Because fans should be critical, too

What Do You Say, Bryan K?: “Benders and Non-Benders”

The man himself, going through his John Lennon-hairdo phase.

This was brought to my attention by long-time reader, rosemon:

Someone (presumably on Bryan K’s tumblr) just asked, “If the benders and nonbenders were getting along before legend of korra, what made them not get along now?”

Bryan: “It’s a very large world out there, what made you think they were getting along in the first place? it was republic city, with benders as the ruling class, with the power, but they’re still the minority; it’s like china where there’s a minority in power [something else about China] the melting pot situation where you have people from all over the world, all kinds of benders and nonbenders, moving to the same place made people realize that it’s not about fire vs. water or earth vs. air… but some nonbenders felt that they were doing all the hard dirty work.”

Someone seriously needs to take Mr. Konietzko by the hand and explain to him how the storytelling/audience relationship works. Every assumption and speculation an audience member makes is ultimately at the mercy of the information given by the storyteller within the story itself. So while Mr. Konietzko’s answer raises some interesting ideas, it’s rendered irrelevant by the fact that these ideas were never explored and/or even hinted at in The Legend of Korra.

Now, as a fairly intelligent person with a basic understanding of world history (read: as someone who watched Gandhi in high school), I can easily assume that during the 100-year war, Benders and Non-Benders were too busy fighting off a common enemy–the Fire Nation–to bicker about their inherit social issues with each other. Only after the Fire Nation was defeated could old prejudices rear their ugly heads once again.

Is this a valid assumption? Yes. Is it a sound assumption? That’s hard to say, because there’s no evidence that this is true or untrue in the actual show. For that matter, there’s no evidence that Bending oppression as a whole even exists. The Triple Threat Triads and Tarrlok are presented as individual cases of exceptions to the rule, and every story we’re told about Bending oppression involves a Firebender, even the untrue stories*.

Actually, I take it back. There is evidence that Bending oppression exists: in the actions and mindset of Korra, the new Avatar.

How many times do we see her use her Bending to get what she wants from people? How many times has she threatened someone with brute force? When has this ever been presented as a bad thing? When do we actually see Korra mulling over the social imbalance that she unwittingly plays a part in? When has she ever proposed a peaceful solution to the problem (which would shown her growth as a person and an Airbender)?

This is yet another reason that Korra is one of the most maddeningly frustrating shows ever broadcasted. Whatever message Mr. Konietzko and co-writer Michael Dante DiMartino think they’re going for is not only unsupported by what we see on-screen, but is often contradicted. And yet Mr. Konietzko, as shown in his somewhat condescending response to a legitimate question, has the nerve to wonder why the audience isn’t on the same page as him when it’s his job as a writer to persuade them onto his side. (If this guy were to writing Fight Club, he’d probably think Tyler Durden was the “hero.”)

In other words, Mr. Konietzko is doing precisely what every bad, egotistical writer does: explaining/justifying things himself that should have been evident in the work itself. Don’t most writers outgrow this attitude past high school?

*In a rather morbid way, this is pretty funny. It’s been almost seventy years since the Nazis were defeated, and they’re still the punchline of humanity. Imagine how much worse it must be for the Fire Nation, who actually did succeed in eradicating an entire race.


9 responses

  1. rosemon

    Aw, thanks for the shout-out. Anyway, that piece of info, as it turns out, was actually taken from the recent Korra art book signing. And it only gets worse from there: when somebody else asked him about the Equalist plot, he flat out said that it was never coming back and that “maybe some of the Equalists are meeting at a bookstore somewhere” in regards to discussing their grievances.

    August 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm

  2. rosemon

    You mentioned that Korra is not particularly good from a feminist perspective, but it’s definitely not good from a racial perspective. Aside from the white-washing issues, the way the conflict of oppression was handled by two arrogant white writers really angered many Asian and African American fans on tumblr. One particularly insightful user said the following: “The [non-benders] are like a fucking colonized people. They’re an oppressed people. If you paint them as evil, it’s teaching you that people getting HURT AND DYING and being left POOR IN THE STREETS are evil.
    How many non-benders were on the council after Sokka died? Zero.
    How many non-benders can do pro-bending? Zero. Meaning that any kid like Mako or Bolin who didn’t have bending is probably still a stoolie for the damn mafia…whereas Bolin and Mako got taken in because they could use their bending to get BENDER-ONLY JOBS.
    Oh yes, you forgot bender-only jobs, didn’t you?
    Like the cops.
    Like the factory jobs.
    Which means that non-benders are getting fucked, not even going into how benders clearly waltz around kicking non-benders in the ass, and shoving them away with earthbending just for doing their jobs (Tarrlock’s secretary), knocking them off pedestals for simply talking in a public venue, threatening them…oh wait, that’s actually just KORRA.
    TLoK is not just an insult to WoC, it’s an insult to all fucking oppressed, colonized people out there, and I know many other Asian people were angry because while the dynamics in this reflect some points in Chinese history, it supports the COLONIZERS and not the people trying to defend their livelihoods!”
    I don’t think Korra being brown means a thing if she’s in her world’s equivalent of the oppressor class. And the tumblr user squiter-bites went on to observe that most of those who came to the defense of Bryan K’s explanation were white, just like those who defended Korra’s white-washing. I’d actually be curious to know your opinions on Korra from a feminist/racial perspective.

