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Zutara. It's a force that can't be ignored in this fandom. It's been well-established that fans who support the Katara/Zuko pairing are more active and vocal, something a simple Google search seems to confirm. "Zutara," as of this writing, turns up about 485,000 results, while a search for "Kataang" turns up about 303,000 results. There is a similar disparity in Fanfiction.net story searches, with filtering for "Katara, Zuko" and "Romance" turning up 4,834 stories and a filter for "Aang, Katara" and "Romance" bringing up 2,735.

So what, goes the refrain. Katara/Zuko fans have always been more active. In some ways they had to be, since their preferred ship was not sanctioned by canon. Plus, simple popularity proves nothing about validity or quality. Just because more people like something doesn't mean it's better. So what am I trying to prove with the numbers game?

For this essay, I am interested in why Katara/Zuko is such a popular pairing. I am not interested in which pairings are canon-compliant (we already know), nor which pairings are "better" or more "logical" or "meant to be" (that dead horse has been not only beaten but pulverized by now). I have my own viewpoint on that question as you will guess, but that's not the subject of this writing. Rather, I want to explore the reasons behind the shipping preferences--what do fans believe about romance that leads them to support the different pairings? Why do we ship whom we ship?

My argument is that the reason "Zutara" (a shorthand for the Katara/Zuko pairing) is so popular is because it is supported by a popular view of romance. That view is that a meaningful romance should be exciting and not complacent. I'll talk more about what this excitement means, but I think of it mainly in three aspects: Conflict, uncertainty, and glamor. Other ideas seem to support this main idea, such as the desire to tame and comfort a troubled bad boy, and the idea that Zuko deserves some compensation for his difficult redemption. I would argue that these are the ideas about romance and drama that drive the Zutara ship.


Because teens who kill together, chill together, amirite? ...Those who are bloodthirsty together, play tonsil-hockey together? No?

In contrast, the support for the two main canon pairings "Kataang" (short for Aang/Katara) and "Maiko" (for Mai/Zuko) are based on a completely different conception of romance. In this view, a long-term romantic relationship should be both comfortable and comforting. Specifically, the idea is that a good romance isn't supposed to be dramatic and filled with conflict. Rather, the relationship should be based on compatibility and understanding that prevent conflicts from happening in the first place, or help the partners resolve them before things turn serious. If you believe romance should not be high-maintenance and should be a source of comfort, not of conflict, you are more likely to support Kataang and Maiko.

None of this is to say that supporters of the "conflict" view of romance exclude comfort from what they see as a good romance. Nor does it mean that those who hold the "comfort" view of romance are averse to excitement in real or fictional relationships. The difference is one of emphasis. It's about the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to romance, the thing that hits you in the gut and draws you in.
 
When you look at the pairings this way, it's no wonder that these shipping debates get so heated. The fans are not only defending a fictional relationship, they're also defending their view of how romance is supposed to work. And since romance is an important part of life for many (I know it is for me), that can be like defending your view of life, or even your worldview. How we respond to these fictional constructs tell us a lot about who we are. It's just one of the ways fiction acts as a focus and lens for life.

To understand this better, let's look at these two different conceptions of romance in turn and how they relate to the different Avatar ships. For this essay I will focus on the idea underlying the Katara/Zuko pairing. Next essay, I will talk about Aang/Katara and Mai/Zuko.


Romance Should Be Exciting: The "Conflict" View of Romance
 
 
The course of true love never did run smooth.
- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream
 
 
I have proposed that the support for Zutara is based largely on the view that romance should be exciting. Now I'll try to make an argument by supporting that proposition.
 
I rest my case. Easiest. Essay. Ever. Wait, what was my point?
 
I don't have the time or the inclination to pursue and quote everything that has ever been said in support of this pairing (call me lazy if you want, but seriously), but here are some of the common refrains I see:
 
 
Opposites attract. Zuko and Katara are fire/water, they were enemies for most of the series, so they're opposites. Hence, attraction!
 
Katara nurtures and protects Aang. Her interest in him is motherly or sisterly, which was why she was confused in "Ember Island Players." Hence a relationship between them would be wrong.
 
Aang and Katara are boring, obvious, and cliche. They're also unexciting, like an old married couple. Katara and Zuko are more unexpected and exciting.
 
Aang isn't tall enough/physically mature enough to have a relationship with Katara who is already a young woman, while Zuko is a young man himself.
 
Katara and Zuko look hot together.
 
Zuko worked so hard for the Gaang's acceptance, Katara's in particular, he deserves something more than platonic friendship.
 
 
The emphasis of the arguments is on the excitement, the uncertainty and conflict inherent in the relationship. Of course, Katara and Zuko have come to like and respect each other by the end of the show, but it happened too late in the series for them to build anything like the rapport that Aang and Katara have built over the entire series. My hunch is that this makes the pairing more attractive for Zutarans, not less. The unfamiliarity and uncertainty of the relationship is a large part of what draws them.
 
And well it might. Stories, after all, are made of conflict. Katara and Zuko have a lot to work out if they are to have a long-term relationship, not to mention a lifelong partnership. There's the conflict between their two peoples, with Zuko's ancestors helping to almost destroy Katara's culture by abducting their waterbenders. And that's not even counting the genocide of the Air Nomads, something that shook Katara deeply due to her friendship and caring for Aang. Both Zuko and Katara have a temper and can get violent when angered, unlike Aang and Mai's more even keel. Not only do the seeds of conflict run deep, but any conflict is likely to be more intense and possibly violent due to their sometimes volatile tempers. These two could get into the most epic domestic violence cases ever.

