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28th May 2012

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The Equalists and Tall Poppy Syndrome—An Introspecitve

As the TVTropes Korra page has references in his profile, Amon is clearly a preacher of Tall Poppy Syndrome—the idea that for all people to be equal, instead of finding a way to raise the lowest common denominator, you cut the highest down.This gave me a few ideas, including for Amon’s alleged back-story, Hiroshi’s Sato’s mindset, and perhaps the reasoning for quite a few Equalists. It’s long, so it’s under the break.

I’d heard of the syndrome before this show. I’d wondered why kids got bullied for bring smart/athletic/having a random talent/etc. This syndrome explained it, and to me it gives a possible other motive to Amon, assuming the backstory he gave was real. Tall Poppy Syndrome removes the idea of ‘why aren’t I good enough’ and replaces it with ‘how dare they be so good’ at something. It’s a way of blame. I thought about this since Amon points out that he lost his family and his face—aka he was probably injured trying to save them or fight this alleged firebending murderer.

As we can tell by his (admittedly, not proven true) back-story, he clearly lost. By Tall Poppy Syndrome, he could shift his blame from ‘why couldn’t I save them’ and ‘why wasn’t I strong enough’ to ‘there shouldn’t be someone as strong as that killer’ ‘people with bending have too many advantages, so there was nothing I could do’. It’s an ease of guilt by blame shifting, essentially—like little Johnny saying it doesn’t matter that Timmy got a 100% and he got a 50% on a test—he’s not dumb, Timmy’s just too smart and tests clearly favor ‘too-smart’ kids like him over ‘normal’ kids like johnny. Amon wasn’t too weak, the bender was just too strong.

Amon could easily have taken that and applied it to other thing, especially with the bending gangs around, but I thought it could go further. Look at Mako’s statement about the power-plant, how they always need lightningbenders and the jobs pay well. Non-benders—hell, even earth, water, and firebenders without lighting abilities—theoretically, could complain about how there’s a job only open to certain people and ‘darn it, why can’t  get that job! Oh, it’s because I’m not a bender!’

However, by that standard, the real-world equivalent would just be that you don’t have the skills for a certain job, and not all of those are easy skills to learn, and some, like social skills, do disadvantage shyer people who’d work just as hard, but still, it’s required for the particular job and there’s probably something that pays just as much in another field. But that’s not the point, the point is that it’s not ‘darn, I’m not able to get that job’ it’s ‘bender’s special powers make them more employable! darn them!’

The fun thing about this view is that it makes Korra totally right. Remember in the first episode, where she accused the Protester dude of "oppressing himself"? That’s what people with this mindset do, the push their issues onto others, making it never their fault and giving themselves no reason to improve or try something different. It’s not that they need to try harder, it’s the there just needs to be less competition, which anyone from a free-market economy will laugh at.

Also, there’s the fact that a lot of industries require bending, so you’ll have a lot of issues when you take that away (no city power, for one, I’d bet all benders contribute to construction, water- and earthbenders might do farming, which could decrease food production…). It’s like suddenly going to a city and saying no one with an IQ of over 140 or can bench-press 200 pounds can’t go to work for a week because they makes others look bad. Think about how much chaos that would cause.

Now ALSO add benders who’ve lost their abilities but need money in competition for the jobs everyone could do, but usually non-benders could before. More job competition=more unemployment, and who wants to bet former-bender bosses (or bosses with former benders for relatives or close pals) might just favor the former-bending unemployed first (like how when a major company wen under in my town, one that sometimes all family wage-earners worked for, other companies tried to hire those people first so those families didn’t fall fast into poverty).

In short, he’d make it worse for everyone. It’s like in the AtLA epilogue book The Promise where Zuko admits that the colonies have a hierarchy, with firebenders at the top, then other fire citizens, then earthbenders, then everyone else, BUT it’s better off then everyone else would be otherwise. Also, it’s a slippery slope—once bending is gone, what it other things make people unequal (like how in X-Men comics, some of the mutant’s better supporters are parents of gifted and special needs kids, who wonder if their kids would be next).

Now, back to the ideology, and how other Equalists would use it—most importantly, Hiroshi Sato. Before the reveal that he was with Amon, he was held up both in-show and by the fans as proof that the Equalists were wrong and that a non-bender could do well for his- or herself. But, as we found out, his wife was killed during a break-in at his mansion twelve years ago. Hiroshi is 50, and it was noted that he made his first million by the time he was 25, so he was probably very rich by then. But all that wealth and the security measures his mansion probability had couldn’t save his wife.

