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[personal profile] attackfish
I got a comment last night on Quiet Shadowed Places (The one where Zuko is blind):

An interesting idea. It's a little odd, though, because unlike with Toph, this story doesn't really explain how Zuko would compensate for being blind, as I don't see how he could possibly track down the avatar while being blind without some other factor in play. Still, a good little story.

Anybody want to tell me what’s wrong with this comment?  (Other than the utter patronization inherent in calling it a “good little story”  Because really, wow.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Toph.  I really really really love Toph!  And there’s a lot that I found very refreshing in her portrayal as a character with a disability, like her parents’ misguided attempts to protect her from the world because of her blindness, something that real people do to real people with disabilities all the time.  Or the way she feels comfortable making jokes about her disability, and the way she gets furious when people forget her limitations, or just plain the way she is an awesome, flawed character with a real personality along with a disability, which as most of you know, is sadly rare in media.  But she still has a disability superpower.  She is able to use her earthbending in such a way that her disability is functionally negated.  It’s a credit to the writers that this ability of hers has limits, and that the writers put her in situations that show these, but for the most part, she is not limited by her blindness in the ways that people who don’t have earthbending are.

This is why when I sat down to write “Quiet Shadowed Places”, I deliberately picked blindness as Zuko’s disability and deliberately didn’t give him any extraordinary ability to compensate.  I wanted to show how it was absolutely possible to be disabled and amazing without any special power, with only the solid grit that Zuko shows in canon.  Zuko would “make up” for his disability the same way he makes up for his lack of resources, initially poor firebending skills, and other disadvantages, through dogged determination, his own innate cunning, and whether he admits it or not, reliance on his uncle and his crew.  None of this requires sight.  Zuko doesn’t find Aang time and time again with his sight.  He finds Aang the first time with sight, but his crew could have just as easily done it for him.  The second time he finds Aang, he finds him by listening to rumors, and having a crew that listens to rumors.  He finds Aang by tailing him, by hiring June, by doing all kinds of things that do not require him personally to have sight.  Some of the occasions in which Zuko tries to capture Aang would indeed require sight, like his expedition at th North Pole, or being the Blue Spirit.  These are done differently in this universe.  Given Zuko’s sheer tenacity in the face of extremely long odds, I have full confidence that this wouldn’t be much of a problem for him.

As a disabled writer, I wanted to write a story in which the disabled character doesn’t have an ability that negates his disability.  I wanted to reflect the reality of my own experience as a disabled woman in a way that I don’t often get to see in media, because most portrayals of disabled characters are by able-bodied people and seen through their perspective.  This is why tropes like the disability superpower, or any of the other noxious tropes I write about exist in the first place.  We don’t control the narrative.  I’ve written before about how painful it is not to have anyone who looks like you in the media you consume and how affirming it is to have someone who is like you with whom to identify in fiction.  This essay isn’t about that, but instead about the way these portrayals of people with disabilities teach people without disabilities to view us.

Whether this reviewer realized it or not, they sent this review to a disabled writer, and in it, they told me that what broke their suspension of disbelief was Zuko being capable without something like Toph’s seismic sense.  What this reviewer told me in this review is that not only can they can accept bending, avatars, spirits, and an entire fictional universe, but they can also accept a disabled character inventing radical new, never before contemplated styles of magic to replace their missing abilities, but that they cannot accept a disabled character, who, unable to invent a way to use his magic powers to replace his lost ability, instead functions the way disabled people do in the real world, and is as successful as his able-bodied counterpart.  This reviewer is more willing and able to accept the false, unrealistic media portrayals of disability, than they are the reality of a disabled experience.  Almost no disabled person has an ability that negates or nearly negates the limitations their disability places on them, or for that matter, the limitations society places upon us because of our disabilities.  What people with disabilities do have is an incredible array of creative and innovative solutions to individual problems our disabilities present us with.  Many of these things, like wheelchairs, portable oxygen, assistance dogs, and sign language, become the visible signs of our disability to the able-bodied world.  I get pitying looks when people see my oxygen, and it makes me want to run up to them and say “look at my oxygen!  Look at this awesome thing that helps me live my life!”  This is as close as most of us will ever get to a disability superpower.