At the end of the show, Katara and Zuko are also very recent friends and do not know each other very well. They have a ways to go before they are really comfortable with each other, which amplifies the possibilities for conflict. Their lives, or at least her life would have to change radically for them to be together; they would have to decide where they would live, for starters, and their primary residence will probably be the Fire Nation capital due to Zuko's duties. This means Katara will most likely have to move to a country that is unfamiliar to her and was an enemy nation until very recently. And foreign queens are not always received kindly, remember how the French treated Catherine de' Medici? All this, and more, heightens the tension and conflict in the relationship.
 
Having all this drama built into a relationship is great fodder for stories. That's the reason that William Shakespeare quoted above, Chretien de Troyes who wrote outright adultery into the Arthurian literature, and many of the greats who dealt with romance put obstacles like feuding families and marriage in their fictional lovers' way. Otherwise the romance could not be a story of its own, devoid of conflict and choices. It would be basically "fluff," the characters simply being in love without meaningful conflict. This is kind of the way most scenes between Aang and Katara go, with Katara comforting him and nurturing him, the two sharing quiet moments of friendship and mutual respect. If there is conflict it is usually an outside conflict they face together, not conflict within the relationship. And so, if you want to deal with romance as a central subject matter of a story, Katara/Zuko is much more interesting than Aang/Katara simply because it has more possibility for conflict. That probably explains why there are more fan stories dealing with this ship, too.
 
This conflict generates uncertainty about where the two might end up, about what happens next. One of the complaints about Aang and Katara is that their relationship seems too much of a sure thing, almost predestined if you will. There's no excitement in that, goes the thinking. The prospect of a relationship between Katara and Zuko, on the other hand, is far from certain. Not only is their friendship relatively new at the end of the show, but their life circumstances and different cultures could get in the way as well. Zutara is a step off the well-worn path of predestined love, an embrace of uncertainty. And what is life if not uncertain?
 
Then there's the glamor factor which can't be ignored. These two look good together. Aang is shorter and younger than Katara, while Zuko is taller and older. It may be shallow, but it does tell us what a lot of people prefer to see. They want the guy to be older, taller, and in some ways dominant. Zuko may be used to hardship but he has had a privileged upbringing, and as Firelord he certainly has a lot more resources and power at his disposal than Katara. I also find it significant that Katara's being a nurturing figure to Aang has so many people in the fandom squicked out at the idea of romance between them, yet going by the examples of other fandoms, this same factor seems to be a huge draw when the male is in the protector/nurturer role.* Therefore one can safely assume that Katara/Zuko conforms to a fairly common conception of what looks glamorous in a couple.

* Hey Inuyasha fans--remember Sesshomaru/Rin? *shudder* For extra squick credits, see one fansite's description of their relationship. See also Wife Husbandry.Obviously I'm not accusing Zutarans of being part of this trope, I'm just making the larger point that there is a prevalent preference for the man to be the dominant partner in a heterosexual pairing.

Other than the excitement factors above, which I see as the dominant reasons for support of this ship, there are miscellaneous reasons I've seen including the concept of just desserts, that Zuko deserves to get the girl due to all the hard work he did. I guess this stems from the fact that Katara, while far from the only girl in the series, is the main female character who is arguably powerful and beautiful, and so she's a bigger "prize" than Mai? Or she's the character that female viewers most identify with, and they would prefer Zuko to Aang? Maybe it has something to do with dramatic status, that since Katara is the main female character, being paired with her will elevate Zuko to protagonist status? Or something. I can only guess since I don't follow this argument. I've never thought of love, especially romantic attachment, as something that one is entitled to.

Further arguments for this ship are basically reiterations of the "conflict" view of romance: The complaint that Aang/Katara and Mai/Zuko are cliched and boring fall straight into this category. The popular desire for a bad boy and being the one to tame him are, again, reflections of the desire to have conflict fodder in a relationship. For relationship drama, honestly, you can't wish for much better than Katara/Zuko. Whether drama in a relationship is a good thing, of course, depends on how you view romance and its role in a story. (That will be the subject of the third essay.)

Thus I argue that the primary appeal of a Katara/Zuko romantic relationship is the conflict potential, and therefore story potential, in the pairing. As such, it is more likely to appeal to those who believe that a romance, or at least a fictional romance, should be exciting and dramatic, not to mention glamorous.

Of course, a relationship filled with drama and conflict is likely to be painful for the participants rather than exciting. Such relationships are often less likely to last in the long run, because these strains tend to wear on people and affections. Some do overcome these obstacles successfully, of course, but it's relatively difficult. The more committed the relationship and the more important the area of conflict, the more likely it is that these differences will tear a relationship apart. Katara and Zuko in a committed relationship, in other words, seems pretty much a recipe for pain.
 

Feel his pain. Feel it! See also [info]amiraelizabeth's hilarious take on this scene. (Profanity warning)
 
It may not be enjoyable for the characters involved, but it sure is fun for the audience. And that entertainment is what lies at the heart of Zutara, that this is a relationship for the enjoyment of viewers outside the relationship and not the participants in the relationship. Their conflict, their drama, their pain become the stuff of our entertainment. Drama is fun as long as it happens to someone else, and conflicts build stories. The appeal of Zutara is the appeal of exciting drama, not the appeal of a stable and lasting relationship.
 
Because here's the dirty little secret of stable and long-lasting relationships: They're actually kind of boring. Not in the sense that there's no fun, or no chemistry, or no desire; but rather that these relationships are not fraught with conflict. Or if there's conflict, there is good enough communication that the partners can patch it up before serious damage is done. These romances don't make really good stories in of themselves because they have so little conflict. On the other hand, they do make a stable foundation for other kinds of stories. If you know your partner has your back, it becomes a lot easier to go out there and save the world or your nation or whatever. This kind of romance does not draw attention to itself, but rather quietly supports the partners involved, providing a stable emotional base that they can return to.

