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Author Topic: Dissecting the Avatar's role  (Read 310 times)
longman83
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« on: Sep 02, 2018 05:39 pm »

Continued from this thread.

It’s news to me that Avatars aren’t supposed to intervene when injustices are running rampant. Roku, Aang and Korra all intervened in matters that were not just spiritual. Her duty as the Avatar is to ensure peace and justice as well as be a bridge between the spirits and humanity.

It's news to me that injustice has anything to do with the Avatar. Otherwise, why didn't any Avatar do anything about Ba Sing Se's social inequality? Why wasn't either Aang or Korra prepared for active participation in world politics? Why was Aang's lack of 'Avatar training' only brought up when he needed to deal with Hei Bai?

Moreover, what is "injustice?" Is there some kind of global law that determines when an Avatar is supposed to act? Is the world governed by the Avatars? If the Avatar thinks a national leader is a little too hands-off, is the Avatar actually supposed to remove that leader from power or exert some kind of control? Is that a good thing for the world?

Notice how Roku didn't remove Sozin from power over the colonies. He left Sozin alive after trying to kill him as a concession to their friendship, but Roku didn't say anything about having the authority to dethrone Sozin.

Likewise, Korra couldn't even do anything about Tarrlock or Raiko, despite them both undermining her authority as Avatar. Raiko could even banish her from his city for something that was his fault!

The Avatar has no authority over justice. QED The Avatar maintains the balance of the world, keeping the four nations from destroying each other, and protecting humans and spirits from each other.

Roku DID threaten to end Sozin if he were to step out of line again and Kyoshi did say “How dare you defy your Avatar’”. These two instances kind of imply that the Avatar’s authority does supersede that of a monarch. Their actions had to be more than regarding the spirits or preventing nations from attacking one another. I just find it hard to believe that Kyoshi’s hands would be tied in regarding a vicious warlord cruelly taking over the Earth Kingdom.

Roku only threatened Sozin after the latter tried to kill him. Roku was actually on his way out of the palace  when Sozin attacked, suggesting that there was no consideration of the conquered Earth Kingdom territories being sufficient grounds for immediate removal.

Kyoshi rebuked the Earth King for setting his guards on her after she refused to blindly do his bidding, and she only came to Ba Sing Se at his request if I remember correctly.

What is clear is that attacking the Avatar is a big no-no.

What is strongly implied is that the Avatar has no direct political authority over the Four Nations, and thus no license to interfere outside of keeping world balance - that is, harmony between the Four Nations and between the mortal and spirit realms.

In LoK things changed a bit, with Korra seeing fit to tackle local conflicts such as the Equalist revolution in Republic City and the  inter-Water Tribe conflicts. Although she said she was no longer the spiritual bridge after Harmonic Convergence, nothing really changed practically speaking. The Vines in Republic City were still her job.

Her hands weren't tied, and I never said otherwise. Anyone in the entire world could have stepped forward and challenged Chin at any time. As Avatar, Kyoshi had the power to go and assassinate him whenever she wanted. But, as you might have noticed in AtLA, there's a thought that just killing a bad guy isn't enough to destroy what they represent, that they need to be taken down in a certain way to show the triumph of a certain cause or idea as well.

Kyoshi chose a certain time and place to challenge Chin. And it's not hard to figure out what she was saying with that choice.

There are plenty reasons why Kiyoshi didn't take down Chin during his rise to power. The simplest and best explination would be that Chin came into power while Kiyoshi was away during her Avatar training.

By my calculations Kyoshi was in her 40s when she killed Chin, so if she was in training beforehand then she'd be something of a late bloomer.
« Last Edit: Sep 02, 2018 05:54 pm by longman83 » Logged
plushu
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« Reply #1 on: Sep 05, 2018 12:41 pm »

Addressing mostly Loopy from the other thread (linked above)

But yes, I think she would have let him keep the EK if he hadn't challenged her. She has no formal power in the Earth Kingdom. Chin was by all accounts an awful man, but we saw that the Earth King in her time was also awful. The Avatar has no business getting involved in scrambles for a crown. The Avatar is the Bridge Between Worlds. She pushed back when Chin sought to make the Avatar subordinate to him, which could not be allowed if Kyoshi and all subsequent Avatars wanted to do their job.

