The Legend of Korra Book 3 Roundtable

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Hello Republic City!  For your reading pleasure, here is Pop Torte’s third post-The Legend of Korra roundtable.  Book 3 was a huge step up in quality, which contrasted with constant behind-the-scenes drama.  Here to discuss are Christy Admiraal, Noel Kirkpatrick, Andy Seroff, Elena Thrace, and Kate Tripoli.

Andrew Daar: Good morning, Republic City.  Welcome to the roundtable discussion of The Legend of Korra, Book 3: “Change.”  The season certainly lived up to its subtitle, both in-universe and with regard to behind-the-scenes issues.  We can get into the various off-screen issues later, but to begin, let’s look at what happened onscreen.  Book 3 was a marked improvement over Book 2, and the chatter ‘round the internet is that “Change” is Korra's best season (a statement with which I agree), with some saying it's the best season from the entire Avatar franchise (a statement with which I do not agree).  What say you?  How did “Change,” as a whole, rate on your Avatar-o-meters?

Elena Thrace: For me, “Change” managed to not only be the best season of The Legend of Korra, but helped me appreciate the past two seasons as a whole. It truly embodied the title: not only were there changes in the Avatar world due to the opening up of the spirit world, but the story choices showed a more serious, more complicated world than previously established. I mean, Zaheer air bended the actual life out of someone, AND HE FLEW.

I thought the season managed to tie in themes of chaos and rebirth in really meaningful ways, and just like “Spirits,” I’m really excited to see where the final season goes.

Noel Kirkpatrick: “Change” was good, very good. But it’s no where near as strong a season as “Air” from Legend of Korra and it’s certainly not better than “Earth” from A:TLA. The assertion that “Change” is better than “Air” is one that we can argue, and honestly, I can see a reason for that, but it’s also a set of priorities. I like the tight focus of “Air” over the looser approach to bigger narratives that “Change” offered, but that’s less a critique of the seasons and more a matter of taste.

Anyone who contends that “Change” is the best thing in the entire franchise, however, is just Internet wrong. There’s nothing in “Change” that even approaches “Zuko Alone,” “The Desert,” “City of Walls and Secrets,” “Tales of Ba Sing Se,” “Appa’s Lost Days,” “Lake Laogi,” and “The Crossroads of Destiny.” It is, at its most, a very consistent season of fun, making it 13 episodes at the level of “The Blind Bandit” or “The Drill.” Nothing wrong with that, but nothing that hits earlier heights.

Christy Admiraal: I would put it alongside “Air” as far as quality goes, and go as far as to say that while I found Amon and the anti-bending movement more compelling than the Red Lotus, I enjoyed watching “Change” more. (I strongly disliked the bulk of “Spirits.”) It had some great standalone episodes, Korra was a lot more likable than in previous seasons and didn’t consistently make terrible decisions, and there was plenty of Tenzin, who I think of as the show’s MVP.

But Noel’s right. It’s not in any way better than any of A:TLA.

Kate Tripoli: Guys, this season had Zuko in it, so obviously it’s the best Korra season.

I’m a bit reluctant to make a lot of pronouncements about its place in the rankings because it feels so unfinished. I crave closure, and so even though this was a great season and I enjoyed pretty much every minute of it, I don’t know if I would choose this season to watch on its own without immediately going into Book 4. Leaving Korra so broken is tough. Way more painful than the end of A:TLA Book 2. The expressions on her face during the finale were haunting. Like, that was some “Frodo gets back from Mordor” soul-weariness she was showing.

That’s not a knock on the season, though. I really enjoyed “Change” a lot, mostly because the characters were restored to their complex, lovable selves again. Korra, Asami, Bolin and Tenzin all got some really strong stuff. Korra and Asami becoming besties was probably my favorite development.

ET: I really loved the ending, with Korra’s sunken eyes staring at Jinora, a mixture of half-hope, half-sadness. It was a haunting last image. I’m wondering when (or if) Korra will be the same as she was. I’m so happy with her collective journey thus far: she started off headstrong, stubborn, focused on using brute strength to solve problems. And now…now she’s confined to a wheelchair, stripped of all her physical strength, unable to draw support from her previous spiritual Avatar advisors. It’s a huge 180, and I’m impressed the narrative moved along as such that her journey made sense, and not only that, but was utterly heartbreaking.

Also, Jinora is such a little badass.

Andy Seroff: As always, thanks for inviting me to participate in one of the most thorough discussions of one of the more discussion-worthy shows on telelvision (with some folks who are great at discussions). 

As much as didn’t want to get caught in the season-ranking game, I have to agree with the overall sentiment thus far: Strong Korra season, but probably not stronger than any A:TLA season. Each of A:TLA's seasons so perfectly balanced developing character, setting, and the epic monomyth, that I think it would be impossible to rate any Korra higher without a complete series picture.