This other conception of romance, the view of relationships as a stable base rather than a roiling storm, will be the subject of the next essay. There I will describe the "comfort" view of romance and how it supports Kataang and Maiko.

Comments

( 59 comments — Leave a comment )
amanda_violet
May. 13th, 2011 01:42 am (UTC)
Yeah, pretty much. All of that.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that most Zutara shippers aren't really that interested in the intriguing implications of a long-term relationship between Katara and Zuko and all that means for the group dynamics, postwar life in general, Fire Nation stuff, Katara's neverending baggage, whatever. Sure, some are, and they're awesome. But, as some wise person on TV Tropes once said:

1) Katara is the character the shippers identify with.

2) Zuko is the character they want to tap.

When I first got into Avatar fanfic, I made the mistake of just browsing blindly instead of asking around for recs. Every other fanfic out there was a Zutara. Every third fanfic was about Zuko's Lady being dead (because tasteful acknowledgment of Maiko means killing her off and having Zuko be kind of sad about it, obvs) and him and Katara striking up a very tragic, angst-fraught romance that kind of butchered both of their characters.

My favorite Zutara fic was Dancing in the Dark, because it was super fun and ridiculous, and it kind of knew it was just super fun and ridiculous. Though I haven't read it in a while and I'm not even sure if the delightful silliness holds up anymore. As a rule I tend to dislike fics where Zutara is a "forever" pairing, just because of my devotion to the canon ships... eh, whatever. ~*Shippers Gonna Ship*~
ljlee
May. 13th, 2011 01:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I don't think most are interested in the implications, either. It could be really intriguing if done right, but good stories are as rare in fanfiction as anywhere else. I talk a bit about that in the third essay. And the identification with Katara and wanting Zuko probably are the two biggest reasons for this ship, totally agreed. :D

I've started on Dancing in the Dark on your rec, and it's pretty well-written, though not silly so far. That'll come soon, I guess. :) I don't see these two as being forever, either, and as long as that's acknowledged and/or the whole thing is played for fun I think some pretty good stories can come from this pairing. It's the hormone-driven stories with no thoughts of the implications of this relationship that get tiresome.
(Anonymous)
May. 13th, 2011 04:12 am (UTC)
Well, you get points in my book for simply managing to work Chretien de Troyes into an Zutara essay. Ah, the joys of academia.

I think Kataang (and Maiko) have a lot of internal conflict to them too. It's just a different focus of the conflict being (for example) between Aang and himself instead of himself and Katara. The old question, Do I choose my love or my destiny and do they have to be mutually exclusive? If the appeal of Zutara is like Romeo and Juliet then Aang and Katara is kinda like Superman and Lois Lane. Do I save Lois today from falling off that buidling or prevent Braniac from destroying the whole human race? Can I sacrifice one to save the other and what do I do if I can't choose? As Mr. Spock once asked, "Do the needs of the many outweight the needs of the few or the one (I love)?"
ljlee
May. 13th, 2011 01:36 pm (UTC)
I really respect Chretien de Troyes, Mallory and all these great Arthurian fanfic writers. The French writers have been particularly effective in the fandom, getting their Gary Stu character (what's his name--Lancelot?) into the canon and everything. I'll never forgive what they did to my favorite ORIGINAL canon character Kay, though. And I will always hate their bloodthirsty horndog Gary Stu with the strength of a thousand suns. :P

I guess I haven't really thought about the Kataang relationship conflicts because they so seldom argue with each other. And I agree, Aang's internal conflict was a problem not only in canon but possibly down the line as well. The superhero girlfriend comparison is totally spot on, though Katara is a lot more capable of taking care of herself than most superhero girlfriends. :D You're right that's a pretty potent conflict right there. I guess I've somewhat underestimated the conflict potential of this pairing.
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amiraelizabeth
May. 13th, 2011 05:41 am (UTC)
See I always thought Aang and Katara had conflict. They have his Avatar state and his duties to deal with, the whole "should or can the Avatar be in love" issue, and the fact that no matter what their lives will never be entirely normal.

The reason I never liked Zutara is that it never felt real. It felt forced. The two characters barely liked it each other. Their major interactions up until after WAT were almost entirely antagonistic in nature. Also even though they became friends, there are different levels of trust. Friendship trust is different than the trust lovers give each other. Amd I don't think Katara would overreach that level of trust with Zuko. And if she did then it would mean that his actions have no consequences. His betrayals, his hiring an assassin, his hunting them for his own selfish purposes, etc.

The other reason is that Katara is not a redemption prize. And that is entirely what Zutara feels like. Zuko got plenty of "rewards" for his redemption (more than I would say Aang did) and romance with Katara would just be overkill. Also it would I think put unnecessary strains on new friendships and old friendships.

Honestly, I am not a Zuko fan at all and I don't always get the appeal. I don't see the "hotness" between the two characters. But maybe it's because I don't imagine myself Katara and I've never wanted Zuko at all. Also I view Katara as a 14 year old girl who had little romantic experience and like Aang, was discovering her romantic side and doing some growing up. I don't see her as someone overly sexual at this stage, nor do I see her as someone who would just go for shallow things like looks or a brooding nature because she's had bad experiences with older guys taking advantage of her kindness and trust.