She pushed back because Chin came to conquer her home.  Kyoshi was an isolationist who literally separated her home from the rest of the continent and, apparently, filled the waters around it with dangerous animals to repel visitors.  This isolationist attitude is something we see in Warriors of Kyoshi when they're attacked for coming ashore and Oyaji tells Aang that Kyoshi Island has "stayed out of the war".  She founded the Kyoshi Warriors to protect the island from "outsiders".

Chin appears to have created the modern EK through his conquests, something Kyoshi didn't feel she needed to rectify after he had died.  For all we know, the Earth Kings and Queens could be his children's descendants.


Then there was the whole issue with the Earth King. She had a chance to make the Earth King act like the leaders of the other nations, ie actually play an active role in the kingdom as opposed to holing up in a palace. I get that what the Dai Li became wasn’t her intention, but trying to maintain the “cultural heritage” would obviously ensure that things would stay the same.

The short says that the "cultural heritage" is actual art and architectural pieces being destroyed in riots. That's what the Dai Li were supposed to protect, not a culture of oppression.

The Dai Li were always a military force meant to maintain order at any cost.  Kyoshi trained them herself to be "feared by all".  She wasn't training them to be archivists or curators or scholars who would dedicate their lives to the preservation of Ba Sing Se's cultural heritage.  She was training them to be earthbending masters (an "elite" force).  Why do that unless your intent is specifically to train a fighting force?  And who were they put in place to fight?  The People who would challenge Order!  They were put in place to protect the status-quo which meant keeping the 46th Earth King in power.  She even said she would "protect his interests".

Obviously, she wasn't very bright.  She trained a military force to protect Stuff and then was surprised when it continued to operate as a military force that protected "Stuff".  They did exactly what they were trained to do.  One could even argue that their whole thing for joining Azula was a sort of peaceful surrender to protect the city's "priceless" artifacts from any future destruction which might be caused by Fire Nation troops storming the place to take it over.


Anyway, once again, it's not the Avatar's business to judge a ruler and oust him if she doesn't like him.

Using force to keep a keep a ruler in power is no different than using it to oust a ruler.  The kind of neutrality you're suggesting would mean she should have done nothing by ignoring the Earth King's request to quash the uprising and let the rebellion run its course.  The second she intervened on the Earth King's behalf, she directly involved herself in the affairs of a sovereign nation.


"Justice" is nowhere in the Avatar's job description. Kyoshi negotiated a settlement between the peasants and the King that satisfied the peasants' demands, which was very nice of her.

She only said he had to "listen" to their grievances.  Apparently, he wasn't a good listener.  We saw nothing to suggest that she made sure their grievances had been addressed.  Judging from what we've seen about how that place was run, it looks like she created an even more oppressive situation for the people who lived there.  It may not be the Avatar's job to interfere with foreign governments; it should not be their job to create more hardships for people.

Escape from the Spirit World: Avatar Kyoshi --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqnfCsqLPpE


It’s news to me that Avatars aren’t supposed to intervene when injustices are running rampant. Roku, Aang and Korra all intervened in matters that were not just spiritual. Her duty as the Avatar is to ensure peace and justice as well as be a bridge between the spirits and humanity.

It's news to me that injustice has anything to do with the Avatar. Otherwise, why didn't any Avatar do anything about Ba Sing Se's social inequality? Why wasn't either Aang or Korra prepared for active participation in world politics? Why was Aang's lack of 'Avatar training' only brought up when he needed to deal with Hei Bai?

