Wednesday, August 17, 2011
The Legend of Korra
I recently ranted about how much I hated the portrayal of Cheetara in the new Thundercats. I then reviewed Thundercats and called it the best action/adventure cartoon in some time. One of the big differences between it at Avatar, which I thought was technically better in most respects, was that there was very little sense of danger in Avatar, since Nickelodeon's ridiculous requirements mandated no violence. Thus, no one ever died. The show even made fun of itself after a character kinda'-sorta' dies, but they never address it. That was the creators giving a somewhat playful middle finger to Nickelodeon.
Nickelodeon has since reformed and is desperately trying to attract boys, a demographic that they essentially abandoned to Cartoon Network, by proving that they too have characters that punch each other.
This creative freedom appears to be in the new Avatar, where even the trailer to the show is more violent that the entirety of the original Avatar. I hope that this translates into a greater sense of danger and drama than the limp-dicked elements of the first series.
But while the original Avatar paled in comparison to the drama of the new Thundercats, it positively mopped the floor with it when it comes to representing female characters.
In Thundercats, Cheetara, who is one of two major female character thus far, is a strong, powerful character who does much to save the day. She is also constructed like a post-Photoshop Playboy model and dresses accordingly. Thundercats imported one of the worst elements of comic book-dom: females are valued as much for what they say and do as for how they look.
Compare this to Avatar: The Last Airbender, where fully half the cast were dynamic, visually distinct females. They are never portrayed in a vulgar, sexualized way. They are portrayed just as the males are portrayed.
The Legend of Korra appears to be putting an even more powerful female front and center. Her body is still attractive, incredibly fit, and feminine, but it is also realistic and not blatantly exploitative. It's excellent.
All that said, I'm not against sexual exploitation. I've never had problems with Playboy, or porn, or general sexual portrayals of both men and women. We are sexual and it's entirely reasonable to celebrate that sexuality in imagery.
My problem is with cultural norms that sexualize women to the detriment of other attributes. There is a persistent theme of women not being valuable unless they are attractive, regardless of what else they might be able to do. In comics, and in Thundercats, this is taken to an extreme with wildly overt, exaggerated, near-comical sexualization.
If we're just selling sex to men, as with porn, that's fine. But with cartoons like this, we're selling a collection of values to highly impressionable kids. We should be selling them aspirational ideals. Ideals of being physically healthy, honorable, strong: these are great things! But continuing to pump our boys and girls full of overt, sex-based valuations for women does us all harm.
Moreover, I think that it is bad business! How many girls are watching the new Thundercats? If Warner Corp's stated demographics are to be believed, it's not many. Compare this to Avatar, which has a gargantuan female following. Opening night, The Last Airbender (**shudder**) at my location was 50/50, with more women dressed up in costumes than men. Of the two other showings that I have knowledge, both had about as many women and men. An inaccurate sampling, to be sure, but it must have some truth.
I'm unable to find the actual demographics, which I suspect skewed slightly male. But what Avatar showed is that if creators legitimately try to attract females, the profits are significant. The Last Airbender was an awful film, and the reviews showed that, yet it still made money. I seriously doubt that those profits would have happened if not for the large female turn-out.
So kudos to the creators of Avatar for being both business savvy and not so blinded by their erections as to create a thoughtful, realistic female form.