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Author Topic: [108] When Extremes Meet  (Read 54688 times)
Ikkin
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« Reply #1125 on: Aug 12, 2013 07:46 pm »

That's all well and good, and I've seen lots of the phenomenon in stuff meant for adults, and that's why I stick to my assertion that even if the camera panned over the pieces of Tarlokk and Amon's bodies in the ocean post-explosion, it would still be a fundamental kiddie story.

When you present ambiguous characters, the more ambiguity you hand them, the less you can allow the overall narrative to ignore their ambiguity. If Korra is otherwise presented as a hero, and a kriffing ghost comes out of nowhere to tell her that she's awesome and flawless, then claiming that Korra is meant to be an ambiguous figure is disingenuous even if it's the creator's intent.

When you say things like the bolded, I'm left wondering how the show is ever supposed to communicate its ambiguity in a way that would satisfy you.  =/  Aang had all of two lines -- "You have finally connected with your spiritual self" and "When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change."  Neither of those are meant to build Korra up as an awesome flawless hero; one acknowledges that she made a connection with the Avatar Spirit for the first time ever, whereas the other pretty much says that she was able to do that because she had nothing left.  Korra is shown as ambiguous; she's not shown as Obviously Good when she's acting right and Obviously Bad when she's not, just responded to by the characters within the story as they could be expected to respond and left alone when she acted with no one was around to judge, which is the only reason you're able to say the show ignores her bad behavior in the first place.


Quote
I mean, Korra is ambiguous because she generally wants to do the right thing but is a colossal jerk and sometime murderer. Mako is ambiguous because he generally wants to be liked but treats people like dirt and is self-centered. The population of RC is ambiguous because they like sports but they'll also cheer as Amon announces that he's about to metaphorically rape a trio of kids younger than ten-years-old. Amon himself is ambiguous because he's not really evil, he's just horribly twisted after an abusive childhood and has managed to convince himself that he's helping the world.

A worthy story to tell, but then LoK itself is a standard adventure story that expects us to always root for Korra to save the city and be happy when she avoids the sads and go "Awww!" when she takes up with her love interest and cheer when she wins at Pro-Bending and flail when she unlocks Airbending, etc. There's no ambiguity in the narrative at all. When Korra tries to murder Tarrlok, the audience goes, "Um," but then a new superpower is introduced and then the bad man throws Korra in a box and we're expected to hope that Mako finds her before it's too late OH NOS!

Everyone fulfills roles in the story that could be colored in black and white- the hero, the hero's love interest, the wise mentor, the jerky but honorable cop, the obstructive bureaucrat, the villain, etc. And you can point to all the ambiguity you want, but it's entirely possible to watch LoK without noticing it and people who do so won't even realize that something is missing. On the contrary, they're getting the superior experience because they're at least getting something like a complete story. The rest of us all are sitting around going, "Well, hopefully future books will have Korra stop trying to murder dudes when she's upset."

When dealing with ambiguous characters, the point is supposed to be, "Look at how the people we try to stick into labels and flat roles are actually complex people whose path in life is the sum of their many parts."

LoK's point is, "Superhero versus supervillain and oh yeah sometimes superheroes are jerks but it all works out anyway so LOL."

LoK's point is, "Let's forget this whole moralizing thing and just write superheroes and supervillains as if they were actual people while leaving the judgements up to the audience."  You're supposed to empathize with Korra, but you're supposed to empathize with everyone, Tarrlok and Amon included, while also understanding that they hurt other people, and the show assumes you can figure out on your own when people are hurting others without lumping them into the "evil" heap.

I mean, you're kind of implying that the story can't be ambiguous because we're supposed to like Korra and want her to succeed and... uh... that's... not how it works...?  Ambiguity can mean holding multiple contradictory views about someone/something and understanding that they're both valid, not just being consistently unsure about which side of the fence they fall on.

Unfortunately, ambiguity of the contradictory-elements sort requires a level of psychological development that is absurdly rare (consider how common cognitive dissonance is when someone's told that something they like has negative connotations for other people!), and crushes down to one side or the other for everyone else.  Choosing to portray a character as ambiguous in that way will inevitably lead to a great deal of misunderstanding... but that doesn't mean it isn't a valid artistic choice to make.

