There are plenty of words that we use when a piece of media impacts our culture so significantly that it’s considered strange or even shocking when you hear someone say they’ve never seen it or even heard of it. Words like masterpiece, a classic, the best, perfection, influential, ‘can’t be topped’. OK, that last one wasn’t a word but, you get the idea.
If you go up to someone on the street and ask them to think of a show or movie that’s a ‘masterpiece’ or is something that everyone should see, you’ll probably get different answers. Everything from "Star Wars" and "The Godfather" to "Star Trek" and "Gravity Falls." I think the "Back to the Future" trilogy is something everyone should see. On the flipside, I accidentally personally-offended a girl in college when I told her I had never seen "The Princess Bride" (and still haven’t. Really should get on that sometime).
However, recently, I've seen a resurgence of a show that was as close to a perfect show as you could get, and is gaining new fans who weren’t born when the show first came out. This is thanks to Netflix putting a little show called "Avatar: The Last Airbender" on its streaming service.
Premiering on Nickelodeon in 2005, I was 10 when ATLA started airing and wasn't into action shows yet. I got interested in the show a few years later, hearing about what was happening in its final season, and started watching the series from the beginning to catch up. Ever since then, it’s been one of my favorite animated shows, to the point where I bought the DVD box sets and the post-series comics.
ATLA was something I could enjoy with my brother, something that made me laugh while also giving me a great story and memorable characters (my faves being Zuko, Toph, Katara and Iroh, to the surprise of absolutely no one). It even got to the point where my parents, who don’t like anime, could sit down and enjoy it with us. And, like many other franchises before it, it has become ingrained in our pop culture. When I went to the Mall of America last year, they were still selling ATLA in a few different stores. How many 15-year-old shows can say that?
However, it’s one thing to be popular and enjoyable enough that the fans who grew up with it still love it, but it’s another to bring new fans in. Ever since the show was put on Netflix, I’ve seen people online watching and reacting to the show for the first time. I’ve seen new fanart, new memes, new ideas, new discussions — all for a cartoon with that’s just so great that it can impress a whole new generation who is just now discovering it.
I think that’s the true power of a ‘perfect’ piece of media or a ‘classic’ — that any one of any age can watch it and get just as much enjoyment as someone who saw it when it first came out. You can have kids today watch ATLA and enjoy the cool fight scenes and the lovable characters and you can also have adults my age watch it again and enjoy it because now we’re old enough to pick up on little nuances, foreshadowing, character depth and all that other good stuff.
Anyone can enjoy it, which means that almost everyone will. You can watch it together with friends and family and total strangers, or you can just enjoy the fact that people understand your references. Maybe that’s why we hold ‘masterpieces’ or ‘Best *blank* Ever’s' in such high regard in our culture of streaming and sharing. Because when we find that next movie or show that seemingly everyone has seen — that we keep loving and keep sharing and discussing for generations, something that can connect total strangers — it really is a neat thing to experience.
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