Edited at 2011-05-13 05:45 am (UTC)
ljlee
May. 13th, 2011 02:06 pm (UTC)
You're right about the conflict potential in Kataang. It's something I haven't thought about much, and I would love to read a story that deals with the issue. Still, at least two of the previous Avatars (Roku and Kuruk) were in committed relationships. Others might have had more trouble, and it's something Aang and Katara will have to work out.

Another potential conflict could even tie into my political discussions earlier, about the the public good versus private interests. The Avatar has to be a force of good not only for one people but for all the peoples, while Katara is a Water Tribe woman first and foremost. What happens when those interests conflict? Can she overcome the viewpoint of her background, or will the Avatar's legitimacy be compromised due to his personal relationship with her? I personally think it'll work out fine, because if anything Katara has been more dedicated to the cause of peace than Aang, but that doesn't mean there can't be conflicting demands and tensions.

I think your reasons for not liking the Zutara pairing are at least part of the reason Zutarans like it. It goes back to a difference in opinion on what a romance should look like. And while I think, like you and most mature individuals, that a good relationship should be based on implicit trust, I think others like the uncertainty and excitement of not being entirely able trust the other person. Hence the desire for a "bad boy," which I think is rather unhealthy and which the episode "Jet" totally played with, as you point out.

Katara as some sort of prize is probably the most annoying Zutara argument ever. I don't get where people get this idea that anyone is ever entitled to romantic affection. Respect you can earn, and courtesy. Zuko was given both and friendship and trust in the bargain, perhaps more than he deserved. But romantic love is far too intimate a connection for anyone to "deserve." That kind of thinking is how you get a "nice" guy who hangs around doing favors for a girl then expects her to reciprocate his affections because he's "earned" it. Ugh. How about getting the balls to ask her out and accepting rejection gracefully if it comes? Not saying that Zuko or anyone did that in the show (the characters are delightfully mature in most of their romantic interactions), but the idea that you can somehow "earn" someone's love is really dangerous and harmful.

Ah well, I think Zuko and Katara look good together, and even the creators said they shared some sparks, or may have. (More on that in the second essay.) As strictly a matter of taste, I like the way their coloring and looks complement each other and I do find both of them attractive despite the vague guilt due to their being teenagers. Basically I think Zuko and Katara are two of those friends whom a bunch of people think are/should be together for totally shallow reasons, while they themselves are horrified at the suggestion. No, she won't go for him, nor he for her, but the rest of the world can keep dreaming. :)
(no subject) - amyraine - May. 18th, 2011 06:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
amyraine
May. 18th, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC)
I just had more thoughts!

While Zuko up until the Day of Black Sun certainly fit the "bad boy" image, post joining Team Avatar he was sort of a dork. An adorable dork, but a dork nonetheless.

I get the feeling Fire Lord Zuko would be a stressed out politician type that would be fairly boring. All of the drama, none of the cool. Unless he does what some fanfics speculate and run around with Mai dressed like ninjas.

I think another avenue of post-series conflict between Aang and Katara would be that of his wanting to travel, not only because of being the Avatar but because I think flying around everywhere is part of his nature, while she would want to stay home in the South Pole. I'd have to do some digging to come up with justification for why I think this, but it's just the feeling I get from her. Despite all the traveling she did, at heart she's really a homebody. Am I reading something into her character that isn't there?
ljlee
May. 19th, 2011 05:52 am (UTC)
Isn't it the irony of ironies if Zuko with his original bad-boy image were all boring and stressed after the war, while Aang, all sweetness and light, is the one who's having adventures all over the world and arguing with his best girl about it. :D I think your own story Truth, Duty, Virtue, Honor showed Katara and Aang treading that balance, though that equilibruim may have come at the end of much talk and soul-searching.
c3childs
Jul. 18th, 2011 10:37 pm (UTC)
If I could find a Zutara fic that addressed our points, and how that would affect Aang and Maiko, I might ship Zutara. However, so much of it is just less than mediocre. The stories are poorly written, the plots are weak, and a lot of it is grammatically incorrect. Along with them being OOC. There may be more Zutara, but the quality's not so impressive.
ljlee
Jul. 19th, 2011 12:13 am (UTC)
Yeah, a lot of these stories seem to have too many hormones and not enough thought gone into them. Bad fanfic is hardly exclusive to Zutara, of course, but it's a little frustrating that the really interesting issues this couple raises are seldom explored.
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yukinoomoni
Jul. 21st, 2011 02:03 pm (UTC)
$0.02
If you've seen me in fandom over the past two years, you know that I ship canon ships, with the occasional odd-ship on the sides. I watched the series in one fell sweep, and never had to deal with the ship-teases and all of that. So I suppose my answers are biased. I used to be pretty fanatic with my canon shipping, but brushes with reality in which life is too short caused me to calm the hell down, so here is what I speculate.

Zutara is, deep-down, a sock-puppet ship. It sounds harsh, but unless it's written respectfully, tastefully, and without any kind of leftover-bashing, all it is is an out-of-character, sexed-up and overplayed conceptualised ship. People want to be Katara. People want to be with Zuko. (Or vice-versa - I will generally be assuming the authors are female from this point on, as it is majorly so.) They shape Katara into themselves and Zuko into the man they want him to be. Therefore, what we get is a mashed-up Harlequin that is supposed to be about opposing dynamics and temperaments but instead is about formulaic OOC-sexcapades.

I could not, and never can, get into the ship simply because it is 1/1,000,000 portrayed as the aforementioned. It all reads to be an ATLA-verse version of "Taming of the Shrew/Pride and Prejudice", and that's tiring. If I wanted those stories, I would read them. No one ever explores the complications of such a relationship, nor do they acknowledge the serious problems that one would inevitably bring. They are so much alike, yes - but they are also extremely volatile together, feeding off of the worst of each other. They work as an amazing fighting team - but if left alone, they would wreck havoc and bring chaos.

