What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie, Free for CAPC Members
Nancy Guthrie’s overwhelming message in What Grieving People Wish You Knew is to enter into the awkwardness and difficulty of loving grieving people.
Note: This article contains potential spoilers for the final season of The Legend of Korra.
I was late to Avatar: The Last Airbender, Nickelodeon’s rightly popular animated fantasy series. So I was thrilled to hear in advance of The Legend of Korra, a sequel from Avatar creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Korra ran for four seasons and ended last December, and on March 10, the final season was released on Blu-ray and DVD.
Korra proved a worthy followup to Avatar, with memorable characters, gorgeous art, and fantastical-yet-realistic storytelling. But some Korra fans, as well as its creators, seem determined to use the story to promote controversial lifestyles and social causes.
The creators of Avatar fashioned a world that blends Eastern and Western themes and design — a world in which four nations based on the four elements (water, earth, fire, air) coexist and/or battle, with some citizens capable of “bending” (controlling or transforming) their nation’s respective element.
In Korra, the titular heroine serves as the world’s reincarnated “avatar,” the only person able to bend all four elements and unite the four nations. In the series finale, Korra and her friends fight aspiring dictator Kuvira and her gigantic robot. The ending is epic, with aerial dogfights, heroic sacrifice, and everything. The heroes win and and everyone is happy. Korra and her friend, Asami, go on vacation in the Spirit World. They smile at each other, the scene fades into golden light, and the credits roll.
And some fans went wild. They claimed their theoretical “ship” — fan-speak for a fan-envisioned romantic relationship between the series’ characters — was confirmed: a same-sex romance existed between Korra and Asami. Then the creators announced this was indeed their intention.
“It has been encouraging how well the media and the bulk of the fans have embraced [the ending],” Konietzko wrote. “We did it for all our queer friends, family, and colleagues.” Added DeMartino, “I’ve already read some heartwarming and incredible posts about how this moment means so much for the LGBT community.”
So it would appear all fans have no choice but to consider as canon the relationship most fans call “Korrasami.” That also applies to Christian fans of Korra who should want to respect its creators’ intentions. This is good and fair hermeneutics, i.e., respecting a story-maker’s intentions the same way we should respect the intentions of the Bible’s Author. However, it is not homophobic — as Konietzko seems to imply — to discuss how the Korrasami finale makes no sense in the context of the Avatar story-world, how it hijacks Korra’s story in service of social causes to the detriment of its own creative storytelling, or how these attempts make it difficult to simply enjoy Korra as art.
Elsewhere I’ve referred to “The Harkness Law” or “The Gobber Principle”; that is, most stories’ emotional cores are based on “traditional” relationships, with other relationships relegated to side references, comic relief, or obvious political/social agenda add-ons. However, Korra didn’t contain even the slightest hint that its story-world included “non-traditional” relationships — even as comic relief or as side references.
All Avatar stories have, as their emotional core, relationships between friends, siblings, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, boyfriends and girlfriends, and husbands and wives. Not one same-sex couple was in sight, meaning the Korrasami addition makes no sense.
Imagine if, at the end of the Star Wars trilogy, the camera pulled back to show the story was all a simulation or just Anakin’s bad dream. Or imagine that Breaking Bad‘s finale took a turn and — hey presto! — there’s suddenly a zombie epidemic! Korra may as well have added King Arthur, dinosaurs, or an alien invasion at the last second.
Commentator “SirMontague” at IGN.com crafted a lengthy critique of the lazy, so-subtle-it-arguably-doesn’t-even-exist story twist. “Everything Korra and Asami did together was normal behavior for two close friends excluding the final 15 seconds of the finale,” he wrote. “It just comes across as a sudden decision that isn’t really developed at all through the series.”
But the worst result of the Korrasami twist is that suddenly, most fans are forced to ignore Korra’s story and instead, talk about a social cause — regardless of one’s view on it.
“Korrasami ruined Korra and not in the way most would think,” fan Andrew Kocurek wrote on the show’s Facebook page. “That’s all fans ever talk about now when referring to Korra. All the fan pages are filled with this. Nothing about ANYTHING else related to the story. No Varrick and Zhu Li, no Mako or Bolin, it’s all Korra and Asami. It’s so freaking annoying.”
This is simply a version of the “Jesus Juke,” which ignores the obvious original intent of an anecdote, joke, or work of art, and instead, turns it into an opportunity to teach a high-falutin’ Moral Lesson. Some Christian filmmakers constantly juke their own work. They ask people not to enjoy the film for its potentially God-exalting creative storytelling, but rather, to support the film to promote a special cause. Such stories are usually boring and are hardly enjoyable upon repeat viewings. Indeed, creators who market their cause over their story are often covering for audience disinterest or creative deficiency.
But Korra already had high audience interest and amazing creativity. And even if the show’s creators had chosen to add in a human exploration of sexual or social causes, they could have worked it in earlier in the story — right alongside other additions to the Avatar world such as automobiles and radio.
Instead they chose a last-second absurd “cause juke.” And at first that makes me not want to enjoy Korra again. You can enjoy a great story over and over but a cause-juked story is barely interesting the first time. All of the Korrasami talk made me feel, not like a kid on Saturday morning enjoying the best of animated storytelling, but rather, like a kid in an uptight Sunday school class. This notion makes Korra feel, at best, like an evangelical film in which any story is used as a means to the real end of promoting a social cause. And the creators, along with fans, seem to proclaim in sing-song voices, “All right, children, now that we’ve had our fun, it’s time for us all to Learn a Valuable Moral Lesson.”
But perhaps my initial reaction won’t last. Gloating Korrasami shippers quoted good-naturedly (or as a plain taunt) the phrase “Korrasami is canon; you gotta deal with it!” So I have dealt with it, by concluding that the creators’ attempted social cause juke is mechanical, silly, and unnecessary. That’s why someday I will re-view Korra and enjoy it solely as great storytelling. After all, great stories will outlast even their own creators’ attempt to bend them to serve alternative goals.
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