I’ll also echo Elena’s point to Changes unlocking some appreciation for seasons that came before. Seeing a purely-Korra Avatar State, and her ‘brokenness’ in the final few minutes, illuminated the differences between the series plotting between A:TLA and Korra. Before ‘Change’, I didn’t necessarily feel like I knew the direction that Korra’s legend was taking, and with limited to no serial character journey to point to, it became easy to focus on how the ‘baddie-of-the-season’ structure was a crippling factor that made Korra inferior to A:TLA. Believing that anyone involved in the production of the show wouldn’t short-sell Korra (and Aang’s television legacy), I was filled with blame for Nickelodeon - “Why are you mangling one of the most critically acclaimed productions to air on their station by requiring enclosed-season endings and not guaranteeing the continuation of the series?” Seeing Changes quelled a lot of that confusion and mistrust - displaying the possibility for serial development within these self-enclosed season plots that hadn’t been made clear yet. For example, it wasn’t until Changes that we discovered the real reason for opening the portals - to have a way to rebuild the air nation. In the same way, I am not worried about the narrative neglect to the presence of spirits beyond the first few episodes of this season, because now I can hope that they get looped around on to be the focus on next season’s story the same way Harmonic Convergence became more than just a thing that happened because a bad guy had the date circled on his calendar.

Quick thoughts: It only took Asami two seasons to get the full team-Avatar treatment, despite appearing in, what, 2 fewer episodes? Bolin needs some help in the comedic-relief department, because the series is adding 10 dark, dramatic characters for every 1 Kai. It felt like they snuck a lot of Lin love in this season, and I think that’s great. I could go for a lot less bogus jeopardy upon finale approach - from the Earth Queen assassination to the poison, were you ever worried? LOVING how they’re treating the ‘extension’ bending skills as time goes on, but three (?) instances of skill discovery in a single finale seemed like a bit much.

AD: This season featured a lot of what I want out of Korra, based on how I perceived the first two thirds of “Air.”  The first season brought up many sociopolitical issues and engaged with them pretty well until then end, when the season didn’t quite stick the landing.  So for me, because “Change” was strong right through to the end and is forcing Korra to deal with long-term consequences, I’m more willing to overlook some of the looser plotting.

The other big draw for me this year is that the creators took part of the show’s subtext that I’d latched onto and made it text.  For the last two seasons, one of my favorite elements of the show was the idea that balance means different things to different people and how that which constitutes balance can shift over time.  This year, Korra was caught between the extremes of Zaheer and the Red Lotus, who espoused the idea that chaos leads to balance, and the Earth Queen, a reactionary obsessed with order and returning the national boundaries to those in place before the 100 Years War.  Much credit is due to Konietzko and DiMartino for telling this story through subtext for two years, but I believe they made it stronger by bringing it to the forefront, because it has forced Korra to actively choose her destiny, rather than do what she thinks she, as the Avatar, is supposed to do.

Kate, I couldn’t help noticing that in your list of characters having strong moments, you left out Mako.  I think we’ve all hit on how “Change” has rehabilitated the characters after “Spirits,” but what did you all think of their growth this year?  This is just the tip of the iceberg for me, but I finally feel that Mako is a worthwhile character, after spending most of the first two seasons as my least favorite member of either the Gaang or Team Avatar 2.0.  Part of this has to do with no misguided romance subplots, but this year, he got to be a competent cop (without unbelievable roadblocks thrown in his way for drama reasons), a supportive brother, and a valuable team member.

KT: Oh yes, Mako was greatly improved over last year, too. I like that Mako and Bolin get to be normal benders of slightly above average skill, as opposed to Katara or Toph, who were super-duper bending masters (because that’s what Aang needed). Even though Mako can bend lightning and now Bolin can bend lava, and even though they did pro-bending, I still don’t get the sense that they are abnormally powerful or special. Which might be a reflection of the age of the audience? LoK is targeting a different age range than A:TLA did, and I think older viewers don’t need quite as much “kid empowerment” in their fiction as younger viewers do.

CA: This season also got a lot of good out of Asami. I love watching her fight alongside them, because she’s equally powerful to Mako and Bolin, and I love the closeness of the relationship between her and Korra now. (As Andrew D. pointed out, there is a LOT of femslash material there.)

AD: The show’s treatment of Asami this year made me very happy.  She had so little to do in “Spirits,” other than make bad decisions about both Future Industries and Mako, so it was very nice to see her bond with Korra and reiterate the value she brings to Team Avatar.  She is a brilliant engineer and a seasoned fighter.

Tenzin also got to shine in new ways.  For all of the faults of “Spirits,” it did help develop the characters (after some intense regression).  Tenzin’s journey in Book 2 forced him to recognize what his weaknesses are, and “Change” saw him as he began to focus on his strengths and delegate tasks that others could do better than him.  He is not a natural leader, so he relies on Bumi’s expertise to build the new airbenders.  He is not an expert on spirit matters, so he relies on Jinora to perform such tasks.

AS: But what a fighter!

NK: Andrew, your point about dealing with long-term consequences remains to be seen. The show kind of went, “Hey, spirits! Some vines! Otherwise, no big deal!” I don’t think the end of Change something that can turn away from as easily, so I’m hoping it’s something that’s given more attention and nuance. But I whole-heartedly disagree about the show making the issue of what balance means to others text here. For starters, it’s been text from the start, and for another, “Change” did a less-than-stellar job of putting that idea forward. We don’t know what the Red Lotus even was, let alone what it wanted, until Episode 9 of 13. That’s a problem when you want to do something meaningful and in line with previous BIG IDEAS and then you end up with boilerplate fictional anarchist-speak. I don’t even know that there was any actual tension over whether Korra would side with Zaheer, and certainly the show side-steps this issue by making it about saving airbenders and people she cares about than saving someone she hates, like Raiko or the Earth Queen. 

