Legend of Korra is fucked up in a lot of aspects. The people who were not benders revolted or whatever cause they weren’t treated equally as benders. The goddamn writers wrote it in a way that made the viewers perceive them as unsympathetic. Hell, I…
Ahhhh as much as I enjoyed the show, there were definitely, definitely problematic elements with it that bothered me, ESPECIALLY with the whole anti-bender/equalist revolution and how it’s portrayed and carried out. I think the writers just really dropped the ball on it, and my biggest problem was the way that the show resolved, or the lack of resolve, regarding the revolution. I specifically think back to “The Voice in the Night” episode where Korra joins an anti-equalist “task force” that carries a raid on a chi blocking class meant for nonbenders to learn self-defense against benders. The scene is pretty brutal to watch, since one equalist is literally SLAMMED to the freakin wall:
And I thought to myself, “YEAH NO SHIT, KORRA. AND YOU WONDER WHY THESE NON-BENDERS WANT TO TAKE CHI BLOCKING CLASSES IN THE FIRST PLACE WHEN THEY LIVE IN A SOCIETY WHERE SUPERPOWERED INDIVIDUALS EXIST AND DECIDE TO RAID SELF-DEFENSE CLASSES TO EARTHBEND NON-BENDERS TO A FREAKIN’ WALL.”
Though, regarding the scene with the equalist protester, racebending did a great job on deconstructing it and why it was so problematic: http://racebending.tumblr.com/post/39545866600/theawesomesauce93-avatarparallels
As for the rest of the show, this tumblr user breaks it down pretty nicely:
The Bender Supremacy
There is a conflict between benders and non-benders, specifically around the power that benders wield, and often against non-benders, as in the case of the Triple Threat Triads. This was a great setup and it evoked themes of privilege and power that frequent the political landscape in the real world. This wasn’t just about a few bad benders misusing their powers, but practically about bending as an institution, one in which benders always have all the power.
Triple Threat Triads extorting a non-bending shop owner
It wasn’t just the Triple Threat Triads, but the entire United Republic Council, and all 4 nations, are led by benders. Hell, even the delineation of nations - the Avatar world equivalent of ethnicity - was determined by bending, which is a bit strange given that so many people in each nation do not have any bending ability at all. And then, of course, there is the Avatar, the most powerful being on the planet, a real god-figure, by virtue of being the ultimate bender.
Throughout the first season, Korra fights against the Equalists in order to…well, what, exactly? Maintain the power and privilege of the benders? When she first arrived in the city, she gave some Triad bullies a real ass-kicking, showing her interest in defending the weak. Yet she spends the entire rest of the season fighting against the non-benders’ (ostensibly “the weak” in the Avatar universe) one movement to garner some agency for themselves.
To deny people the opportunity to fight and defend themselves against oppression under the pretext that they should rely upon you as their savior is oppressive in itself. It suggests that these people can’t do anything on their own. Or that the efforts that they have put in place are useless, or worse, a threat. And this seemed to be the point that the show was making in the first episode, through the tongue-in-cheek moment between Korra and the Equalist announcer.
Korra is called out on being an oppressor
Granted, Amon was the Avatar-world equivalent of a “terrorist”, and his methods were debatably cruel. Though, when I consider the fact that he could’ve killed benders instead of merely taking their abilities away, I have reservations about applying that label to him. There is also a sort of hypocrisy in benders wielding their power and influence against non-benders at every turn, while being critical and aggressive towards the one example where the reverse is true - or at least where it seemed to be. More on that later.
Furthermore, while Korra and her bending allies were presented as the “right side” of the conflict, it was purely by virtue of her opposition to Amon’s extremism, not because she represented any peaceful alternative to solving the conflict. For that matter, there was no voice of reason speaking on behalf of the non-benders at all. Not one person, say, who saw fit to approach the all-bender council, or Korra, or call a meeting on their own, and offer a solution. Not for a lack of candidates, though.
Amon’s Lieutenant, a legitimate representative of non-benders
By the end of the first season, all that happened was that the Equalist revolution was crushed, and with it, any discussion of equality between benders and non-benders, which you’ll recall from the setup was the main conflict of the show. There was never any discussion of Amon’s ends, rather only his means, thereby leaving the main arc of the show unresolved.
The Meaning of “Balance”
Korra is a bender, but her foremost role is to maintain “balance” in the world. And as one non-bending citizen pointed out to her, she’s “their avatar, too”. Korra scoffed at the idea that bending itself was oppressive, until she saw it being used overtly to oppress non-benders during the episode “When Extremes Meet”. The setup here was that Korra was coming to the realization that in spite of her opposition to Amon, non-benders really had legitimate grounds for complaint.
“You’re our Avatar too!”
Korra, in spite of being the quintessential representative of the institution of bending, had a strong sense of right and wrong, and did on at least two occasions stand against benders on behalf of non-benders. However, she only acted in the most extreme cases, and failed to address the systemic power discrepancy inherent to the relationship between benders and non-benders.
Korra kicks a Triad gangster in the face!
There is a parallel here with the tendency of real world people of privilege to only address the extreme “isms” (of race, gender, etc) without looking at the structures that give rise to those extremes in the first place. And so long as people of privilege aren’t carrying out extreme acts, they delude themselves into thinking they are free of responsibility for any power disparities. The extremists become for them the “proof” that they are not a part of the problem.
For Korra, so long as she is not using her bending to hurt non-benders, she is in the clear. Or so she seems to think. And except where she blatantly uses her power to oppress non-benders, as she does when she silences and bullies the Equalist announcer. By the end of the first season, Korra has done nothing to address her own complicity within the oppression of non-benders, or the problem at large.
Korra manhandles the Equalist announcer
On top of that, there is an implicit statement that underprivileged people shouldn’t have a hand in their own liberation, but instead wait for those in power to decide to act on their behalf.