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.


From the archives: Thoughts on Biker Mice from Mars

April 3, 2009

bikermice_bar

Contributed by Sterling F.

CharleyOf all the shows mentioned on this web site, no one has mentioned Biker Mice from Mars. This truly underrated show had some surprising adult characters and situations.

First let’s look at the main characters. Throttle is the quintessential leader who is smart and your average guy. He is the only one with a girlfriend who is tough and very loyal. Vinnie is the classic young, hyper, oversexed man. He boasts and brags consistently and of course tries to get women (I’ll explain that more later). Modo is the lovable big guy who is committed to family (he is pretty much a mama’s boy). Charley is a woman who lives alone and is a mechanic (she is also the most realistic looking woman as she rarely wears sexy clothing). She obviously enjoys the company the Biker Mice bring her. The villain Limburger is very similar to the British villains seen in James Bond films. His assistant Carbunkle is androgynous in both look and voice. Greasepit, a henchman, is an idiot.

Now, there are tons of sexual overtones and innuendos between Charley and Vinnie. It is evident in the first episodes (in the second episode when Charley is dressed in a short skirt and falls over in front of them, Vinnie asks her to “turn around again”). Other incidents include: his reactions to when Charley is in danger (male protectiveness of his woman), flexing in front of her, jealousy (evident when Charley’s old boyfriend showed up), and many incidences in which he wants her to check him out. Charley flat out refuses all his advances (after all, that is bestiality) but even including that kind of relationship which is more obvious than Elisa and Goliath in Gargoyles is bold.

Also, the Biker Mice are borderline chauvinistic in most of the episodes. They fight while Charley sits in the garage only because they make her. She often has to fight to get equal treatment from them which mirrors the women’s rights movement and the glass ceiling issue.

The villain Limburger could be considered gay. He never does anything himself against the Biker Mice, he hires someone else to do it. Limburger has no family to speak of (except for a nephew…think of Scar from The Lion King) and is often running, yelling, and screaming (with Carbunkle in tow) from the Biker Mice. Also, Limburger has an inferiority complex. He loathes anything dealing with being Plutarkian (he is an alien). He despises doing the Plutarkian greeting and always has on his human mask even when he does not need to (in fact an episode showed a flashback where he was infatuated with Earth movies).

One thing about the show that seemed negative was the portrayal of rats. All the rats on the show are evil or do evil things. Modo, in particular, gets angry when anyone compares him to a rat. The person(?) that brings down the Martian forces is a rat disguised as a mouse who infiltrates the group. He also kidnaps the girlfriend of Vinnie (note that this takes place before they get to Earth). This smells of racism (the rats being African-Americans) and the rat kidnapping one of the mice’s girlfriend goes right into the stereotype of African-American men craving white women.

There are also lots of in-jokes. The voice of Vinnie is Ian Ziering of 90210. Thus, the show had guest appearances by people from 90210 including Luke Perry, Jason Priestly, and Jennie Garth (in fact, Luke Perry’s character looked like a twisted version of him). Also, an episode of the show dealt with Shakespeare. The voice of Limburger is a Shakespearean actor.

I hope this gives you an idea of the show, which was on the air for three seasons. Even though the animation was not nearly as good as Disney or Warner Bros., the writing combined sexual tension, humor, action, and adult in-jokes in virtually every episode while staying within the realm of children’s television. Also, what show geared toward kids would stretch out a storyline through 3 weekly episodes (as it did in its final season, before shows like ReBoot or Beast Wars did it)? Anyone who is a fan of this show or vaguely remembers it should comment and tell me what you think.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Furl | Newsvine


Mini-Analyzations

February 27, 2009

mini_bar11

  • A long-running – seemingly endlessly iterated, in fact – conflict between enemies known as Tom and Jerry. Where else have we seen this?  That’s right, the First World War, in which the Brits were known collectively as “Tommy Atkins” and they called the Germans “Jerries” (well, when they weren’t calling them “Huns”).  Interesting, then, that it’s with Jerry – the historical loser – that our sympathies lie. Revisionist propaganda? Perhaps. Perhaps.
    Come to think of it, weren’t the majority of these cartoons produced during and shortly after the second World War, in which Jerry (if you will) was once again the enemy?  Posited: a subversive attempt to counteract the “all Germans are Nazis are Evil” propaganda then current – a sort of Don’t Let’s be Beastly to the Germans, without Noel Coward’s sarcasm.
    -Contributed by Jeffie
  • You know, if you think about it, The Muppets were quite a sublime commentary on the human condition. None of the Muppets were good at what they wanted to be. Piggy wasn’t beautiful. Fozzie wasn’t funny. Kermit couldn’t make his show a success. The Swedish Chef could not cook, etc. They all constantly failed, yet kept trying.
    -From Scott Kurtz’s PvP, 12/10/2008
  • There’s one reservation I have about [The Rescuers Down Under]. Why does the villain have to be so noticeably dark-complexioned compared to all of the other characters? Is Disney aware of the racially coded message it is sending? When I made that point to another critic, he argued that McLeach wasn’t dark-skinned – he was simply always seen in shadow. Those are shadows are cast by insensitivity to negative racial stereotyping.
    -From Roger Ebert’s Review of The Rescuers Down Under
  • The Count from Sesame Street shows classic symptoms of OCD.
    -Contributed by Jim W.
  • In WALL•E, the span of years listed for each of the Axiom’s previous captains is ambiguous about whether it denotes each captain’s lifespan or the number of years in which he or she was captain of the ship. It should be noted that there is no overlap in the years for each captain. This leans towards the possibility that each person’s time as captain lasted an average of 133.2 years. Regardless, whatever each captain’s span of years denotes, they just happen to total out to 666.
    From the first captain to the last one before Jeff Garlin’s character:
    143+131+140+124+128 = 666
    -Contributed by Joon K.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Furl | Newsvine


