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Thoughts on The Legend of Korra Season 1 Finale

This is an older piece I actually wrote on facebook a few years back. I figured it could be put to better use here, with edits for clarity.

I have been steadily enjoying The Legend of Korra since its first two episodes leaked to fans in late March. Its late in the game to give the show accolades, but suffice it to say that the show is well-written with great animation. Now I’ve recently learned that the show was late into production when the team found out Nickelodeon granted them another season. This explains A LOT about how it turned out. Let’s look at the positives of the finale first.

SPOILERS ABOUND.

The good stuff:

  • The music by Jeremy Zuckerman has been fantastic in both supporting the action and drama, as well as establishing the series as an ‘in continuity show’, but its own separate entity as well.
  • The filmic nature of the series really lends itself to creating atmosphere really well. The creators are ambitious and know what they want to do and how certain techniques will create that. And when they want to get creepy, they can get creepy. The scene of Amon taking Korra’s bending away is sincerely frightening. The panic and tension are visceral, and I admire that such emotion is created from the use of angles, and again the great supportive score.
  • Steve Blum.
  • No seriously, it’s always a treat to hear him, and his final scene with Tarrlok was fantastic (not just because of Blum or course, but the silence from Tarrlok, the tear; it was a really poignant scene.)
  • The new and unique bending tactics used. It’s been interesting to see the practical evolution of bending for stadium use (being more direct in techniques, etc.), but the finale adds some more interesting uses, such as the use of fire bending for various propulsion. It illustrates creativity and reflects a growing and changing world. (Also, I shall now nickname General Iroh Firefly.)

The Tricky

 

Because of the aforementioned production schedule, the entire series was originally planned to wrap up in these finale two episode. And it shows. There is simply not enough time to exposite everything, and there is plenty of subtly I didn’t see the first time around. Here’s the stuff that I had trouble with, but as I read and rewatched, actually makes sense.

  • Bloodbending being the source of Amon’s power: The flow of chi is established as a the key to a bender’s power. Block the flow with accurate attacks, and a bender’s power is rendered temporarily useless. It’s feasible then for Amon to take bending away by permanently messing up their chi flow with his bloodbending – detailed knowledge at the hands of someone who can manipulate and control your body would be disastrous. The question then is how did he figure out the proper technique to remove bending, but seeing as chi blocking has existed long before his time and he’s a bending prodigy, there were plenty of resources at his disposal to figure that all out.
  • Korra getting her bending back: At first glance, I was really frustrated with this because it appeared that all Korra needed was an emotional low point to get want she wanted. Aang’s statement that change often happens when things are at their worst made sense, but how Korra actually made a connection to him then didn’t make sense at first. She wasn’t meditating, and any kind of sub-conscious connection would feel forced and unearned. However, reading the A.V. Club article helped shed some light on the scene, revealing it to actually make much more sense in the series. The article asserts that Korra’s identity issue and spiritual block were connected. It’s explained much more in detail here, but the basics are this:
  1. Korra prevailing identity in her life has been that she’s the Avatar. Those are even her first words in the whole show.
  2. Amon theaters to take here identity away. (Episode 4 really highlights this the best.)
  3. Flashforward to later: Amon does take away her bending (He severs the connections she has to the three elements she had ties to. Afterwards, Korra finally connects to air, so that fact that she can still air bend makes sense as well – Amon can’t sever a connection that didn’t exist.)
  4. Korra visits the best healer in the world – Katara – but her previous bending skills cannot come back.
  5. She leaves in anger, even telling Mako she’s not the Avatar anymore. As a person whose identity was intrinsically linked to her bending, what’s left for her now?
  6. She journeys to a cliff. Here is where the subtly comes in: Korra considers suicide. It’s never explicitly named, but the angles, her actions, and her reactions, all make perfect sense with this motivation (remember, in film, like all media, there is always an intended purpose for a shot, a scene, etc.)
  7. However, she doesn’t do it! it’s this affirmation of acceptance of identity that finally breaks her spiritual block, and she acquires her bending powers again.
  8. The theme of identity is highlighted again and brought to fruition when Tenzin finally calls Korra “Avatar Korra.”
  • The above is just a summary, but the crux is the suicide contemplation. Without this, her triumphant return would be totally unwarranted.
  • Because the Avatar has the power to take bending away, it makes sense why the Avatar can also give bending back (even if that original power was a deux ex machina of the first series.)

The Bad.

Jamming everything into two episodes means a lot got left out. Though I think overall the finale is satisfying, there is still plenty left that is far from perfect.