I have not once ran into a fandom in which ambiguous characters were not horribly mischaracterized by the majority of fanworks.  I don't believe it's possible to communicate ambiguity to the majority of an audience, no matter how skilled of a writer one is, and therefore "it's possible to watch LoK without noticing it" is essentially meaningless.
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Antiyonder
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« Reply #1126 on: Aug 13, 2013 01:35 pm »

"LoK's point is, "Let's forget this whole moralizing thing and just write superheroes and supervillains as if they were actual people while leaving the judgements up to the audience.""

Okay, so why does Bryke feel the need to justify their characters when we're suppose to decide how to feel about them.

I mean usually if we're not suppose to like a jerk character, the writer tends to be not be surprised at the fan dislike of said character or defensive.
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freshofftheboat
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« Reply #1127 on: Aug 13, 2013 06:40 pm »

Because I would be surprised too if a horde of indignated people would intimate to boycott a show because they can't stand a character with obvious heroic qualities that committed a couple of disgraceful relationship menagement's miscalculations which he even apologize for(whether he correctly phrased it or not).
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Antiyonder
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« Reply #1128 on: Aug 13, 2013 06:57 pm »

^^^I recall the criticism being more mild before Bryan and Mike flat out dismissed criticism.  If there's any hostility it's because they chose to hide from the criticism rather than addressing it more directly through sexist generalization (butthurt fangirls who wanted Masami to be the true pairing).

Just saying, that Bruce Timm and company turned out a poor performance with their first season of Justice League.  However, they actually used the criticism as a learning experience it to make a much better second season, as such they get more leeway.  And even if season two didn't get greenlit, the creative team at least admit that they made mistakes in the writing of the series.

But going to the source of the criticism, no.  If the characters are suppose to be viewed different ways, then they would have been prepared for various reactions.  And FYI, I'm still talking about Korra, not just Mako.

And at the end of the day, when the more respectable traits don't at least equal the flaws of a character, then no amount of "everyone makes mistakes" fixes that.  If you want a character to merit some respect despite their jerkass tendencies, there needs to be a good balance of flaws and strengths.  Basically earning respect rather than asking/demanding.
« Last Edit: Aug 13, 2013 07:17 pm by Antiyonder » Logged
Loopy
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« Reply #1129 on: Aug 13, 2013 10:45 pm »

LoK's point is, "Let's forget this whole moralizing thing and just write superheroes and supervillains as if they were actual people while leaving the judgements up to the audience."  You're supposed to empathize with Korra, but you're supposed to empathize with everyone, Tarrlok and Amon included, while also understanding that they hurt other people, and the show assumes you can figure out on your own when people are hurting others without lumping them into the "evil" heap.

I mean, you're kind of implying that the story can't be ambiguous because we're supposed to like Korra and want her to succeed and... uh... that's... not how it works...?  Ambiguity can mean holding multiple contradictory views about someone/something and understanding that they're both valid, not just being consistently unsure about which side of the fence they fall on.

Unfortunately, ambiguity of the contradictory-elements sort requires a level of psychological development that is absurdly rare (consider how common cognitive dissonance is when someone's told that something they like has negative connotations for other people!), and crushes down to one side or the other for everyone else.  Choosing to portray a character as ambiguous in that way will inevitably lead to a great deal of misunderstanding... but that doesn't mean it isn't a valid artistic choice to make.

I have not once ran into a fandom in which ambiguous characters were not horribly mischaracterized by the majority of fanworks.  I don't believe it's possible to communicate ambiguity to the majority of an audience, no matter how skilled of a writer one is, and therefore "it's possible to watch LoK without noticing it" is essentially meaningless.

You seem to consider the intent to portray ambiguity as more important than whether or not the story actually does well with it. Yes, I understand the Mike and the Bryan's artistic choice here to be all "edgy" and have a protagonist who isn't perfect (which even Ultimate Spider-Man does, and there isn't a dumber cartoon pretending to enjoyable by anyone older than 10), but ambiguous characters, with real ambiguity in their actions, wouldn't slot into typical Hero and Villain roles, yet that's exactly what we got. If you stripped the ambiguity out of the characters, the plot would function exactly the same way. Yes, you're allowed to build a narrative that expects you to cheer for the ambiguous protagonist, but then what's the point of the ambiguity? All the story beats function exactly the same way, the audience reaction is assumed to be universal, and there's a "right" and a "wrong" way to respond to the characters. Isn't ambiguity about the audience making up their own minds, and there being a mix of responses? I mean, it's lovely to show that even heroes are imperfect, but it's disingenuous to gloss over those imperfections and reward the character for them via supernatural means. "Hey, Korra, you're a psychological mess and the worst person on this entire icecap to be Hero of the World, so here's a power upgrade. Feel free to use it to beat up little kids." (Is that a better summary of Aang's appearance for you? Tongue)

