (a:tla -- toph fringe)
From: [personal profile] rydra_wong
Oh, wow. I really, really want good post-canon Azula fic, treating her mental illness seriously; seeing her interacting with Toph would be the icing on the cake.

Date: 2010-09-21 06:47 pm (UTC)
fulselden: Azula. ((The eagle flagged to the sun))
From: [personal profile] fulselden
ME TOO. SO MANY THINGS, MAN.

I don't want redemption=cured

So true. I mean, Azula is always going to be ... Azula, you know?

It's something I want to read so, so much, but I don't think I have the writing chops, or the in-depth knowledge of mental illness, to pull off.

And as far as I can tell, no-one else on the internet has obliged. Sigh.

But now I so, so want to put Toph and Azula together in some capacity. *Stares at your list, gulps*

If you write it, mind you, I will be there with bells on!

Although:

Which was bad enough, but the prospect of becoming Fire Lord seemed an extra layer of bad to me, like: "I've always been #2. WTF do I do now?!"

I don't know if that's how I read it. Because, I mean, the horrible thing was that she was still number two, because as you say Ozai had abandoned her and palmed her off with the suddenly-subordinate position of Fire Lord.

I mean, if she had somehow come out actually on top (say Aang did somehow defeat Ozai on the Day of Black Sun without managing to seize control of the Fire Nation?) I can see her staying there for quite a while.

She has, after all, had a lot of practice at being perfect. And without her father discounting her ('you can't treat me like Zuko!') ... well.

Though, the idea of Fire Lord Azula is frankly terrifying in a whole variety of ways...

Date: 2010-09-22 05:34 am (UTC)
fulselden: Azula. (And I'll say: 'that'll learn you.)
From: [personal profile] fulselden
she seemed so: "Wow! This is everything I ever wanted!" and yet terrified when Ozai gave it to her

Well, Ozai may have been a blind spot for Azula, but I guess even she realised, when he made her Fire Lord, that some other shoe was about to drop hard.

Thank you The Universe canon!

It is pretty amazing how many times one can say that when it comes to Avatar!

Though not, alas, about Avatar fic to the same extent.

I am even a little unsure of the highly-recommended Azula Trilogy, because from the looks of things, it cures the mental illness by the end.

Actually, this was one of the first Avatar fics I read. Which was a couple of months ago now, so I’m a little blurry, but, hmm. It was definitely competent, and it was actually all about Azula, which a surprising number of Azula fics fail at, grrr. And she did get to be awesome on a number of occasions. But I thought the writing was a bit pedestrian, to be honest. And yes, it did pretty much end up ‘curing’ Azula, though the author had to rely on some really heavy spirit-world interference to accomplish this.

Which is fair enough to some extent, given that the spirit world is an active part of the Avatar universe. But ultimately a bit of a cop out. And, yeah, it doesn’t sound as though it meshes with your priorities very well at all. So ... not really recommended.

Which is another challenge that Azula's mental illness presents: how to keep her awesomeness while acknowledging that she has more difficulty doing certain things than she used to, and may be unable to do some of them at all?

Exactly. So, so much of her identity was constituted by her absolute perfection. And of course by her father’s approval of her (over Zuko). And the end of the series doesn’t just strip all those things away from her, it strips them away, at least in part, retroactively. Adjusting to any kind of limitation at all is not going to be easy. But then, neither was mastering firebending and conquering a city – hell, a kingdom - before the age of fifteen.

For example, part of my disability is a spatial impairment.

Slightly stalkery internet confession! I’ve only had time to read a few pieces on your wordpress blog (I want to take them in properly), but everything I’ve read, especially your meditations on the condition of lostness in your latest two posts, has just been so eloquent in general and adroit at communicating the everyday dimensions of your disability: very deeply revealing and perspective-broadening for me, as someone who functions relatively ‘normally’. Not to mention moving and thought-provoking.

So, thank you, first of all.

Plus, an interesting background for writing Toph and Azula, if only because you’ve obviously already thought pretty profoundly about disability in general.

And, man, from your ‘Why I like to play the games I play’ post:

I want to do things differently than the way a game is forcing me to do them.

What a great metaphor for fanfiction.

But I'm sure skills she needed for power-plays or manipulating people would be easier to use than skills she needed for mundaner tasks, even if they seemed like very similar skills on the surface. Which is sort of how she is in canon. (Setting up elaborate nests of lies to infiltrate the Earth Kingdom > flirting with guys).

Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s so great that they showed her not being able to wrap the guys at that party round her little finger, because it would have been so easy to make her the familiar manipulative female who can translate political power-playing into successful flirting. Which is really just another way of saying that when women wield power, it’s always essentially sexual. Gah!

And, as you say, even Azula-the-party-dork is a instance of spoon-shuffling to some degree - and man, that ‘spoons’ piece. I’ve come across it before, and it was SUCH AN EYE OPENER – it just gives one a really concrete tool-set for understanding how disability or illness impacts on day to day routine. The internet at its absolute best.

I can totally see Azula understanding spoon (uh, weapon?) theory as well as she understands the Villain's Handbook.

I can definitely see Azula, once she’s confronted the very idea of having limitations, as setting out to conquer them just as deliberately and with the same degree of intelligence and cunning which she used to take down the Earth Kingdom. And also of course not having anything to do with something as plebeian as the humble spoon! (um, dagger-theory? Nah, too much of a reminder of Mai...)

Toph as assistive device, OMG!

OMG. Toph gets so much more confident herself, through the course of the series, at allowing herself to be helped – hanging onto Sokka when they’re on Appa, for instance – that I can see her being understanding – if not exactly compassionate – when it comes to Azula. As you cover in your initial post, actually.

Though – another thought. It’s not as though fire always comes along the ground, right? As Toph found out with Zuko. She actually is pretty vulnerable to Azula in battle. And neither of them react at all well to being vulnerable... MAN. Toph-Azula-teamwork: A TRICKY PROPOSITION. Though the thought of them working together, if they did manage to align their interests sufficiently: terrifying. Terrifyingly AWESOME.

deft and subtle and thought-provoking

Wow. Thanks SO MUCH for this, it means a lot. I mean, your Halloween piece is fantastic, and obviously I think your blog essays are great, so, yes, thank you.

Especially, also, as I try and be thoughtful and responsible about writing disability of whatever kind – but ... I’m basically almost entirely ignorant?

I mean, I’ve only once tried writing Azula’s POV, and I think I did a pretty bad job of it (it was also like my second piece of fic: WTF, self!??! Hubris much?). She’s so fascinating, but I only really feel equipped to approach her peripherally – hence all the Azula-Ursa pieces. I rely way too much on smoke and mirrors in my Azula bits.

Tera, if you have just finished watching a series for the first time, and you've never been involved in fandom before, you should be interested in Less Complicated Things.

Heh. Yeaaah, I feel your pain! I mean, I watched the series at the start of the summer and then sorta tiptoed around the fandom for a while alternating between being enthused and horrified, so I guess I didn’t jump straight in to quite the same extent. But then, the fic on my DW is pretty much my first prose fiction since I was made to write it in school, so – LEARNING CURVE, man.

But, well, Complicated Things are interesting, no use denying it!

In five years when this is ready (among other things, I need to read, like, a zillion books plus other non-book stuff), maybe I could ask you to beta it?

Wow. I am again honoured! And, I mean, circumstances permitting, definitely. Not that I know anything about the precise mechanics of beta-ing or whatever, but a really well thought-through Azula story ... well, AWESOME.

If it's okay to intrude

Date: 2010-09-22 07:50 pm (UTC)
rydra_wong: Avatar: close-up of Mai's face during her Crowning Moment of Awesome at Boiling Rock (a:tla -- mai is more awesome than you)
From: [personal profile] rydra_wong
I think it’s so great that they showed her not being able to wrap the guys at that party round her little finger, because it would have been so easy to make her the familiar manipulative female who can translate political power-playing into successful flirting.

I have actually been having vague thoughts about the disparity between how incredibly good Azula is at manipulating people when it comes to power, fear, or a specific thing she knows they want, and how incredibly bad at it she is when those aren't in the picture, and why it's the wedge between the two that eventually tips her into mental illness.

Because in some ways, she's too socially inept to be a good sociopath! *g* I mean, true sociopaths can seem utterly charming and adorable and have everyone convinced that they're the real woobie -- Azula never looks like anything other than what she is, and she never really bothers to try to seem like a nice person.

(Whether there's a smidge of neuroatypical stuff in the mix to begin with, or whether it's purely that growing up in that family means you get really fucked-up socialization -- and she never has the mitigating bond with Ursa and Iroh that Zuko gets -- I don't know.)