  • How did Tenzin and his family get captured? We never learn how it happened, though it’s plausible the airplanes could have contributed in some way.
  • What about the other council members? Tarrlok said he was the only one at Air Temple Island, so where are the rest? They probably are in the underground compound, so this is more of a nit pick.
  • “My grandfather would have respected the Avatar’s instinct.” That doesn’t change the fact that it’s probably not a good idea for Korra to directly confront Amon again (remember what happened last time?) Whatever happened to being patient? But that is totally Korra’s personality, direct and headstrong all the way.
  • Mako: “He’s baiting you.” Attacks Amon and both jump + fire walk towards him. This isn’t really a plot hole, but I suspect this sudden reversal is due to the squeezing of the plot a bit. Of course saving Tenzin and his family in that situation would be inevitable. How they got there in the first place is beyond me.
  • EXPOSITIONEXPOSITIONEXPOSITION: All of Amon’s backstory and motivations are all explained by Tarrlok rather than being fleshed out by the actual character. Tarrlok describes Amon revelling in his bending powers earlier, but now he thinks bending is the source of all evil? Maybe I wouldn’t be so confused is Amon/Noatok could get more time developing himself instead of through exposition. Because of this, I really find Amon’s  juiciest bits of the finale to be when his mask is off. That’s when it’s been really interesting. Oh well.
  • Lack of addressing class division: although Amon’s plans are ruined, all those equalists do have a point: most of those in power (politicians, police, and mafia) are primarily benders. What is really lacking is a scene of Korra bringing balance to the city, whether it be a speech or what have you, to help heal the relationship. There needs to be reconciliation to fully finish that story arc. The fact that it’s not there is a deep flaw.
  • How does the hobo have a working telegraph and a means of connecting to the reinforcement fleet?

The finale to The Legend of Korra is satisfactory enough, but upon probing deeper, both a surprising amount of subtly and plot hiccups certainly make the final two episodes far from perfect. Though the season wraps up completely leaving little tension left, there is plenty of world building and character development left to explore.

Stuff to look forward to! (or at least what I want to see explored more.)

  • Korra’s interactions with the spirit world: after finally clearing her spiritual block, here’s hoping for much more development both of her spiritual side (avatar state) and the spirit world itself.
  • Mastering airbending is pretty important too.
  • More of the dynamic between bending and technology.
  • I’m not really demanding this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more historical background of all the characters.
  • Reconciliation and the rebuilding of Republic City with the equalists.

Mao on the importance of practice

Mao Tse-tung: ON PRACTICE

Mao writes in detail about the conception of knowledge within the dialectical historical view in ON PRACTICE. To summarize some points briefly, Mao notes both perceptual knowledge (first hand experience, sense perception) and rational knowledge (logic) are necessary, and cannot be separated from each other like certain schools of thought (empiricists, among others) tend to do. We are not beings totally devoid of worldly experiences, or devoid of abstract thought either. Separating rational philosophy into a different school of thought is unwise, as sense perception grounds our very existence. And as material, social beings, our education relies on acquiring and distilling experiences. Thus “there can be no knowledge apart from practice” as “knowledge begins with experience–this is the materialism of the theory of knowledge.” Unpracticed theory is unfulfilled theory, hence Lenin’s statement that “Practice is higher than (theoretical) knowledge, for it has not only the dignity of universality, but also of immediate actuality.” Mao ends with a guide on how to start practicing:

Discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into rational knowledge; then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and the objective world. Practice, knowledge, again practice, and again knowledge. This form repeats itself in endless cycles, and with each cycle the content of practice and knowledge rises to a higher level. Such is the whole of the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge, and such is the dialectical-materialist theory of the unity of knowing and doing.

 

4 Reasons to Bike to Work

Originally posted on THE WMEAC BLOG:

The percentage of Americans who bike to work has increased 60 percent over the last decade. And while their commute is a little longer than before, this new fleet of bikers is finding that adding a few minutes to their morning commute pays off. Here’s 4 reasons why you should join them:

Biking keeps you in shape

You don’t have much free time penciled into your busy schedule, so spending an hour or two of it in the gym is a big sacrifice. And let’s be honest: if you have to choose between watching the latest episode of “Game of Thrones” and doing a cardio workout, there’s really no competition. But if you bike to and from work, you get two cardio workouts built into your schedule every day. And you do it without giving up any “Game of Thrones” time. Biking is a great way to stay fit

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STRIPPED!

STRIPPED documenary

STRIPPED is a documentary made by fanboys, for fanboys. The film explores the digital expansion of comics as a result of the death of newspapers. Unfortunately, viewers with the most rudimentary understanding of the comics industry won’t gain much from this documentary except hype. It’s a love that binds most of the documentary from any kind of critical evaluation. That is the doc’s deepest flaw: it never looks deeper into the industry it loves to give to the audience a substantive overview of comics aside from a brief historical trends.