LoK is like... My First Ambiguity: An Easy Start for Lil' Ones. Little dark bits are thrown into the characters to spice things up, but there isn't actually anything challenging because that would be going too far for the kiddies. Let them get used to the idea that all characters aren't Dudley Do-Right first.

Or, you could do something like ATLA where characters were imperfect and have different value systems and made mistakes and even do bad things because of their flaws, and the story is driven by those characters and their unique behaviors. Granted, it's not deep stuff, but at least it's consistent with its own ideals.
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Ikkin
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« Reply #1130 on: Aug 14, 2013 07:25 am »

You seem to consider the intent to portray ambiguity as more important than whether or not the story actually does well with it. Yes, I understand the Mike and the Bryan's artistic choice here to be all "edgy" and have a protagonist who isn't perfect (which even Ultimate Spider-Man does, and there isn't a dumber cartoon pretending to enjoyable by anyone older than 10), but ambiguous characters, with real ambiguity in their actions, wouldn't slot into typical Hero and Villain roles, yet that's exactly what we got. If you stripped the ambiguity out of the characters, the plot would function exactly the same way. Yes, you're allowed to build a narrative that expects you to cheer for the ambiguous protagonist, but then what's the point of the ambiguity? All the story beats function exactly the same way, the audience reaction is assumed to be universal, and there's a "right" and a "wrong" way to respond to the characters. Isn't ambiguity about the audience making up their own minds, and there being a mix of responses? I mean, it's lovely to show that even heroes are imperfect, but it's disingenuous to gloss over those imperfections and reward the character for them via supernatural means. "Hey, Korra, you're a psychological mess and the worst person on this entire icecap to be Hero of the World, so here's a power upgrade. Feel free to use it to beat up little kids." (Is that a better summary of Aang's appearance for you? Tongue)

LoK is like... My First Ambiguity: An Easy Start for Lil' Ones. Little dark bits are thrown into the characters to spice things up, but there isn't actually anything challenging because that would be going too far for the kiddies. Let them get used to the idea that all characters aren't Dudley Do-Right first.

Or, you could do something like ATLA where characters were imperfect and have different value systems and made mistakes and even do bad things because of their flaws, and the story is driven by those characters and their unique behaviors. Granted, it's not deep stuff, but at least it's consistent with its own ideals.

I don't think that intent is more important than execution; I just think that "does most of the audience get it?" is a poor way of judging execution when most of the audience flattens the characters into cardboard regardless of the author's skill.  =P  I'm not sure how one's supposed to judge, to be honest, but the combined opinions of a group of people known to understand nothing outside of extremes is certainly not ideal.

With that said, I think you're missing the point if you're saying that the ability to stuff the characters into Hero and Villain roles means that the ambiguity is all window dressing.  The story, at its core, is a Reconstruction -- it takes the way a character type would work in a Deconstruction (Korra the aggressive, hot-headed hero has serious issues that she needs to overcome in order to obtain some semblance of balance; Mako the love interest from the streets has a serious lack of social graces and gets stuck choosing between two awesome girls instead of the Hero and the illogical Rival; Tarrlok and Amon are sympathetic former abuse victims rather than pure evil but they need to go down anyway) and then intentionally chooses to make it work within the original structure.  The deconstructive elements are still there, but they work towards a more-complete whole rather than tearing the structure apart for the sake of it.

As for ambiguity being about making up your own mind, I think in this case, the hope is that the audience can empathize with everyone, because the authors believe that everyone deserves to be understood as their own person no matter how unappealing they may seem as a person.  That's... not the same as expecting universal like or dislike.

