By Christopher Harris
Hey everyone and welcome to the first segment of “Women and Geek, Pop Culture”. If you haven’t read the introduction piece then this series, like the name implies, will highlight some of the more authoritative roles women have in geek media. For example, the series will pin-point certain forms of media by briefly underlying how the particular show might diverge from reoccurring tropes and narratives we almost expect to see today. It’ll analyze fictional characters in TV, comics and video games, and emphasize the effects these characters have on future media and the representation of women.
I’m excited to present the very first Woman in Geek, Pop Culture:
The Legend of Korra - Nickelodeon/Nick.com
(This article is SPOILERS free!! If you haven’t seen this show though, I highly recommend after reading this you find a way to watch The Legend of Korra: Book One – Air. IT’S GOOD!)
From the talented trio, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko and Joaquin Dos Santos (Avatar: The Last Airbender) comes an inspirational story of a young woman trying to find her own path when the entire world sees her as the Avatar, a living embodiment of peace that’s able to manipulate (or “bend”) the four Elements. The Avatar is essentially tasked with keeping the world “balanced” and the humans that inhabit it from being at each other’s throats. It’s Korra’s job to protect and serve without playing favorites, and like previous Avatars, always manages to step on toes.
The Legend of Korra is a well-written animated drama with a female lead. You don’t see this too often. I watch a lot of cartoons and I’m pretty close to saying I just don’t see it at all. For that reason alone, it was easy to choose her first. The show does a great job at giving you the perspective of a young woman having very little choice than to deal with a multitude of social and political problems. In the middle of all that craziness, Korra has her own personal life to manage!
So let’s talk about Korra, shall we? Why does she make the list? How does she encourage the empowerment of women on TV, and on a cartoon no less? Well let’s first take a look at Korra.
Korra definitely dons a commanding physique, yet still keeping her feminine body shape. She’s no distressed damsel as it’s obvious she can hold her own in a fight. The Legend of Korra airs on Nickelodeon so you don’t have to worry about seeing her in revealing lingerie as she battles the forces of evil. Though, it is still nice to see some practicality where a feminine character in geek culture is concerned. Her “water tribe” garb design doesn’t make her an object of sexual desire (unless you’re into fur) and it certainly doesn't distract from the narrative. It’s simple and elegant, and if you’re an artist or writer, you've probably said to yourself “I wish I’d thought of that!!!”
Korra’s personality really matches her design. She’s energetic, she’s rather impulsive and even a bit aggressive. Korra can be rash, but it’s an issue she is aware of and puts effort into rectifying. Her internal conflicts are able to give her a substantial level of depth, something female characters in most cartoons don’t even come close to reaching.
There is also a single significant quality to Korra. Yes, her name is in the title, but there’s a reason she is the alpha of her group. It's not because she has the powers of an Avatar at her disposable. It’s because she emits confidence. It’s the fundamental difference between this Avatar series and the previous one. As the Avatar she can bend all the elements at will, which no other human can do. If there was no such thing as an Avatar I feel like she would be able to manipulate all the elements just fine, because of her personality, because of her confidence. It’s the reason why this series is such an excellent stand alone.
Confidence is a characteristic that doesn’t define too many characters these days. It’s been replaced by “swagger” or “bossy”. The type of roles that come off annoying and flat. After watching The Legend of Korra, you can only deem Korra as a great role model! She represents the type of person people can virtually look up to. For young women and girls, this is especially true.
Korra is a leader, but she isn’t cookie-cutter either! It’s that blend that makes her character so unique. She can be every bit of who she is, in any situation. When she talks, people listen and most times when other’s talk she’ll listen, given the situation. Korra’s interaction with other characters are always displayed with deep emotion. She could be conversing with bad guys and you feel the tension. When Korra is kicking butt, you really feel the strength of her blows. Alternatively, when Korra is feeling vulnerable, you get that sense of uneasiness. You won’t see that kind of character interaction on any other recent animated series.
Korra’s character is never diminished. Korra is never put in a situation where she made a mistake and is just left not learning anything by it. Due to the dramatic nature of the show, Korra deals with her not-so-trivial personal issues like a champ. She doesn’t waste time whining or complaining or asking the same questions over and over again. As a character she never gets too hung up on one thing. Korra keeps it moving and she gets results. It may good, it may be bad, but something will happen.
The Legend of Korra has, without a doubt, changed the game on how women can be represented on TV, at the very least cartoons. The series doesn’t just reuse the same types of clichés you see in run of the mill animated series’. Its breaks redundant plot devices down and builds in its place, a foundation in which writing and art can grow into something new, something different. It’s hard not be inspired by it!
A special thanks goes out to the wonderful creators and all the staff, and I mean all the staff, involved. Thanks to them Korra has the right look, the right attitude, and an incredible world in which a limitless story can be told. The writing, the art style, the acting, the music, it’s all just fantastic! It’s the unbelievable attention to detail everyone puts in that makes The Legend of Korra awesome!!
...and thank you Korra for being the ray of light in a pillar of darkness!
Janet Varney, the voice of Korra, just knocks it out of the solar system with phenomenal voice acting that literally breathes life into the character