Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lonespark don't read this, anyone else: Venting you probably don't care about and commentary on the Legend of Korra

Fiction gets to me.  Cringe comedy is the worst, but "Everyone is as dysfunctional as possible and let's eat popcorn while we watch the friction ignite sparks and the sparks burn down lives," is up there too.

At its worst it can physically hurt.

As a child I had no choice in the matter.  My family watched what my family watched and the house was so far from sound proof that there was, at most, one spot you could go to where you wouldn't hear the sound of the TV.  I know, I tried every spot in the house.  Whether or not that spot worked depended mostly on whether or not I could convince whoever was watching to keep the volume down, but also on the ambient noise in the room.

I have a lot of experience being alone in a room while the noise of a TV invades your space and there is precisely zip you can do to escape it, is what I'm getting at.

I don't necessarily like being on my own hiding from a TV show or movie while other people enjoy a shared experience bonding to something they all like without me, but it's kind of unavoidable.  Not everyone shares the same tastes.


Legend of Korra is not something that causes me any great discomfort, but I have to fall into the old routines for a different reason.

The Avatar series seems to be kyptonite for Lonespark and me.

From my point of view I approach it the same way I approach everything.  Criticisms I make of it are no different than ones I make of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or any other random thing.

Her point of view is different.  I worry that I'll summarize it badly and in doing so make it look like she's wrong and I'm right and the thing is ... I don't know that.

Maybe I am being different with respect to Avatar without noticing it.  Maybe I do cross the line from poking something to tearing it down and tearing down those who enjoy it in the process.  But I don't feel like I'm doing that.

The only solution that doesn't end in tears, literal fucking tears, is for me to keep my mouth shut.  For me not to talk about it at all.  Because if I do I never know what will make things go from watching a cartoon to hurting someone that I care about.

No one else has that problem though.  Other people in the room can say what they feel.  Lonespark herself called out something yesterday so memorably that a munchkin decided to randomly quote Lonespark's takedown, word for word, out of nowhere, more than 24 hours later.

Then again the same munchkin said, "They got my dick message," out of nowhere after about a month of not having seen Guardians of the Galaxy and not quoting that line.

Anyway, either I'm the only one in the room who can't speak (self censorship, you understand, it's not like anyone is telling me I'm not allowed to speak) or I risk causing a crying breakdown.

So I try to stay out of the room.

But, the thing is, I don't, fundamentally, dislike The Legend of Korra.  I don't particularly like Korra, but the show isn't usually one that causes me to want to hide.  So hearing it playing tends to draw me out of the room, and the thing about self censorship is that I suck at it.  I once ended up with a short write up of me in the university paper for an article on valentine's day not because I particularly wanted to be involved in such a thing or even felt like I had much to say on the subject, but because I couldn't keep my damn mouth shut.


And this time it went as shitty as it ever has.  Lonespark left and when she did everything seemed fine to me.  (There are plenty of not-awful reasons to leave a room, after all.)  When she came back she was in tears.  Because of what I had said.

All other things being dealt with and healed to the best of our abilities [added: see addendum at bottom], there becomes a question of whether or not I have any outlet.  Lonespark reads Stealing Commas of course.  I did in fact consider the possibility of a post with the disclaimer, "Lonespark don't read this," before she independently suggested it.

So here's a massive mind dump on Avatar: The Legend of Korra


First off, the cast of Avatar: The Last Air Bender would eventually have the titular air bender, the water bender who narrated the opening credits, the blind earth bender, and the fire-bender who spent much of the series as a bad guy who refused the redemption that was staring him in the face.

The Legend of Korra shows us what became of them.  I haven't seen enough of the episodes with Zuko in them to judge our redeemed Firebender, but the others didn't turn out very well.

Aang turned out to be a horrible father.

Remember that moment in Frozen when your heart went out to Prince Hans?
ANNA: Okay wait, wait. So you have how many brothers?
HANS: Twelve older brothers. Three of them pretended I was invisible... literally...for two years.
That's how Aang treated two of his children in favor of his air bending son Tenzin and Tenzin learned the lesson so well that he treated his own children the same way.  The children all knew that Ikki was the one he cared about least leading to her being bullied by them until she finally ran the fuck away.