This reviewer’s inability to accept a disabled character without a disability superpower being capable of chasing the Avatar bleeds into how people like this reviewer treat real disabled people like me.  Some people expect us all to have a disability superpower, and resent having to make accommodations in an able-bodied world for us, and say that if we don’t have a disability superpower capable of making our lives look just like theirs and overcome the barriers placed in front of us, we’re just not trying hard enough.  Some people heap pity on us instead, in the assumption that without a disability superpower, we’re incapable of doing the kinds of things people with disabilities do all the time, from the normal everyday, to the outrageously impressive.  Most of all though, the attitude of this reviewer and people like them, that our lives are somehow unrealistic enough to break a suspension of disbelief that has withstood fantasy and magic means that they don’t listen and believe disabled people when we talk about our experiences.  It means that they believe they know my life and my needs better than I do.  And that makes my life as a disabled woman infinitely harder.

Date: 2013-11-03 04:35 pm (UTC)
grandiose666: (Default)
From: [personal profile] grandiose666
I liked reading this post, it made me think, but I don't have the brain to respond adequately.
Tone is hard on the internet because writing and strangers. But yeah, I see what you mean about ability/disability and a compensating superpower...

Date: 2013-11-01 08:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
You know it's interesting that I was just talking to this guy about a character he's writing that was sexually molested by her father and is in a current relationship with a man that is similar in personality and is physically and emotionally abusive to her. One of the thing he did was make the character angry and in your face, because of course he'd heard that women that are abused are angry and aggressive. In his story, after years of abuse, a forgotten birthday party makes her angry enough to steal his precious car the next day. She even treats the car like the other woman. You can just imagine how that conversation went.

Date: 2013-11-01 09:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Oh for the love of... Does it never occur to people like that to just talk to people who have been through what they're writing about? That's just...

Date: 2013-11-01 09:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
THANK YOU!!! I was like, seriously! I spent the next two hours enlightening him about victimization and the mentality of a victim of abuse and at the very least he started to get it by the time we were done. Sigh.

Date: 2013-11-01 09:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Better you than me. At this point, I'm not inclined to teach. more like rip heads off.

Date: 2013-11-01 09:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
I have no problem teaching people about it because either wise I would rip into them and that just doesn't work for me. I'm tall and intimidating enough. But yeah, if I didn't, his piece would be one more piece of crap out there for people to think it's reality and I just can't handle one more. I just can't.

Date: 2013-11-01 10:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Usually, I'm up for teaching, and I usually even like it. Today... Not a good day.

Date: 2013-11-01 10:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
I'm sorry to hear that. Want an ear?

Date: 2013-11-01 10:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
Or an arm? I think I have an extra toe lying around here somewhere.

Date: 2013-11-01 11:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Nah, it's nothing like that. We found a dog today who is very skinny, and looks really dirty... Turns out she's skinny because she's fourteen and sick, she looks dirty because she has light, thinning fur and black pigmented skin, and she got out this morning, her owners were frantic. It's just a little hard to pull myself out of the "I hate humans!" headspace I got myself in when I thought she was mistreated, filthy and starving.

Date: 2013-11-01 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
Sigh, it's like every time I find myself thinking that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, something happens to make me reconsider. There's this case in Mexico about a factory fire. Four people died, the ones that survived will probably wish they had and of course, the corrupt asshole of the mayor of Juarez who stole about half the money of the city is being honored with a statue. Talk about a kick in the groin.

Date: 2013-11-02 12:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
God damn it, almost all industrial accidents like that are preventable, so when I see them, it's always like you said, a kick in the groin.

the corrupt asshole of the mayor of Juarez who stole about half the money of the city is being honored with a statue.

That's disgusting.

Date: 2013-11-02 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
I KNOW!!! One guy is burnt in over 50% of his body. That he's still alive is amazing. At least the company is paying for everything, but the long term effects not to mention treatment is going to be horrible. In Mexico there is a law that if you cause an accident and that person survives with need for long term care they have to pay for it for the rest of that person's life.