Aang's only purpose for going after Ozai was because the Fire Nation's War On Everything would irreparably harm the balance.  But going after Ozai meant that Aang would be interfering in the political machinations of a sovereign nation.  Unlike Kyoshi, he would be using his force to remove a ruler rather than protect one.  But it really is The Same Thing.

The problem here is that Aang takes the word of Bumi and Roku and does nothing to investigate these claims that the balance is, in fact, in jeopardy.  But he's twelve and he trusts them so.. whatever. *shrugs*  And we don't really question it even though there's no hard evidence to suggest the world is so out-of-balance that it is on the brink of...  I mean, what does any of that even mean, really?  But it doesn't change the fact that Aang's only mission was to take out a world leader.

I can't tell but it seems like you're claiming the Avatars have mostly been neutral?  Or they should be neutral?  The only truly neutral Avatar was Kuruk.  He apparently stayed in his own lane and quietly lived his life and probably goofed off way too much.  He was punished for his lack of seriousness and worldly involvement.  This is the most compelling case for arguing that the Avatar's job is to actively "shape the world".  How does one do that?  By maintaining order and pushing agendas that the Avatar sets under the guise of protecting "the balance".  Well...  There are other ways.  But the Avatar is a literal force of nature and has always used that force to get their point across.  I would hardly call Roku neutral.  He came for Sozin to the point that Sozin was terrified of him.


Moreover, what is "injustice?" Is there some kind of global law that determines when an Avatar is supposed to act? Is the world governed by the Avatars? If the Avatar thinks a national leader is a little too hands-off, is the Avatar actually supposed to remove that leader from power or exert some kind of control? Is that a good thing for the world?

Easy answer but no one likes it.  The Avatar is a God among people.  There are no rules which govern the Avatar in the Physical World.  An "injustice" is whatever the Avatar says it is.  The only reason the Avatar hasn't tried to rule the world is because Koh will steal their children's faces.  But there's nothing in the world of humans preventing the Avatar from doing that.  There's probably even a school of thought that suggests maybe the Avatar should rule the world because their world leaders all suck, apparently.

Everyone seems confused about what the Avatar's role in the Physical world is.  The Avatar decides what their role will be.  That's the point: no one can tell the Avatar how to be the Avatar but the Avatar themselves.


Notice how Roku didn't remove Sozin from power over the colonies. He left Sozin alive after trying to kill him as a concession to their friendship, but Roku didn't say anything about having the authority to dethrone Sozin.

But then he told Aang he had to defeat Ozai which suggested that Roku himself believed the Avatar had the authority to remove a ruler from power.  Otherwise, what's the point of defeating the Firelord if not to remove him from power?


Likewise, Korra couldn't even do anything about Tarrlock or Raiko, despite them both undermining her authority as Avatar. Raiko could even banish her from his city for something that was his fault!

She did take on Tarrlok.  He kicked her butt and then he took her to his creepy cabin where he just happened to have this big cage in his basement to put her in.  To take on Raiko was to take on the democratic forces that elected him President.  She might not have felt comfortable with that.  It might also be that Korra was just not good at diplomacy or politics on any level and, outside of brawling in the streets, had no idea of how to be an authoritative Avatar.  Korra wasn't a citizen of the Republic.  It was a simple matter of getting rid of a foreigner for...reasons.  The city didn't like Korra, anyway.  They eluded to her popularity being almost as low as Raiko's so it wasn't like she felt welcome there, anyway.


The Avatar has no authority over justice. QED The Avatar maintains the balance of the world, keeping the four nations from destroying each other, and protecting humans and spirits from each other.

Again, the Avatar has near impunity to dictate what their role in human affairs will be.  The only rule, apparently, is that they are an active participant in shaping world affairs.


I actually liked the way Avatar the Last Airbender. ATLA ended with Aang choosing how he would be the avatar, the spirit bending just being the plot device that enabled that choice. The toxic pacifism came from LOK.

