Friday, April 10, 2015

Film Crit Hulk helped Wenatchee The Hatchet get a clearer sense of what seems wrong with Legend of Korra, reward the protagonist's vice and humiliating those who urge virtue

http://badassdigest.com/2014/07/14/hulk-vs.-james-bond-staring-into-the-id-of-a-boner-incarnate/
JAMES BOND IS THE SUPERHERO OF MALE INDULGENCE.
THAT MAY NOT NECESSARILY SEEM LIKE A PROBLEM TO MOST OF YOU. HECK, SOME OF YOU WOULD PROBABLY CLARIFY THAT AS A GOOD THING. BUT LET'S DEFINE THE CHARACTER CONCRETELY: JAMES BOND KICKS IMPOSSIBLE AMOUNTS OF BUTT, ALWAYS SAVES THE DAY, GETS ALLLLLLLLL THE LADIES, ANNOYS HIS SUPERIORS, SCREWS AUTHORITY, DRESSES WELL, GAMBLES WELL, IS SOMEHOW ALWAYS DEBONAIR - YET HE DOESN'T CARE ABOUT THE RULES, AND NO MATTER HE WHAT, HE ALWAYS, ALWAYS GETS HIS WAY. AND YEAH, THIS DEVIL-MAY-CARE ATTITUDE MAKES HIM OBVIOUSLY SUPER AWESOME AND COOL, BUT IF WE'RE BEING HONEST...
IT IS ALSO THE THING THAT MAKES HIM KIND OF SUPER-DANGEROUS TOO

...

http://badassdigest.com/2014/07/15/hulk-vs.-james-bond-day-2/
http://badassdigest.com/2014/07/16/hulk-vs.-james-bond-day-3/
http://badassdigest.com/2014/07/17/hulk-vs.-james-bond-day-4/

There's a lot that could be written about what Film Crit Hulk has had to say about James Bond but the idea I want to consider is the proposal that James Bond is a character whose vices are rewarded and whose displays of virtue are punished.

It hit me that in Legend of Korra what we were seeing through seasons 1 and 2 was that Korra's vices (her temper, her rashness, her impulsiveness, her self-absorption, her sense of entitlement backed up by super-powered status) were all rewarded.  It wasn't just that, the characters that did ever attempt to call her out on her vices were subsequently humiliated by the screenwriters, whether Lin Bei Fong failing to ascertain things in book 2 or losing her powers to Amon in book 1.  Then there's Tenzin, who was basically subjected to every sort of indignity, why?  Well, possibly just because he was one of the few characters who kept urging Korra to have a more spiritually and emotionally mature way of relating to people and the use of her own power.  Which for some reason meant he had to be incapable of connecting to the spirit world the way a couple of his kids effortlessly could just ... because.

Mako was made out to be the guy in the wrong after Korra kissed him because ... he kissed back.  Right, so Korra could be a Tom Cruise character a la Top Gun and we're just supposed to root for her?  Korra pushed to get Mako for herself away from Asami two seasons in a row, basically, and Asami holds it against Mako and Mako alone?  That seems implausible unless Asami Sato is even more of a doormat than Harley Quinn.

It's been bugging Wenatchee The Hatchet that after showing promise as one of the more interesting characters with a lot of potential in the early run of the series, Asami was essentially nothing more than the Q for Korra's James Bond.  Having Asami and Korra paired up at the end shifts her into something else.  It doesn't matter how forward-thinking fans of the show might think Korra-Asami was at the end of the series, Asami ends up being the trophy girl the hero gets to bang as the reward for having saved the world.  That's straight up Bond gets to have sex with the hot woman by the end of the film. 

And if Korra were a guy instead of a girl would the sexual politics of all that be considered great?  What case is there that Korra needed to be female?  Bear in mind Varney did a solid job with the voice-acting throughout, the problem I've had with the series is the writing.  Not a single one of the romantic relationships either made sense or even seemed other than a little unhealthy.  It was strange that Asami could tell Bolin Eska shouldn't be so domineering toward him and yet would basically never have any issue with Korra's aggressive play for her boyfriend.  That just doesn't add up.  The whole story in Mean Girls hinged on one woman's jealousy against another woman for the threat she posed to the object of her affection as a rival.  It's not persuasive to suggest Asami's more "mature" than Cady Heron here because Asami could be construed as buying friendship with her extravagant generosity even if she's naturally pretty sweet. 

Where the series could have shown Asami rebuilding her father's business we didn't get that.  Instead the business has to be bought up and saved from financial ruin by Varrick.  Asami was given a kind of meta-script lip service to being a strong female character but she really comes off as one of the biggest doormats in animated adventure shows I've seen since, well, Harley Quinn. 

The idea that Legend of Korra broke new ground by having two girls express sexual attraction for each other is weak sauce.  Maggie Sawyer was a lesbian character in Superman: the animated series getting close to two decades ago.  The trouble I've had with Korra isn't that she has a sexuality, it's that she went through the series with a sense of entitlement so strong there were moments she could have just said "real power, the divine right to rule, that's something you're BORN with."  Korra at times veered into the sense of self-absorbed entitlement we'd seen in Princess Azula in the original Avatar series. 

It seems that you could pick a season of Korra and the key problem facing the world or the city was CATALYZED BY HER VICES.  Had she followed Tenzin's advice to just stay on Air Temple Island and train until she'd mastered air-bending she could have stayed hidden long enough Amon wouldn't have escalated his timeline for his anti-bender plan.  In terms of the formal developments of the plots for the seasons, all the disasters that Korra had to deal with in the first two seasons were problems she brought about or kick-started.  Sure, the bad guys were going to do what they were going to do in season 1 but in season 2 Unalaq couldn't implement his plan without her power and cooperation.  And by the time we got the ridiculous midichlorian foundation myth for the first Avatar the stage had been set for Zaheer to basically be the real hero of the series in terms of seeking to bring real balance to the world by killing the Avatar. 