Yeah the mayor is a douchbag. He built a stupid, giant X that is pretty much a phallac tribute to his giant dick! The asshole! The city of Juarez is broke and this asshole stole more money and I'm just beyond pissed!

Date: 2013-11-02 12:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
In Mexico there is a law that if you cause an accident and that person survives with need for long term care they have to pay for it for the rest of that person's life.

That is a very good law.

Your mayor really is a total douche.

Date: 2013-11-02 12:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
That he is.

The law is okay. The major problem with it is that here, pedestrians have the right of way and any car that runs one over is always at fault. That wouldn't be a problem if the pedestrians didn't act like cattle and crossed wherever they wanted to, including the middle of a main street in heavy traffic. They get hit, they can suck the driver dry.

Date: 2013-11-02 12:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
Yeah. It happened to my uncle and the guy bled him dry for years until he hired a lawyer.

Date: 2013-11-02 01:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
Yep yep. I'm glad your problem wasn't that bad. You're an awesome person and I have enjoyed tremendously our talks. You have taught me so much about myself and situations that we, unfortunately become oblivious about because that's how society has taught us to be.

I hope that the rest of your day, at least is better.

Date: 2013-11-02 02:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Thanks. I'm in PJs, and I got a sweet old girl back to her family today, so I guess things are looking up.

Date: 2013-11-02 02:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] water-soter.livejournal.com
That's good. I'm glad you're doing better. Have a great night!!

Date: 2013-11-02 03:43 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-11-01 10:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
Hmm.

"An interesting idea."

It's actually a newish spin on a very old idea that has rarely lived up to its potential, in the hands of nondisabled writers who have no clue what they could actually do with an exploration of how disability would and wouldn't change things.

"It's a little odd, though, because unlike with Toph, this story doesn't really explain how Zuko would compensate for being blind,"

That is technically true; QSP doesn't show how Zuko does things. Other stories in the same AU verse do, and personally, I think you should centralize all of the QSP fics. Maybe adding the drabbles as additional chapters would help.

"as I don't see how he could possibly track down the avatar while being blind without some other factor in play."

But this is an odd thing to disbelieve. Initially disbelieving he could fight in a universe where people primarily use extremely deadly ranged attacks would make sense. This is just an odd thing not to believe. It seems like hunting Aang would be much easier to do blind than most of what Zuko does in canon.

"Still, a good little story."

I sincerely hope that, if this reviewer were to read Ice Flows Through, xe would call it a "good big story" and would call The Road to Yu Dao a "good medium story". I sincerely hope that.

So, moving on to your post:

It hadn't occurred to me that you deliberately chose to give him the same disability as Toph, but it's awesome that you did.

I would love to read QSP versions of The Blue Spirit, The Crossroads of Destiny, and The Siege of the North.

Date: 2013-11-02 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
I almost replied back that I was impressed with how much ignorance they could inject into only fifty words. It really shows what they think of the capabilities of disabled people.

I've posted all of the QSP fics on AO3, but I never got around to doing it on ff.net, mostly because I really hated their old system. I should probably do something about that.

I doubt very much that the reviewer was talking about the size of the story, but I am going to pretend to believe that, because it makes me want to hit them less.

I have a longstanding promise to write the Crossroads of Destiny in the QSP universe to the next person who asks on an open meme. It's probably about 4000 words long, and it differs significantly from canon, less because Zuko's blind, and more because Jet. I'm way too buried in fic right now to host a meme, but eventually...

Date: 2013-11-02 12:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
Do you think it's pandering or abled-gazey to give detailed descriptions of adaptations? I feel like that's one way to make sure readers don't think it's implausible, but at the same time, to some degree, it means assuming the reader doesn't know these things (and thus assuming the reader is abled, or very newly disabled-- huh, it would be interesting to see stories about how to adapt aimed at newly disabled people). Or can it be done in a way that doesn't assume that? What do you think?

I didn't know you were on AO3!

Date: 2013-11-02 01:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
I dunno. I mostly haven't done it because I'm terrified of getting it wrong (I'm not myself blind, much less blind in an only quasi-industrial society) and also because it tends to distract from characterization, and plot, and all that good stuff.

