Listening to: The Legend of Korra – Jeremy Zuckerman
Alternate Title: “Sounds perfect”: The significance of representation in The Legend of Korra
Spoilers follow for The Legend of Korra.
(Confused as to what all this “emotional investment” jargon is supposed to mean? Catch up back here.)
On the other side of the coin from my unending sorrow, there’s the finale of The Legend of Korra, something that I have been itching to talk about ever since I watched it but was wary of spoiling for my friends and family members who hadn’t experienced it. My long silence, however, is over. So, if you wish to remain unspoiled, go no further!
The Korra finale was a major emotional moment for me–as well as many others–for a multitude of reasons. First, and most obviously, it was a definitive ending not only to the Korra series, but also to the Avatar television show franchise as a whole, as the series creators (Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino, collectively referred to as “Bryke”) stepped down after the final episode was finished. Thus, the end of the series was bound to be bittersweet, recalling the feelings that long-time viewers had upon watching the original come to an end. (Endings have always been an emotional trigger for me… but I haven’t reached that point in my story-structure posts yet.) The second emotional moment, however, was more significant, as many sources have pointed out. (Five relevant articles for you, right there.)
During the last moments of the episode, Korra and her close friend, the industrialist Asami Sato (the female Tony Stark of the Avatar world) had a heartfelt conversation in the aftermath of two minor characters’ wedding. They decide to go on vacation–“Just the two of us”–and, as the music swells, they take each other’s hands in an echo of the pose of the married couple at the wedding. The implication and subsequent confirmation by both creators sent fans of the Korrasami pairing–myself included–into paroxysms of glee. (So I was looking for an excuse to use “paroxysms.” So sue me.) I’m not the type of person who typically engages in shipping: prior to watching Korra, the boldest choice that I made was arguing that my sister’s belief in Zutara was misfounded. (In other words, not very bold at all.) However, over the course of the third and fourth seasons of Korra, I began to pick up on the dynamic between the two characters: their growing friendship, their moments of bonding, and the almost supernaturally in-sync way that they worked together. Almost idly, I began to imagine what it would be like if the two of them were paired with each other rather than their mutual ex, Mako. I never expected the show to actually go that far, however. Though I call myself a realist, my outlook on such matters is far more fatalistic.
I was astonished and positively gleeful when the finale aired and exceeded all of my expectations–emotional investment, paid back with interest! I’ve spent a great deal of my time over the past week hopping from one website to the next, looking at people’s reaction to the finale and how meaningful it is. I’ve seen fan art on a multitude of different websites, and I spent the better part of two hours watching reaction videos to the finale. There were screams, tears, and jumping up and down, all borne out of a sense of joy and disbelief. I consider myself to be a rather emotionally reserved person, but I couldn’t help but get caught up in their joy. Two of my closest friends identify as bisexual, and while I’m ecstatic over the representation, I’m sure that my personal feelings on the subject don’t even come close to theirs.
On the other hand, there were many opponents of the pairing–whether opposed for ideological reasons or simply because they wanted Korra paired with someone else–who decried it as contrived, pandering, or “unnatural.” Thankfully for me, I don’t need to personally address any of those concerns, because Konietzko did that himself. Observe: “If it seems out of the blue to you, I think a second viewing of the last two seasons would show that perhaps you were looking at it only through a hetero lens.” “There is the inevitable reaction, “Mike and Bryan just caved in to the fans.” Well, which fans? There were plenty of Makorra shippers out there, so if we had gone back on our decision and gotten those characters back together, would that have meant we caved in to those fans instead?” “It is long overdue that our media (including children’s media) stops treating non-heterosexual people as nonexistent, or as something merely to be mocked. I’m only sorry it took us so long to have this kind of representation in one of our stories.”
It’s that last sentence that particularly resonated with me. Homosexuality and bisexuality have, for a long time, been treated as either a taboo subject or a punchline. The Korra finale killed two birds with one stone: not only were bisexuals portrayed sympathetically and seriously, one of them happened to be the [female, non-white] protagonist, the title character. To borrow Konietzko’s words once again: “Was it a slam-dunk victory for queer representation? I think it falls short of that, but hopefully it is a somewhat significant inching forward.”
Significant, it certainly is.