At which point Tenzin's own siblings pointed out that, you know, this was exactly what papa-Aang had done to with them.

Tenzin counters that Aang actually treated them all fairly and equally which is when the bullshit hammer drops.

Tenzin and Aang frequently took excursions around the world.  Tenzin remembers them vividly.  Tenzin thought that his siblings were there too.  They weren't.

Tenzin took so little notice of his siblings that he seriously couldn't tell the difference between when they were standing beside him and when they were halfway around the world.  (All the way around the world is, obviously, the same as right beside him.)

Aang cultivated in him a disinterest in his siblings so severe that Tenzin cannot tell the difference between memories they are in and memories they are not in because, apparently, they feature just as prominently in both.

But, what about the other parent?  What about Katara?  I don't know.

I do know that Kya turned out to be a bigot and the only thing that could bridge the gap between her and Tenzin was not a relative in mortal peril but instead the two of them teaming up to shit on Bumi for being mundane.  When they're going full on fantastic racism on his ass (fantasy: where you can be racist against your own sibling) they are positively in sync with each other.

But we can't really use that to extrapolate about Katara.  Tenzin seems to have turned out to be a much better father than Aang (not that he's a good father, mind you), maybe Kya turned out to be a worse person than Katara.

But that brings us to the earth bender.

Toph became a corrupt police chief.  She had two daughters.  One a criminal, the other a cop.  She got angry at the cop for arresting the criminal.  Why?  One wants to think that it was because she didn't want either of her daughters in jail.

No such luck.  Toph was angry because of appearances.  She practically quoted Mitt Romney.  Except instead of, "I'm running for office," it was, "I am chief of police."  She couldn't have a daughter in jail.  No love.  No emotion.  No redeeming hint of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

She destroyed the police report, gave the criminal safe passage out of city, and set the criminal up with a place to stay.  Not because the criminal was her daughter and she wanted her daughter to be free and safe, but instead because the criminal was publicly her daughter and she didn't think a chief of police ought to have a daughter in jail.

It was cold, it was calculating, it was callous, it was other things that start with the letter "c".  On the up side, she did feel guilty about it afterward.

Oh, and who was the criminal in question running with?  A triad.  Not some friends who were on the wrong side of the law because they were involved in petty theft or something, organized crime.  If the world of Avatar were based on Italian motifs it would have been the mafia, but if you want to evoke that kind of fraud, death, theft, and more murder in a fictional China-equivalent you go with a triad.

If Toph had helped her daughter escape justice (and she did escape, never being held accountable for so much as one of her many crimes) out of love or even some belief that the daughter of the police chief didn't know what the fuck a triad was and therefore the punishment would be too severe on the naive criminal we could get with that, play it right and we could cheer Toph on for disgracing the office of police chief and using the law as toilet paper.

But with a few carefully chosen words we're told in no uncertain terms that she did it for herself.  "I'm the Chief of Police. I can't have a daughter in jail."

And I bash my head into a wall.  Avatar: There are no heroes, only people who have yet to go bad.


Most of my problems with it are far smaller.

For example, I don't like that they think that by putting, "Our heroes learned [X]," into the opening narration means that the heroes suddenly know X when in point of fact the heroes have not learned that and thought something completely different.

I especially don't like it when it serves no fucking purpose.

Like how an episode ended with the heroes thinking that someone had been abducted to be experimented on when in fact he'd been abducted to be conscripted into the army and then in the next episode in spite of precisely zero time passing the heroes suddenly had detailed knowledge of the operation to conscript such people into the army even though, if they'd still been under the mistaken impression he'd been abducted to be experimented on, NOTHING IN THE EPISODE WOULD HAVE CHANGED.

What the fuck?

Or the fact that character growth seems to happen when you blink.