But she thinks she's a "people person." She thinks that power/fear/goal manipulation is all there is to it.

And that's why Mai's betrayal (and Ty Lee's) starts things cracking, because apparently there's this whole other emotional factor that's turned out to be hugely important and that she can't understand or predict or cope with.

And once she knows that's there -- anyone could betray you. Anyone could be plotting, anyone could be motivated by things you can't understand or control. So everyone/everything is a danger to her.

And that paranoia's already kicking in when her father starts changing the rules on her, too ("You can't treat me like Zuko!"), and okay, he's giving with one hand, but taking away with the other, and she has to be perfect and she can feel herself slipping --

And then Katara defeats her and that cannot happen, that cannot have happened, somehow she's ended up in the wrong reality and all she can do is scream and scream as if she can somehow tear herself out of this world into the reality she's supposed to have.

Ahem. Not that I am bringing my recentish experiences with mental illness to this or anything. *coughs*

But that final scene with her chained to the grate hurt to watch.

Re: If it's okay to intrude

Date: 2010-09-22 09:02 pm (UTC)
fulselden: Azula. ((The eagle flagged to the sun))
From: [personal profile] fulselden
Oh, man! This articulates a lot of what I’ve been wondering about wrt Azula: fantastic.

she's too socially inept to be a good sociopath

Yes, she really, really isn’t a Talented Mr (or Ms) Ripley, is she. Although I think a lot of this might come from the fact that she’s royalty, as well: I mean, it’s ok to abase yourself when you’re in a specific disguise on a specific mission bringing down a city ... but when you’re just trying to conquer a party because conquering is what you do, there’s not nearly enough reason to even try to lower yourself to anyone’s level.

Incidentally, I’ve always seen the whole going incognito thing as a competition in itself – she knows, of course, that Zuko managed it in the Earth Kingdom without the help of face paint, and she wants to prove she’s no less capable.

(Whether there's a smidge of neuroatypical stuff in the mix to begin with, or whether it's purely that growing up in that family means you get really fucked-up socialization -- and she never has the mitigating bond with Ursa and Iroh that Zuko gets -- I don't know.)

To be honest, I think they left it deliberately open to question? Well, at least, I’m willing to give the Avatar writers a lot of credit in general, and I don’t have the problems with Azula’s final breakdown that some do (in terms of seeing it as a woman cracking up when given power – which, no, almost the opposite?). I mean, she’s obviously already very much damaged at age seven or so in Zuko’s flashback episode, but as I say above I’m very very far from having the knowledge to say whether that means neuroatypicality of whatever sort from the outset or just, as you say, the Fire Nation Royal brand of socialization.

this whole other emotional factor that's turned out to be hugely important and that she can't understand or predict or cope with.

Absolutely. I mean, Azula understands power and fear. Not love. I wonder, indeed, if she set out to understand these things in part because, as a small child, she realised that her mother feared her. And that this gave her power.

And, of course, with Ursa, and later Zuko and Iroh (who would surely both have been moderating influences of a sort, although Iroh seems to have had entirely the wrong idea about his little niece – I mean, a doll? Really?) out of the picture ... yeah. Just straight flat out for perfection through power and fear and dominance.

But that final scene with her chained to the grate hurt to watch.

It’s actually right up there as one of my most disturbing TV-watching experiences. And, I mean, that’s probably largely a matter of context, because I watch all manner of horrifying stuff, but I didn’t expect a kid’s show to hit this hard. Plus, of course the animation and voice acting were both absolutely first rate at the end there. But I can't even begin to imagine how that scene would read with a personal experience of mental illness in the background. As you say, painful.

And, yes, I think the arc you’ve mapped out makes complete sense and that the show did a pretty great job with it, rushed and scattered as it was in parts. Just such a fascinating character.

Re: Not an intrusion at all!

Date: 2010-09-22 10:44 pm (UTC)
fulselden: Azula. (And I'll say: 'that'll learn you.)
From: [personal profile] fulselden

They didn't just betray her at the Boiling Rock--they betrayed her AS CHILDREN and she has miscalculated her whole relationship with them.

Oh, man, yes. And the fact that Mai articulates it in terms Azula can, despite herself, understand - as a matter of calculation, of weighing up the options and making an informed decision - must just add insult to injury. Because Azula is the best, the best, at making decisions like that. But this one is informed by love, and that's a factor she doesn't know how to weigh.

