Monday, October 22, 2012

The Legend of Korra and Republic City Politics

Moving on from Asami Sato's dire situation, let's take a look at the general political situation in Republic City at the end of the first season of The Legend of Korra. Though the crisis with Amon has been resolved and Korra has claimed her place as the Avatar not just through providence but through deeds, the general situation in Republic City is still marked by a lot of uncertainty and problems that are likely to escalate unless they are handled deftly.
The main lens for this analysis is the bender/non-bender split, which incorporates problems surrounding technological development, political structure, and the risk of a wide-spread ressentiment for both sides. Before going deeper into the situation, it should be mentioned that obviously there are plenty of people and families who exist in the middle and have no problems with either group, but since this is a political analysis, such nuance will of course be completely ignored.
At the end of the first season, Korra and her friends have defeated Amon and the Equalists, while the rather fascistic Tarrlok is dead, leaving the governing council of Republic City in wise hands that do not approve of oppression of non-benders. So, to quote a dancing demon in Buffy: big smiles everyone. You beat the bad guy.

But if we look at the bender population, what have they learned through the conflict with the Equalists? That they are, for the first time, vulnerable to attack from non-benders. As we have seen throughout both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, benders are a bit of a privileged class, being the go-to group for the military, law enforcement and rulers of different stature are often benders. Though well-organized groups of non-benders could have created a danger in the past using bows and sneak attacks, I daresay that the Equalists were the first group that had the methods and the means to defeat benders regularly, through the equalizing effect of technology. Thus, I would claim that the general bender population are in a state of greater uncertainty after the defeat of the Equalists than before they came onto the scene. The form this uncertainty will take in practice is of course up for debate. I would claim that, since it was revealed that the main non-bender in the Equalist organization (Amon himself being revealed as a bender) was the industrialist Hiroshi Sato and that technology was used with great effects against the bender-based police and military, the benders of Republic City will react negatively towards technology itself and start pushing to keep technology out of the hands of non-benders and restrict technological advancement to keep their privileged position.

The non-benders, on the other hand, had a lot of understandable resentment that obviously generated significant support for the Equalists under Amon, and the behaviour of the Republic City government in response to the Equalist threat most likely reinforced that resentment against discrimination of non-benders. The reveal that Amon was actually a bender himself probably reinforced resentment against benders as well, since it could lead them to think that benders consider them pawns in their own power games. At the same time, the Equalist success and use of technology will probably make more non-benders realise the potential of it. As we could see in the beginning of the series there are bender mobs running protection rackets against non-benders - the existence of the Equalist technology will thus most likely lead to the rise of non-bender businessmen banding together to protect themselves. If the Republic City government tries to restrict the electro-gloves and other offensive technology, that would probably mean that these group would be extra-legal in nature and, as such things go, create the foundation of a shadow economy and more deeply entrenched mafias such as the Cosa Nostra.
The advances of technology also means that there is less reason for the police and military occupations to be exclusive to benders, so non-benders would probably push for those to open up (with corresponding opposition by those wanting to keep bender privilege).

Taken together, this balance presents a formidable dilemma for the Republic City government. In our world, of course, we have plenty of examples to draw from where a previously protected and privileged class (the aristocracy) got threatened and overtaken by a rich merchant class (the bourgeoisie), but in the world of Avatar, there really is an innate difference between bender and non-bender, which might well lead to more problems.
We'll see how much of these problems actually show up in the series.

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