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!

Today’s TeeFury.com shirt

Today’s TeeFury.com shirt