Looking back at The Legend of Korra
Kaci looks back over the first season of The Legend of Korra, and salutes a children’s show brave enough to take on the darkest of themes
This article contains spoilers.
I am a fan of children's entertainment that dares to be real. I don't believe in talking down to children or making things easy for them: I believe in being honest about the world in which they live. It's why I loved Avatar: the Last Airbender, a show that begins with the genocide of an entire nation of people and deals with themes far more mature than anything you'll ever see on Spongebob Squarepants. My favorite series of all time is Harry Potter, which never hesitates to point out that there are costs of war and people die. And it was this same sense of maturity that drew me into The Legend of Korra, which proved itself far darker than its predecessor and far more willing to deal with complicated moral themes.
One of the biggest themes the show dealt with was obviously the conflict between benders and the Equalists, and the show never backed down from dealing us a complicated story that left it hard to tell what is right. The point I keep coming back to over and over again is the fact that the Council, which seems to function as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of Republic City's government all in one, is currently full of benders. Not only are the non-benders being taxed without representation in their own government, but from what I can gather from Yakone's trial, people accused of crimes are tried by that same body of government. Forget being tried by a jury of their peers or even a jury of both benders and non-benders alike: citizens of Republic City are tried by the same body that makes and enforces the laws.
None of this seems fair and throughout history, we can look at revolutions and see a mixture of peaceful and violent protests. Some have succeeded, some have not, but there's no hard and fast rule as to which kind of protest will have which result. So is it really that hard to understand - however much you might disagree - the fact that a group of people got tired of being oppressed and decided that those in power deserved a taste of their own medicine?
And while you're looking through your history books, take a look at any number of dictators and marvel at the fact that in nearly every case, they take a look at an unhappy population, find a scapegoat for their problems, and gain power on a platform of destroying those who've been blamed. We see two examples of this in the series, once disturbingly through Tarrlok as he ruthlessly imposes curfews for all non-benders, cuts their power, arrests an entire city block of people, and refuses to let any of them go. His aborted rise to power is based on blaming all non-benders on the extremist actions of a few.
The other example, is of course Amon, who appeals right into the psyche of the non-benders who are dissatisfied with the current way of life. If non-benders can't be elevated to the level of benders, then he will drag benders down to the level of those who can't. It's a sick side of the darker parts of human nature and sometimes I still can't believe that it was showcased on a children's show.
Through this, Amon - just like so many dictators who came before him - inspires the people. Korra rightly points out that his true power is not his exceptional skill at bloodbending, it's his ability to spur thousands of people into action. And it's because he convinced them all so thoroughly that he was right - because he made each and every one of them genuinely believe that what he was doing was best for the world - that his fall from grace cuts them so deep. We see up close the reaction of his lieutenant who angrily shouts that he dedicated his entire life to Amon. The truly scary thing is that he means it, and that there are people in our own world just like him.
Ultimately, I can't hate the Equalists - it's not that hard for me to understand how a population with legitimate complaints could fall for the lies of Amon. Their central point wasn't wrong--they're treated unfairly and something has to change.
This is a show designed for children that is actively engaging with oppression, classism, ableism, and other sociological concepts that even at age twenty-five, I still struggle with myself.
That's the true legacy of Korra. Put aside the amazing and improved animation. Take out the impressive talent of the voice cast. Ignore the fondness you still hold for the original series. At its heart, once you strip away all of that, the best thing The Legend of Korra ever did was treat us as equals. There's no pretentious mumbo-jumbo that we "just don't understand," nor does it patronise viewers. The writers respect their audience both young and old, and it is that respect that caused them to present us with the truth.
Daring to be so honest on a children's show is a bold move, one that I am constantly impressed that Nickelodeon has been willing to let Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko take. By being honest with us, they've given us the foundation for a discussion in our own world and I, for one, have had a blast talking about it with you.