Lin’s Ultimate Sacrifice:
I caught up on Avatar: The Legend of Korra, the sequel to the critically acclaimed and totally awesome Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon, about a world where certain people can manipulate the elements, yesterday. Overall, The Legend of Korra is a fantastic second series, and does an excellent job of moving the concepts that the original series laid out so well—that there are benders who can manipulate one element and an Avatar who can control them all—from a feudal setting into an industrialized future, and in giving the original characters descendants who share some of their characteristics while standing fully on their own as characters. One real standout for me was Lin Beifong, the chief of Republic City’s police force. And her arc at the end of the season embodied what I’ve seen as a small trend in female action stars: sacrifice, and a recognition that not everyone can get out alive.
That arc is as follows: Lin, having started the season skeptical of Avatar Korra, who’s been a somewhat disruptive presence in Republic City, has become Korra’s strong ally. After the forces controlled by Amon, a radical who wants to forcibly eliminate the powers of all benders, take over the city, Lin flees with Master Tenzin’s family, determined to protect the last surviving airbenders. And when it becomes apparent that Amon’s forces will overtake them, Lin sacrifices herself. She takes down one of Amon’s ships in a colossal act of metalbending, and when she’s captured, she refuses to compromise. In one of the quietest sequences in the show, Amon takes Lin’s bending from her, the lull in the soundtrack a powerful representation of the sudden absence that has made Lin much of who she is.
The sequence actually reminded me of what I thought was one of the most misunderstood elements of Zack Snyder’s fantasy action movie Sucker-Punch. That film, about girls confined to a 1960s mental institution where some of them are forced to undergo transorbital lobotomies, contains two major sacrifices. In one, Rocket (Jenna Malone) suffers a double death, protecting her sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) from the blast of a bomb in the movie’s fantasy world, and stepping in front of a cook’s knife to save her in the world in which the girls are actually living. And in the movie’s conclusion, Baby Doll (Emily Browning), submits to the lobotomy she’s loathed and feared so that Sweet Pea can escape the asylum. It struck me at the time that there was something uniquely female about recognizing how tightly the jaws of the system were clamped around these girls, the tremendous effort it would take to free just one of them, and the decision by the main characters to prioritize the love between sisters and friends rather than themselves. The uniqueness of that perspective seems to have gotten lost in other critiques of Sucker-Punch, but it’s stayed with me, a specific rebuke by Snyder to the rather manly idea that competence and bravery will see all the main characters through to the end of most action movies, no matter the odds.
Lin has a happier fate in Korra: after communing with her past lives, the Avatar is able to restore her lost powers, and to a certain extent her lost self. But there was no such guarantee when she lept from her safe perch to go up against a system more powerful than she was, and in defense of something other than herself.
I agree with the above reviewer including her comments about Sucker Punch which is a very important film that went largely unrecognized, criticized and distracted by the ‘hot babes fighting/dancing’ ignoring and not caring about what they went through, systematically and psychological/enhanced warfare.
I’ve also talked about sacrifice in goddess/root/indigenous cultures (bear in mind such cultures were not religions) – the sacrifice of the Daughter figure, the divine Daughter of the divine/cosmic Mother. Also sacrifice of symbolic characters of similar type such as Buffy the [Vampire] Slayer (along with Joyce, Dawn, Willow the Red Witch/Goddess who shouldn’t have mind controlled Tara and also shouldn’t have been stopped from calling forth the final Goddess).
Remember – the Slayer’s gift is Death. Only through the ultimate death/sacrifice does the slayer/daughter achieve peace/love/protection.
Sidenote – I thought it hilarious [sarcasm] how Giles once helped Buffy/Dawn pay the bills. I should damned well think so. Did she get compensated for everything taken from her, for everyone/thing she saves, all the predators she kills, the times she’s died, the times she’s saved the world? No. Yet the inflated, self important parasite secret society (similar to Anne Rice’s ‘Talamasca’) who do their best to control her, know all about her and choose when and how much they’ll tell her about her own past lives, puts her in danger and still expects her to obey and help them has shitloads of wealth and influence. She can barely get through education ditto work, is followed and hounded everywhere by the society and other enemies and still has to find a way to survive in society whilst they’ve ‘earned’ off her back. She shouldn’t even have to go through standardized education/work, she’s doing enough, but by keeping her true identity/role hidden the ‘powerful’ society can get her to do a bit of their storyline, wear her out and move on to the next slayer to try and brainwash (since Buffy is resistant) whilst they (and vampires/demons) live it up with titles and luxury and she’s reduced to “Would you like fries with that?” whilst looking after everybody. No time or resources for herself and peace of body/mind. Unlike the witches in Sabrina the Teenage Witch for example, she has no accumulated funds or security whatsoever. [ADDED today 01.01.16: and those witches – female and male – live only for their own hedonism, they embody the way of the magi/wizards, not nature witches.]
However it’s time that characters like this stopped sacrificing themselves, and ‘families’ with children stopped taking precedence. There are many types of family and having children is not a get-out clause. These characters sacrifice themselves over and over for everybody else (including for their own families), the same people who’ve taken from them, would do so again, went along with it, don’t really care and would actually like to be the ones they’re being defended against or at least have what they have. Heroes, like leaders, are just tools to be sacrificed for the many who wouldn’t do the same, to be used/admired when convenient and cast aside when they help make the situation better and more manageable but not idealistic as such heroes really wanted without realizing the people they were helping didn’t share the same ideals, they just wanted a more comfortable life. Lin is an awesome character who deserved better, Tenzin didn’t deserve her and his wife never gave a crap, couldn’t even utter a thanks after Lin’s act, even after she’d taken Lin’s happiness and encouraged Korra to do the same with Mako and Asami. It’s always about herself and Tenzin wants the best of both. As for the children, this isn’t their first life and they would have been born elsewhere. There are things more important than lineage and immortality, only idiots want to be immortal.
Which brings me to the famous people who’ve been inspired to be more ‘charitable’ because of having babies, realizing what’s important, making the world a better place for their children. Wtf? What about all the other children and everybody/thing else? What, they didn’t matter? Their suffering meant nothing until now, the world has to be nicer and prettier for YOUR precious bundle of joy eh. Why didn’t you care before? How did you amass wealth and success in the first place, stepping on the backs of others and hurting yourself thinking it’s worth it or not thinking at all but oh, bring one more responsibility into an existence that is visible to you and that changes everything does it. Some can’t or don’t have children and would have done a better job of it had they wanted them as well as being more worthy beforehand. Some people made the conscious decision not to have children and live by example for many reasons – some being to help protect others and their children and the planet as a whole because they actually care about everybody, not just themselves. Try helping them help you.
Don’t follow a script, we’re too controlled as it is on this planet.
Sacrifice of such characters doesn’t make things better, it makes those left behind complacent not realizing how dependent they were/are, who forget, repeat and think that sacrificing one/less for the many is ok/’necessary evil’ especially if it saves their own. What happens when they have to fend for themselves and there’s none left whose sacrifice would save them? All you get from sacrificing the best characters is a weaker/less ethical population who need sacrifices/scapegoats/leaders and who are more vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
As long as heroes (not pack/soldier/gang/master/underling mentality) are rare nothing gets better, everybody has to be responsible.
This is an insightful show:
The Tribe (1999-2003)