On the character front, hells yes. I wanted far more Asami (Book 4 will be True Detective Season 2 with Korra as Ironside and Asami as Columbo; it’s gonna be sweet), but what I got I was happy with. Bolin was significantly rehabilitated, and I was so happy about that. Not just lavabending (not really something I’m exciting about one way or another), but just his entire personality switched back to where he was in “Air.” Mako’s rehabilitation wasn’t as needed since he was the victim more of bad plotting than character departure (he was smart, no one was listening to him) like what happened to Bolin, but I liked that he was the awkward one about the bungled romantic triangle and Korra and Asami were cool as cucumbers about it, and closer than ever.

CA: I still don’t understand why lavabending would be an earthbender’s power, not a firebender’s. I get that we needed Combustion Gal to be the overpowered firebender, but still… Lava’s fire, right?

I’m glad Noel mentioned the rehabilitation of Bolin. I had so cooled on the character after the second season that this was like meeting a whole new creation. I liked that whenever it seemed like he was going to regress to idiocy, he bounced back again — as if saying to himself, “Hey, don’t be that guy.”

I also agree that Zaheer’s defense of his actions was very boilerplate. The show had a solid villain back in “Air,” and while Rollins did a hell of a job with the voicing, Zaheer and the Red Lotus just weren’t all that compelling. Not as disappointing as Unalaq, but still no great shakes.

AD: A brief note about lavabending.  I think it fits perfectly in line with earthbending and what we know about the other bending disciplines.  Lava is liquid rock.  Rocks have to get very hot to change from solid to liquid, so that’s why it’s always burning, but it remains rock.  Waterbenders can turn water from its liquid form to its solid form, so I never had an issue with earthbenders lavabending.

CA: Actually, that makes more sense now that I think about it. I was going by the visual more than the actual composition, I suppose.

KT: I mean, it makes more sense to me than firebenders being able to bend lightning. I’m no scientist, but I don’t think those two things are really related.

AD: Ok, to get this back on track (not that I couldn’t talk for a while about bending mechanics), what story threads, other than the obvious one, are you hoping to see front and center of the final season?  Do you think it will put the focus on the airbenders?  Finding the rest of the Red Lotus?  Korra and Asami running away together?

ET: I really want to see what Korra’s legacy ends up being. In A:TLA there was so much talk and reverence of past Avatars, and Aang was an Avatar who was incredibly in touch with what had happened in the past, and preventing similar events from happening in his lifetime. Korra’s adrift at the end of “Change” more than ever, not only from her spiritual mentors in the past Avatars but also in her own identity.

I’m hoping Book 4 lets her drift for a while before showing her what being the Avatar can mean for her, in her own time, in her own context. I know it’s going to be powerful.

NK: Korra and Asami running away together, please.

I’m not sure what else to expect, at least until they tell us the name of Book 4. I think we can all agree, however, that Kuvira of Zaofu will play a pivotal part somehow considering her name was dropped twice in the finale for no real discernible reason. SHE MUST BE IMPORTANT.

AS: Can we talk about the external forces on the series yet? Cause there’s news in the Book 4 department I think…

AD: Sure.  As everyone who watches the show is aware, there were some shake-ups this year, most disturbingly with the move from being televised to being released solely online.  This came after the season was rushed to air after very little promotion or notice to fans; I think star Janet Varney herself didn’t learn that the new season was going to begin until roughly a week before the season premiere.  Until the move online, new episodes weren’t offered for streaming on Nickelodeon’s website, and the network even advertised that this was the case, in an effort to get more viewers for the televised airings.  In addition, the season began with the airing of three episodes on one night.  People speculated that the rush to air and the airing of three episodes was the result of an accidental airing by a Mexican affiliate of Nickelodeon, but Konietzko and DiMartino specifically denied this in their interview on the Nerdist Writers’ Panel podcast.  They were also very tight-lipped about the reason for the move to online-only distribution, but mentioned that the show had always done very well online.  So obviously there has been a lot of speculation about what has been going on behind the scenes.  Book 4 is already in production (Konietzko and DiMartino also appeared on Janet Varney’s podcast, and they ended the session by saying they were going to go record lines for the final season), and the creators have reiterated that it will be released.  I guess the question is: when?

AS: I heard via word of mouth that Book 4 will be released in January, but only found this to back that rumor up:

Book 4 of The Legend of Korra will be the end of the series and is rumored to be titled Balance. The team has not announced any official premiere date for Book 4 but it is rumored to come out on January 2015.

The assumption is based on the fact that artbooks for the previous season were released alongside the premiere of the next season, and the Book 3 Artbook is slated for a January release.

Seems plausible to me, given the events of Book 3. Finish the series ASAP, probably exclusively online, as a way to wrap the important but ‘unprofitable’ series and move on to programming that is a closer fit to Nick’s brand/demo. What do you think? Is there a possibility Korra rebounds in a conventional TV way, or is the best we can hope for a completed series released streaming online?

And even more importantly, is the shift to streaming an indication that Korra will be the last Avatar we have the pleasure of watching?

[Editor’s note: the creators have confirmed that Book 4 will be titled “Balance,” and will premiere online only on October 3.]

KT: Well, if Korra’s link to the Avatar Cycle is broken, isn’t it possible she’s the last Avatar anyway?