The "Hey, Korra, you're a psychological mess and the worst person on this entire icecap to be Hero of the World, so here's a power upgrade. Feel free to use it to beat up little kids" thing as written in your post is still ridiculous and extreme and shows little capacity for subtlety, but you probably already guessed that.  =P  It's still not a reward, or anything but the consequence of Korra connecting with the Avatar State, and the fact that it does get misused is clear proof that it's not meant to fix everything.  The "My First Ambiguity" thing is rich, too, considering how this conversation has gone so far.  The ambiguity isn't for kids; they'll never get it.  The ambiguity is for the portions of the older audience who aren't too busy pretending their favorite characters are flawless and the characters they dislike are baby-eating abusive boyfriends.  =P
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Mr Grieves
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« Reply #1131 on: Aug 14, 2013 08:05 am »

As for ambiguity being about making up your own mind, I think in this case, the hope is that the audience can empathize with everyone, because the authors believe that everyone deserves to be understood as their own person no matter how unappealing they may seem as a person.  That's... not the same as expecting universal like or dislike.

If this is the case then why is the main threat throughout the series - the equalists - simply brushed over after their defeat as if there weren't legitimate grounds for their actions?

Because the evidence from the show seems to suggest that we're meant to be okay with that rushed resolution because oh well I guess they wee just bad guys after all.
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Ikkin
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« Reply #1132 on: Aug 14, 2013 10:41 am »

As for ambiguity being about making up your own mind, I think in this case, the hope is that the audience can empathize with everyone, because the authors believe that everyone deserves to be understood as their own person no matter how unappealing they may seem as a person.  That's... not the same as expecting universal like or dislike.

If this is the case then why is the main threat throughout the series - the equalists - simply brushed over after their defeat as if there weren't legitimate grounds for their actions?

Because the evidence from the show seems to suggest that we're meant to be okay with that rushed resolution because oh well I guess they wee just bad guys after all.

The Equalists, as a cult of personality, function as an extension of Amon's power.  We're given the Lieutenant and his clear suffering at the realization he was betrayed as an empathetic stand-in for the Equalists as a whole, but they were always meant to be deluded into using a minority group with some advantages as a scapegoat for the city's economic issues, not an antagonist with a point.
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NeeNee
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« Reply #1133 on: Aug 14, 2013 11:35 am »

I don't think that intent is more important than execution; I just think that "does most of the audience get it?" is a poor way of judging execution when most of the audience flattens the characters into cardboard regardless of the author's skill.  =P  I'm not sure how one's supposed to judge, to be honest, but the combined opinions of a group of people known to understand nothing outside of extremes is certainly not ideal.

So basically, most of the people on this forum are idiots?


Quote
The "Hey, Korra, you're a psychological mess and the worst person on this entire icecap to be Hero of the World, so here's a power upgrade. Feel free to use it to beat up little kids" thing as written in your post is still ridiculous and extreme and shows little capacity for subtlety, but you probably already guessed that.  =P  It's still not a reward, or anything but the consequence of Korra connecting with the Avatar State, and the fact that it does get misused is clear proof that it's not meant to fix everything.  The "My First Ambiguity" thing is rich, too, considering how this conversation has gone so far.  The ambiguity isn't for kids; they'll never get it.  The ambiguity is for the portions of the older audience who aren't too busy pretending their favorite characters are flawless and the characters they dislike are baby-eating abusive boyfriends.  =P

And we're 'too busy pretending our favourite characters are flawless and the characters we dislike are baby-eating abusive boyfriends' too? That's wonderful. I feel so flattered. [/sarcasm]

Tell me, Ikkin, where are these 'portions of the older audience who aren't too busy pretending their favorite characters are flawless and the characters they dislike are baby-eating abusive boyfriends'? Because as far as I've seen, some of these issues are almost universal complaints, both among forum-goers and reviewers. You keep saying that everyone who doesn't agree with you is just too dumb to get it, but it almost seems like the only people who do get it are you and your imaginary friends (or perhaps there are actual people out there, I don't know. We certainly don't hear much of them).

If an artist tries to convey a message in his art, but 90% of the audience doesn't get it, can you still say he succeeded in his purpose?
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Ikkin
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« Reply #1134 on: Aug 14, 2013 05:15 pm »

I don't think that intent is more important than execution; I just think that "does most of the audience get it?" is a poor way of judging execution when most of the audience flattens the characters into cardboard regardless of the author's skill.  =P  I'm not sure how one's supposed to judge, to be honest, but the combined opinions of a group of people known to understand nothing outside of extremes is certainly not ideal.

So basically, most of the people on this forum are idiots?