Date: 2013-11-02 02:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
I personally am very interested in nitty-gritty details-- how does this work? where do all these people get their food? what is this person's business model?-- so if I come up with an AU idea, my first thought is "how do they fight the bad guys/otherwise finish canon in this verse, if they do?" and that gets me thinking of fascinating ideas like "how would you guide someone, if you were riding on that person's shoulder?" and "what would be the opportunity cost of designing a flying wheelchair?" and "so how do you keep your assistive technology with you while being banished to the wasteland to die?"

Besides which, plot always flows from knowing how things work. If you know how things work, you know how they could be disrupted. Knowing that lets you know how to make interesting things happen.

I'm also not so sure that it's possible to draw a line between descriptions requiring research and plotty events that don't.

I guess this makes me sound as if I have a strong opinion in favor, but I really feel ambivalent, because of how abled-gazey the descriptions can get.

Date: 2013-11-02 03:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
That wasn't really what I meant. There's a difference between me having thought through how everything works, and having researched it, and knowing how every little piece fits together, and me actually showing anybody else. I might know for example in the #@$*% White Collar dystopian fic I'm writing (which is holding up everything else, if you were wondering. I'm starting to hate it, but I'm 33,000 words in) I know that the world economy fell apart after global climate change got to a tipping point that led to wide scale famines. There was a global die-off that pushed poor populations the world over into war with the West. Nuclear bombs were dropped, food was hoarded, billions died, humans almost went extinct. Eventually, the US succeeded in taking control of the entire world as a global government. But the US constitutional government had little control left, and the world government that formed in the wake of the wars and the mass dying was a totalitarian regime in the control of big business. This government instituted slavery. Several hundred years later, the world government has democratized somewhat, but slavery as an institution remains mostly unquestioned. Slavery has replaced our current reliance on labor from the global south, and is mostly hidden in day to day life, as few slaves are owned by private citizens. I'm having the damnedest time fitting any of this information into the story itself without bogging it down in exposition. And yes, the fact that I know how it all works affects what I'm writing in that fic, and why, but that doesn't mean there's a good place for me to put all of what I've crafted about this world into the story. Basically, plot and character takes a heck of a lot of research, and world-building is part of that, but sometimes not all of it ends up on paper in obvious ways.

Date: 2013-11-02 05:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
That is some interesting worldbuilding. Sounds like a fic, alright.

But if you're writing an AU-- specifically, an AU where there's one event that happened differently and everything thereafter is affected-- then whatever is different is what you focus on, right? I don't know, maybe this isn't clear. Hypothetically, if I were to write... hmmm... deaf!Aang, I'd probably write about him figuring out how to talk to Sokka and Katara after getting unfrozen, and... *quickly plots out AU* how that might or might not affect his relationship with Toph, and how they would talk to each other, what with Toph not having learned to read. Because if I wrote about, say, the Siege of the North, it would just be Aang sinking ships and then going o the spirit world, just like canon.

Actually, that plotbunny is almost interesting enough to write.

Date: 2013-11-02 03:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Well, I do focus on what happens differently, which to me is the heart of any good AU, but I don't necessarily do a lot of description, and when I do, it has to be in the right place. Like, I know that Zuko has his entire ship mapped out in his head, and probably always will, and that when it's destroyed and he has to hide on Zhao's ship, his uncle is sure to put him on a ship with the same floor plan, just scaled up, so he's constantly counting to himself in his head, and relying on the fact that Fire Nation boots are loud not to run into people, and he still walks into a wall the second day, which almost gets him caught. That's going to go in the story about the Siege of the North. But I also know that Zuko relearns how to play the tsungi horn without written music, and that he never realized how much he relied on visual cues when he played in a group. That's not going in the story, I don't think.

Write that AU!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to read it.

Date: 2013-11-02 10:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
Zuko plays the tsungi horn? At all? In any verse? Really?

(I really, really want to read QSP!Siege of the North.)

But, I mean, of course you don't describe Zuko playing the tsungi horn in a fic about the plot. But you do describe the plot, and how characters are doing things is sometimes part of that.

The following is a work of fiction, and I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Earthbending

"We're going to start by moving a rock!" Toph shouted at Aang.