Same episode as above.  Team Avatar has been fighting the infernal forces of Team Edward   getting a better name trying to convince people that they have no choice and must drop everything to become air nomads because I said so, that's why (Tenzin) even though it would mean leaving the life they know (along with their home, their loved ones, and every-fucking-thing else) behind or just trying to kidnap the people outright (Korra) but then, suddenly, at the end of the episode they're all about personal choice and the importance of each person deciding for themselves.

Was there a deleted scene that took place on the road to Damascus?

Did they realize that their plan was exactly the same as that of the villain and thus reevaluate its morality?  What the fuck happened?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the nominal heroes not traveling the world with intent to kidnap, so I like that switch, but it happened so fast it gives whiplash.


Honestly, I think I have a lot of Korra to get out of my system, but I should be asleep in bed.


Two important things.

First, I suck at reading people.  I thought that things had been dealt with and we were just both bummed out because that's pretty lousy way to end a day.  It turned out that Lonespark didn't know how I felt and was left in emotional limbo for hours.  Which is terrible.  I definitely need to be clearer at expressing my feelings, but it's hard because when talking can exacerbate the problem, I kind of want to ... you know: not do that.

Second, it's never really about the cartoon.

Being poor, amoung other things, there are constant stressors on both of us.  I think Lonespark does a much better job of dealing with them in general than I do.  Especially commendable since she has more of them than I do.

Somehow it seems to be my criticisms of the cartoon that bring about a breaking point where the other stresses break through.

And Lonespark reminded me that while I feel like I act the same way as with other things, the Marvel Cinematic Universe being the example I used, we have once had a similar problem regarding Deep Space Nine.  That just doesn't come up as often because there is not currently DS9 watching going on.

I guess that was three things.

[/ added]


  1. I had some difficulties with 'Legend of Korra' too. Particularly after how much I adored 'the Legend of Aang.' I won't add some of my list here as I've seen the whole series and don't want to do spoilers, but yes on the stuff you've added above. Lack of continuity, holding fast to a certain attitude only for it to change off-screen. And while the idea of giving the heroes of 'Legend of Aang' some significant flaws could have been done really well, it wasn't here. Show that Aang loved all his children but paid too much comparative attention to the only one that could air bend because he because too obsessed with trying to regain the culture he lost so many years ago. Give evidence of Katara calling him on it when his focus gets too narrow and the regret he felt at making the others feel 'less than.' As you say above, be a little clearer about Toph's motives, make it more complex. Toph could be gruff but she was deeply affectionate and caring and interested in connecting with people - if circumstances changed to change that I want to know what they are. The idea of people being remembered only through memories of those who succeed them is an interesting one but it isn't handled well. I also wish they'd shown the legitimacy of the complaints made by various dissenting groups in the Korra time of the Avatar Universe rather than going reverting to 'rebellion = bad' most of the time. There are elements of the show that I find fascinating and interesting - I'd get into a story line but then something would happen to put me off it.

  2. I've not seen much of Korra or of DS9, but I know I haven't heard much criticism of either show along the lines you take here. I remember seeing a scene in Korra where Prince Wu [rot13]pnyzrq qbja rirelbar va gur pvgl qhevat na rinphngvba jvgu n fvatyr fcrrpu ba gur enqvb[/rot13], and thinking, "That worked unrealistically well because the writers wanted a lighthearted, funny scene", but I don't know if that's a manifestation of the same kind of thing.

    I'm sorry that you and Lonestar had a stressful time around this. I wish it were not so.

  3. The "how the kids turned out" thing reminds me a little of one of Anne McCaffrey's tropes. Young heroine has parents who Don't Understand, goes off on her own, has adventures, meets nice boy, etc., fair enough. Then in the sequel her own daughter has parents who now Don't Understand… no, sorry, Original Heroine was not that stupid. There are plenty of ways to have a sympathetic mother who did neat stuff when she was younger, maybe even still does do neat stuff, but gets out of the way to let the new protagonist have her own story.

    Not seen any Avatar or Korra.

  4. Warning: Overly long response coming.

    I had a bit of a different read on Tenzin's faulty memory than that. Not that Aang was a much better father than your read, but with a bit of context from Tenzin having dinner with the family before they all got to the air temple.