...no...?  o_0  As I said above, I've found the ability to integrate and appreciate seemingly contradictory elements of characterization to be surprisingly rare, and I'm pretty sure it's the sort of thing that requires intentional development rather than common sense.  You might as well accuse me of calling everyone idiots for saying that most readers won't understand James Joyce's Ulysses.


Quote
Quote
The "Hey, Korra, you're a psychological mess and the worst person on this entire icecap to be Hero of the World, so here's a power upgrade. Feel free to use it to beat up little kids" thing as written in your post is still ridiculous and extreme and shows little capacity for subtlety, but you probably already guessed that.  =P  It's still not a reward, or anything but the consequence of Korra connecting with the Avatar State, and the fact that it does get misused is clear proof that it's not meant to fix everything.  The "My First Ambiguity" thing is rich, too, considering how this conversation has gone so far.  The ambiguity isn't for kids; they'll never get it.  The ambiguity is for the portions of the older audience who aren't too busy pretending their favorite characters are flawless and the characters they dislike are baby-eating abusive boyfriends.  =P

And we're 'too busy pretending our favourite characters are flawless and the characters we dislike are baby-eating abusive boyfriends' too? That's wonderful. I feel so flattered. [/sarcasm]

I'm not saying that
Quote
everyone
who doesn't get it falls into that group (and I certainly didn't mean to include anyone I'm currently speaking to!).  I'm just pointing out that some of the most vocal detractors of the show can't possibly be used as evidence of the show's failure given their clear tendency towards absurd extremes.


Quote
Tell me, Ikkin, where are these 'portions of the older audience who aren't too busy pretending their favorite characters are flawless and the characters they dislike are baby-eating abusive boyfriends'? Because as far as I've seen, some of these issues are almost universal complaints, both among forum-goers and reviewers. You keep saying that everyone who doesn't agree with you is just too dumb to get it, but it almost seems like the only people who do get it are you and your imaginary friends (or perhaps there are actual people out there, I don't know. We certainly don't hear much of them).

Most of the ones I've met are on Tumblr, writing some of the most well-characterized fanfics out there and hiding from the negativity.  =P  I know I wouldn't have stuck around as long as I did in this sort of discussion as someone who actually enjoyed the show if I didn't love to argue.

As for the reviewers, is that actually true?  Most of the big sites that reviewed the show as it was airing liked it a lot (with IGN being incredibly positive, the AV Club being positive and introducing the suicidal-Korra interpretation of the finale, and The Wall Street Journal hyping it up to the heavens); Mark Watches watched it later and was less positive, but he got caught up in the Equalist hype, so that seems to have been inevitable.  Fan reviewers might be a different story, but I don't think I've ever seen a piece of media that didn't get slaughtered in fan reviews after the initial hype wound down, so...there's that.


Quote
If an artist tries to convey a message in his art, but 90% of the audience doesn't get it, can you still say he succeeded in his purpose?

Well, if the artist's message requires special training to understand that 90% of the audience doesn't have, it'd be hard to say he failed.  That's...pretty much the core principle behind thinking literary fiction has any value whatsoever.
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« Reply #1135 on: Aug 14, 2013 05:31 pm »

^^^Again,  remind you that the negativity comes from some portions of the fanbase inferring that we're wrong not to worship the main leads or being critical.  I myself get along just fine with some of the other fans that actually respect and understand our right to be critical.

Just saying that before the more rabid fans and Bryke played the "haters gonna hate" card, criticism tended to be more mild.  And even then, we don't begrudge those who do like Book One, the charatcers or even Makorra.
« Last Edit: Aug 14, 2013 05:44 pm by Antiyonder » Logged
Loopy
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« Reply #1136 on: Aug 14, 2013 10:47 pm »

I don't think that intent is more important than execution; I just think that "does most of the audience get it?" is a poor way of judging execution when most of the audience flattens the characters into cardboard regardless of the author's skill.  =P  I'm not sure how one's supposed to judge, to be honest, but the combined opinions of a group of people known to understand nothing outside of extremes is certainly not ideal.

The question, though, is who the intended audience is supposed to be. A little warning in the build-up to LoK's premiere that only a special select few with special ambiguity training are going to be able to enjoy the show would have saved the Mike and the Bryan a lot of Mako-related hate-mail. I have a hard time believing that they set out to narrow their audience by such a large factor. At best, I think they perhaps over-estimated the percentage of their audience who liked such a thing, in which case, it is definitely a failure on their part.