All throughout The Southern Raiders we see Zuko desperate to make amends with Katara, who stubbornly will not give him a chance; in a sense she is his last conquest for peace. But instead of appealing to her kindness - similar to that he had encountered in the Catacombs - he appeals to her sense of revenge, with a need to kill. Throughout he watches her become so consumed with pain and guilt and grief, and he doesn't say a word - even when he watches her go out of control and bloodbend an innocent. He just...stands there, and lets her do it, because he cares about her and wants her to feel better and assuage her guilt with his help, without really giving her the right kind of help. If they were married and crowned, I can't imagine the chaos it would bring, because the worst of that is that they would probably both truly believe that they were doing the right things for the world, all while being tyrants.

I think they are amazing friends - best friends - and Zuko's rescue in the finale was perfectly reasonable and in character, and in no way reflects some sort of innate romantic love. Rather, Zuko by then was just so tired of watching people sacrifice themselves for him, and he went to the capitol to kill Azula, or be killed BY Azula. He chose the latter to keep anyone else from dying. He loves Katara, no doubt, but it's not the same as everyone so desperately WANTS, which I never understood WHY they wanted it. Why can't a couple like them be wonderful friends? I suppose I just don't get it - especially since, generally, it really does seem to be a ship all about sex.
ljlee
Jul. 21st, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
Re: $0.02
*slow clap* I... think you've articulated all the issues I have with this ship better than I ever could. I see the dramatic potential in Zutara, and I keep wanting to find a story where all these issues about their clashing personalities and conflicts are explored in depth, but so far I've been unsuccessful. A story about their passionate personalities clashing, bringing out the worst in each other, and still trying to tough it out with the insane stubbornness and the emotional bond they share would be WONDERFUL, but so far I haven't found that story. And it has such potential, too.
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(Anonymous)
Dec. 3rd, 2012 11:06 pm (UTC)
Narrative Vacuum
I'm proposing a different reason why Zutara is so popular. (Keep in mind that I am not a huge Zutara fan. I tolerate it in a very well written fic but I rarely root for it.) It fills a narrative vacuum.

Yes, Kataang might be the more realistic relationship. But if I wanted to know about a realistic relationship I would observe real people. This is a story. If you're going to include romance it has to be connected with the character arc you've developed. That's the problem with the male lead and the female lead being paired. The writers get lazy and don't show why that relationship is so inevitable. It's inevitable in their minds and they give us fluff.

Kataang completely drops the ball with this one. So much of this relationship is fluff and manipulated emotion by the end of the series. I mean you have so many extraordinary episodes featuring Zuko and Katara by the end. The Crossroads of Destiny. The Western Air Temple. The Southern Raiders. Sozin's Comet. You have themes of love, family, loss, trust, vengeance, redemption, ect. You can write pages about how just these two get along together. It's a rich well to draw from.

Kataang has almost nothing going for it in most of the seasons. Most of their interactions are just fluff and not true development. Their conflicts are artificial. I would be embarrassed as a writer to have most of the Kataang episodes in this season be compared to the Zuko/Katara episodes.

In my opinion, only four episodes provide meaningful support for Kataang. As in, they display pure love rather than just "Oh, there's this pretty girl that I want to kiss." The Avatar State, The Desert, The Guru, and The Crossroads of Destiny. Without these episodes, I would consider Kataang nonviable.

And Season 3 does it's utmost best to deconstruct all the deep feelings that the aforementioned episodes created. Katara should have realized in The Crossroads of Destiny that her life would be incomplete without Aang. Aang had already declared that he loved Katara so deeply that he would forgo all the power in the universe. There's no 'will they or won't they' beyond this point. A good writer would have had Katara and Aang acknowledge and affirm a relationship from the beginning of Season 3. That would have been powerful.

Instead we get a lot of immaturity and insecurity and it makes the viewers question whether these kids should in fact be in a relationship. As a viewer I always think "This isn't Season 1 anymore, kids. I expected you to be much more mature about your feelings. This is ridiculous."

Why was the whole "forever girl" scene required? We already knew Aang's feelings from The Guru. His feelings are treated like a joke in this episode. Then, you have the Headband. The dancing was nice but it was all fluff. And why is Katara getting jealous? It's cliche and not like her at all. And I like to pretend that the Ember Island Players never happened. Katara's whole "I'm confused" deal. What is she confused about? She's a smart girl. It hasn't occurred to her that she loves Aang and if she does realize this why isn't she straight with him? Katara is a direct person. When she has concerns she explains them like in The Avatar State. Why is she being so evasive here?

And the whole thing about attachment and cosmic power clearly got dropped like an anvil. It's clear that Aang is still deeply attached to Katara but that plot point is never brought up again.


The end of Season 2 left many viewers on the fence between Kataang and Zutara. Both sides felt they had a powerful foundation to create their stories from. From there one pairing had absolutely wonderful and spellbinding scenes considered to be the best in the series. The other had cringeworthy scenes that actually regressed the relationship. Is it any wonder then that Zutara is so strongly preferred above Kataang? I don't find the Zuko/Katara scenes in Season 3 particularly romantic but they are spellbinding and I can understand why people want to take it a step further. Their emotions are just so powerful.
ljlee
Dec. 4th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Narrative Vacuum
That's a good point. Zuko and Katara certainly had wonderful electric scenes together, while Katara and Aang looked like they were going nowhere in Book 3. It's no wonder even non-Zutarans like you or I can see where the pairing is coming from.