However, Hiroshi probably took it more as ‘all wealth and success a non-bender has is nothing against a bender’s abilities’ which is probably why he’s manufacturing Amon’s tech—to even the playing field. If he’d done it legitimately, he’d probably be even richer, since the bending triads are a probably and I doubt Chief Bei Fong would have anything against people defending themselves if necessary, and those gloves cause even less property damage than the careful metalbending the cops do. It’s like how people talk about the intro of the personal handgun to the world—it’s an equalizer, suddenly someone bigger and stronger is less of a threat. But, like guns, you would need to be sure people who buy them could be trusted not to go overboard—except Hiroshi and Amon are picking people who will go overboard, like any anarchists or people-wanting-to-get-rid-of-order would.

Likewise, who wants to bet a lot of other Equalists joined because it’s a convenient way to blame personal failures—unemployment, affected by a crime, just bad luck overall in life—which is the issue with Tall Poppy Syndrome: It’s B-L-A-M-E blame.

See, the Equalists have supporters even in the fanbase because their visible creed does have valid points—their is clearly inequality and the benders how take advantage of non-benders is clearly an issue. However, just like inequality in the real world, there are right and wrong ways to go about it. The Protester has the right idea—the ‘making the issues known (and maybe having days of non-bender protest to remind people that the city needs them too)’ thing, not the ‘supporting a terrorist group’ thing. And Korra was oppressing him when she attacked him in episode 4 (for info he may or may not have had).

Amon left that slope with his pretty speech in episode 6. He’s gone beyond ‘benders have unnatural advantages’ and now just gone into ‘benders themselves are unnatural’, which is actually a plausible evolution of  his ideology, especially if he’d been challenged enough over the years before he went public—if he can’t convince people that just the abilities are the issue, he could use examples like Lightning Bolt Zolt and Shady Shin to show that maybe benders themselves are easily corrupted by their power and the power needs to be removed before that happens.

This could easily get supporters, especially those who’ve had issues with benders before. Likewise, as Asami proved, it can also deny you supporters—her father ordering her to attack her friends and boyfriend merely because they were benders clearly shocked her and possibly sped up her decision. She knows those people personally and is unable to even think of how they could merit being attacked, especially for something they were born with. Any person who’s good friends with a bender, related to a bender, and especially if their child is a bender (like Katara and Toph, whose parents were non-benders) would not be happy with the Equalists and their ideas. I am seriously waiting for a non-bender mom or dad to beat the living daylights (or at least try to beat the living daylights) out of an Equalist for attacking her/his bender child.

So, what does Tall Poppy Syndrome get us? Well:
1, It’s a slippery slope, where does it end, what starts to count as unfair (there is an amazing short story with a handicapping agency so no one is smarter, prettier, a better dancer, etc than others) becomes very vague.
2, Some of it is just shifting blame so you don’t have to take stock of your own failures. While some failures aren’t entirely on you, others are, like the example with grades above.
3, It can lead to justify oppressing people who are better or more capable than you as you feel they must be oppressing you—or, as Korra put it, “oppressing yourself!”

So, where does that put Amon? Well, we don’t yet know enough, but we do know the Equalists are hypocrites (attacking Shiro Shinobi, a non-bender), and as my previous essay showed, energybending is WAY too much of a reaction to some of the things we’ve seen—the original series just had it as the only alternative to killing a person, whereas the Equalists treat it like blue kyrptonite (which removes Superman’s powers, but doesn’t hurt him like green does). That’s a serious discrepancy, one of which I’d love to see addressed in-series.

But, even if it was like blue kryptonite, it would still be wrong. You don’t force smart people to dumb down, and you don’t force strong people to have their muscles atrophy, because that is WRONG. That is why they are the VILLAINS. Villains are totally allowed to make good points, as long as their points don’t outweigh the heroes—TVTropes has noted that in Marvel super-powered-people registration could be a good idea because some of the heroes and villains are just that dangerous—IF it didn’t always lead to bad guys getting the lists and going genocidal (X-Men) or the military trying to control heroes (Civil War). It is probably right to fight inequality against non-bender—but the Equalists have gone so far overboard that not only are they the bad guys, but they might disadvantage non-benders because the benders get paranoid (like how Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants kept setting back mutant rights until he wised up).

In short, the Equalists have good points, but by falling for Tall Poppy Syndrome, they have gone about it so far the wrong way that they couldn’t be anything but the villains of the show.

Tagged: legend of korreamonenergybendingequaliststall poppy syndromekorrathe protesterzukoatla the promiseAvatar The Last Airbendertalentblameguilthiroshi satoasamiasmi satohiroshiyou're opressing yourselvesinequalityeconomicsshiro shinobix-menkryptoniteblue kryptonitemagnetomarvel civil warKCSeriousTime

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    Some interesting thoughts here about the Equalists and Tall Poppy Syndrome.
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