Having too much subtlety


I was watching a video on Korra about the queer relationship the two female characters have built up to.

The thing that came up in the video is how the only failing of the relationship is how it wasn’t forward enough and when the show finished, many people complained that they didn’t see the relationship build over the series. I have to wonder if being subtle with certain things in films, shows, books, and games can be bad. Like how much do you really need to hold back or is it better to just say it out load?


Specifically for representation, subtlety generally goes wrong. For an example; Watch Dogs 2 spoilers. Take Miranda in Watch Dogs 2 for example. She’s a trans woman, and it’s not really ever stated too blatantly. It’s actually surprisingly subtle enough that a few people I’ve talked to didn’t even realize she was a trans woman. Sidenote: At the same time, her entire arc is about being blackmailed by her trans identity; which is less-than-perfect. So if it’s too subtle, is it really representation? At a certain point it just becomes queerbaiting and that’s even more frustrating than no representation at all, in my opinion.

I think subtlety is important, but it needs to be a little more spelled out no matter what. It shouldn’t fly under every single person’s radar, but it also shouldn’t be too obvious that it feels pandering or baiting. It’s a real difficult line to toe. On one side you have blatant queer baiting with far too many anime, and the other you have representative characters that their only purpose is to be queer, or a POC, or whatever else.

Will they/won’t they has been a staple for years in media, and it does have its place. But representation needs to be in your face a lot of the times, and while I haven’t seen The Legend of Korra but I have heard good things from other queer folk, so I’m willing to follow their lead and be hopeful for more explicit queer relationships.

So in summation; it’s real tough but I’d fall on the line that there needs to be more explicit relationships shown.


Subtlety wasn’t the problem with Korra and Asami, though - it’s that Asami spent a lot of time in the background, and consequently there were very few opportunities for them to have developed the kind of relationship the finale suggests. There’s no episode you can point to and say “This is where the relationship started to become more than friendship”, or “This is where Korra realized she had feelings for Asami”, or any similar touchstone.

It’s very much a “Dumbledore Is Gay” scenario where the creators threw that into the very last frames knowing full well they’d never actually have to write it; all the heavy lifting in the post-show materials came from other authors.


And let’s not forget that part of how Korrasami shook out was because of the horrific standard that you can’t respectfully portray same sex pairings in “children’s shows”. Fuck all the shitty thinking that goes into putting such a (written or unwritten) policy into place.


I mean, I always read that last moment as a deliberate middle finger from Konietzko and DiMartino to Nickelodeon - but yeah, that had a side effect of relegating what could have been an enormously significant and influential same-sex pairing to an afterthought. If Dark Horse weren’t putting out follow-up comics those few frames would be all there was.


I think there’s a difference between being subtle as an intentional character/ plot choice, and being subtle in the “if we have them kiss onscreen, we’ll get cancelled and deluged with controversy” way. And especially with Korra being a show aimed at kids, I think it was almost certainly the latter.

When the media landscape isn’t the way it is now, maybe there could be a more- idk, organically written subtlety in lgbt content? But as it is, the subtlety usually just indicates that either the executives or the audiences are unwilling to accept something more unambiguous.


True, but it also speaks to a certain lack of forethought on the part of the creators. On a most basic level, if you want to suggest/hint that two characters may be romantically involved, you could at the very least put them in the same room or let them have a conversation more than once a season. If Asami had been a more prominent character in the later seasons, and if her initial friendship with Korra had been expanded upon rather than punting her off to various locations over and over, the end result could have been a brilliant, subversive move. But as it stands I feel like that moment is always going to be tarnished because of how incongruous it was to the story, how transparently artificial it was.


I generally like subtlety in media. It’s a big part of what I liked about for example Terry Pratchett as an author, that I could be reading a book for a third time and go “ohhh I just got a joke”. It made it even more noticeable in his last few books as his Alzheimer’s got worse - characters who used to say one clever line with three meanings suddenly started page-long monologues explaining their thought process.

As mentioned earlier though, when it comes to representation-related issues people seem to prefer it the more explicit the better, maybe because there’s such a lack of meaningful representation in a lot of areas that people would prefer it to be loud and proud. If there were prominent gay characters everywhere then J. K. Rowling mentioning things like Dumbledore’s sexuality as an aside in some panel Q&A somewhere instead of explicitly in the text of the books wouldn’t feel like as big of a deal.


If you want to be subtle in your artistic endeavors then you have to accept that some people aren’t going to see what you’re going for and others will wish you’d been more explicit.


Sometimes I long for open, flamboyant expressions of alternative lifestyles. Would it be so hard to make a movie where two men are just obviously, joyously in love? And not even in movies that are about two men being in love. I want an action movie where the hero has to rescue his boyfriend.


