In quarantine, childhood media gains relevance

An illustration of a girl sitting under a blanket watching television from her laptop. A glow surrounds her.
(Yasmin Elqutami • The Student Life)

“Avatar: the Last Airbender” was released on Netflix the day I finished my final. Set in a world where people can control the four elements (water, earth, fire and air), the animated show has been highly regarded and beloved by fans in the 15 years since it first aired.

After a tiring semester (in terms of both academics and the strain of a pandemic), the show’s arrival to Netflix felt like a breath of fresh air. “Avatar” was my favorite show growing up, and I was looking forward to kicking off my summer by rewatching it for the first time in 10 years. As the summer wore on, I realized that my rekindled love for the show hadn’t gone anywhere.

I rewatched the show with my high school friends over Netflix Party and with my family; I brought the show up in every Zoom with my Scripps College friends; I rewatched the sequel series “Legend of Korra”; I read all the comics; I watched countless “Avatar”-related video essays and TikToks; I rewatched the episode “The Boiling Rock: Part Two” so many times that I can now recite all the dialogue from memory.

In the face of a pandemic, a growing economic recession, a looming election and an all-around uncertain future, it’s been comforting for many to be reminded of childhood and the “normal” times. With everyone talking about the seemingly declining state of the world, re-entering favorite childhood worlds feels like a return to innocence in more ways than one.

Aside from “Avatar,” other childhood obsessions of mine also began to resurface over quarantine. With Rick Riordan’s announcement of a faithful Disney+ TV adaptation of his “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” series, I started to reread the original books. Even though I barely remembered what had happened in them, I fell in love with the stories all over again.

I also reread, rewatched and relistened to countless other childhood favorites, from “The Hunger Games” books and movies to Studio Ghibli movies to Imagine Dragons’ music.

I’ve also found a sense of solace in reimmersing myself in these stories. When there’s so much going on outside of my personal control, entering fictional worlds of childhood that I know will have (relatively) happy endings feels vital.

It seems like the rest of the world has been following suit: “Avatar” has consistently been in the top ten most-watched Netflix shows since its release, and it seems like all of my friends have also reread “Percy Jackson” in the past few months.

With many others my age seeking these same sources of comfort, I’ve witnessed a return to fandom culture almost comparable to that of early 2010s Tumblr, when being “in” on certain shows or books was a bragging right. Sure, there aren’t definable conglomerates of fandoms like Superwholock or emo bands. However, this online fan culture has re-emerged in new mediums; I’ve been introduced to “Avatar” themed fancams and “Percy Jackson” TikToks, which were certainly not around a decade ago. The re-emergence of fan culture of these stories has provided a source of community in a time when there are fewer in-person ones.

“Art is a form of solace; without its powers of escapism and its reflections of the real world, humankind would certainly be worse off. ” – Alyssa Leong SC ’23

For me personally, this widespread re-obsession with media and art has been cathartic to experience and watch from the outside. As an artistic person, I’m constantly worried that my passions will leave me jobless and desperate.

However, seeing how the world has found comfort in art during a time of crisis is a reminder that the world needs these talents. Art is a form of solace; without its powers of escapism and its reflections of the real world, humankind would certainly be worse off. 

Sometimes, I wonder if rewatching children’s cartoons is a naive, even ignorant, way to cope with everything happening during this time period. Perhaps it is — but then again, perhaps a bit of childhood delight is something we need more of right now. 

Alyssa Leong SC ’23 is a media studies and writing and rhetoric dual major. She will flaunt her dual Canadian-American citizenship and photos of her puppy Maple to anyone who sits still for long enough. 

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