In defense of Kataang, though, I don't think Book 3 meant the development of their relationship regressed. Their dynamics could have been resolved and explored better than it was, but I thought what Book 3 Katra/Aang moments lacked in entertainment value they made up for in depth.

The Zuko and Katara scenes crackle with tension of two people with bad history just starting to trust and like each other. Kataang in Book 3 lacked that kind of freshness because Katara and Aang are long past the stage of first rapport. What they have is a strong friendship that might or might not morph into something new, and of course that's a difficult, scary, and often awkward process. Getting to like someone new is easy. Going into something for the long haul, deciding whether to make a commitment, figuring out what you want and who you are--now that's a messy process, often with very little in the way of sparkle and shine and much in the way of going in circles and beating yourself up.

That's not to say the writing on Kataang was good toward the end; while I think the awkwardness and messiness were realistic, it wasn't explained or resolved well enough. Hence your frustration is totally understandable.

Now it seems to me pretty obvious that Katara in Book 3 is having serious issues with attachment. Her mother was taken violently from her at a young age, her father was away for years, and then at the end of Book 2 she watched Aang die. I'm willing to bet all these events are interconnected in her mind and, circa Ember Island Players, she can't bear the thought of making a commitment to Aang only to lose him. She can't accept his feelings because her own feelings for him are too strong. Is it any wonder she's confused?

If the writers had taken an episode or part of an episode to resolve this confusion before kissytimes ensued, it would have gone a great deal toward making Kataang seem natural, even inevitable. It would have been a great resolution of Katara's story arc, her aspiration for the world and her courage to heal from past trauma flowing into each other. Instead we had too many Zuko rehabilitation episodes on top of the huge main plot to close off, and the romance got kicked out of the way. Worse, so was character development.
Re: Narrative Vacuum - breakattiffanys - Feb. 3rd, 2013 04:06 am (UTC) - Expand
breakattiffanys
Feb. 3rd, 2013 04:11 am (UTC)
I get what you're saying here but the idea that Zutara is the only "exciting" option is ridiculous, especially when our current media is completely over-saturated with love/hate romances and it's become the biggest cliche in the book. To be honest, it's far more boring than it gets credit for.

My biggest issue with Zutara is that there's almost no basis for anything between these characters, at least nothing that wasn't there for ship baiting purposes. The ship started in fandom from that disgusting tree scene, it spiraled out of control and the writers clearly took note of how popular it was. Their scene in Crossroads of Destiny was ridiculous and OOC for Katara on so many levels, the least of which is she's willing to throw away the spirit water for something as stupid as Zuko's scar (this is not the smart practical girl we know). By season 3, they had spoken like 10 lines to each other and suddenly they're some kind of epic romance? Yeah right.
ljlee
Feb. 5th, 2013 03:15 am (UTC)
the idea that Zutara is the only "exciting" option is ridiculous

Yes, that is ridiculous. Who would say that? If you're implying that I did, let me draw your attention to this passage:

- None of this is to say that supporters of the "conflict" view of romance exclude comfort from what they see as a good romance. Nor does it mean that those who hold the "comfort" view of romance are averse to excitement in real or fictional relationships. The difference is one of emphasis. (Emphasis added)

To be honest, it's far more boring than it gets credit for.

That's your prerogative to find it boring, ship-baiting etc. I can't find anything in that statement to argue with or support; it's what you feel and how you interpret elemnts of the show, and you're completely entitled to your thoughts.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Feb. 5th, 2013 07:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ljlee - Feb. 5th, 2013 10:38 am (UTC) - Expand
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annaserene
Apr. 22nd, 2014 10:32 am (UTC)
Zutara has never been my cup of tea, and I've never really considered why it's so popular (probably because I was trying to ignore it). I don't get it.
Now that I think about it, my take is that people like the idea of "forbidden love" and the tension and conflict that comes with it, and that they consider Zutara more erotic (than Kataang). I think you're right about the theme of excitement as well, which ties into the "forbidden" aspect of it. You made some really good points.

One thing I like about Kataang is that, whether romantic or not, they have such a strong relationship. Scenes like when Aang goes into the avatar state in the dessert after Appa goes missing, and Katara comforting him, come to mind.
I do wish Katara had expressed her romantic feelings for Aang more clearly before the show ended though.

I've never really delved into Avatar fics (yet?), but what always annoyed me about Zutara shippers were those who tried so hard to push Zutara, even speculating or arguing that it would become canon. At times I just... like to pretend that Zutara shippers don't exist >.<
I've felt kind of lonely as a Kataang-shipper before haha. probably due to being outnumbered

Edited at 2014-04-22 10:33 am (UTC)
ljlee
Apr. 26th, 2014 12:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! Zutara isn't really my thing either, but it's the attitudes of some Zutarans that bother me more than the pairing itself. The ship itself is pretty much what you make of it, but for whatever reason many Zutarans have taken it in an Aang-bashing, Zuko-excusing, teenage-sex-obsessed direction that I largely ignore, like you do.

The strength of Katara and Aang's friendship is my favorite part of their relationship, too! I don't think it needed to turn romantic right at the end of the show, as others have pointed out; as you say, there wasn't enough foreshadowing and it leaves a vaguely bad taste in the mouth that, as far as the writers treated the issue, it looks like Aang pushed for a relationship until he got an uncertain Katara to cave. I don't think the alternative is to get her to hook up with Zuko rather than Aang, though.