And ... I realised I was just about to quote your entire last paragraph? But, yes, you're so right: aiming for Katara is entirely an attempt to use this power. But while, when she used it to manipulate Zuko under Ba Sing Se or Sokka on the Day of Black Sun ('my favourite prisoner'), she was triangulating her target from the outside in, here she doesn't have the luxury of that detachment. She's smashed the glass between herself and that part of the world, she's let her mother come back in. But she has no idea how to handle it, no idea at all. And she ends up not so much through the looking glass as caught in it, trapped in Katara's ice.

But unlike lightning, redirection makes it multiply

Man.

And Katara would try, of course, at least, as Azula kneels there.

Re: Not an intrusion at all!

Date: 2010-09-23 09:02 am (UTC)
rydra_wong: Avatar: Zuko and Aang bow to each other (a:tla -- bowing)
From: [personal profile] rydra_wong
But, yes, you're so right: aiming for Katara is entirely an attempt to use this power.

*nods a lot*

I hadn't clicked on that, but it's completely right. And it's the only way she can understand that power -- she gets "X cares about Y", but she can only comprehend it as a way to hurt or bribe someone -- e.g. with Sokka, or by setting up Zuko and Mai. She can only see it as weakening people, making them stupid and easy to manipulate.

Re: Not an intrusion at all!

Date: 2010-09-23 07:31 pm (UTC)
fulselden: Zuko, fish on head. (Better.)
From: [personal profile] fulselden
Oh, good point re the comic - I'd forgotten about that (though, as you can see, I have a deep fondness for fish-on-head Zuko).

And the way her perfect-party-planning skills are straight out of a schmoopy romance novel is also telling - she's playing it entirely by the book, because she sees this kind of thing from the outside. Though she does know Mai wouldn't appreciate a pink tablecloth!

OMFG

Date: 2010-09-24 08:23 pm (UTC)
rydra_wong: Toph is fierce behind her spiky fringe. (a:tla -- toph fringe)
From: [personal profile] rydra_wong
I WANT THIS STORY SO MUCH IT HURTS.

Dude. You have them. *flappy hands*

Please let me know if there's anything I can do to cheerlead. I, um, have a certain amount of experience when it comes to writing epic fucked-up stories about crazy damaged people learning to work together.

Date: 2010-09-25 03:40 pm (UTC)
fulselden: General Iroh, playing earth-water-fire-air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] fulselden
OH MAN. Uh. *ditto flappy hands.*

Soooo ... I think you should write this?

And also, more on lostness, yes please (I have a real thing for meditations on city/mental topographies of any kind), but, wow, this is fantastic - I love the way they bleed in and out of each other, the way Toph takes control of the text when she feels the trembling that Azula allows herself to believe she has concealed; the way Toph, who knows so much about staying on the ground, being a rock and not a lotus, nevertheless teaches Azula to ground her power but to turn it back upwards, as well.

Because Azula recognises power, even when it's upside down.

she would only be the rock that she trained the Avatar to be and not a supported lotus

Yeah, can you tell what my favourite line is? (though, man, so much good stuff). I think also because it reads, a little bit, like not just a rejection of her parents' cosseting but also of the old-man politicking of the Order of the White Lotus - and perhaps even of Aang, a tiny bit, given the significance of the lotus in Buddhist iconography (not, obviously, that Aang is anything other than a fantasy!Buddhist): Toph is just the very very opposite of detached.

And you have Azula laugh! I love the way you have the sections in parentheses start off as acknowledgements of loss, of lack and confinement, move through this tentative realisation of what kind of bottom-top power it is that Toph is wielding, and end with uneasy equilibrium - (they have this knowledge of each other, after all).

Just fantastic, and now I really see why you thought they'd work so very well together. So, yeah, let me know if I can do anything to help this happen! I mean, other than flailing happily. Because this, this is the good stuff.


Not entirely related, but...

Date: 2010-10-09 03:22 pm (UTC)
codeman38: Osaka from Azumanga Daioh: 'I live in my own little world, but it's OK... they know me here!' (Osaka)
From: [personal profile] codeman38
On the "disability in the Avatarverse" note, have you read [personal profile] jalendavi_lady's A Matter of Secrets (her entry for Festibility in [community profile] access_fandom)? Highly recommended.

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