"Something about rocks? What are we gonna do with them? Are we gonna turn them into..." Aang didn't stop talking, but Toph stopped understanding. She sighed. Aang kept going, very excitedly.

"Hey, Katara, get over here," said Toph. "Tell Aang we're gonna start by moving a rock."

Katara's movements flowed like she was waterbending. Aang stopped talking.

"What are you doing?" asked Toph.

"Waterbending characters in the air," said Katara.

Toph tried to guess at whether that last movement meant she was done. It would be easier to learn what Katara's waterbending moves did if she could see what happened every time.

"Okay, moving rocks, that sounds fun," said Aang, but he sounded a lot less excited than before. Toph gestured for him to follow her to a suitable spot to start practicing. Katara followed them like a lost puppy.

She adjusted a couple of boulders a little bit, so they stood right next to each other.

She held out an arm to stop Aang, then positioned herself in front of him. She pointed to him, then to her eye, and then to the rocks.

"You want me to watch?" he asked. Toph nodded. Then she went to one of the rocks, took her stance, and punched it so hard it went flying across the valley.

She turned back and pointed to Aang again, and then to the next boulder. Then she had to correct his stance a bit before she let him try.

"See, Katara?" she said, glancing over so Katara would see her face. "I can talk to Aang just fine."

Aang hit the boulder. It wasn't the boulder that went flying.

Talking to him wasn't going to be the hardest part, was it?

***

The Fire Nation

"I'm sorry, what?" said Aang. Someone was tugging on his collar. He dug in his heels. Had he been found out?

He heard shouting-- something about a lion? Something about stupid?

"I can't hear you," said Aang. "I can't hear!"

The shouting stopped and Aang was whirled around.

"Can you read lips?"

Aang shrugged. "A little." He could read that question pretty well, from long practice.

"You ... I ate ... fool!"

Other sentences, sometimes not so much.

"Sorry?" said Aang.

--

"Why, hello there," the woman signed to him in Fire Nation Sign. She said something out loud and Aang was left alone in the classroom with her and her class. "I can't recall seeing you before," she signed to Aang. "Are you new here?"

"Yes, ma'am," Aang signed back, hoping he didn't have too much of an accent. Her signing seemed different from the kind Kuzon had used. Maybe it was just newer. "I'm from the colonies."

"Oh, that would explain it," she said disdainfully. "Well, this is the world's most progressive civilization. We treat deaf people right here. Have a seat, you're already late for class."

***

Date: 2013-11-02 10:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
(And part two! Still fictional.)

Could happen anywhere

"Perfect!"

Toph grinned and bent a sentence into the earth that would have been pronounced just like "of course it's perfect, the Blind Bandit did it".

"Um, Toph? Not everything that sounds the same is written the same," said Aang.

She was still learning to write faster than Aang was learning earthbending.

***

Western Air Temple

"Really, I'll go with you," said Katara. "You know, so I can tell Aang what you're saying."

Zuko started to say something. Then he stopped himself, because it would be rude to talk about the Avatar in front of him without letting him listen in. Zuko traced lines of fire in the air, writing out "I can handle it" in flaming letters.

"I'm sure it'll be fine, Katara," Aang said.

She looked equal parts disapproving and worried when she left them alone.

"So," Zuko asked, in fairly rusty Fire Sign, "can you sign?"

"Oh, yeah," Aang signed back, almost too fast for Zuko to understand. "I know Fire Nation Sign and Southern Earth Kingdom Sign and about five words of Northern Earth Kingdom Sign, plus I learned some Kyoshi hand-signals when I was there. I had no idea you could sign, though! Where'd you learn? Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"I didn't tell you sooner because I was busy chasing you, remember?" Zuko answered slowly, haltingly, trying to remember lessons that had ended years ago. "So, show me what you can do. Any fire at all."

***

Ember Island

Aang split his attention between the play and the tiny flames in Zuko's hands that formed discreet subtitles.

"Honor!" Zuko wrote. Aang glanced up to see the actor disappear in flames. The real Zuko's jaw was set angrily.

"It's just a stupid play," Aang whispered.