    Boomy and Kya were harassing, poking, and mocking Tenzin. None of that behavior struck me as something that started in adulthood. It all looked, to me, like carry over of habits started in early childhood, in which elder siblings picked on the younger and Tenzin, likely, took it.

    That's not an insult to Tenzin, just that his survival strategy probably involved less fighting back and more enduring, particularly when he's got two older siblings that seemingly combine forces against him. Air Bender philosophy, not to speak ill of that, probably didn't tell him to fight back, but to do things like "let go". The funny thing about letting go of someone harassing you like that, they still do it.

    Who wants to bet that he got told, repeatedly, not to give them a reaction?

    That leads to Tenzins memory of those vacations with Dad. If you're a child in that kind of situation, you don't feel safe around your elder siblings. You just know that it's waiting. You can't feel safe unless you know they're gone.

    Tenzin remembers enjoying those excursions with fondness, perhaps in part, because he felt safe. What he doesn't remember is that the reason he felt safe was because his two elder siblings weren't present.

    This is not to say that they were monsters or that their actions towards Tenzin were completely absent context. Tenzin had a connection with a father that, quite possibly, didn't know how to be a parent to children who weren't airbenders. All the cool things he had to teach about air-nomad tricks, games, and jokes... most of them just didn't apply if they didn't fly. So, he didn't do the extra work that it would have taken to connect to them like he connected to Tenzin.

    So, I don't think Tenzin was so uninterested in his siblings that their absence was the same as their presence. I think he didn't want to admit, to himself, to having preferred their absence.

    Although, when Toph talked about how she had forgiven... yeah, I did kind of want her to get some kind of smack or a talking to or something to put a dent in that wall of self-delusion.

    In general, it does make me want to get the stories of the adult Team Avatar, to see how they managed to... well... when Zuko seems the most functional of the group, things have taken twists and turns that I want to see.

    1. What bothered me most about the episode reflecting on the childhood of the Aang-spawn is that the Bumi, Kya, and Tenzin all decided to put everything behind them and not bring it up anymore when there was a very good reason not to do that. Ikki ran away after her siblings treated her the way that Aang and Tenzin treated Bumi and Kya which was also the way that Kya and Tenzin treated Bumi.

      Which is to say: the childhood issues they were discussing weren't something in the past. A real child (daughter and niece to those involved) was potentially in danger because the cycle continued into a new generation. Yes, when searching for Ikki might not be the best time to sort everything out, but given that it's the reason they're searching for her maybe it would be a good idea to sort it out at some fucking point so that they can stop the cycle that made her run away in the first place.

      What's been going on clearly hasn't been good, and it's persisted for at least two generations. Settling things with, "Well our childhoods are over so we should let it go," isn't a good thing because it's putting the people who are still children in danger.

    2. I'll agree on that much. That whole "get over it" and "let it go" push that we keep on getting regarding past wrongs is... not good for multiple reasons.

      But, the nature of the wrongs, focus on specific family members, and bullying siblings... there might be a bit more to it than just Tenzin being uninterested in his siblings.

  5. when Zuko seems the most functional of the group, things have taken twists and turns that I want to see.

    I don't know that I want to see them... it is interesting in that we do get to see a hell of a lot of Zuko's personal growth. Aang, on the other hand, has a lot of it left to do, in the public eye, without family, without his culture...

    LoK leaves a lot of threads hanging, so far (Equalist argument says whaaaat?) and it's frustrating. I feel like AtLA was similar, yet more self-contained, kind of? I wonder if LoK will have comics continuing the story or filling in bits...

    1. A part of the problem with season 2, where Tenzin's family issues are among the more interesting of the stories, is that it was a rush job because of how Nickelodeon treated Bryke. They gave them only one season, then said "hey, rush and do another one".

      If Bryke had been given a full 3 season thing, I think we'd have come out with a much more satisfying exploration of the Equalist issue, rather than having the most interesting developments on that front happen off-screen and in a flashback during the Remembrances episode.