As an engineer, if I make a device with sharp moving blades that is only meant to be handled by adults, and then I peddle the thing to kids, I'm definitely responsible for every severed little finger that results.

With that said, I think you're missing the point if you're saying that the ability to stuff the characters into Hero and Villain roles means that the ambiguity is all window dressing.  The story, at its core, is a Reconstruction -- it takes the way a character type would work in a Deconstruction (Korra the aggressive, hot-headed hero has serious issues that she needs to overcome in order to obtain some semblance of balance; Mako the love interest from the streets has a serious lack of social graces and gets stuck choosing between two awesome girls instead of the Hero and the illogical Rival; Tarrlok and Amon are sympathetic former abuse victims rather than pure evil but they need to go down anyway) and then intentionally chooses to make it work within the original structure.  The deconstructive elements are still there, but they work towards a more-complete whole rather than tearing the structure apart for the sake of it.

This doesn't match my understanding of a Reconstruction. My impression was that Reconstructions are supposed to justify and explore why those more complex characters are supposed to work in the old roles, just like a Deconstruction looks at those stock roles and explores what kind of people would have to fill them and how the roles fall apart as a result.

But what's the justification for why Korra is a hero? What was explored in her, in that regard? She just... wants to be a hero, despite her sometimes murderous anger issues. And I'm not even exaggerating, that's exactly the level of depth given to the matter. Yes, there's possibly a whole psychology about why she sometimes melts people's faces off, but none of how it works in with the rest of her personality or how she feels about it. Same with Mako. Nothing is Reconstructed because the Deconstructions aren't reversed or addressed.

I wouldn't even say that Korra is a worthwhile Deconstruction of a hero, either. She's just a case study of what happens when you lock a kid in a closet and tell her she can't come out until she's a superhero.
« Last Edit: Aug 15, 2013 05:50 pm by Loopy » Logged

Aton
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« Reply #1137 on: Aug 15, 2013 02:33 am »


I wouldn't even say that Korra is a worthwhile Deconstruction of a hero, either. She's just a case study of what happens when you lock a kid in a closet and tell her she can't come out until she's a superhero.

I like that quote.
I mean, Korra was hidden and protected at the south pole. Then she wents to a big city, and what she likes most (at least it seems so) is call people chumps and beat them up? Interesting.

However, I'm quite sure that this was intended. In the last episode she came in contact with her "real self". That has to make some influence on her attitude ... however I'm yet not sure about the direction.
« Last Edit: Aug 15, 2013 02:36 am by Aton » Logged
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« Reply #1138 on: Aug 15, 2013 04:56 am »

You might as well accuse me of calling everyone idiots for saying that most readers won't understand James Joyce's Ulysses.

Okay I'll bite. The difference here is that I could easily find a whole bunch of textual evidence that would support the belief that Joyce is looking to challenge and deconstruct literary traditions. You can debate their meaning, but Ulysses' treatment of different literary forms, and their presence alongside the mundane and often vulgar subject matter, is no accident. So no, I don't believe someone is an idiot for not understanding Joyce, but you'd be pushing it to suggest that we're meant to take the novel simply at face value.

The Legend of Korra, on the other hand, doesn't appear to provide any textual evidence that the writers want to challenge the genre. Mako is the best example here. Watching the finale, it doesn't appear as if there is meant to be any doubt as to his character or his relationship with Korra. They hug and say they love each other and the bad guy has been defeated and nice music plays and the conflict is, essentially, wrapped up. Where is the grey area here? And Bryke's comments support this, in that they seem genuinely surprised to see Mako perceived as anything other than a good guy.

I am all for this sort of analysis. But it seems like you've got a view of the series already in mind and you're distorting the text to fit that. You act as if you've got a critical eye, but I have never once seen you view your own reading with any criticism whatsoever.
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Ikkin
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« Reply #1139 on: Aug 15, 2013 07:27 am »

I don't think that intent is more important than execution; I just think that "does most of the audience get it?" is a poor way of judging execution when most of the audience flattens the characters into cardboard regardless of the author's skill.  =P  I'm not sure how one's supposed to judge, to be honest, but the combined opinions of a group of people known to understand nothing outside of extremes is certainly not ideal.