"I have no idea what you just said," Zuko wrote, "but if you think that's a whisper, it isn't."

Aang smiled sheepishly.

Date: 2013-11-03 05:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Well, Zuko's uncle is on him to play it for music night, in the show, which makes me think he knows how to play it, but doesn't like to. I wrote a drabble a while back in which he had natural talent for it, and his sister didn't, which convinced him and his sister that it was not worth while (Azula is good at everything important, if she isn't, it isn't important) so in QSP, I have this idea that since playing the tsungi horn is suddenly difficult for Zuko, his sad little subconscious decides it must be at least a little important, so he practices occasionally.

This is awesome! I was always a little thrown by how in canon there is one world language, and the idea that they might have one world spoken and written language, but multiple sign languages is cool.

I always get a kick out of the imperialist, racist, Fire Nation and their progressiveness on other issues, like womens' rights, compared to other nations. I've always written them as especially ableist because of their militarism and hints of strong capitalism, and certain attitudes about strength espoused, but I can totally get on board with the opposite.

Toph trying to write by sound in Chinese characters is a beautiful thing.

Date: 2013-11-03 09:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
That makes sense. I love your sad tsungi horn fanon.

I'm glad you like it! :D I'm open to prompts, though who knows if I'd actually write them.

Not everything about any of the ATLA cultures is all good or all bad. Take the NWT, for instance: they really do take community seriously. It would be the easiest thing in the world for them to offer up Aang to get the Fire Nation to go away-- it's not like that hasn't been tried before-- but not only don't they do it, they don't even consider it.

So the fanon I was working with for the Fire Nation (that I came up with for this piece) is that they want everyone to be as useful as possible, and being dead, or being hidden away in the attic, is not useful. So with disabilities that leave a lot of abilities intact, for which it's relatively straightforward to compensate, they have excellent diagnosis, treatment and accommodation. Somewhere in the gray area of marginally work-capable depending on support and what work is available (e.g., too inconsistent to hold down a regular job, or having mainly obsolete skills), they're willing to start throwing people under the bus, depending on factors like their other skills and whether their families will pick up the slack. It's not exactly a progressive utopia for people who would be disabled elsewhere but get perfectly accommodated by the benevolent Fire Nation (that would be their propaganda, though, with added "so you owe us your life" guilt tripping), but it's better than at least one family in the Earth Kingdom.

Absolutely. I like working with multiple languages. I decided this version of the ATLAverse had sign languages developed by Deaf communities in the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom, and that there were fewer EK Deaf cultures than EK Hearing cultures because there were fewer deaf people and they would have clustered to be able to sign with each other. I figure FN Sign, SEK Sign and NEK Sign all developed from schools for the deaf, but that NEK Sign was largely secret because of local oralist movements gaining traction (besides which, Aang might have spent much more time in the southern hemisphere, limiting his ability to learn NEK Sign), while SEK Sign was more accepted on the grounds that "who cares if those people ever talk anyway?" and Aang probably learned it from Bumi. Meanwhile SWT Sign would have died out because the population wasn't big enough to support a Deaf community, or even to consistently have at least one deaf person alive at a time, and the NWT wouldn't have a sign language because of oralism and aggressive mainstreaming. Kyoshi Island would use military hand signals, which aren't the same thing at all. The Fire Nation probably started using FN Sign for silent or distance communication, and the EK joint armies might be using EK Sign to hide information from the Fire Nation. That probably makes Aang very sad, because to him, these are ways to make information more available, and they're being used to hide things. (Meanwhile, who can guess what if any languages might be hidden away on the island of the Sun Warriors, or in the Northern Air Temple, or be used by the Dai Li?)

I mean, Aang would be multilingual if he couldn't use one language to communicate with everyone. He's traveled enough and knows enough about various cultures that it seems very reasonable.

Date: 2013-11-04 03:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
I have a special bee in my bonnet about people who try to make the Fire Nation into better villains by making them sexist in fics. One of the tings the show got really really right is that sometimes reprehensible regimes have good points, and a culture that encourages one kind of bigotry can see another kind of bigotry as unthinkable. The writers did a really good job of making the Fire Nation into a place with a real culture and real flaws and good points.