Wow, I was expecting to hear about an incident on their Tumblr or something. I thought LoK was kind of anti-pacifist. Do you mind expanding on this thought, maybe in another thread?

I'm also curious to learn more about this "toxic pacifism".  I've seen the term thrown around on Tumblr but never quite understood how it applied to ATLA / TLOK.
« Last Edit: Sep 05, 2018 12:53 pm by plushu » Logged

Loopy
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« Reply #2 on: Sep 06, 2018 06:17 pm »

She pushed back because Chin came to conquer her home.  Kyoshi was an isolationist who literally separated her home from the rest of the continent and, apparently, filled the waters around it with dangerous animals to repel visitors.  This isolationist attitude is something we see in Warriors of Kyoshi when they're attacked for coming ashore and Oyaji tells Aang that Kyoshi Island has "stayed out of the war".  She founded the Kyoshi Warriors to protect the island from "outsiders".

Eh, I think you're exaggerating. Kyoshi Island has enough outside trade connections that a fish caught while Aang was hanging around on the island made its way to Zuko's dinner table in time for a Capture The Avatar mission. Kyoshi Island didn't want to get involved in the war, and only threatened to repel visitors it suspected of being Fire Nation spies because they landed on a section of the island that was defended by the one sea monster we know of and didn't have any obvious form of transportation that could have accounted for that.

Kyoshi repelled Chin at her home because he was making a big deal out of conquering it to show his power over the Avatar. She opposed him there and broke KI off from the continent to show two things: she has more power than anyone else around; and she does not consider herself a citizen of the Earth Kingdom, but rather her own sovereign entity.


Chin appears to have created the modern EK through his conquests, something Kyoshi didn't feel she needed to rectify after he had died.  For all we know, the Earth Kings and Queens could be his children's descendants.

The picture of his progressing conquest on the EK map doesn't fill in Ba Sing Se. So the implication is that the walls kept him out, and Ba Sing Se was its own nation 'in exile' until Kyoshi bumped Chin off.


The Dai Li were always a military force meant to maintain order at any cost.  Kyoshi trained them herself to be "feared by all".  She wasn't training them to be archivists or curators or scholars who would dedicate their lives to the preservation of Ba Sing Se's cultural heritage.  She was training them to be earthbending masters (an "elite" force).  Why do that unless your intent is specifically to train a fighting force?  And who were they put in place to fight?  The People who would challenge Order!  They were put in place to protect the status-quo which meant keeping the 46th Earth King in power.  She even said she would "protect his interests".

Obviously, she wasn't very bright.  She trained a military force to protect Stuff and then was surprised when it continued to operate as a military force that protected "Stuff".  They did exactly what they were trained to do.  One could even argue that their whole thing for joining Azula was a sort of peaceful surrender to protect the city's "priceless" artifacts from any future destruction which might be caused by Fire Nation troops storming the place to take it over.

Well, which is it? Did she create the Dai Li to prop up the Earth King's tyranny (even as she negotiated for the uprising peasants to get their compromise) or did she try to a good thing and made a really stupid error? Tongue


Using force to keep a keep a ruler in power is no different than using it to oust a ruler.  The kind of neutrality you're suggesting would mean she should have done nothing by ignoring the Earth King's request to quash the uprising and let the rebellion run its course.  The second she intervened on the Earth King's behalf, she directly involved herself in the affairs of a sovereign nation.

I don't see where you're getting "should" from that. The Avatar's Business has the limits I'm describing, but the Avatars themselves are people who can decide to act. Yes, she intervened in a nation where she didn't have any real authority besides cultural reverence and the ability to throw islands at people; that doesn't mean it was her job. In fact, it's entirely possible she wasn't going to intervene until the King summoned her.


She only said he had to "listen" to their grievances.  Apparently, he wasn't a good listener.  We saw nothing to suggest that she made sure their grievances had been addressed.  Judging from what we've seen about how that place was run, it looks like she created an even more oppressive situation for the people who lived there.  It may not be the Avatar's job to interfere with foreign governments; it should not be their job to create more hardships for people.