NK: I suspect an online-only release as well, especially if the January thing is true. It is important to remember that there were a number of rumors about when Book 3 would start — April, as I recall — so I’m still taking the January idea with a grain of salt.

As for the last incarnation of the franchise, I would totally think so. In the podcast that Daar linked to, Konietzko and DiMartino make it sound like they’re pretty much done with Avatar as a world, at least for a while, if not for good. And that might be for the best. Any more technological advancement and some fans are going to lose it. Most still don’t even like that cars exist or modern-ish cities (as opposed to country-size cities with massive social inequity…which, apart from the size issue, still sounds pretty modern to me).

AD: Yes, Korra is the end for now.  Konietzko and DiMartino mention some unrelated project they’ve been working on and hope to pitch soon.  Which is why I was wondering what you all were hoping to see in Book 4, as it will almost certainly be our last chance to see anything in this world for many years, if not ever.

Personally, I would like to see some things occur in the Fire Nation, as Book 1 was almost exclusively Republic City, Book 2 featured the Water Tribe, and Book 3 featured the Earth Kingdom.  But I, almost paradoxically, want the series to return to Republic City as well, to see how the democracy reacts in response to the fall of a monarchy, and whether there is any lingering resentment about the United Republic “stealing” territory.  Finally, to touch on what Kate said, I want to see Korra cement her legacy as the new “first” Avatar.  I read the end of Book 2 to mean that the cycle will continue, but without the knowledge of past avatars.  Korra might make her mission more intellectual and spiritual for the sake of her successor, especially if her physical abilities are diminished.

CA: I’d love to see some exploration of the Fire Nation, especially since we’ve only had glimpses of both Zuko and Iroh (the new one, not the spirit one, a character I still believe only exists for nostalgic purposes). I’d be interested to know why Iroh saw fit to intervene in earlier conflicts, but not conflicts with the spirit world or the Red Lotus. And I wouldn’t mind a bit of pro-bending now that the latest forces of evil have calmed down. But I’m not sure I’m in the majority on this; I know some viewers saw the pro-bending plot as derivative. I found it to be a worthy distraction, a great way of tamping down the underlying tension.

Oh, and Korra and Asami. Obviously.

AS: Pro Bending - seconded! I’d like to see the Future Industries Fire Ferrets take on the Wolf Bats now that Bolin can turn the entire platform into lava! Joking aside, It would be a satisfying way to show the growth of all three…or would the next season of Pro Bending include air benders too? That would bookend Team Avatar’s legacy of restoring air bending from nothing quite poetically, while opening the plot to all sorts of air nation politics/conflicts.

Of course, Pro Bending is more likely to be used as an epilogue than a whole season’s plot, especially with the more worthy concern over spirit plants overtaking Republic City.

KT: Who are these people who didn’t like pro-bending? I mean, sure, the intrateam dynamics during Korra’s time with the Ferrets were kind of tedious. But I just love the idea of pro-bending itself because it’s another example of how fully formed this universe is. In most stories about people with extraordinary powers, there’s always this underlying idea that you must never use your powers for ANY sort of personal gain or anything but living the totally self-sacrificing life of a hero. But in the real world, when you can do something significantly better than average, it’s expected that you will use your abilities to make your living with. People don’t think that Michael Jordan was some kind of jerk because he played basketball instead of becoming a soldier or a cop, or doing something else “worthwhile” with his extraordinary athleticism. But when Peter Parker tries to become a wrestler, we kind of roll our eyes and wait for him to discover his “real” purpose. Pro-bending makes a ton of sense to me because it makes the Avatar world feel more real and less like a typical genre world. This is exactly what real people would do with the ability to bend the elements—turn it into sports.

The Legend of Korra: …The More Things Stay The Same

I have not been reviewing The Legend of Korra week-to-week this year due to time constraints.  I came into this season feeling a bit of relief about that, because the problems of Book 2 made watching almost painful at times.  I came into the new season cautiously optimistic.  However, the very first episode of Book 3, subtitled “Change,” helped shift the focus from “cautious” to “optimistic.”  The first half of this season may be Korra's finest work yet, which makes the news about the show being banished to digital releases only all the more painful.  I've felt a renewed drive to talk and write about this show, now that the time to do so is limited.

Book 3 is in many ways new ground for Korra and the entire Avatar franchise.  While things may change in the remaining 5 episodes, “Change” is the first season in which the Avatar’s goal is not in some way tied to defeating a villain.  Aang’s main goal was always to defeat Ozai and end the war.  Korra first had to stop Amon and the Equalists, then she was faced with Unalaq, Vaatu, and the civil war.  In “Change,” peace reigns, and Korra and Tenzin are presented with an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world.  Yes, I’m certain Zaheer and the Red Lotus will play a role in the season’s endgame, but until the latest episode, they were a distraction.  And while Team Avatar has temporarily shifted their priorities to stopping the Red Lotus, they still see it as a minor setback in their true mission (which Tenzin is carrying on), and it is still a personal conflict, rather than a world-threatening one.  (Aiweh’s comment about how deep the conspiracy goes may change that.)

