We all have that moment when the right fandom property at the right time changes our course, and we go on to dedicate our life to something. The Catalyst to My Fandom is a place for all of us to share those life-altering moments in fandom. For me, it was The Legend of Korra and how Lin Beifong’s relatable journey and struggles made her my hero.
Even though I watched an array of TV shows growing up, I didn’t connect with many characters on a truly human level. Maybe I wasn’t introspective or mature enough, but there weren’t many characters whom I gravitated toward. All that changed after the animated Nickelodeon show The Legend of Korra caught my eye. Through it, I learned that the most powerful stories are the ones that speak the most to you as a viewer.
Before The Legend of Korra
Growing up, I watched weekend reruns of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I liked the show, but I (perhaps unfairly) dismissed some of its early episodes as filler content. I used to hate filler episodes because they didn’t seem to matter to the overall story. As a result, I never became fully invested in Avatar. I was a regular viewer, but I never quite became a fan.
Looking back, I regret not appreciating Avatar more at the time. I was just starting high school when the series finale aired. When I watched it, it made me realize that a chapter of my life was closing. I was finally old enough to see one of my favorite shows end.
Nevertheless, I don’t think I ever really connected with Aang, Katara, Sokka, or Toph, even though they were all around my age. A few of my friends cared deeply about the characters. But for some reason, I didn’t care as much about them, even though I liked watching their adventures. That made me feel like I was missing out on something.
The Catalyst for My Fandom
Just as I was starting college, Avatar co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko came out with a sequel series. The Legend of Korra was set 70 years after The Last Airbender, and it presented a dynamic shift in tone. Like others who grew up on the first series, I found it difficult to accept that Aang and most of his friends were gone. (Or so I thought, until Katara, Zuko, and Toph turned out to be alive.)
Though it took a while, I became invested in The Legend of Korra, even more so than The Last Airbender. Maybe it was because I was old enough to appreciate The Legend of Korra‘s mature themes and relate them back to my own life. The Legend of Korra re-immersed me in the World of Avatar. It gave me a reason to re-watch The Last Airbender, including the many episodes that I had missed.
Even though I diligently kept up with The Legend of Korra, I had a hard time connecting with the protagonist. Korra started her Avatar journey as a brash and selfish teenager, and while she matured over time, I found it hard to stomach her. Instead, I gravitated toward another character. Surprisingly, the character whom I connected with the most was the one with whom I had the least in common: Lin Beifong.
Why Lin Beifong Is So Special
Hollywood is obsessed with young, beautiful people, and that focus tends to carry over into animation. By contrast, Lin Beifong was a middle-aged woman, yet she was one of the show’s protagonists. As Toph’s daughter, Lin was stubborn and had a difficult (almost nonexistent) relationship with her family. Lin and I were nothing alike, but her journey unexpectedly resonated with me.
What made Lin Beifong compelling was her endless series of struggles. She and her half-sister, Suyin, both grew up without knowing their fathers. Their mother, Toph, grew up in a strict household, so she mostly gave Lin and Suyin free reign. Lin tried to make Toph proud by following in her footsteps as Republic City‘s Chief of Police, but it didn’t make Toph happy. Through Lin’s struggles, The Legend of Korra focused not only on coming of age but also aging in general.
I didn’t realize until later that Lin and I had more in common than I thought. Before I was born, my grandfather pressured my dad into taking over our family business. As a result, my dad never pushed me to become involved in the company. I never took an interest in the business, and while I didn’t regret it, I still wonder how things would be if I had. That’s when I realized why Lin’s experiences spoke to me.
Parental expectations affected both Lin and me in different ways, but at its core, the experience was similar. Moreover, my connection with the character stemmed from a form of empathy. Lin became my hero when I realized I could learn something from her. It didn’t matter that she was a woman, or that she was two-and-a-half times my age — nor should those things ever matter. She was a powerful and compelling character, and it was perfectly fine for her to be my hero.
Whereas I once thought that Lin Beifong was nothing like me, I was wrong. Sometimes, the characters who are the most different from us are the ones who have the most to teach us. Those characters might, in fact, turn out to be not that different from us. Lin made me realize it was perfectly fine to admire a character who didn’t have the same age, gender, sexual orientation, or world view as me. Connecting with characters reveals the power of the human experience, which allows us to connect with each other.
Thanks, Chief Cranky-Pants, for helping me learn more about myself.
Fandom is built on a foundation of passionate people with deep and unshakable knowledge spread across the entire pop culture landscape. The only way for that to manifest is timing: the right fan with the right property at the right time. Luminaries of film, music, television, games, and comics have all had that watershed moment where something infected them, and the impulse was too strong to ignore. We have shared some of those moments, and hopefully, you will join us in doing so as well.