I mean, for all we know, the King was turning peasants into Soylent Green. The peasants might have gotten exactly what they wanted. "Listened" is a vague word, and I'm interpreting as something more than Kyoshi allowing the King to have a courtesy meeting and then change nothing, which I'd say is implied by the tone of the scene.


Aang's only purpose for going after Ozai was because the Fire Nation's War On Everything would irreparably harm the balance.  But going after Ozai meant that Aang would be interfering in the political machinations of a sovereign nation.  Unlike Kyoshi, he would be using his force to remove a ruler rather than protect one.  But it really is The Same Thing.

The problem here is that Aang takes the word of Bumi and Roku and does nothing to investigate these claims that the balance is, in fact, in jeopardy.  But he's twelve and he trusts them so.. whatever. *shrugs*  And we don't really question it even though there's no hard evidence to suggest the world is so out-of-balance that it is on the brink of...  I mean, what does any of that even mean, really?  But it doesn't change the fact that Aang's only mission was to take out a world leader.

I can't tell but it seems like you're claiming the Avatars have mostly been neutral?  Or they should be neutral?  The only truly neutral Avatar was Kuruk.  He apparently stayed in his own lane and quietly lived his life and probably goofed off way too much.  He was punished for his lack of seriousness and worldly involvement.  This is the most compelling case for arguing that the Avatar's job is to actively "shape the world".  How does one do that?  By maintaining order and pushing agendas that the Avatar sets under the guise of protecting "the balance".  Well...  There are other ways.  But the Avatar is a literal force of nature and has always used that force to get their point across.  I would hardly call Roku neutral.  He came for Sozin to the point that Sozin was terrified of him.

I'm not arguing a "should" for anything, nor can I make a statement about most Avatars, since we've only seen a handful. I'm just saying that, from what we've seen, the Avatar's Duty is only invoked in matters dealing with Spirits or the preservation of the four nations. Aang was taking out Ozai because Ozai was trying to either take over or commit genocide against the entire world. The "balance" you're questioning includes the Southern Water Tribe being on the brink of extinction and having exactly one remaining Waterbender, a little matter of the Moon nearly being destroyed, the Earth Kingdom having its Earthbenders sent to prison camps where they can't Bend, the EK's whole culture being wiped and replaced with the Fire Nation's.

If you're trying to play Devil's Advocate, you picked a really obvious devil. Cheesy


Easy answer but no one likes it.  The Avatar is a God among people.  There are no rules which govern the Avatar in the Physical World.  An "injustice" is whatever the Avatar says it is.  The only reason the Avatar hasn't tried to rule the world is because Koh will steal their children's faces.  But there's nothing in the world of humans preventing the Avatar from doing that.  There's probably even a school of thought that suggests maybe the Avatar should rule the world because their world leaders all suck, apparently.

Everyone seems confused about what the Avatar's role in the Physical world is.  The Avatar decides what their role will be.  That's the point: no one can tell the Avatar how to be the Avatar but the Avatar themselves.

Except you mention Koh. The Spirits were all telling Korra what to do. And all the Avatars have the previous Avatars to teach them exactly how to be an Avatar.

And I don't think you want to get into arguing what a god (or God) is, so I'm just going to leave that one alone. Limiting or killing gods is a genre of fiction with a long history.


But then he told Aang he had to defeat Ozai which suggested that Roku himself believed the Avatar had the authority to remove a ruler from power.  Otherwise, what's the point of defeating the Firelord if not to remove him from power?

Well, yeah, because at that point the Fire Lords weren't going to stop their plan to take over the world and commit further genocides. At that point, intervention is necessary. Roku was dealing with Sozin after a few colonies, and thought his method of intimidation would resolve the matter.

I mean, the escalation is pretty clear, here.


She did take on Tarrlok.  He kicked her butt and then he took her to his creepy cabin where he just happened to have this big cage in his basement to put her in.