For once, we see what an Avatar might do when she isn’t focused on ending a threat, and the sudden reemergence of airbenders into the world was the perfect story in which to explore that idea.  Korra has always had to struggle with what being the Avatar means and how she is supposed to mete out justice.  Amon was a threat, but his assessment of oppression was not wrong; Tarrlok’s reaction and treatment of nonbenders revealed to her that there are viewpoints beyond her own that she must strive to understand.  The end of “Spirits” furthered this, when Korra realized that for all of Unalaq’s megalomania, he had a point about the division of the physical and spirit worlds.  Now, tasked with a mission that, to Korra and Tenzin, is unambiguously just and righteous, they are struggling with their goal of rebuilding the Air Nomads.  Not because any nation as a whole opposes this or is callous toward the Air Nomads, but because people, at an individual level, are largely unwilling to give up the lives they’re used to in favor of living as monks, subject to an unfamiliar and stern culture.  A monumental change has occurred, and people, being people, are doing everything they can to resist it because accepting it would be inconvenient.

This season has also explored how some things remain constant even as the details change.  The Avatar world may be in a period of peace, but the Avatar still has a significant duty in keeping balance, because war is never too far away.  This time around, the Earth Kingdom is the likely aggressor.  Although the Earth Kingdom was ostensibly an ally to Avatar Aang during the 100 Years War (Long Feng would disagree), Aang’s post-war action of creating the United Republic out of Earth Kingdom territories that had been colonized by the warring Fire Nation, combined with an unhinged new ruler, indicates that Korra and the United Republic are about to be drawn into another fight.  The Avatar’s role is to maintain balance, but in doing so, someone will always feel slighted.  I’ve written about how balance evolves, how Avatar Roku’s idea of balance was based in the four nations living separately, while Avatar Aang’s idea of balance involved the creation of the United Republic.  Avatar Korra had to figure out how to balance the interests of benders and nonbenders (supposedly; although Amon was defeated, the unrest and anger was never fully dealt with), and now she is going to have to address the people who had to sacrifice something to achieve Aang’s idea of balance.

So is the Avatar’s role to create the greatest good for the greatest number?  Or is it to consider the changing times and react accordingly?  Aang and Zuko created the United Republic because the other choices were to let the Fire Nation keep its colonies (upsetting the Earth Kingdom) or return the land to the Earth Kingdom (uprooting the Fire Nation citizens who had made lives for themselves there).  Now, Korra and Tenzin are asking people to give up their old lives to rebuild one of the four bending disciplines and cultures.  In doing so, Korra removed many Earth Kingdom citizens who had manifested airbending, further angering the Earth Queen.  Korra is not acting in a manner to ensure peace; in fact, she seems to be doing exactly the opposite.  Being the Avatar means to keep balance.  But exactly what that means is vague and ever-changing.  What seemed so certain during the 100 Years War is anything but in a time of peace.

Speaking While Female

When you express an idea, especially online, there’s a very good chance that the reaction you receive will depend on whether you are a man or a woman.  (Or, online, whether you are perceived as a man or a woman.)  While both genders are subject to hateful comments, the type and degree of hate directed toward women is of a much different degree than it is toward men.  This is not a newly discovered idea, but it was certainly one of the topics covered by this past weekend’s #YesAllWomen hashtag.

If you were to search the internet, I would wager that you could find men and women saying similar things and receiving different reactions.  But a funny thing happened this week: two publications put out pieces that came to identical conclusions concerning the recent mass shooting at UC-Santa Barbara and the role of culture in shaping people like the alleged perpetrator Elliot Rodger.  The Washington Post’s piece was written by film critic Ann Hornaday, and The Daily Beast’s piece was written by Jeopardy contestant and self-described nerd Arthur Chu.  Neither piece blamed any particular film for Rodger’s actions in Isla Vista.  In fact, neither piece blamed “the media” or “Hollywood” at all.  Both pieces talked about the role of our culture in shaping ideas, about how the culture we consume creates expectations and desires, and how we use culture to determine what is “normal.”  At no point do either Hornaday or Chu argue that the responsibility for Rodger’s actions rest anywhere other than Rodger himself, nor do either of them ever argue for censorship.  And yet the reaction to the two works could not be more different.

Before going further, I feel I must say that this is not a work further examining whether and how our identities are shaped by the media and culture we consume.  Hornaday and Chu have both done excellent jobs making that case, and all I could add here is a defense to the reasoned criticism of their articles.  (There is a good amount of unreasoned criticism.)  My purpose is to point out just how big of a risk a woman takes simply by speaking her mind, and how many men take for granted their relative freedom to speak without fear of horrific reaction.

I have therefore compiled the responses that Hornaday and Chu received to their tweets announcing their articles.  They are collected in the embedded Storify posts below.  I included both Hornaday’s tweet about her initial article and her tweet about a follow-up video made after she was attacked by Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow.  (Be sure to watch her response video; after being angrily attacked by the actor and writer/producer, she gives a very measured, very respectful response.  Furthermore, while her piece never mentioned Rogen by name, he chose to accuse her of misrepresenting him.  As of this writing, Rogen has not yet addressed Chu, even though Chu does specifically refer to Rogen.)*  My collections below include as many response tweets as Twitter showed me, not including arguments between users who were not Hornaday or Chu.  In other words, I did selectively edit the below collections to not to include tweets that did not support my hypothesis; if someone responded directly to Hornaday or Chu’s initial tweet, or if a person’s response to someone else was (1) their first entry into the conversation and (2) directly addressed Hornaday or Chu, I included it.