I usually like to make the Fire Nation really ableist, because it gives Azula a reason to Do Something Stupid with regards to underestimating/insulting her brother in fics where he's disabled. Actually, the guilting of disabled people by the Fire Nation is fun for me to play with.

Date: 2013-11-04 03:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
And the Earth Kingdom, too. Ba Sing Se has at least one female-presenting grunt. We see her drop a boulder alongside a couple of men doing the same thing. I think the episode might be The Drill. Hence, all the sexist Earth Kingdom fanon bugs me. (Admittedly, it might still be sexist, but not as sexist as ficwriters make out.) Note also what Lao Beifong doesn't hold up as evidence of Toph's frailty. Also, the Zhang tribe is led by a woman. /derail, but I've been lucky enough not to see any fics where the Fire Nation is canon-breakingly sexist

"We're doing you such a favor by not infringing on your rights. You should be grateful that we're treating you with the bare minimum of decency." Amirite?

Date: 2013-11-04 04:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Such fics usually involve Mai's parents peddling her to Zuko because as a daughter all she's good for is marriage, or suddenly neglecting her in favor of Tom-Tom now that thy have a son, and in in the real world, this is what Asian people did (whoa boy). Whereas I have no doubt her parents peddled her to Zuko and Azula, because getting either of their children an in, any in, with the royal family would benefit them, and that they neglected both Mai and Tom Tom (he would not have gone missing the way he did in "Return to Omashu" without being missed if there wasn't neglect), not because of sexism, but because they are horrible parents. You see it more in Maiko ship fics, and since I love me some Maiko, I run across it a lot.

The Earth Kingdom is incredibly diverse, and I think that the Earth Kingdom is a misnomer. It's more like the Earth federation, a loose collection of people that all identify as earth, and when they do have benders, they bend earth. i got the feeling that Ba Sing Se was very sexist indeed (and I would like to write the story of the one lady earthbender in the army that we see) but on the other side, we have the Zhangs, and the Kyoshi Warriors.

Yes, exactly right, and so true to life too.

Date: 2013-11-04 04:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
Wow, that's terrible. If anyone thought that all girls were good for in the FN was marriage, why was Azula taught martial arts from childhood, since well before Zuko's exile? But that does explain why I don't see it that often.

I agree with all your assessments, except Ba Sing Se. It seemed like it might be sexist (because we see female Joo Dee and male Dai Li, and an all-male group of generals), but it can't be that sexist ("that" sexist here meaning either "caricature-level sexism where women can't do anything at all" or "NWT-level sexism"), given that:
There's at least one openly female soldier
Jin can take initiative in her romantic life
Many of the people in Ba Sing Se come from elsewhere in the Earth Kingdom
No one expressed disbelief about Azula's team or the Kyoshi Warriors

I would like to read the story of the one lone female soldier in Ba Sing Se.

Maybe when Chin the Conqueror conquered everyone, he called his domain the Earth Kingdom, rather than Chin's Empire, and now that Ba Sing Se is nominally in charge, it's a sort of polite fiction that no one actually believes or listens to, and no one seeks official independence because a situation where you can proclaim yourself king of your own city-state can't be that stifling. (Here used in a far different sense from "can't be that sexist.") Actually, it's not necessarily fair to call them the Earth Federation, either. The only thing politically uniting them is that they're all at war with the Fire Nation.

I initially found it difficult to follow the plot because so many things were misnamed, actually. "Oh, okay, it's the Earth Kingdom, and this guy in Omashu is calling himself the king. Must be king of the whole Earth Kingdom. Wait, why are these peasants under Fire Nation control? Why is it inconsistent whether the Fire Nation has conquered the Earth Kingdom or not? ...OIC, the creators don't know what a kingdom is." (Similar problem: why do the Air Nomads live in four fixed locations that have obviously been built into permanent living spaces? Aang, do you know what that word means?)

Date: 2013-11-05 06:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Which is something I point out whenever I'm pushed to rant on the subject. It's also a sort of transitive property of evil thing. The Fire Nation is evil (debatable, the government and many citizens do evil things and benefit from evil things, but this is a distinction that sadly many people miss) sexism is evil, therefor the Fire Nation must be sexist. This is a logical fallacy, but it's a common one.

