Dr. Seuss Would Have Supported Amon: A Comparison Between Legend of Korra and The Sneetches

September 4, 2012

Contributed by Nathan G.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, the Nickelodeon animated show Legend of Korra and the Dr. Seuss short story The Sneetches are actually very similar tales. Though they are meant for different age levels and possess very different levels of sophistication, both stories are about the tragedies and horrors of institutionalized racism, and the way to combat it. The main point of divergence between them is that while Dr. Seuss writes about the downfall of racism, Legend of Korra celebrates its survival.

 Let us first examine The Sneetches. As the doctor tells us, Sneetches are creatures that live on beaches. They enjoy a simple life; barbecuing, playing ball, toasting marshmallows, and generally having a wonderful time. But this lovely life is not enjoyed by all Sneetches, not all! You see, some Sneetches have stars on their bellies, and some Sneetches are without. And no Star-Bellied Sneetch would ever even dream of having fun or spending any time at all with a Non-Starred Sneetch. So while the Starred Sneetches enjoy themselves day and not, those lacking chest ornaments are left out in the cold. So as it stands we have a classic case of racism in action. One group, possessing something that another group lacks, uses this advantage to persecute and de-humanize their fellows, keeping them segregated and oppressed. Because they don’t recognize them as equals, the Starred Sneetches have no need to share their good fortune with the Non-Starred Sneetches. Convenient for them perhaps, but not so good for their poor, plain-bellied neighbors.  And this tragic situation continues, until one day a mysterious man appears with a marvelous machine. His name is Sylvester McMonkey McBean, and he is the Fix-it Chap. And he has a wonderful deal for the Non-Starred Sneetches. For only a few dollars, he can add stars to those plain bellies. In a word, equalization. Though the original Starred Sneetches try and maintain their power by erasing their stars, the Newly-Starred Sneetches merely follow in a chaotic cycle, until no one can remember who was originally what. By the end of the story, all distinction between Starred and Non-Starred is completely gone and a new era of equal campfires and volleyball games begin.

Now, Legend of Korra is much more complex, and does not mirror The Sneetches exactly. However there are more than enough similarities to warrant an examination. The setting for the show is Republic City, a place where “benders and non-benders can live in peace.” Bending, it should be noted, is a special ability that a large segment of the population possesses that allows them to manipulate one of the Four Elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Now this slogan sounds great on the surface, and up to a point it’s even true. After all, there is no official discrimination against non-benders. No, this is much more subtle than the Sneetches.  Watching the show, you begin to realize something. The entire government is composed of Benders. The entire police force is composed of benders, as is the Armed Forces. The most popular form of entertainment in the city is barred to all but Benders. By and large, non-benders seem to have little say in public affairs, and their concerns are treated as less important by the show. Or to put it differently, non-benders weren’t allowed to attend barbecues or a marshmallow roasts. But a McBean is coming. Early in the series the character Amon is revealed. The mysterious leader of a group called the Equalists, his goal is simple. The eradication of Bending, and the equalization of all people in Republic City. He plans to accomplish this through the use of a most singular power that he possesses; the ability to strip someone of their bending. Of course, the establishment doesn’t stand by and let their power vanish without a fight. They quickly enact highly discriminatory laws designed to punish all non-benders, even those who are not Equalists. It should be noted that these are passed by an 80% margin, with less than a minute of debate. Over the following half-dozen episodes or so, the main characters struggle with the Equalists and become embroiled in numerous subplots too complicated to be related here. But finally, in the series climax the Equalists seize power in a bloodless coup and prepare to implement their agenda. But it is here that the series changes direction. Unlike Dr. Seuss, the creators of Legend of Korra do not have the courage to advocate the overthrow of the established order. No, instead Amon is disgraced by the plucky young heroes and ultimately murdered by his own brother. The Bending elite declare victory, and things continue on as they always have.

Now that we’ve familiar with the basic structure of the two stories, I’d like to draw special attention to several of the most important points. First of all, neither McBean or Amon is who they say they are. McBean claims to be looking out only for the Sneetches best interest, but throughout the story he displays only contempt for them. In fact, the harmonizing of their society was only a side effect of his real aim, which was to make as much money as possible. It would not be overly harsh to accuse him of being a con man. But his trickery is forgiven, as he has wrought much good. Amon claims to be a non-bender, one who was severely burned by a fire bender in his youth. In reality, he is an extremely powerful bloodbender, and the son of Republic City’s most notorious criminal. Though he truly did believe in the Equalist cause, he built it on a foundation of lies and half-truths. Is this ethically correct? Not really. But does it change the reality of what equalization would bring? No! Another point, and one that is closely related is that in both stories, the destruction of racism must come about through profoundly unethical processes. Amon’s stripping of bending makes many people uncomfortable, and with good reason. It is an incredible violation of someone’s soul, and something hard to countenance under any circumstances. Compared to the ongoing and fundamental inequalities of life in Republic City however, it begins to look a lot less bad. And though what Mr. McBean was doing wasn’t as bad, it was certainty not proper behavior that we would expect from a hero. He quite handily scams the Sneetches out of a very large sum of money; by my calculations at least $1,000. This figure should be regarded as a bare minimum; the true number is almost certainly much higher. For folks whose entire occupation is hanging out on a beach, this is not a insignificant amount! The final point that needs to brought up is that the evil is not in the people but in the system. When discussing Legend of Korra, one of the most frequent defense of Bender elitism you encounter is the character defense. Not all benders are bad people! they say. Look at this example, or that person, and so on and so forth. And to a point, they’re right. The series is full of Bender characters such as Tenzien, General Iroh, Korra, and Bolin who would never dream of intentionally oppressing an entire segment of society. But the key word is intentionally. A fundamental truth that these two stories illustrate quite well is that a good person will always be defeated by a bad system. Korra and Tenzien are blinded by the positions of privilege they occupy, making it impossible for them to realize how cruel the system they prop up is. Similarly, on the last page of The Sneetches, you observe people living in harmony who only five or six pages ago had despised each other. This is possible because once the Starred Sneetches have been broken out of the system that perpetuated their supposed superiority, allowing their better natures to become dominant.

