August 12th, 2013, 10:34 am

A Myth of Maturity

Last night, I raced home to watch the end of a show I'd been watching on and off these last few years. It was bittersweet, but in the end, it was worth it. That's right - I watched the end of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" on DVD (no, I have not seen "Legend of Korra" yet). While watching how far the characters had come in just three seasons, I realized there was a lot of maturity in "The Last Airbender", especially in the final episodes. In a way, there just as much emotional maturity in this kids' show as there is in a show like "Breaking Bad".

This isn't anything new. We've seen heady themes in children's work before. We see this in the Pixar movies, whether its the toll of middle age in "The Incredibles", the heart-wrenching miscarriage in the beginning of "Up" or the absent father throughout the "Toy Story" movies. This trend goes far beyond Pixar. Think "Breaking Bad" is gritty? Look at the decidedly un-Disney-like fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, many intended to be grisly cautionary tales warning children what lurked in the woods of the 19th century.

The problem is this sense of maturity in children's work flies in the face of what we're told. The MPAA has established ratings for what children should and shouldn't see. It starts with G, then PG, then PG-13 and finishes at R (or perhaps NR or X). Regardless, this gives off the impression that there is a sort of hierarchy to maturity - as we the older we get, the more movies we can see.

I certainly felt this way growing up. Most of the comics I read from middle school into high school were perfect reading material for young adults, which challenging vocabulary and increasingly complex plots. But as budding writer, I felt I had to show my maturity by writing increasingly dark and angsty subject material. This was, after all, the sign of maturity, right? "Dark" and "brooding" were accessories to me, to be used and discarded at my leisure. It doesn't take a psychologist to realize this wasn't the picture of authentic maturity.

Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one who felt like this. Most of comic book industry followed this trend, particularly in the mid-90's. The release of gritty comic books like "Watchmen", "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Maus" propelled a generation of imitators who tried to harness the "mature" themes of comic books without really understanding them. While Alan Moore's "Watchmen" is gritty and sometimes overwhelmingly dark, his dark anti-heroes are compelling, well-rounded and ultimately human. Many of the 90's anti-heroes lacked this depth and humanity, which is why they weren't as "mature" as they sought to be.

The grand misconception here is that maturity comes with age - the truth is, it comes with experience, and we can have experiences whether we are one or one hundred. There is a correlation with age - the older we are, the more experiences we have, but connecting age with maturity is like putting the carriage before the horse. Children stories - like "Avatar: The Last Airbender", the Pixar films and countless others - can be just as mature and thoughtful as their adult counterparts, and if we want to learn from the best, these titles need to be added to our line-up.

(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder next week.)

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