Ex Situ: The Grinch and Racial Suicide

December 22, 2008

grinch_bar

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


Discriminatory Segregationism in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

November 25, 2008

peanuts_bar

We are thankful here at J. Cart. Overanal.: thankful that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Take, exempli gratia, this still from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973 C.E.):

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Two immediate items of note:

  1. Linus Van Pelt, acting in his customary role as spiritual leader, is sitting at the head of the table.
  2. Franklin, the sole African-American member of the Peanuts ensemble, is sitting all by himself on one side of the table.

Here is a passable video of the sequence, including a nightmarish Guaraldi-seasoned tête-à-tête between Snoopy and a beach chair:

The scene in question is, in fact, somewhat questionable itself: the numbers of chairs and servings fluctuate throughout, giving the meal a disorientating Kubrickian quality. This produces in the scene a sense of unease and tension which reflects the viewers’ discomfort at the casual racism on display. Indeed, Franklin is seated in the malicious beach chair, which humiliatingly places him at an eye level below that of the others.

Though this segregation is not limited to racial issues only: Marcie, though eccentric and possessing of an ambiguous sexuality, is caucasian enough to be allowed to remain close to the rest, but is still seated at the end towards the left side of the table. Linus chooses to seat Marcie as far away from himself as possible, separated from the larger group by the dog. Indeed, the beagle is deemed a more fit companion than any heterodox humans. (Though, perhaps Snoopy is allowed to sit with the elite in due respect for his cooking prowess. It is also noted that Snoopy, in an act of defiant compassion, serves Marcie and Franklin first.) Furthermore, to extrapolate, the only characters exempted which could reasonably join the table next are the obsessive-compulsive Schroeder, the filthy Pig Pen, or the unloved and sadistic Lucy, who, if arriving late, would be forced to sit in one of the chairs next to Franklin and Marcie. Thus, the entire left side of the table would be relegated to odd, unhygienic misfits and belligerent, racial outcasts.

The characters are not evil: Peppermint Patty shows genuine remorse for embarrassing and bullying Charlie Brown, and Linus is often a beacon of compassion and temperance. But the point is made: the virus of casual discrimination is insidious and unaware, and can manifest itself at an early age.

Nota bene: this troubling issue uncovered via Super Punch >Catena Ex Situ


Mini-Analyzations

September 29, 2008

  • I don’t know if others have noticed, but Pepe Le Pew is a glaringly insulting portrayal of the French people and all things Gallic. The cartoon relies on the stereotype that the French don’t bathe, hence Le Pew being a skunk, a rather malodorous animal. (Some people might think that the cartoons portrayal of the French as oversexed is a stereotype but, as anyone who has been to France knows, this is an astonishingly real picture of the French.) He speaks with a funny accent, too! It is completely galling! Could it get any worse? At least there was never an episode of Pepe capitulating to the Nazis. Vive l’amour!
    -Contributed by Mark C.
  • Brendan S. mentions several characters seen in the feature Who Framed Roger Rabbit? that were created after 1947, the year the film takes place. I read an interview with the filmmakers where they stated their excuse for this was that these characters were hanging around Toon Town in that year until they were “discovered” a few years later by the studios, as if they really existed and shared the same legends as live action movie stars. A bit of dramatic license. I think a bigger problem is the glaring lack of Tom and Jerry in the film. I guess they couldn’t get the rights to these characters.
    -Contributed by Mark C.
  • Is it just me, or does Panthro of the Thundercats seem like a feline representation of a black man?  It’s interesting to me that even when human protagonists are replaced with somewhat more bestial protagonists, that animation directors would feel the need to express racial diversity.  If you ask me, Thundercats was already demonstrating diversity by depicting feline humanoids, which have been grossly under-represented on television and elsewhere.  (I mean, just because they don’t exist doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be represented, right?)
    -Contributed by YHN

Ex Situ: Freeing the Elephants

September 21, 2008

There’s a delightful article by Adam Gopnik in the latest (September 22, 2008) issue of The New Yorker about some controversies surrounding the Babar series. Here’s a clip:

In the past few decades, a series of critics on the left, most notably the Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman, have indicted Babar in the course of a surprisingly resilient and hydra-headed argument about the uses of imagery and the subtleties of imperialist propaganda. Babar, such interpreters have insisted, is an allegory of French colonization, as seen by the complacent colonizers: the naked African natives, represented by the “good” elephants, are brought to the imperial capital, acculturated, and then sent back to their homeland on a civilizing mission. The elephants that have assimilated to the ways of the metropolis dominate those which have not.

Fascinating. As is the rest of the article, which among other things touches on: a wholly different controversy regarding the fate of Babar’s mother, the occupations of animals, nationalistic representations of order and disorder in children’s literature, and Matisse.

Freeing the Elephants >Catena Ex Situ


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 144 other followers