Because fans should be critical, too

“Art Is Hard!” Bryan K. Says…

Can somebody toss this man a Pulitzer Peace Prize for insight of the century?

Now I’ll admit that it’s more than a little unfair to isolate a three-word exclamation out of it’s extremely large context, but this stood out above and beyond anything stated in the entire post (yes, even more than a long-awaited opinion on M. Night Shyamalan’s disastrous adaptation of his and Michael Dante DiMartino’s original show). It’s really a testament to either Konietzko’s obliviousness or his egotism that his response to a whitewashing concern is a colossal rant on the intricacies of color theory.

I’m not saying I necessarily disagree with the sentimental. Of course “art is hard!” As an aspiring animator, I know all too well the trials that Mr. Konietzko and Mr. DiMartino go through. And if merely generating moving images weren’t enough, their hardships are multiplied by 100 because they choose to produce high quality work within the stifling limitations of television animation. Certainly they’ve worked their asses off, and it shows in the final product: The Legend of Korra is quite possibly the most beautiful and professional-looking animated show I’ve ever seen in my life. So much so that I can almost sympathize with Mr. Konietzko on the general fandom: after all the blood, sweat, tears and years he sacrificed for this show, this is the thanks he gets? Why can’t the fandom appreciate the incredible amount of work that goes into this show?

Well, that’s the thing about the creative process: for the most part, no one cares.

The average audience member—despite being slightly more savvy about film production these days—does not care about the extreme labors that go into the making of even their favorite films. It’s not out of spite, that’s just not what they’re interested in. When watching a film, they’re not marveling over the pristine crystal-clear quality of the latest HD camera or the intricate art direction as values in and of themselves.

Instead, their response boils down to: 1) does this film affect me? 2) do I like the way it affects me? (And, if they’re particularly inquisitive: 3) why?)

The most successful art has always been able to shape its tangible features to provide a psychological experience for the audience. The least successful art merely displays tangible features that provides little more than mere skill, if that. (Naturally, this can get pretty subjective. I once had a friend who was flabbergasted that I couldn’t see the heavenly beauty of David Gilmour’s guitar playing, while I was equally astonished that the simplistic genius of the Rolling Stones failed to move him.)

You can be a filmmaker whose movie has the latest state-of-the art special effects; you can be a guitarist who can play one-hundred notes a second; you can be an Oxford-educated writer who just finished a first novel. These are all worthy, skillful, personal accomplishments. But if nothing you do can generate a positive emotional/intellectual response from your respective audience, then you have failed. (“Positive” in the loosest sense. Grave of the Fireflies generated a positive response from me, but I’m never going to watch that film again.)

What’s so fascinating about Korra is that it’s a state-of-the-art marvel that manages to generate the most negative emotional response possible. It’s a work of art whose skillfully handled tangible features (ex. The animation, the music, the colors, etc.) are at the service of an ideological mess of a script. The result is a Rorshach Test of a show: you see what you want to see, not necessarily what is there.

Let’s use the finale as an example. When Korra gets her Bending back from Aang, most people were joyful to the point of tears. Certainly, the show aimed for that effect, and if you want to see this as a happy, well-earned ending, it works that way. But probe a little deeper, and you’re bound to have a few questions.

For instance, how is it that the most powerful person in the world—who happened to be a woman—got her power taken away from by a man, and then has it given back to her by another man? Why wasn’t she allowed to build herself back up into a better person and then find her own way to get back her powers? Why didn’t we ever get a true moment where Korra put her head up and decided to deal with her current situation directly? Why did the solution to her problem literally have to come to her instead of her seeking it out for herself?

There’s not a single adequate answer to any of these questions, which indicates either carelessness or negligence. In spite of Mr. Konietzko’s self-proclaimed reputation as a jerk, I highly doubt he and Mr. DiMartino would be this thoughtless on purpose. In fact, my knee-jerk reaction to his color theory rant was, “Good Golly, no wonder they didn’t have time to fix the scripts! They were too busy making sure the dimples on every character’s butt was the right skin tone!”

So, yes, Mr. Konietzko. Art is hard. Even within the confines of the entertainment industry, it is an essentially thankless endeavor that satisfies an urge that most people couldn’t possibly understand; your attempts to educate them on the creative and physically struggles can only do so much to answer the question of why you even bother. As an audience member, I am indifferent to your trails. As a fellow artist, I have no use for your whiny, self-righteous ignorance.

As Werner Herzog once said, “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.”