Hey, be lonely no more! My circle and I are largely canon shippers and occasional multishippers who have a lot of fun.
(no subject) - annaserene - Apr. 27th, 2014 05:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ljlee - Apr. 28th, 2014 01:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Sep. 26th, 2014 11:58 pm (UTC)
If you all don't mind, I'd like to add a few points that I didn't see anywhere in this discussion.

I'd call myself a Zutara shipper, but a better description would be an Anything That ISN'T Canon shipper. Why? Because in a canon story line, we've already seen how things play out. Fanfiction, in my opinion, is about exploring the what if's. What would be the consequences on the world of A:TLA if Lu Ten (Iroh's son) hadn't been killed? If Katara had been taken captive by the Fire Nation when they raided the Southern Water Tribe? What if Ozai was the one who went missing and not Ursa?

What if Zuko and Katara got together? How would it have happened? What trials (as individuals and as a couple) would they have had to overcome to be together and stay together?

For me, asking those kinds of questions and figuring out the answers is what fanfiction is about. Not the concrete, but the abstract. But then again, I could be way out in left field.
ljlee
Sep. 27th, 2014 02:54 am (UTC)
Fanfiction, in my opinion, is about exploring the what if's. . . . For me, asking those kinds of questions and figuring out the answers is what fanfiction is about.


I say with enthusiasm, more power to you! In fact I addressed this angle in the third post of the series:

AU (alternate universe) and alternate interpretations of canon are great vehicles for Zutara and other alternate pairings, too. Avatar is a complete story of its own, but different stories can be told with the same characters and world--only altered, of course. Many authors have done exactly that with great effect, forming another thriving part of the Avatar fandom.
bricat_fangirl
Dec. 14th, 2015 01:59 am (UTC)
I'm a huge zutara shipper, but I don't agree with a lot of these zutara points. I hate to see people address Katara as the "prize" of the show, I've seen that a bit with kataang but I didn't realise people used that point with zutara as well. I do live the opposites attract part of zutara, but their also very similar in the way they handle thing, with makes the relationship really interesting for me. Also, for me, it's not so much how the characters look their ages, but more how they act. I see Aang as a child (even though he's grown loads throughout the series), whereas Zuko and Katara have both grown up too quick. I also find it cute how Katara is the "mother" of the gaang and Zuko is kind of like the "dad" figure in the gaang. Zutara is exciting and different, but I don't really think they would have argues loads. I think have a really good understanding of eachother anyway, so once they got over the mistrust and all, they wouldn't argue loads...well, maybe over petty things, but that because Katara's just like that. I know we don't see them much as friends in the show, but cmon, he jumped in front of lightning for her! That's pretty epic. And yes, I know that could've happened with any other characters, but I think the other characters would shout for Katara to get out of the way, or try to bend the Lightning out of the way or something. Well, Zuko did put his hands out to redirect it, but let's be honest, he knew he wouldn't be able to redirect it. Zuko...yeah, Zuko probably wouldn't done that for the other characters, but still, it happened with Katara, so hushhhh.
Oops talked too much byebye
ljlee
Dec. 14th, 2015 03:52 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing!
(Anonymous)
Dec. 15th, 2015 02:55 am (UTC)
This isn't an analysis. This is an anti-Zutara rant. This is a very biased argument made by someone who cannot understand the side they are choosing to "represent" in this article.

The person who wrote this, and the people who left the comments, they don't understand Zutara or the shippers AT ALL. Notice how most of "arguments" they used weren't pro-Zutara so much as anti-Kataang. Zutara isn't anti-Kataang. Zutara is Zutara. It angers me, and other Zutara shippers, to no end when people accuse us of shipping Zutara because of who "deserves" Katara. No one deserves Katara. The very idea of it is sexist. We ship Zutara because we love the dynamic of the two, the unique relationship they have, and not because of the offensive Zutara stereotypes listed here.

Here, a quote of a Zutarian from Tumblr:
"People will always look back on their lives and think about the great things that could have happened, and Zutara is one of those things. People keep coming back to it because it offers the beauty of 'what if?' It represents a lost first love, chances that should have been taken, a close friendship and bond. It is a dream ship, a ship uncorrupted by canon. Because of that, it doesn’t have to begin or end a certain way. It can go on forever, in the eternal question of 'what if?'"

Stop trying to make it look like Zutara would be an unstable relationship, or that the shippers are shallow, because none of it is true.

Oh, and in case you didn't know, BOTH of the voice actors for Zuko and Katara, Dante Basco and Mae Whitman, ship Zutara. You can see so for yourself on Dante's Tumblr account, RufioZuko. Yes, Zutara is popular. In fact, a recent buzzfeed poll concluded that Zutara is more popular than Kataang by 53% to 47%.

Zutara is popular not because it is exciting, but because it is interesting. Not because of shallow appearances, but because of a deep and unique bond.
ljlee
Dec. 16th, 2015 06:49 am (UTC)
Seeing how I drew from arguments made by actual Zutarans and yes, a lot of Zutarans are anti-Kataang, your No True Scotsmanning doesn't work particularly well. Since I said exactly nowhere that it was wrong to like a ship for reasons of excitement or that it's shallow to do so, it looks like you're the one who's making the anti-Zutaran rant. At the very least, you seem to look down on people who like your pairings for reasons different than yours. Do you get dizzy from that high horse you've put yourself on?

Edit due to premature posting (the "quote" button is evidently broken):

Oh, and in case you didn't know, BOTH of the voice actors for Zuko and Katara, Dante Basco and Mae Whitman, ship Zutara.

Oh, and in case you didn't know, BOTH of the creators of Avatar: the Last Airbender, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, ship Kataang. Seriously, your "argument" for your ship is that other people like it?

