The Significance of The Legend of Korra Finale
The Legend of Korra finale may have been controversial, but it's also an important moment in television history.
This article contains spoilers for a number of plot points from The Legend of Korra and Avatar.
The Legend of Korra finale blew up the internet to a degree that was frankly unprecedented for an animated series, especially in mainstream news outlets like Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly. It was a polarizing finale, which would have been inevitable among shippers, since one side or another’s preferred pairing would have been validated while the other’s was denied. However, the reach extended further due to the fact that the canon pairing was between Korra and Asami: two young women.
Two young women of color, in fact.
That’s right, folks. Korrasami won out. Or at least it seemed to for anyone who’d been paying attention. Unfortunately, there was a ton of backlash (most, though not all of it homophobic to some degree). There were people flat-out denying it. People decrying the shamefulness of those whose minds were so “in the gutter” that they had to cast a queer light on the innocent, close friendship between two girls. You know, as though homosexuality is some kind of contaminant, a stain that sullies the purity of a nice, heteronormative world. As if homo- or bisexuality is any less wholesome, something inherently seedier and tawdrier. There are, of course, those who just plain thought that romance or physicality of any stripe marred the “innocence” of the dynamic, which speaks to a whole other set of hang-ups, but this isn’t an essay on the Puritanical roots of American culture.
There were many who accepted the implications, accusing the creators of fan service, patently ridiculous since any random interview with them would fully demonstrate their artistic integrity and willingness to piss their fans off, despite their heartfelt appreciation of those fans, if it meant staying true to their vision. And that’s to say nothing of the heterosexist implication that any depiction of girl/girl romance or sexuality is for the benefit of the male gaze. As though, lesbians (or bisexual women, for that matter), are some kind of artifice contrived solely for the titillation of horny straight men.
Any way you slice it, there was a lot of controversy going on, and yours truly was gearing up to write a massive essay on the whole thing, not just the controversy itself, but the subject of it. It was going to outline not only why Korrasami was real (every bit of evidence), but why its very existence is so significant. But as I was drafting my notes for that article, I was made aware of these two posts, which basically did all the heavy lifting for me. In two Tumblr posts, one by each of the creators of The Legend of Korra, the entire issue is addressed more eloquently than I probably could have managed. Hit those links for their full statements.
Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that what we witnessed was television history. A canon gay couple (they are bisexual individuals, but their particular dynamic with each other is gay) depicted in a healthy, positive, celebratory light in an animated series on a kids’ network. This isn’t Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. This isn’t Comedy Central. This is Nickelodeon. Historically, Nickelodeon has always been “the kids’ network,” and thus by having Korrasami canonized on their airwaves, the message sent is that queer people are no less wholesome, no less natural, no more implicitly or explicitly sexual, and no more dangerous for kids to see than straight people. And as both the kids of queer people, and queer adults who once were queer kids can attest… that’s the truth.
The canonicity of Korrasami is more than just the end of a shipping war. It’s a victory. A small one, sure, but a step in the right direction. It’s for the kids we queer folks once were, kids who didn’t get fairy tale endings of their own. And as for the kids, watching, well… the ones who are going to be gay or bi or whatever, already are. At least now, they have something that speaks to their truth, however latent at the moment.
The landscape of entertainment media is changing, and The Legend of Korra finale has opened yet another door in that regard. Some may argue that entertainment should not be subject to political or social agendas, but it’s been historically proven over and over that the media helps to shape society by shaping people’s perceptions. Nichelle Nichols’ mere presence as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, let alone being half of TV’s first interracial kiss, was a big deal for a reason. And now it’s history.
Now, I’m not saying the last few shots of The Legend of Korra will have the same historical significance and I’m not saying it won’t, but that’s not the point. The point is that those kinds of steps forward, moments that make a ripple and disturb the status quo, will always be viewed as unnecessary and inconvenient for people who don’t need them, for people who don’t consider progress a priority, those who see it as something that can be put off until a more convenient time.
And to those who feel that a rare touch of gayness in their fiction is some kind of interloper that’s taking the spotlight off of what feels normal and organic to them, all I can do is reference this moment from “The Drill” to maybe offer you a little perspective.