Light Mode

Who’s on Ba Sing Se’s “Cancelled” Masterlist? Even the Stars Check This Fictional City’s Popular Parody Social Media Account!

Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.

These words have been narrated for nearly every opening sequence to episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the hit animated fantasy series originally produced by Nickelodeon.

The show has since donned an “under new management” sign as a live-action adaptation made its way to Netflix this February to a mixed-to-positive reception from critics and laypeople alike–probably owing to its status as one of Nickelodeon’s most successful Nicktoons products and one of the entertainment giant’s most critically-acclaimed and commercially successful intellectual properties. Netflix has also announced its renewal of the show for a second and third season.

- Advertisement -

With that in mind, and much like other household intellectual properties, Avatar: The Last Airbender boasts a highly diverse range of  discipleship, ranging from casual enjoyment of the show on a Saturday night to, say, appointing oneself the (un)official Social Media Manager for Ba Sing Se, capital of the Earth Kingdom.

Which leads us to Boston-based college student Charlie Lay. Currently studying Media Production at Emerson College, Lay, falls into the latter category … although he wouldn’t call himself an autocrat.

He just happens to be a lifelong devotee of the show.

“I just love how it transcends boundaries,” he tells Hollywood.com “Whether it be adults or children watching it, Black or white kids …  it’s sort of got something for everyone. I love the uniqueness of it.”

The city of Ba Sing Se debuted during its second season in 2006 and is mainly depicted as an isolated faux-topia controlled by a totalitarian ruler, where segregation of residents by class — including many Fire Nation refugees — was rampant.  A number of fans believe the city’s lore and architecture were loosely inspired by Beijing during China’s Qing Dynasty), but interpretations vary.

- Advertisement -


The live-action (above, Netflix) and animated (below, Nickelodeon) Fire Lord Ozai of Ba Sing Se.


Charlie Lay’s Ba Sing Se fan account on X (formerly Twitter), @BaSingSeUpdate, is one of the numerous pandemic lockdown, boredom-induced passion projects that started popping up in the early 2020s. The timing, he says, was apt, given that the original animated version of the show had just been added to Netflix, which led to its popular resurgence. (it was later moved to Paramount+. Netflix currently boasts the new live-action adaptation only). Over time  Lay — as the nameless (un)official Ba Sing Se spokesperson — slowly but steadily started to find himself within niche internet micro-celebrity territory for his Avatar-related posts, along with one peculiar post format: his ever-shameful Ba Sing Se bans.

The simple-but-effective format goes as follows: “[Person/Group/Company] is banned from Ba Sing Se.”

The requirements for making it to Ba Sing Se’s personae non gratae list aren’t too complicated: Just do something despicable or something that will get you “cancelled” within the social, political, or pop culture stratosphere (bonus points if these despicable or “cancellable” acts make the news).

- Advertisement -

Previous Ba Sing Se ban recipients include  Florida Governor and then-presidential candidate Ron DeSantis (at one point his entire state was likewise banned), record executive and longtime Taylor Swift arch-nemesis Scooter Braun, X owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk (at least three times), and Glasgow’s viral mess of a Willy Wonka Experience, among many others.

Charlie Lay, guiding spirit of Ba Sing Se’s massively successful social media parody account.

“A lot of the time, I’ll just follow the trends,” Lay explains about his ban rationale. “Is anybody doing something bad? Are they being canceled or stuff? But then, sometimes I just ban whatever comes to my head. I mean, sometimes I’ll be waiting in line at McDonald’s, and it’ll take too long, so I’ll just sort of vent my frustrations. I just have fun with it.”

Because of that, he says, his direct messages often get flooded with ban requests — the vast majority apparently made in jest (“can you ban my friend?”). Though Lay doesn’t often respond, he did make an exception in October 2022 when Brazil’s controversial former president Jair Bolsonaro lost his bid for re-election. Bolsonaro received an added ban in January 2023 following what is  widely alleged to be a failed government inurrection by his supporters.

“In that one,” Lay says, “I’m like, ‘he’s a pretty bad guy. I’ll ban this guy.”

At over 160 thousand followers, the @BaSingSeUpdate account boasts a large fan base that regularly tunes in for the latest Ba Sing Se ban. While it isn’t the kind of joke that’s made a swift migration outside the confines of X (yet), the phrase “banned from Ba Sing Se” has entered the Twitter X lexicon in a stealthy, best-kept-secret fashion.

Lay’s near-virality wasn’t necessarily a goal he had in mind establishing the account. “I wanted to create just fictional lore, things I came up with, just because at my heart and core, I’m a writer. So, I like to come up with different things, make people laugh. I remember when I first started, I would just tweet the most insane things, like ‘Ba Sing Se is based off Chick-fil-A’ or something.”

He maintains that he’ll never take @BaSingSeUpdate intogimmick account territory, mainly because he’s aware it could someday open doors to professional opportunities.

“A lot of actors in the industry do follow me. So, when I’m looking for a job, I will of course ask them either for mentorship or if they know of anything. I do love animation with my whole heart. I love [Studio] Ghibli, I love all of the animated shows, Avatar and everything, and animated movies. But I’d love to break into that space through this account.”

Though presently focused on his education, Lay says he’s already starting to reap the celebrity status he accidentally sowed. Voice actor Greg Baldwin who plays Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Uncle Iroh in the animated series, is among the account’s star followers. Lay got to interview him for a school project in 2020, during his early days of managing the Ba Sing Se page.



Minecraft partner Gamemode One also recently took note of the Ba Sing Se account, leading Lay to collaborate with the game studio in promoting its new Avatar Legends downloadable pack.

For now Lay says he’ll keep having fun with his roleplay as the (un)official Ba Sing Se spokesperson, and whatever insane lore he decides to put on Avatar devotees’ radar–whether gratuitous feuds between the Earth Kingdom and the three remaining nations or further bans. He’s even come up with perfect excuse for botched posts, and it’s the oldest trick in the corporate public relations book.


“Whenever I would tweet something that wasn’t very funny or people didn’t like that much, I would always just say it was the Earth King, or the Earth Kingdom’s intern, and we fired them,” Lay says.

As for those Ba Sing se bans: Don’t worry, Lay has no intention of banning them.

“I like to get people talking,” he explains, “but also just sort of bring awareness to certain things … People won’t listen to a lot. Many people won’t listen to me if I say it as Charlie. But as Ba Sing Se, I have a voice to sort of call things out when I see it. So I like to do that when I can.”


Dalia Abdelwahab is a music, entertainment and culture journalist based in the NYC Metropolitan Area. Her reporting focuses on identifying the intersections between how entertainment is produced and perceived in all its forms, and the state of our society and culture at every given moment. She also has experience with covering national news and foreign affairs.




- Advertisement -