Yes, Zutara is popular. In fact, a recent buzzfeed poll concluded that Zutara is more popular than Kataang by 53% to 47%.

Yeah, read the beginning of the essay. Why do you think it's some sort of gotcha to repeat the very assertion I opened with, which is how popular Zutara is?

Seriously, if anything could turn me anti-Zutara it's obnoxious and logic-challenged Zutarans like you.

Edited at 2015-12-16 06:57 am (UTC)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Feb. 4th, 2016 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ljlee - Feb. 10th, 2016 09:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Continued... - (Anonymous) - Feb. 4th, 2016 09:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Continued... - ljlee - Feb. 10th, 2016 09:15 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Continued... - lb_lee - Feb. 10th, 2016 09:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Continued... - ljlee - Feb. 13th, 2016 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Continued... - lb_lee - Feb. 13th, 2016 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Continued... - featherwizard - Mar. 21st, 2016 10:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Dec. 14th, 2016 10:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ljlee - Dec. 14th, 2016 10:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Nov. 1st, 2016 11:16 am (UTC)
I'm a Zutarian
Wow, I'm really late on this.

I'm a big Zutara shipper, and have been ever since I've finished the show. My reasons why I love Zutara is the reason that they support each other. In the Southern Raiders episode, Zuko offers to help Katara in finding the man who killed her mother. When they were about to leave, Aang shows up and tells Katara it's not the right thing. I feel that despite what Aang had said was right, he didn't exactly help her in any sort of way get over the loss of her mother. He just lectures her. He tells her it's not the right thing, violence is not the answer, revenge is not right...

I know that Aang did suffer with losing his people because they were taken away by the Fire Nation, and that he can handle it. But that's because he was taught by the Air Nomads, he had already been taught since young how to deal with these sort of problems and how he can handle these situations, peace and all that. On the other hand, Katara didn't. She didn't receive any teachings on this, she's not as knowledgeable as Aang. Aang had been trained by the monks. So when Aang tells her that it's not right, it's not really helping her. It's just giving Katara some sort of lecture.

But Zuko understands what she's been through. Zuko lost his mother too. Zuko's not as knowledgeable as Aang about this but knows that Katara has to go through with the plan so that she can make her own decision.

Actually, it doesn't matter whether it was the right thing for Katara to do or not. It's really the matter of who really understands her the most, who is willing to help her.

When you love someone, you extend your help, you try to understand that person's point of view, not push your ideologies and beliefs onto that person. That's what I think Zuko did. He didn't try to push what he believed was right onto Katara, instead, he tried to understand her, what she sees, how she felt.

In the episode where both Zuko and Katara were trapped in the cave in Ba Sing Se, Zuko listens to Katara as she told him about her mother and how she felt about the Fire Nation. He actually listened. And when he said he was sorry, he actually tried to understand how she felt. The moment where Katara touches his scar when she attempts to heal him, he closes his eyes. That is trust. He's trusting Katara, he believes she wouldn't harm him, even though they were enemies.

During the final Agni Kai between Azula and Zuko, when Azula aimed for Katara instead, Zuko took the hit of lightning. He risked his life - he was supposed to be the next ruler of the Fire Nation, he knew that and yet he still jumped out and saved her. I know you might be thinking - hey, he could've taken that hit for anyone else - but that scene. Slow motion, his cries out NO!!, just the way it was executed... The cry from Zuko was like a plead, to not let it hurt Katara.

Lightning people. Electricity.

Anyway, I hope this was a fair argument. I won't bash any ships because I respect all ships. It just proves that we all love and are passionate about ATLA. But my OTP will still be Zutara, because I feel that their relationship is built on trust and understanding.
ljlee
Nov. 14th, 2016 10:27 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm a Zutarian
Hey, I completely understand and respect why people like the pairing, and in fact wrote a Zutara-lite story of my own. Thanks for taking the time to let me know your reasons for shipping them, it was very interesting.

The one issue I have is with the implication that Aang didn't understand Katara in "The Southern Raiders" or that he pushed his ideology on her. I think in that episode Katara needed both Aang and Zuko to support the warring impulses within her. Zuko was a good friend to stand by her side, but I think it's clear that it was Aang who ultimately understood her. She needed to see for herself that she would choose not to kill her mother's murderer and she needed to take that journey, which was why Zuko's role was so vital--but Aang didn't stop her from going, and in fact lent her the use of Appa (something he had every right to refuse, and an action that exposed Appa to risk) precisely so she could make her own choice. It was Aang's belief in the best of her that helped Katara pull back from the brink, and given how supportive he was I don't think it's fair to characterize him as forcing any choice on her.

Many point out that Aang seemed distant and preachy in that episode, despite his good intentions, and I can see why people see Zuko as more sympathetic. I think Aang was so controlled, even closed off, not because he was okay but because he wasn't: I think he was afraid to reach out and fully touch Katara's grief and rage. If he allowed himself to feel what she felt over the murder of her mother, what might he end up feeling--and doing--over the destruction of his entire people? Especially when he was trying to hold back from taking Ozai's life? He has powers at his disposal that no other mortal can fathom, powers that he can't always control and could wreak devastation if he slips.

For that reason I think he was afraid in that episode to let himself feel her fully, which was why Zuko did such a great service to both of them. (I think he did it for the wrong reasons, but that's why this show is so great--its heroes are realistically flawed and human.) I don't think all the spiritual teaching in the world prepares you for being the only survivor of a genocide, and I think it's an incomplete reading of TSR to disregard Aang's own pain and loss in dealing with Katara's situation.
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