Week 8: Aang VS Korra
Day 22: Boy Hero VS Girl Hero
Day 23: Consequences
Day 24: Limitations
Day 22 is for reluctance, confidence, gender identities, and hero moments.
All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.
“Why didn’t you tell us you’re the Avatar?”
“Because… I never wanted to be.”
“What makes you so sure your daughter is the one?”
“I’m the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!”
Presented without comment.
OK, not really.
When it comes right down to it, Aang and Korra’s genders have nothing to do with their respective approaches to being the Avatar, and, even before that, dealing with finding out and accepting that they are the Avatar. HOWEVER, we thought it would be interesting to look at how Aang and Korra deal with being the Avatar in their different ways through the lens of their genders to make just a little teeny tiny point about representation.
In Book 1, Aang has two entire episodes that explore, either briefly or at length, that learning that he is the Avatar at such a young age really messed him up. Here are some various images of him moping:
This is not to say that he should just get over himself, because, of course not. He wasn’t just told too early for no reason. The monks decided to tell him four years before he turned 16 because Fire Lord Sozin was becoming an increasing threat, and they wanted to speed up the process of turning him into a fully realized Avatar so that they could take care of it.
So, you’re 12 years old, you’re told that the balance of the world is in serious peril, and you need to grow up fast and stop doing the things you enjoy and being around the people you love because it’s on you to deal with it. Of course he mopes.
Also, he runs away, and almost dies, and freezes himself for 100 years. While he’s frozen, his entire nation gets destroyed. So. Mope away, baby Aang. 😦
But there’s also the fact that Aang is reluctant to learn fire bending. Well. Not at first.
After he accidentally burns Katara because he’s not being a respectful, patient student, he vows never to fire bend again. Guru Pathik helps him overcome this, as does Zuko, who understands that fire is dangerous and then some, but this whole thing is a pretty big deal.
And when Aang isn’t doing so well with earth bending, he just gets kind of sad and tries to avoid Toph.
Come to think of it, even when he’s trying to master water bending he’s more interested in snowman bending and playing with Momo.
And then there’s Korra.
Korra is a bending prodigy and never runs from a challenge. She struggles big time with air bending, but rather than mope about it like Aang would, she burns a bunch of stuff and yells in Tenzin’s face that she is bad at air bending because, 1. He’s a bad teacher, and 2. She doesn’t even need it anyway.
That goes away, of course, but she’s always determined to perfect her bending. She seeks out a metal bending tutor in Su Beifong, and is eager to learn how to use bending to purify angry spirits from Unalaq.
Later on she does reject the Avatar label, but that’s a conversation for another day.
How Korra is as a student and how Aang is seems pretty significantly different. She’s eager and determined, and easily, easily frustrated. Aang is fairly eager, but he’s more patient and at least slightly less determined than Korra is. A lot of that may be the age difference… but let’s look at how they both found out they’re the Avatar to begin with.
Aang is 12 when the monks tell him, Korra looks like a toddler and can already bend three elements. Korra was probably the first person in the world to realize that she is the Avatar and is clearly delighted by the prospect. Again, Aang has lots of reasons to not be so happy about it, and Korra definitely doesn’t at that young age. If Korra was growing up already on fantastic stories of Aang’s saving of the world, then why wouldn’t she be thrilled to discover that it’s her turn now?
Women getting to take on hero roles that were once mostly taken on by male characters is a thing now. It’s pretty contentious still for reasons that boggle the mind. There is some cynicism about it as well, like, the radical feminists are cautious about embracing female characters as role models and something to celebrate if they are just as violent and occasionally as fascist as your typical toxic masculine male action hero, also marxist critique would like to remind everyone that commercial art is commercial and rarely challenges the status quo in any meaningful way that will tear down capitalism or something, yadda yadda. Also, of course, it’s been mostly white women who get to do these hero things, and that needs to stop. Women of colour shouldn’t have to “wait their turn” or whatever it is that people are saying to try to justify why, if it isn’t a man, then it has to be a white woman. And we need plenty of characters representing men of colour as well. And that doesn’t even begin to discuss how there are genderqueer people who could use decent rep and trans women are still largely being played by cis men on screen which is absolutely ridiculous, and, really, men full stop could use more varied representation if we’re being honest. There’s a lot of good stuff that at least tries to detoxify masculinity if you look for it (we here humbly opine that Disney does it best) but we could always use some more.
But representation is seriously important. Last year, erm convinced Three to go and see girl Ghostbusters, and then this happened:
(the whole thing is good but it’s the Holtzman part especially, of course)
It’s hard to explain. A woman character doesn’t get to be cool like that unless she’s wearing something sexy and everything that’s happening has been choreographed specifically to enhance the sexiness. This was completely different.
This is the scene making all the women cry in theatres. So.
We can talk about “commercial art” and “violence is bad,” but still, representation matters.
Korra’s declaration of Avatarness is really like a celebration of that. In the first series, we had a typical boy chosen one hero, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and only he could bring back the balance. We’re not knocking it, it was great. But in the second series, rather than have another beleaguered chosen one, we instead get this prodigy, thrilled to be the Avatar. Also, she’s a brown girl, so there’s that.
This is her, trying out her Avatarness for the first time against a street gang and clearly enjoying herself:
Korra has a lot to learn, and her eagerness is mainly a thing that helps her character growth end up being really rewarding and interesting. And this is what pushes Korra as a female hero beyond just “the Avatar but a girl now,” because she does actually have to learn how to Avatar responsibly and not just stomp around declaring that she’s the Avatar. But still, it’s fun to watch her have fun.
Also, notice how Aang isn’t overly involved with Korra’s Avatar training the way Roku was with him? Partly it’s because she’s not great at spirituality, but once she opens up that block, we think it’s because he took a quick peek at how things were going with her, made this face:
and then said, “Eh. She’s got it covered.”