Looking at the various tweets, I marked whether I found them neutral (simply posting the link), innocuously positive (saying something like “good read”), strongly positive (a message of “great job” or “thank you for writing this” or “well-reasoned,” or anything more exuberant), innocuously negative (a statement of disagreement that was well-reasoned and free of negativity), strongly negative (vehemently calling the conclusion into question, accompanied by a negative comment), personal or demeaning (attacking the character of the writer and name-calling), or confounding (in which I had no idea what the response was getting at).  There were times when categories crossed over; the main time this happened was when a tweet was both strongly critical and included a personal attack.  I did my best to sort them into one or the other, but a few were so egregious that they couldn’t not fall into both categories.

Chu received a total of 49 responses.  Of them, 5 were innocuously negative, rationally explaining their disagreement with his conclusion.  He received 6 innocuously positive responses, and 37 strong positive responses, ranging from telling him his article was great to calling him brave, to thanking him for being an ally.  One response referred to his article as the best response to the shooting.  Chu received one personal attack, in which he was accused of trying to forward a “#NotAllMen” viewpoint disguised as a feminist.  Chu posted subsequent tweets, which are included, in which he referred to someone calling him a “mangina,” but said that 99.9% of the response was positive.  In other words, over 75% of the reactions catalogued here are strongly positive.  Personal comments amounted to barely 2% of the responses.

Hornaday’s first article received 44 responses and her second received 47 responses.  Each of Hornaday’s articles received 2 neutral responses; her first received 3 confounding responses and her second article received 1 confounding response.  Her first article received 1 innocuously positive response and 9 strongly positive responses.  Hornaday’s second article received 1 innocuously positive response and 5 strongly positive responses.   Her first article received 1 innocuously negative response, while her second article received 3 innocuously negative responses.  As for strongly negative, her first article received 10 strongly negative responses that I felt were completely divorced from personal attacks.  As for personal and demeaning responses, her first article received 21.  That’s just over 47%.  As for her second article, there were 14 responses that were strongly negative but not personal, and a whopping 25 personal attacks, or 53%.

These articles aren’t identical, and there are various factors to account for.  For example, one is in the Washington Post and the other is in The Daily Beast.  One received attention because a famous actor and a famous writer/producer attacked the article and the writer.  But both reach the same conclusion, and the responses focus a lot on the conclusion.  Twitter is not a place that fosters nuance, so few of the responses find a way to parse argument from conclusion.  Instead, it’s all-or-nothing, and while Chu is praised up and down for pointing out a problem with our culture, Hornaday is demeaned for shifting the blame and overlooking “the real cause.”  For all of the two pieces’ differences, they share so much, with the biggest difference being the gender of the writer.

*For what it’s worth, I really liked Neighbors.

What You’re Saying When You Lie About Reproductive Healthcare

Do you notice any differences between the people in the two pictures above?  They might look similar, but I assure you there are some subtle discrepancies.  We’ll come back to them in a bit.

Last week, Google decided to remove ads for Crisis Pregnancy Centers (“CPCs”) from results pages generated by people seeking information about abortion services.  Google made the choice after determining that the ads violated their advertising policy, which requires that any factual claims be credible and accurate.  Considering that advertisements are allowed a certain degree of puffery and exaggeration, what must these ads have done to be removed for engaging in false advertising?  As revealed in a study by NARAL Pro-Choice America, 79% of the ads made claims that they offered medical services, including abortion, when in fact the CPCs offered non-medical counseling services and attempted to dissuade women from obtaining an abortion.

For years, CPCs have been accused of providing women seeking reproductive healthcare information with misleading or outright false data and promises.  In 2006, Rep. Henry Waxman released a study finding that 87% of CPCs receiving federal funds provided misleading and false data about physical and mental health effects abortion.  The study also found that the CPCs (which, it cannot be stressed enough, were recipients of federal money) made gross exaggerations regarding medical risks of abortion.

So what does any of this have to do with those two pictures above?  The picture on the right features three clinic escorts – volunteers who ensure that women seeking to enter reproductive health clinics are not intimidated or obstructed from doing so.  These particular clinic escorts regularly wear bright neon yellow vests to make themselves immediately visible to patients.  And the people on the left?  They are the anti-choice protesters (often referred to as “antis” by clinic escorts) who show up to obstruct and intimidate.  In this picture, they have implemented a new tactic: wearing vests similar to those of the escorts, in an effort to confuse patients into believing they themselves are escorts.

Purposely confusing people seeking information about healthcare is repulsive, especially when coupled with misinformation about said healthcare.  But doing so also says something about the antis’ stated motivation of “helping women”: it’s bunk.  The standard line used by antis is that they are here to help women determine all their options and discuss alternatives to abortion.  In fact, the petitioners’ brief in the case of McCullen v. Coakley, currently pending before the United States Supreme Court, explicitly states that the goal of the petitioners is to offer help to women outside of reproductive healthcare clinics.  If this were true, though, the antis would not need to resort to misinformation and falsity.  An alternative option based on falsity is no true alternative.  False information about medical procedures can only harm, because the patient will potentially make a decision that is detrimental to her physical and mental health.  It is also infantilizing, as it removes the patient’s ability to make informed consent and assumes that they are not smart enough to know what is best for themselves.  When a woman seeks information about abortion, some will choose to get the procedure, others will not.  It strains credulity to think someone would not “consider all their options” before choosing to have a medical procedure, especially one that carries the stigma that it does in this country.  The “help” offered by antis is nothing more than an effort to control others.