At this point the parallels between the two stories are obvious, which begs the question: why is the reaction to them so different? The Sneetches is known by all as a great way to teach children about the wrongness of racism while the vast majority of Legend of Korra fans were delighted by the death of Amon. The answer to this question is quite simple. McBean was able to finish his work, and Amon was not. Think about the struggles against discrimination and racism in our own world. Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist for several decades, and the FBI classified Martin Luther King Jr. as a threat to the state. It was only after they’d achieved victory that their achievements were recognized. Sadly, Amon was never given this chance.

Ex Situ: Solidarity is Illusion: The Political Economy of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

May 25, 2011


But the strong feminist themes of the series are built on a foundation of political contradictions. The most fantastic element of the show is not that ponies can talk or that dragons exist; it is the illusion that an egalitarian society can be maintained among groups with massive biologically inherent gaps in ability and economic utility. By even the most cursory of sociological and economic analyses, the society in MLP: FiM should be highly stratified along class and racial lines. And there are clear signs of that stratification, except they are obscured by a propagandistic focus on the power of “friendship”.

Solidarity is Illusion: The Political Economy of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Catena Ex Situ

Ex Situ: The Sociology of The Smurfs

May 23, 2011

The Smurfs had a clear identification of their given roles, whether inherited or assigned. I specify that distinction because aside from the roles of profession (such as Poet, Actor, Handy, or Farmer) there were also roles of disposition. I find this very fascinating, as these Smurfs (such as Lazy, Dreamy, Greedy, and Grumpy) seemed to offer nothing substantial to their society as a whole, yet were just as necessary.

Psychology of Cartoons – Part 2: Sociology of The Smurfs 
Catena Ex Situ

Darkwing Duck: Champion of the Free Market?

December 1, 2009

Contributed by J. W.

In Darkwing Duck Season 1, Episode 7 (“Dirty Money”) Darkwing is hired by a banker named J. Gander Hooter to find out who’s been removing the ink from the nation’s printed money. Showing Darkwing a stack of unprinted bills, Hooter presents an observation that subtly explains the core philosophy and flaw of the central banking system (i.e. the Federal Reserve): “This paper was once worth $10,000,” he says. “Now, without the ink, it’s worthless. Without printed money, the economy will self-destruct.” The episode never really returns to this point – in fact, the entire question of the missing ink goes largely ignored – but the fact that a children’s cartoon would even mention the economy’s self-destruction and the fact that printed money is essentially worthless paper makes it hard to believe that there’s not a greater metaphor at work in this episode.

Prior to hiring Darkwing Duck, J. Gander Hooter had hired an investigative firm called SHUSH, which is represented by a character named Agent Grizzlikof. Appropriately, Agent Grizzlikof is a bear with a Russian accent (a double layer of meaning, given that the Bear is the symbol of Russia). Throughout the episode, Grizzlikof demonstrates a Soviet’s penchant for excessive bureaucracy and an insistence that everything be done “by the book.” Before allowing Darkwing to take part in the investigation, for example, he demands that Darkwing become a member of SHUSH. This involves a lengthy application process that includes a physical obstacle course (Darkwing is literally made to jump through hoops) and a mountain of paperwork. Seeing the huge stack of papers before him (the D-11 Stroke 6 Destination Disclosure Form), Darkwing remarks that “This is worse than the obstacle course.” On cue, he is informed that “Those are just the forms for permission to fill out these forms,” at which point 7 or 8 new, even taller stacks of papers are brought to him on a forklift.

According to J. Gander Hooter, however, Grizzlikof’s methods of over-regulation have failed (a jab at the failure of Communism, perhaps?), which is why he’s hired Darkwing Duck to take over. In contrast to Grizzlikof (whom Darkwing describes as a “predictable paper-pusher”), Darkwing is praised for his “unpredictable methods,” as well as his “unique brand of logic and deduction.” It is perhaps no coincidence that “unpredictable” and “logic” are both buzzwords frequently used to describe the unregulated capitalist system idealized in libertarian/free market circles. As Dr. Robert Murphy writes in his Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, “Aside from the ‘fact’ that it hurts the poor, the other major objection to capitalism is that it is allegedly chaotic [unpredictable]. After all, in a market economy no one is ‘in charge’ of car production, and it’s nobody’s job to make sure that enough newborn-sized diapers get made.”