So… warning for child abuse, because I’m gonna talk about Lolita

I get really frustrated with discussion about this book because I find it to honestly be really well written and a smart novel, even though I totally understand why someone would not like it at all. I totally think distaste for this novel is valid, and critique of the subject matter, too, and I’m frequently more concerned with the positive reception of the book. The problem is, a lot of readers don’t pick up on how Nabakov was making out Humbert Humbert as a monster. Just being a fucking child molester is awful, but he’s also a manipulative, unempathetic jerk. A teacher of mine once said he never plans on reading the book, because someone he knew once used read it as “how great it would be to date a minor.” Fucking disgusting. Point being: Nabakov wrote Humbert in a way that Humbert himself would have wanted, which is to say, he doesn’t write about himself as if he is a monster. Because of this, despite the fact that anyone reading in between the lines would see how awful a human he is, people still perceive it as a romance. In his subtlety (even though the first chapter kind of condemns the narrator) I think Nabakov inadvertently caused not only misinterpretation but also disgusting behavior and worldviews. Ugh.

So in this case, I think Nabakov took the subtlety a little too far.


To partially paraphrase my stance on the subject:

But it’s tough, doing it right. I’d like to see more outward expression especially in queer relationships, but it depends on the type of story told I suppose. I remember the game Technobabylon from 2015 had a good quick line of dialogue where a character came out as trans which worked well enough for me, but not everything is going to have a way to make that happen well.


Knowing very little about Legend of Korra or Harry Potter…

Doesn’t Korra at least show something onscreen? Like, at least the relationship exists in the fiction, as compared to Dumbledore, whose reveal was in an interview after the books were totally finished?

Sure, the creators may have arrived at Korrasami late, but at least it’s actually in the work.


idk if the Watch Dogs 2 stuff can be called subtle if her character’s plot revolves around that fact. I think a lot of people have a literal ignorance (i.e. lack of familiarity/interest leads them to ignore) of things like this. It’s what leads to people reading Korrasami as “gal pals”.

EDIT: Sorry, I read over this again, and I think we’re basically on the same page… I just don’t know if the responsibility lies with the creators if they actually do the work. Should their characters be more explicit/flamboyant? Or do we just have to wait for people to get better at reading and understanding a broader variety of characters and relationships?


Certainly, it is still in-your-face but the only tips towards the character being trans is a quick line of “they have footage of my surgery.” If you don’t actually think about trans people a lot like myself, or don’t really know anything about trans people; that line could mean anything to a lot of people. It’s why I think it’s still a little too subtle. I’d like others outside of trans people to see trans representation as well.

-Just saw your edit; I also basically rephrased your comment haha. We’re definitely on the same page here. I do believe that it needs to be a little more explicit, but I don’t want flamboyance as that will just further the stereotype that all gay men are effeminate. I think there needs to be a transition period for media to open up the idea of representation to a larger group of people. Just have queer people and queer relationships shown on-screen, and after the public is primed to it you can make it more subtle. Take Sense 8, a show that has a crap-ton of representation but I really dislike it. No one needed a large amount of lesbian/gay sex shown explicitly in the show to understand the characters were queer. I think it needs to be less than that, but more than Watch Dog 2’s one line.

That said, before anyone hops on me for disliking Sense 8 because of the sex, it ties into some trauma and I’m generally unable to handle large amounts of explicit sexual content in tv shows. It’s a personal issue, I get that many people are fans of Sense 8 and the representation within.


It really isn’t, though, that’s the whole point. Until the very last frames of the show, there’s never any indication that Korra and Asami are in a relationship - the ending isn’t even suggesting they’re just getting together, we’re meant to see that scene as confirmation of something that’s been ongoing despite the two of them barely sharing significant scenes all season.


Ah, okay, I thought there was something more to it. That’s still super frustrating, but I think even hinting at an affectionate gesture is still way better than saying “oh yeah, Dumbledore was gay the whole time, I just didn’t write it or think about it or actually mean it until these words came out of my mouth.”


Hmm, it’s been about 2 years since I watched LoK but I actually remember thinking that the buildup to the Korrasami ending was quite good.
If it was actually as weak as you make it seem, I have to wonder if I felt that way just because I knew about the ending before even watching the show so I was ready to interpret any minor interaction between them as romantic buildup, or if my standards for LGBT relationships in popular culture are just so low that I was way too kind to a substandard relationship portrayal just because it was LGBT.


That’s absolutely a possibility - I was watching it as it was coming out, and I remember the ending pissing me off specifically because I loved the idea of Korra and Asami getting together but it felt like such a cheat to throw it into the last five seconds of the show.


I mean, it’s better than nothing, sure. But it’s also why I can’t give the creators of LoK real credit for doing the work, because they didn’t.