Even more tellingly though, the need for antis to disguise themselves as clinic escorts – people whom patients know are there to help them – and open CPCs across the street from actual reproductive healthcare clinics underlines not only that women do know what is best for themselves, but also that the antis are well aware of this.  The need to disguise themselves stems from knowing that patients are suspicious of antis and receptive to escorts.  The need to lie about  the health consequences of abortion stems from knowing that abortion is no more or less dangerous than most routine medical procedures.  If a patient has made the decision to get an abortion, an extremely stressful and personal choice, it stands to reason that she has thought her options through and does not want strangers contributing to her stress.  The antis know that patients will try* to ignore them.  As a result, antis try to convince patients they are escorts, hoping to use the time before the patient discovers the ruse to guide the patient to the nearby CPC or sow doubt with misinformation.

The need to lie to win people to your cause is antithetical to the notion that you are presenting the correct point of view or course of action.  These tactics, which prey on people who are trying to obtain information, are repugnant, but they give ample evidence that anti-choice protesters’ goal is to harm in the name of their political agenda.  Whether or not abortion is a viable option for an individual, such tactics should give us all pause about their cause.

*I say “try” because some antis make ignoring them fairly hard.  From graphic signs to shouting to, in some cases, physical violence, some antis really stretch the definition of “help.”

A wonderfully creepy music video of Eliza Rickman’s song “Start With Goodbye, Stop With Hello,” from her album O You Sinners.  The song “Pretty Little Head,” from the same album, was recently featured in The Weather section of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast.

Night Vale and our fear of the unknown

"Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic."
Frida Kahlo (via ruineshumaines)

Knowing Better: Thoughts After The Wind Rises

Last night, I saw The Wind Rises.  My immediate thoughts upon walking out of the cinema were “that film was extremely beautiful, but I would have done so many things differently had I written and directed it.”  Now, I am not a director, nor have I ever written a feature-length screenplay (despite my best efforts), and I started to think about what gives me the right, as a fan of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, to argue that I could have done a better job.  These are just a few of the complicated thoughts I have about this movie.

The Wind Rises is supposedly Hayao Miyazaki’s final film before retirement.  Being a devoted fan of the works of Studio Ghibil, especially those written and directed by Miyazaki, the fact that we may never get another film by one of the greatest living animators fills me with sadness.  This sadness is compounded by the fact that The Wind Rises has received criticism concerning its presentation of imperialist, World War II-era Japan.  In telling a fictionalized version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero fighter planes, Miyazaki addresses without engaging multiple moral quandaries about war, fascism, and dedication.  For me to supply my own analysis of the film’s controversial choices would be to add little to a subject that has already been extensively analyzed.  (For a great, in-depth analysis of the film’s problematic nature, allow me to direct you to Tasha Robinson’s film review at The Dissolve.)

Instead, I will address how the film’s strange refusal to fully engage with certain ideas leaves me conflicted about my role as a fan of Miyazaki’s works.In The Wind Rises, we watch as Jiro follows his dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer.  As a young boy, he was captivated by flight, so much so that he would read English-language aviation magazines, with the aid of an English-to-Japanese dictionary, to learn everything he could about the science of heavier-than-air flight.  He idolizes Count Caproni, an aeronautical engineer from Italy (another future member of the Axis Powers), and comes to see “beautiful airplanes” as a wonderful dream.  As an adult, he is hired by Mitsubishi to design planes for military use.  Throughout the film, Jiro laments that the military will use his planes as tools of war when, ideally, airplanes should be made to allow man to experience the joy and exhilaration of flight for the sake of the joy and exhilaration.  But, even as the film repeatedly shows the governments of Germany and Japan as increasingly fascist, as it repeatedly foreshadows the impending destruction of war, Jiro never gives up on his dream of designing “beautiful airplanes.”  The film admits knows that they will be used as fighters.  The film ends by reminding us that the planes caused death and destruction.  (Although, the destruction element is much more emphasized; a shot of a graveyard of destroyed Zeroes causes Jiro to lament that none of his masterpieces ever returned, almost arguing that the loss of art was a greater tragedy than the loss of life.)  The film does not address that, allegedly,* many of the laborers who constructed planes based on Jiro’s designs were enslaved KoreansMiyazaki wanted to tell the story of a man who wanted to make something beautiful.  To me, he told the story of a man who was so devoted to his dreams that he was willing to pursue them, even though he knew that they would be paid for with blood.

And so, when I walked out of the cinema, I thought that Miyazaki should have made that the focus.  To question whether our dreams are worth pursuing when we know that others will pay a high price for them is a very potent, very tragic idea.  As told by Miyazaki, Jiro Horikoshi had the misfortune of living in an era when the only way he could pursue his dreams would be to sell out his principles.  How do you make such a choice?  Do you give up on your dreams, the desires that have motivated you since childhood?  If you do choose to abandon your dreams in favor of your principles, won’t somebody else just step in and provide the military with planes, thus making your sacrifice futile?  But is the “someone’s going to do it anyway” truly a valid argument for violating your beliefs?  And if you do decide to knowingly make war machines, can you live with the blood on your hands?  These ideas are very superficially addressed in the film.  Jiro and Caproni discuss their disappointment that their work will be corrupted by the military, but neither ever consider refusing to design planes for the military or finding other ways - assuming there are other ways, as there might not have been any entity powerful and rich enough to bankroll airplane design - to realize their dreams.