The actual villain of the episode is a cleaning lady named Ammonia Pine (interesting that the villain is a worker, the central mythical figure of Marxist philosophy), who secretly works for the shadowy syndicate known as F.O.W.L. Her goal, unlike most cartoon villains, is not to steal a large sum of money, but to wage economic warfare. “With SHUSH off my tail and all the money scrubbed,” she cackles, “the banks will go down the drain like scum in a bathtub.” This dastardly scheme is championed by the High Command at F.O.W.L., with whom Ammonia Pine communicates via a small telecommunication device. Once the banks fail, they say, “Our economic experts will move in to mop up.” Towards the end of the episode, High Command reiterates this point, describing the manner in which they can “begin taking control of the banks and financial institutions.”

Thus, in a single cartoon we have a Russian bear whose mountains of regulation prove ineffective (Darkwing is only saved from Ammonia Pine’s giant vacuum cleaner when he tears Grizzlikof’s SHUSH manual into pieces and uses its pages to block the vacuum’s vent system); a villain who realizes that power comes from destroying (and then controlling) banks and financial institutions with the help of “economic experts”; and a hero whose greatest virtues are his lack of rules (i.e. he is unregulated) and his unpredictability. Sounds to me like two critiques of Communism (its bureaucracies and its thirst for economic control and power) and a wink at free-market capitalism. This is perhaps no surprise, given that Darkwing Duck first aired in 1991 when the Soviet Union was well on its way to collapse.

Ex Situ: Dora and Caillou and the War Against America’s Kids

March 13, 2009


The good ol’ Blasphemin’ Cap’n, previous of How the Simpsons have Lost their Way, has hoisted up another gem from the depths of his intellect:

Dora the Explorer and Caillou are calculated subversive propaganda machines brought forth by foreign governments to undermine the sanctity and security of the United States.

While the research may be dubious and the logic may also be dubious, Cap’n raises intriguing hypotheses. Excerpt with regard to Caillou:

The storyline revolves around a, 4-year bald “big boy”, named Caillou. Caillou either whines or speaks in a baby voice. He’s rarely in trouble with his hopelessly perky and indulgent parents, who are at his constant beck and call. The family dynamic here is the exact opposite of the Mexican Dora Project. The undermining aspect of the authoritarian love is not limited to his overseeing parental units, but all adults that he encounters. An all knowing “adult” to look over his every misstep advocates the advancement of an authoritarian “Nanny State.”

And with regard to Dora the Explorer:

Also, and more genius, is the subtexual context in Dora the Explorer’s lack of parental figures that creates erosion of the American family unit. The lack of effectual parental figures, save for the once-in-a-while-product-placement crossover of her older brother Diego, creates the illusion to a younger age set that parental supervision is not only unnecessary, it in fact, dilutes fun. Any parental involvement in a child’s activity should be shunned and greeted with disdain.

This is especially worrisome in the light of the ominous and foreboding “tween Dora” which was recently announced to the horror of parents everywhere (including myself). This is surely a more insidious scheme: to transform America’s youth into a horde of quasi-self-sufficient purchase-happy fashionitas.

The War Against America’s Kids > Catena Ex Situ

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Ex Situ: The Grinch and Racial Suicide

December 22, 2008


Joe Crawford from ArtLung sent in this link to a post from Undercover Black Man, which itself links to a seasonal over-analyzation at Lawrence Auster’s View from the Right blog.

Here’s Mr. Auster’s entire article:

As I type, I’m glancing at some grotesque thing on ABC, about the Grinch and Christmas, in which humans interact in brotherhood with a variety of monstrous looking other species, and a little girl has a tender relationship with an unsettlingly hideous but sensitive and kind-hearted being called the Grinch, and everyone loves each other. This is not our society celebrating the beautiful holiday of Christmas. This is the Liberal Controllers of our society carefully teaching children an unnatural and dangerous lie that they would never believe unless they were carefully taught. How many whites will militate against vitally necessary immigration restrictions in the decades to come, how many young white females will be raped and murdered by nonwhites in the decades to come, because of the message of trusting and loving racial aliens that programs like this implant in them?

As an holiday bonus, one can click the link below to read an additional Who-sized comment about the Shrek movies.

Undercover Black Man: Lawrence Auster has a Question
> Catena Ex Situ

Ex Situ: Chicken Run is Communist

October 13, 2008

Lucas E. sent in this Ex Situ for us to share to the world. I couldn’t significantly improve on his missive, so I’ve just reproduced it below:

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned this on your site yet. But, it seems quite obvious to me. Chicken Run is basically Communist propaganda.

A decent analysis of it is contained here:  [>Catena Ex Situ]

The problem isn’t that Mrs. Tweedy is looking to kill the chickens. The problem is she’s trying to increase profits.

The hope of the chickens is not to bargain for better wages, better working conditions, and more time off. Rather, the hope is a worker’s paradise on the hills outside the chicken farm, where chickens can roam free in a world of abundance.

Interesting, no?


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