The question, though, is who the intended audience is supposed to be. A little warning in the build-up to LoK's premiere that only a special select few with special ambiguity training are going to be able to enjoy the show would have saved the Mike and the Bryan a lot of Mako-related hate-mail. I have a hard time believing that they set out to narrow their audience by such a large factor. At best, I think they perhaps over-estimated the percentage of their audience who liked such a thing, in which case, it is definitely a failure on their part.

As an engineer, if I make a device with sharp moving blades that is only meant to be handled by adults, and then I peddle the thing to kids, I'm definitely responsible for every severed little finger that results.

The thing is, if you're someone who loves the sort of characters who are ambiguous through contradictions, it's really easy to forget that it's not something most people understand.  >_>;  I mean, it seems like it should be common sense; it just tends not to be in practice.  (It also seems entirely unfair to deny that sort of person their fun just because they're not in the majority.  =P  You don't have to have a majority view to be worth targeting as an audience)

And, in any case, Bryke didn't make a device with sharp moving blades that shouldn't be used by kids and then try to sell it to them.  They made a device with a kid mode in which the sharp moving blades were kept safely inside (the "pure heroes and villains" interpretation), and an adult mode that offered more options by making the blades accessible (the ambiguity), and half of the teenage audience broke through the child protection wanting more, then wondered why they got cut.

(If they underestimated anything, I think, it's the number of people who'd fall in the middle.  =/ )


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With that said, I think you're missing the point if you're saying that the ability to stuff the characters into Hero and Villain roles means that the ambiguity is all window dressing.  The story, at its core, is a Reconstruction -- it takes the way a character type would work in a Deconstruction (Korra the aggressive, hot-headed hero has serious issues that she needs to overcome in order to obtain some semblance of balance; Mako the love interest from the streets has a serious lack of social graces and gets stuck choosing between two awesome girls instead of the Hero and the illogical Rival; Tarrlok and Amon are sympathetic former abuse victims rather than pure evil but they need to go down anyway) and then intentionally chooses to make it work within the original structure.  The deconstructive elements are still there, but they work towards a more-complete whole rather than tearing the structure apart for the sake of it.

This doesn't match my understanding of a Reconstruction. My impression was that Reconstructions are supposed to justify and explore why those more complex characters are supposed to work in the old roles, just like a Deconstruction looks at those stock roles and explores what kind of people would have to fill them and how the roles fall apart as a result.

But what's the justification for why Korra is a hero? What was explored in her, in that regard? She just... wants to be a hero, despite her sometimes murderous anger issues. And I'm not even exaggerating, that's exactly the level of depth given to the matter. Yes, there's possibly a whole psychology about why she sometimes melts people's faces off, but none of how it works in with the rest of her personality or how she feels about it. Same with Mako. Nothing is Reconstructed because the Deconstructions aren't reversed or addressed.

I wouldn't even say that Korra is a worthwhile Deconstruction of a hero, either. She's just a case study of what happens when you lock a kid in a closet and tell her she can't come out until she's a superhero.

Okay, so: Korra is a Reconstruction of a particular kind of hero, namely the violent, self-absorbed jerkface that shows up in a lot of action movies.  "Why is she the hero?" isn't the thing in question; instead, the construction of her character attacks and rebuilds the trope in question from two different angles.

On the one hand, the show asks, "what would make a character who means well act like this?"  The action movie figure usually operates under the assumption that the protagonist would be a valuable addition to society if only he bothered to grow up, but, honestly, "hasn't grown up yet" is a terrible excuse for some of the nonsense action movie protagonists pull.  If you rob a convenience store to impress a girl with a burrito, you probably have far greater issues than being a bit immature.  =P  For Korra, though, this is resolved through her exhibition of identity issues.  She lacks emotional control and can behave erratically when pushed, but much of that is a product of the desperation that goes hand in hand with constructing a false identity.  When she tries to murder Tarrlok, it's for that exact reason -- he's caused her to call her identity into question, and that feels like a deadly threat because her identity is so unstable.