I didn't say that Ba Sing Se had a "no women in positions of power/military ever. I think it has a milder more insidious sexism. Actually, the fact that there are types and degrees of sexism/racism/prejudice and privilege more generally isn't discussed enough in fiction. Also, in the real world, sexism, and rules of behavior between the sexes change as class changes. Maybe Jin could take romantic initiative, but a girl from the upper ring couldn't. Or maybe Jin is an immigrant (fic idea!) And I assume there are trouble-making men who are brainwashed. Since they don't become Joo Dees, what happens to them? What does the prevailing Ba Sing Se view of gender have to do with that? I would like to know.

The more I think about, I wish they had called it the Fire Kingdom and the Earth Nation (or Earth Nations, to be more accurate), because a non-politically united, culturally and ethnically related people that feels a sense of kinship and unity together is a fair definition of a nation that isn't a nation state.

I tend to answer the Air Nomad issue in fics with the Air Nomads being formerly nomadic, and the name being a remnant of that. Or they are semi nomadic with permanent bases.

Date: 2013-11-05 07:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] redrikki.livejournal.com
Yeah, the names of the political entities on Avatar always bugged me too. The Fire Nation is clearly the only truly united nation in that world. The Earth Kingdom seemed like a seriously loose confederation of city-states. Seriously, how did their army work? Were they recruiting from everywhere to pool their resources into one Earth Kingdom army or was each city fronting their own and sticking them in a similar uniform? That would certainly explain how they kept getting their asses kicked despite the numerical advantage.

I always imagined the Air Nomads as having the temples with some elderly people and little kids living in them and then the rest of them travel between the temples and generally all over following the sky bison herds or something.

And then there's the Water Tribe which is really more of the Water Tribes as evidenced by the Civil War, just with a lot of immigration and inter-marriage but distinct cultures and political structures.

Date: 2013-11-06 04:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
I think there was at one point a unified Earth Kingdom, but that there hasn't been for at least as far back as Kyoshi, and that it was ruled by the Earth king from Ba Sing Se. After the collapse of the Earth Kingdom, the Earth King only retained rule over Ba Sing Se (until Kuei) and the rest of the Earth Kingdom wore old fashioned uniforms and reenacted their former glory, the way some of the people in the Middle Ages and Renascence tried to copy Roman glory.

Date: 2013-11-06 07:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
Transitive property of evil. LOL.

Yes! Yes! Degrees of prejudice! Different kinds of prejudice! :D

That would have been a good idea. Unfortunately, anyone who uses it in fic will probably be assumed to be using a spoonerism.

Date: 2013-11-06 04:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Spoonerism? The only spoonerism I know about is switching the first letters of words, for example, It's as thick as sea poop, instead of as thick as pea soup.

Date: 2013-11-06 04:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
I don't know a word for switching words in two-word phrases, so I used the closest thing in my vocabulary.

Date: 2013-11-06 07:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Huh. I don't know a word for it either.

Date: 2013-11-06 10:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] weirdlet.livejournal.com
I would just like to say that this is some wildly fascinating discussion, that I tend to stick in a plural 's' at the end of 'Earth Kingdom' and 'Water Tribe' and assume that people in-universe are just using a mash-up collective assumption because, well, those folk are all alike enough and different enough from us that what does it matter, especially in this day and age when we hardly ever make social calls?

And I like playing with Fire Nation militarism too. In my head, boys and girls are equally expected to be 'good little soldiers' for their families, and this includes both being willing to do things like marry as commanded, and be able to physically defend one's life, honor and the honor of one's family, or to make arrangements to do so like bodyguards.

And also that I love being able to read your writing and use it as impetus to reexamine my own assumptions.

Date: 2013-11-06 10:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
I kind of just thought that the Water Tribes were plural in canon, but this season of Korra, I think, jossed that. (It's not clear, okay? And what's Katara doing sitting on her hands while this is all going on?)

boys and girls are equally expected to be 'good little soldiers' for their families

This is my headcanon too.

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