Better yet, as you once said, regarding you and Mr. DiMartino, “We have no one to blame but ourselves.”

Deal with it!

P.S. In regards to the image that started this whole mess, I saw it when it was first posted, and I figured the washed-out colors were the result of either the lighting situation in the scene or the quality of the camera phone. As a person of color (God, I hate that term…), I found the concern genuine, but the reaction overblown. I’m not even sure Mr. Konietzko and Mr. DiMartino truly understand the power they have right now…


13 responses

  1. Grindal

    Completely of topic, but I’m interested in what you said about ‘Grave of the Fireflies’. When you said you’d never watch it again, is that because you don’t want to go through that experience again or just that it doesn’t merit a second viewing?

    July 8, 2013 at 9:36 am

    • Oh, it merits a second viewing, for sure!

      As long as you’re brave enough to watch it again…

      July 13, 2013 at 12:29 am

  2. Dman

    I agree with you on what you said about Korra’s art being well done; it’s my favorite aspect of the show, and, in my opinion, reaches the levels of Miyazaki’s work. But the same can not be said about the story, especially the season one finale. But I do still have hope for the show because I believe Book Two will exceed Book One’s storytelling.,..

    Mini Spoiler Alert Ahead

    … I say this because official sources have confirmed that much of Book Two will be focused one Tonraq (Korra’s father) and Unalaq (His brother) and their differing views on how the Southern and Northern Water Tribes should be governed, as well as how this could, possibly, lead to a battle between the tribes. And I think this is very interesting.

    *On a side note, I just want to mention this I really hope the Southern Water Tribe has grown significantly over the past seventy years, and hopefully its about the same size as the Northern Water Tribe.

    July 8, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    • Hmm…I suppose it could be interesting? That description alone doesn’t hook me in at all. I’d say I’d just wait to see how it plays how in the actual show, but I’m still not even positive I’ll be watching Book Two at all.

      July 13, 2013 at 12:32 am

  3. Rosemon

    Some early dvd tidbits from Air Father on tumblr:
    1. “The whole idea of the budding romance with Korra and Mako, was to not just do something like with Aang where the second he opened his eyes and was just in love with Katara, and knew right away that’s who he wanted to be with. The idea was to have more of what happens in real life; “Man I hated this person when I first met them, but maybe it wasn’t hate, maybe it was just confusion. They drove me crazy and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I don’t like everything about them, but, dang, they light my FIRE. Why do I keep coming back for more?”

    – Bryan Konzietzko, Michael Dimartino, Steve Blum- Episode 3 Commentary on Makorra

    2. Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko during the commentary of “Skeletons in the Closet” about the scene where Mako and Asami are talking

    Mike: “This is supposed to be their breakup moment…We tried to play it more subtle where both Mako and Asami realized it wasn’t working out and said their goodbyes. It’s a moment where it’s not appropriate to have a big breakup argument or something….It might have been a little too subtle.”

    Bryan: “Mike and I look at it like eh, that’s one we could George Lucas. We could hit it a little more on the nose.”

    Mike: “For all of you who are still Mako haters out there…they had a breakup. He was good to go.”

    July 9, 2013 at 7:47 pm

  4. Ian

    “The chi flowing through her body…you can use waterbending where they make it glow and they’re clearing out those pathways, they can open it up so the chi flows better. What Amon did is that he took that technique and he used it to hurt people, he used it to block those pathways…That’s a philosophy Mike and I believe in, anything can be u’sed for good or bad. Any philosophy or any ideology, it’s really in the person’s intentions in how it manifests. These things aren’t good or bad, it’s just there…So she hadn’t opened up that particular chi path, being the avatar she has crazy chi energy flowing, so he was able to close the ones he could detect, not the one she hadn’t opened up yet. He couldn’t feel it.

    I actually think this makes sense both on Amons part and Korras. Now the fact that did address this in the show is a different story but really i didnt care. Im just glad its now confirmed stuff.

    July 9, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    • Where exactly does the spiritual and the biological meet in the Avatar universe? Does chi flow have a tangible pathway in the human body (which I’m assuming these people have)? If so, where is it? The circulatory system? The lymphatic system? Respiratory? Nervous (I would think the nervous system)? Is there a special chi system that these people have? Does each element have it’s own special chi pathway, or are they all essentially in one place [you’d think so since Amon touched the same spot on each Bender’s head, and got rid of three of Korra’s Bending abilities in that very spot (which then raises the question of why Airbending didn’t get blocked anyway)]?