Korra didn't take on Tarrlok until she went to murder him after hours when there would be no witnesses. Wink Before that, she couldn't stop him from running the city his way. She eventually escalated things to save her friends, not As The Avatar.


To take on Raiko was to take on the democratic forces that elected him President.  She might not have felt comfortable with that.  It might also be that Korra was just not good at diplomacy or politics on any level and, outside of brawling in the streets, had no idea of how to be an authoritative Avatar.  Korra wasn't a citizen of the Republic.  It was a simple matter of getting rid of a foreigner for...reasons.  The city didn't like Korra, anyway.  They eluded to her popularity being almost as low as Raiko's so it wasn't like she felt welcome there, anyway.

This is all very nice but walks completely astray from the fact that if Korra, The Most Impulsive Avatar Ever, had (or thought she had) the power to say, "No, you're banished!" to Raiko, she totally would have.


Again, the Avatar has near impunity to dictate what their role in human affairs will be.  The only rule, apparently, is that they are an active participant in shaping world affairs.

Demonstrably false. The Avatar has power and cultural significance, but a wacky anarchist cult nearly destroyed the office forever. The Avatar and is considered to be responsible for being the Bridge Between Worlds and Maintaining The Balance, and everything else is just people being people.
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Uzuko
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« Reply #3 on: Sep 06, 2018 08:30 pm »

I think the one problem with dissecting the role of the Avatar is there was a change in theme between ATLA and LOK.
Aang's journey, especially during the climax where he met the previous Avatars, was all about Aang choosing what kind of Avatar her would be. Korra was repeatedly told be her allies how much she was expected to be like Aang. From her enemies she was constantly told she shouldn't even exist, and the story leaned on the sympathy for these characters even while saying they were wrong. I think it is easier to considering LOK and ATLA two thematically different entities.
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longman83
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« Reply #4 on: Sep 07, 2018 10:03 am »

I think the one problem with dissecting the role of the Avatar is there was a change in theme between ATLA and LOK.
Aang's journey, especially during the climax where he met the previous Avatars, was all about Aang choosing what kind of Avatar her would be. Korra was repeatedly told be her allies how much she was expected to be like Aang. From her enemies she was constantly told she shouldn't even exist, and the story leaned on the sympathy for these characters even while saying they were wrong. I think it is easier to considering LOK and ATLA two thematically different entities.

Not really. Aang followed the script until the final confrontation with Ozai when he took a different direction. And I don't recall anyone telling Korra to be like Aang. In fact, one could say that Korra was always about her own way - she even said it in the premiere - but there's more to it. The change in theme IMHO comes from Korra using the Avatar role to channel her personal agency, partly because she has no other identity to fall back on, partly in response to her adversaries. This results in a less restrained application of the role than what we saw in ATLA.
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Loopy
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« Reply #5 on: Sep 07, 2018 06:56 pm »

Yeah, at least from the behind-the-scenes perspective, Korra is a proactive Avatar because her whole life had been focused on Being The Avatar. Probending was the one thing where she had a chance to find something outside of that, and then Amon had to blow up the arena.

I think it's notable, though, that Korra spent Book Change - the season people say is the best and most evocative of AtLA - doing nothing but serving the Balance by helping to build a new Air Nation and then dealing with a global conspiracy to end the concept of nations and the Avatar itself. Book Balance also ends with her fighting another would-be nation-eater who uses Spirit Lasers, both things that the Avatar traditionally takes an interest in. (Spirits, I mean, not lasers.) Even Book Spirit has Korra focused for the latter half on real Avatar matters.

Now that I think about it, Korra tends to be depicted at her lowest when she's doing things that aren't the normal Avatar duties. In Book Air, she's at her worst when she fighting the city administration, and in Book Spirits, her least effective time is spent getting herself involved in the Water Tribe Civil War.

You know, perhaps it's more consistent than we thought.
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