    August 16, 2013 at 12:42 pm

  3. rosemon

    Both parts of the book signing discussion are available now.

    August 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    • Wow, thank you so much! I’ll watch them when I get home. What I’m sincerely hoping for is an argument that renders my rant obsolete.

      August 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm

  4. rosemon
    If you’d like another video, here’s the only time that Bolin actually seems like a character with development.

    August 16, 2013 at 5:32 pm

  5. JMR

    So I’ve sort of been saving this for a rainy day. It’s my “mangnum-opus” of sorts on my problems with Korra, and this post seems like a perfect opportunity to pull it out and see what people think. Beware: It is quite long.

    The late 60s and early 70s in the United States saw the rise of the Black Power movement. The central message of the Black Power movement was that the civil rights gains of the 50s and early 60s had only been the first step. That while black people were no longer second class citizens in any official capacity, the fact that white people still controlled almost all positions in government and law enforcement meant that those gains hung by a thread. Essentially, because white people still had near total power over the law and it’s enforcement, the whites still held all the chips and thus any equality and freedom black people had managed to secure were entirely at the mercy of the white people. If a white person decided to violate those freedoms, there was little to stop them, as was seen, for example, with housing discrimination and the many and varied acts of police brutality (some major cities had police forces that were >90% white). As such, the Black Power movement believed that black people needed to achieve positions of power in the community, as they simply could not rely on white people to look out for their interests, nor should they have to to begin with.

    It is quite interesting to look at this situation and to draw a parallel between it and the plight faced by the non-benders in Legend of Korra. While we are never shown that there is any legal discrimination against non-benders, we do know that the entirety of the city government and the upper echelons of the police department are under the control of benders. Regardless of whether or not they are officially seen as inferior, non-benders have been completely dis-empowered by the current system as benders hold all the chips. We see again the consequences of this: the freedom and rights of the non-benders are fully dependent on the goodwill of the bender power majority. As such, as we see in “When Extremes Meet”, one Councilman and his yes men are able to bulldoze the civil rights of the non-benders on a paranoid whim, and when the police come to do the bulldozing, the non-benders are entirely powerless to stop them. Instead they must rely on the goodwill of a bender, this time in the form of Korra, to save them.

    But what if Korra hadn’t been feeling so keenly towards non-benders? What if she had been just as paranoid and prejudiced as the Council? The entire population of a community would have been imprisoned en-mass for the terrible crime of sharing one attribute with a terrorist. Can the non-benders rely on the benders to look out for their interests? I think that episode shows that they cannot. And more importantly, should they have to rely on the goodwill of others for the protection of their most basic rights?

    The problem is that the show doesn’t seem to see this as a bad thing. Korra saved the day, after all, right? So everything’s fine and we don’t need to worry about that anymore. No sir, we certainly don’t need to worry about this messed up government system that allows huge swathes of the population to have no representative for their interests. Not at all. Nothing to see here. Move along. It seems to say that it is okay that the non-benders have to hope that Korra’s around to save them from benders that want to do them harm. That it’s okay that the only thing standing between them and second class status is a power tripping teenager with more neuroses than a psychology textbook.

    Really, to me, this is the rotten core of Legend of Korra. This is the poison that seeps out and destroys the rest of the show. Anything would be better than this non-committal bullshit, this total unwillingness by Bryke to comment on the socio-political situation of the world they created and that they chose to put center stage in their show. Honestly, I’d almost prefer if they had just come out and said “Yep, we think benders are better than non-benders.” At least it would have been a statement, some sort of position that could be argued.

    August 16, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    • My friend, I wish I had something of value to add to this brilliant insight. Since I do not, all I will say is that you are absolutely correct! This is the rotten core. This does absolutely ruin the rest of the series. The dismal level of thought and understanding of the thematic scenario that went into this show is truly unforgivable. Perhaps while DiMartino, Konietzko, and directors Joaquim Dos Santos and Ki-Hyun Ryu were busy arguing about how to draw an eye, they should have hired a fifth wheel to actual make sure the scripts had actual focus and actually addressed the themes in the story that the rest of the crew had no insight on/interest in.

      August 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm

  6. maxpower

    That quote from bryan is not fully accurate, you should skip to 10:49 for his full answer. I think it makes him sound a lot less worse than your essay has made him out to be

    August 21, 2013 at 7:55 am

    • JMR

      Eh, I’d say it still very heavily comes across as blaming the audience for not knowing something they didn’t tell us, even in context.

      August 21, 2013 at 9:49 pm

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