So much of it could be condensed that it’s hard not to write fo the film as a waste for time. For instance, a segment about how “web comics work,” while entertaining, ultimately pads the running time by insert faux 8-bit gameplay to illustrate the web comic industry. (It also intersects into capitalist consumption of identity, which I wrote about earlier.) Another segment that plays around with an expository section presents the sheer exploitative nature of the comic strip industry, but fails to make any sort of criticism. It limps leaves the viewer to make the connection, because after all, no comic creator is going to criticism the system if it means their job is on the line. The over reliance of talking heads invested in the very system being discussed leads to no critical backbone to the entire piece.

STRIPPED’s lack of depth also arises from its own confused purpose. The film widens its breadth and attempts a basic introduction to the world of newspaper strips, accessible for anyone. This is partly the reason why it lacks any depth into the material. It explores the very basics of comics, much of which any casual comic reader would already know.

Some of the only concrete things I learned from this film include:

  1. Many popular cartoonists have become managers of their product rather than artists.
  2. The mass exploitation of cartoonists. In terms of newspaper print, half of their profits go to their managers who work with newspaper publishing.
  3. Some of cartoon’s origins in illuminated manuscripts of encyclopedias and the like.
  4. Garfield was popular enough in the 80s to have his own American Express commercial.

This lack of substantive material is more disappointing considering the majority of viewers for this documentary are already comic fans who know this material well. The film’s purpose is adrift: it posits itself as an accessible doc for any person, yet lavishes affection for all the creators that will people the fanboy audiences (who won’t gain much else from the entire doc.) In addition to the doc’s lack of scope, his uncontrolled passion for the medium drains the film of substance as well.

The filmmakers worship at the alter of popular cartoonists, regardless of their artistic merit. Unbalanced screen time, with a peculiar long interview with Greg Evans (Luann) It seems he’s the only one capable of explaining the death of print affecting the comic industry. Meanwhile, creators like Jim Davis (Garfield) or Mort Walker (Beetle BaileyHi & Lois), who haven’t picked up a pencil in years (instead managing their business brand), get screen time merely for being popular.

A brief audio clip of Bill Watterson is given the utmost reverence, preceded with a length explanation of who he is and why it’s so important he’s actually giving an interview. Of course, the real reason everyone is so crazy about Watterson is that Calvin and Hobbes was the last comic strip everyone liked. In terms of newspaper print, nothing has received the universal love and acclaim ever since.

STRIPPED interviews

From the STRIPPED website.

Dear Mr. Watterson is a similar documentary that fawns over the comic medium more that it elucidates. The beginning remarks of The New York Times review notes the compounding problem of lack of scope and overwhelming passion:

It’s not entirely clear what documentaries larded with fawning testimonials aim to achieve. A professional seal of approval for the cautious? Reassurance for fans secretly gnawed by doubt? Peer pressure?

STRIPPED doesn’t know either. All it does know is its own admiration for the medium of comics. It lauds any creator, whether a genius of a hack, in its gushing romanticism of the comic art form, ultimately failing to elucidate much of anything.

Racism, Sexism in Taylor Swift Video “Shake it off”

Shake it off Taylor swift music video

Taylor Swift’s newest single is “Shake if Off,” about shaking off any vapid criticisms.The new video highlights this through all sorts of dancing. From ballet, to street, to color guard, all sorts of talented individuals ‘shake it off’ with the klutzy Swift. She plays herself up as the butt of the joke through her lack of dance skill, not fitting in any crowd until she stops acting and dances freestyle with her fans in the end. One segment is notably different however, where black backup dancers dressed in stereotypical hip hop outfits shake their asses, while Swift acts scandalized. A New York Times opinion likens Swift’s reaction to a dismissal of the entire trope, noting other black dancers featured through the video. This does not counteract the fact that the faces of these particularly racialized women (included ‘white trash’ coded women) are rarely seen. They do not break the hip hop stereotyped images they represent as objectified bodies.

Swift is getting criticism for this video, which isn’t surprising, especially when the video cover art is this:

taylor swift shake it off

Lily Allen received similar criticism with her video for “Hard Out Here.” While that song’s lyrics explicitly prods at the patriarchy and sexism, the video still exhibits black bodies in incredibly objectifying poses. Notably, Allen remains in a less revealing outfit, while the rest of the black women dancers are in much more explicit clothing. The dances all pour champagne on themselves while slapping each others asses. The video blurs the lines between portrayal and parody, and ultimately undermines its  ‘progressive’ message.

Swift’s song is analogous: while its stakes are much lower in terms of lyrical and video content, it’s caught between portrayal and parody. Swift and the music video production staff probably had good intentions, but unfortunately, this video is another strike against black female bodies.

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