      This is all speculation based on a comment from the creators and nothing that was observed, explained, or hinted at in the actual show. That’s a problem. Even if this did make sense (I suppose it does?), it still doesn’t justify an emotionally bankrupt climax (i.e. Korra uncovering her Airbending to save Mako of all fucking people; Amon’s defeat and outing as the conclusion to a not-so-simple social issue).

      As for the philosophy: while I agree with the general principle, the way Mr. Konietzko describes it is rather troubling. He seems to imply that Amon’s intentions were straight up bad. With some exceptions, it is rarely that simple. In fact, most great villains believes what they’re doing is actually good. Among honestly thought Bending was bad, and that getting rid of it was good. And if anything, the narrative itself fails to provide a decent refute to Amon’s claim; because Korra is the protagonist and a Bender herself, we’re supposed to simply agree that he must be stopped rather than his case be taken into real consideration. That is a major problem.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:14 am

  5. Rosemon
    The part about Tarrlock deserving death because he was a jerk troubled me, doesn’t that go against what Aang had been about in the previous series: that all life is precious and people deserve forgiveness?

    July 10, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    • There are many troubling points in these commentaries. I’m going to have to add my thoughts to more than a few of them in an whole other post.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:15 am

  6. Rosemon

    I was not aware you were a person of color, from your deviantart self-portrait I assumed you were white. Speaking of this whole white-washing thing, it looks like they’re continuing the trend of white-washing their characters into book 2:

    July 10, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    • Looks like the cat’s out of the bag. Marshall Turner is both: 1) a security measure; and 2) a character whose existence precedes this here blog. I must wonder how this affects the perception of this blog now…

      As for the white-washing thing…well, I guess it is a little weird that the lightest child of Aang and Katara is the only one to actually reproduce, huh (with a light woman, no less)?

      July 13, 2013 at 1:21 am

  7. Rosemon

    The Nostalagia Critic’s brother, Rob Walker, is now watching Korra since he finished ATLA already, according to his facebook: ‘Thoughts on first couple episodes…

    1) It was fun to see older Katarra, but man were the first few minutes clunky. Tried way too hard to cram a lot of story and some moments of “Hey, look! It’s so and so related to so and so from the original series!” Even the voice acting came off as kind of stilted and by the numbers.

    I know Doug had an issue with Episode 1 of the original series, but he’s wrong. (Yeah, I can say it… I’m his brother.) The original show started off incredibly simple. The adventure then built from there. It was perfect. I love stories that do that. This one was complicated from the start.

    That being said, once Katarra moved to the city, the show improved almost instantly. Storytelling was natural and unforced. Things were revealed (friends, enemies, intrigue) as Katarra explored her surroundings. Loved every second. Didn’t disappoint after that.

    2) Can’t decide if having a character named Mako is really touching or kind of distracting. Whatever. Heart was in the right place.

    3) Pro-Bending is AWESOME. Screw Futurama, this IS Bender’s Game!

    4) New Republic City? United Republic? Come on, guys. That’s George Lucas worthy bad. So many great ideas and the city’s name is cheesy as all hell. Keeps bugging me whenever I hear it.

    5) Favorite character so far is Tenzin. J.K. Simmons is amazing. I also love Lin Beifong. Glad to see bad assitude still runs in the Toph clan. Korra is also surprisingly engaging.

    6) Bolin is obviously the Sokka of this series. Kinda wonder why they didn’t just get Jack De Sena to play him. P.J. Byrne — the voice actor they got — sounds a LOT like him. Oh well, good job anyhow. Love the character.

    7) I don’t ever want to hear about my mispronunciations again. This show’s names make even less sense. Aang is a Chinese name but somehow his kid’s is Tibetan…? The two pro-bending BROTHERS have a Chinese name (Bolin) and a Japanese one (Mako)? Obviously the show is picking names cause they sound cool. And that’s fine. But there is NO consistency in this universe. So forgive me if I make the call to go with a Japanese pronunciation out of force of habit — since, you know, names like Katara, Haru, Suki, Sokka, Roku, June, Ozai, Hokkoda — are Japanese! And, you know, their “aye” sound is spelled with an “AI.” So why is Iroh spelled with an “I?” Why is Ty Lee spelled with a “Y?” No consistency. :-b’

    July 15, 2013 at 12:10 am

  8. Pingback: Immediate Thoughts on the “Korra: Book Two” Trailer | Marshall Turner's Avatar: the Last Airbender Reviews

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