And, on the other hand, the show asks, "what would it take to fix someone like that?"  The standard action movie answer is for the character to get knocked down a peg, then learn to grow up (because the only thing between the protagonist and proper behavior, supposedly, is immaturity).  The character makes a mistake, gets yelled at/loses his privileges for a bit, grows up, saves the day, and impresses everyone who doubted him with his awesome heroism (*yawn*).  In Korra's case, though, the answer is that she needs to learn to love herself as a person instead of relying on a constructed self-image, and that means having everything she values torn away and realizing there's something in herself worth saving regardless.  It's a much, much less idealistic view than the usual one, even if she isn't left to deal with her despair for very long; one of the show's conceits is that it's impossible for her to fix herself without allowing others to help her overcome her issues.

...also, as I've said before, the melting peoples faces off thing is pretty well linked in to the rest of who Korra is.  She can be a perfectly nice person sometimes, but that's to be expected given that her misbehavior tends to be a result of her instability rather than a result of any inherent bad nature.  The idea is that she's a good person who got really messed up, not that she's a messed-up person who acts good sometimes for no real reason.  =P


You might as well accuse me of calling everyone idiots for saying that most readers won't understand James Joyce's Ulysses.

Okay I'll bite. The difference here is that I could easily find a whole bunch of textual evidence that would support the belief that Joyce is looking to challenge and deconstruct literary traditions. You can debate their meaning, but Ulysses' treatment of different literary forms, and their presence alongside the mundane and often vulgar subject matter, is no accident. So no, I don't believe someone is an idiot for not understanding Joyce, but you'd be pushing it to suggest that we're meant to take the novel simply at face value.

The Legend of Korra, on the other hand, doesn't appear to provide any textual evidence that the writers want to challenge the genre. Mako is the best example here. Watching the finale, it doesn't appear as if there is meant to be any doubt as to his character or his relationship with Korra. They hug and say they love each other and the bad guy has been defeated and nice music plays and the conflict is, essentially, wrapped up. Where is the grey area here? And Bryke's comments support this, in that they seem genuinely surprised to see Mako perceived as anything other than a good guy.

I am all for this sort of analysis. But it seems like you've got a view of the series already in mind and you're distorting the text to fit that. You act as if you've got a critical eye, but I have never once seen you view your own reading with any criticism whatsoever.

The point of the love triangle isn't that the Makorra relationship is supposed to be questionable; the point is that love triangles hurt.  >_>;

I mean, I'll admit that Mako's characterization could have been done better.  But the ambiguity there isn't, "is Mako behaving well?" (because he isn't) or "is Mako bad for Korra?" (because he isn't that either).  The point is that being in a love triangle is miserable and inevitably hurts people who have done nothing wrong (see: all of the shots of Asami looking sad that wouldn't be there if we weren't meant to empathize with her position), and people don't always react the way they should when confronted with a situation in which someone will inevitably be hurt (see: Mako's reaction in 110, which was clearly meant to be a mistake on his part).  There's plenty of evidence that the resolution of that sub-plot wasn't intended to be unambiguously happy, even if Korra did get what she wanted in the end.

Besides, the happy ending was Korra's more than Mako's.  Mako isn't rewarded for his mistakes -- Korra's rewarded for finally connecting with her spiritual self.  =P

(How am I supposed to look at my own reading with a critical eye, anyway?  That's what other people debating me are for -- if I think someone made a point I can't respond to, I'll admit it)
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Child of the Elements - A look at Korra's childhood with the Order of the White Lotus. (Complete)
freshofftheboat
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« Reply #1140 on: Aug 15, 2013 11:36 am »

^Perfect, as usual, Ikkin.
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The character makes a mistake, gets yelled at/loses his privileges for a bit, grows up, saves the day, and impresses everyone who doubted him with his awesome heroism (*yawn*)
  Grin
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Antiyonder
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« Reply #1141 on: Aug 15, 2013 01:58 pm »

Ikkin: Responding here, http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=21688.msg2300595#msg2300595
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Weege the Airbender
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« Reply #1142 on: Sep 24, 2014 09:06 pm »

I still got chills watching this episode again. Truly the best episode of Book 1. Heck one of the best Korra episodes period.
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Colonel_Brian
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« Reply #1143 on: Dec 30, 2014 08:04 pm »

I wouldn't say the best, but it was the last good episode of Book Air in my opinion. The twist with Tarrlok at the end was cool as was the flashback. Other than that and Tenzin, I couldn't have cared less about Team Avatar coming together. I eventually forgave the writers and became invested in them again in Book Spirits, but everything this season concerning their dynamic and their troubles meant nothing to me.
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