Now season 4 moved in the direction of recognizing that Korra's conduct and actions were in some respects more "villainous" than heroic.  It's one thing to be the avatar and work to bring balance to the world and another to think that because you are the avatar the world can't operate without you.  If Korra "learned" because she suffered that's not ultimately a compelling character arc in season 4.  Why?  Because three fourths of the series had been spent rewarding her for her vices but ALSO punishing or humiliating the characters who had called her out on her vices and their consequences.  This element can be easily overlooked but why did the writers keep pouring humiliation and defeat and angry outbursts from Korra on both Tenzin and Lin?  There was no clear, discernible reason other than that because the series is named after Korra and Korra, by dint of being the Avatar, ought to be our most sympathetic character. 

Having read Film Crit Hulk on the sexual politics of Bond it seems more and more that Korra was basically kind of like James Bond in terms of having her vices rewarded and in terms of punishing those who would have her embrace more virtues in keeping with the rest of society.  Paradoxically the move that some fans most seem to admire about the end of Korra, her getting Asami Sato as a girlfriend, seems to embody the most retrograde elements of the adventure narrative.  Korra happens to be a girl here but in the end her reward for saving the world (again) is she gets to bang the hottest girl on the planet and because it's girl-girl we're supposed to celebrate Asami going the length of the series being groomed to be the hero's trophy girl?  I just don't buy that. 

What made Avatar: The Last Airbender fun was how the creative team subverted or, even better, completely ignored the fan-shipper base.  The majority of the relationships were not and didn't even have any chance of becoming romantic interludes.  Katara could find various men attractive while still holding that in light of a global war she didn't necessarily want to be tied up with an official boyfriend yet.  That was persuasively in character for her.  What didn't work was to set up Mako as some guy who said family was everything to him and then have him make out with Korra because she aggressively expresses interest in him and lets this happen in front of his brother.  Then again, Mako also got to just point and shoot lightning like he's Emperor Palpatine instead of using a form and set-up the way everyone in the original series did. 

Korra often ignored or flat out broke many of the foundational rules about the world that it had established for it by Avatar.  That might not matter if the Avatar narrative universe wasn't predicated on the need for the world to be balanced.  When you have that kind of genre story tben it's important you keep the rules of the world not just to be pedantic but because the characters will tend to manifest important elements of that world.  The original show Eureka Seven was a lot of fun for setting ground rules and keeping them.  Eureka was a "child of the land" and that meant that it mattered what kind of land she was a child of.  That her name takes from the Greek "I am finding" (roughly) and that Dr. Bear described her as a blank slate who would reflect back to humanity all that humans exposed her to was consistent throughout.  Spin-off shows and alternate versions altered the very nature of the Scub Coral or its equivalent and regardless of what might be said about Eureka in those iterations, she becomes a different character not so much because she would be much different all across the board but because of the "child of the land" element. 

Unalaq becoming a Dark Avatar was incoherent and unnecessary once the Avatar Wan myth was introduced because the Avatar was no longer a force to bring balance to the world or bridge the gap between the material and spirit world.  Korra ended up being the catalyst for chaos and disorder.  Sure, she was tricked into things and all that, but had Korra learned to rein in her vices a lot of the troubles she faced wouldn't have happened because she would not have brought them about herself.

I keep coming back to this question, if Korra were a male character and acted in precisely the same way would she be as sympathetic?  Not for me, she'd be the kinds of annoying self-absorbed characters played by Tom Cruise and Matthew Broderick in the 1980s.  I wanted to like the series and the show has a beautiful design aesthetic but it was always beset with the problem that the title character was ultimately the least interesting and even the least sympathetic character in the entire show.  And the characters who were shoved in my face as the ones to find most "relatable" tended to be the most boring.  Mako never got beyond bland beefcake heartthrob.  Bolin was an even less funny variation of Sokka.  Asami was largely under-written and written out of anything where she could become more compelling and she was ultimately given a path that seems like a demotion from Q to Bond girl trophy.  Tenzin was basically the Butters of the Korra-verse and Lin Bei Fong was given plot-induced stupidity so that Mako could appear competent and interesting.  None of the romances amongst the primary set of characters seemed believable. 

Legend of Korra isn't quite as bad as the Star Wars prequels, but it has a comparably sour taste.  Avatar: The Last Airbender was easily one of the finest adventure cartoons of the previous decade, right up there with Batman: the animated series for me.  Korra may have been intended as an anti-Aang but there's a problem with going for an anti-Aang.  What's the opposite of a fun-loving goofy boy who doesn't want to have to grow up too soon and wants to help everbody?  A deadly serious and brutally nasty girl who would just as soon run the whole world now, thank you very much.  Does that ... sound slightly like somebody from the same series?  The opposite of Aang kinda sounds a bit like Princess Azula.  See, I'd probably actually watch a Legend of Azula show. 

I've already vented my frustration about how the end of Book 2 of Korra came off like an incompetent knock-off of Satoshi Kon's gloriously weird Paprika. I've read that some folks have complained about the girl-girl pair-up at the end of Korra and that's, frankly, the least worrisome problem in the way the show got written.  I would have thought that Asami being the trophy girlfriend would have met with less approval than it seems to have been met with.  The way romantic relationships and friendships got written in Legend of Korra it seems that people are missing a messy and toxic forest because they're fond of one particularly attractive (for them) tree.

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