I kept waiting for the film to force Jiro to address this conflict.  There is even a scene between Jiro and a German critical of Hitler in which the two men discuss that the militarism both countries are expressing will ultimately doom them.  (Consequently, this was one of my favorite scenes in the film.)  Instead, Jiro remains rather passive.  Conflict happens, but he largely side-steps it.  When the Japanese government starts investigating him, he never considers leaving his job in which he works on government contracts.  Most of the shown-not-told inner conflict comes from Jiro’s love of a tuberculosis-stricken woman.  As a result, I could never get fully invested in the movie.  In addition to the film’s more objective storytelling problems (slow pace, problems creating relevant conflict), it never became what I wanted it to become.  Which raises the question: who am I to demand that Miyazaki’s film be what I want it to be?

I’m certain that fan fiction has existed long before the internet, but easy access to self-publishing options and free libraries has made fan fiction almost mainstream.  Online forums allow fans from all over the world to pick apart their favorite films, books, and TV shows, analyzing themes and predicting the direction of ongoing series.  The internet is an amplifier for opinions, and it’s inevitable that people will voice their thoughts about where a story should have gone or whether they thought an author made a mistake.  People are entitled to these opinions.  My question is whether they justify not fully engaging with a work when the author goes against what the fan wants.

A few weeks ago, a friend posted this blog post, which argues that the nature of fandom is loving a work so much and being so familiar with the characters and world that the fans know better than the author.**  Needless to say, both he and I disagreed with that conclusion.  The blogger seems to miss the point of what it means to be a fan; if you know better than the author of what you are a fan of, why are you a fan?  The characters and world you love sprung from the author, and even if you disagree with the direction in which the author is going, the author is not “destroying” your characters or your world.  The love fans feel for a work originated with the author; the author did something to make the fan appreciate something about the work, and a fan can become upset with later choices made by the author, but to argue that the fan knows better than the author is to forget where your adoration came from.  An author may make a silly choice or write a story in a way that upsets you, but it was the author’s choice to make.  An author may listen to criticism (see: the fates of Nikki and Paulo on LOST) or an author may not.  That is the choice s/he is entitled to in his/her role as author.  We as fans do not have to enjoy every part of an author’s story, but it is ultimately futile to say we know better than the author, because the work that exists is the work that exists.  For all the fan fic written, the author’s vision will always be there and will be the basis for the fandom.***  (Except in the case of Friday Night Lights, wherein the second season, despite still existing, was pretty much unwritten in later seasons.)

Keeping this in mind, where do my thoughts about The Wind Rises fit in to this viewpoint?  I have the right to think what I do about the film, but is doing so useless?  The Wind Rises will always be what it is.  It will always be Miyazaki’s vision, which is that of the story of a man who wanted to create something beautiful.  I can criticize it.  I can choose to write a story about the struggle between following your dreams when you know doing so will have adverse consequences on others.  I know that the film is astoundingly beautiful and has many positive elements.  But is the fact that it isn’t what I want it to be a justifiable reason for not being able to engage with it the way I do for Miyazaki’s other films?  Ultimately, I believe that this can be a constructive lesson.  If nothing else, The Wind Rises has given me inspiration to tell the story I want to tell using my own world and characters.  The Wind Rises will never be my favorite Ghibli film, and, while I am happy that I saw it, I may never need to see it again.  But I can be thankful that, in telling his story, Hayao Miyazaki has inspired me to tell the story I want to see.  Art should inspire, and, in its own way, The Wind Rises has succeeded in doing so.  I won’t pretend to think I know better than Hayao Miyazaki, but his art has raised questions to me that I would like to see pursued.  And that, to me, is why I am a great admirer of Miyazaki; even when he creates something that I find lacking, he still succeeds in inspiring me.  Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro engage my imagination.  The Wind Rises engaged my desire to tell stories.

*I say “allegedly” because I cannot confirm this to be true, but, based on the documented treatment of other Asian nations and POWs during World War II, I am willing to include this assertion in my analysis.  If anyone can point to a source to confirm this point, please forward it.

**This article is not from a “professional” writer, so one might think that we can simply discount it.  But the idea presented by it did not come solely from the author, but is the result of a collective attitude.  It is also of such an extreme view that I find it worth addressing, even if it is a fringe view.

***This is not to say that fan fic has no place.  Leigh Lahav presented a very positive view of what fan fic can do and what its “purpose” is.

gingerhaze:

Oh, I know I have it better than a lot of would-be comics buyers, and that’s what worries me. I’ve had it with the self-appointed gatekeepers in comics. 

jeffrubinjeffrubin:

I could tell you alllll about this week’s Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show and go on and on about who the guest is and what we talk about, but @AndrewDaar sells it better than I ever could.

It really is a great episode.

jeffrubinjeffrubin:

I could tell you alllll about this week’s Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show and go on and on about who the guest is and what we talk about, but @AndrewDaar sells it better than I ever could.

It really is a great episode.

Game of Thrones season 4 returns in April.

All hail Oberyn Martell!