My extreme Avatar fanaticism used to shock me at times, but at this point I have embraced it. I’m currently a freshmen in college finishing up my Intro to Communication Theory course. For our final, we had to write a comprehensive essay that applied any communication or persuasion theory to our subject. And me being the crazy Avatar fan who is eagerly awaiting recognition wrote, and daresay turned in that essay that analyzed Amon’s persuasive tactics. I got an A on it.
Republic City’s external conflicts have internally enflamed a proletariat revolution between the haves and the haves-not that threatens to dismantle the social and government institutions of the city; however, this proletariat revolution is not a socioeconomic conflict between classes but an entirely different struggle for power between benders and non-benders. Amon is the leader of the Equalists, a political terrorist group, who believes that he and the non-bender community have been oppressed by benders and is determine to overthrow the bending establishments such as the council and police force. Amon’s tactics to revolutionize the cultural, economic, and socio-political institutions of Republic utilize terrorism, propaganda, and mass communication in order to persuade non-benders to follow his cause.
A social scientific approach is used to analyze Amon’s persuasive tactics to revolutionize the socio-political environment of Republic City. Amon’s schemes have widespread influences on different societal echelons and governmental institutions. An empirical collection of evidence is rationalized in order to apply the elaboration likelihood model to this case study.
Revolutionists vindicate their cause through manipulation and perceptual distortion of information and reality while instigating conflict. Amon’s means of propaganda and terrorism to persuade and terrify Republic civilians follows the principles of the elaboration likelihood model. According to Dainton and Kelly (2011), “the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) views persuasion primarily as a cognitive event, meaning that the targets of persuasive messages use mental processes of motivation and reasoning (or a lack thereof) to accept or reject persuasive messages” (p. 126). The elaboration likelihood model explains the purpose and perceptual process behind the revolution’s political propaganda and social doctrines. In the elaboration likelihood model there are two directions of persuasion, the central route or peripheral route. Centrally routed messages target individuals who are highly motivated and are able to cognitively process the message, and will often feature evidence to support a rational argument (Dainton & Kelly, 2011). On the other hand, peripheral messages rely on pathos to effectively persuade untargeted recipients who are incapable of relating to or understanding persuader’s cause. Amon’s tactics to persuade and instill fear apply the central and peripheral routes of persuasion depending on his target audience.
Amon uses central routed messages to create a positive cognitive response in the minds of the recipients that align their beliefs with his. Oppressed, jaded, and agitated members of the non-bending community are the targets Amon is determined to persuade since they are victims of the bending elites and are easy to appeal to. During the Equalists rallies, Amon constructs elaborate arguments that are not only filled with passion and anger, but logically place the blame on benders. In his most famous speech he states that
“As you know, the Avatar has recently arrived in Republic City. And if she were here, she would tell you that bending brings balance to the world. But she is wrong. The only thing bending has brought to the world is suffering. It has been the cause of every war in every era. But that is about to change. I know you’ve been wondering, ‘what is the revelation?’ You are about to get your answer. Since the beginning of time, the spirits have acted as guardians of our world and they have spoken to me. They say the Avatar has failed humanity. That is why the spirits have chosen me to usher in a new era of balance. They have granted me a power that will make equality a reality, the power to take a person’s bending away, permanently” (DiMartino & Konietzko, 2012).
His speech uses strong arguments in order inoculate the audience against counterpersuasion (in this case, pro-bending arguments) and to recreate a long-term attitude change that leads to their devotion. He argues that bending “has been the cause of every war in every era.” During the communication process, his statement arouses memories of suffering from the imperialistic Fire Nation’s hundred year war, and his receivers rationally link these two indication, their suffering and his reason, together. He repeatedly states that bending has been cause of all of the world’s suffering and that the Avatar has failed humanity. Generally, the Avatar is considered to be a savior of unquestionable physical power and unadulterated morality. However, Amon asserts a counter opinion that places the blame on the Avatar and uses her as a scapegoat. His listeners process the evidence rationally and ultimately realize that the Avatar has failed to protect them. She embodies everything they despise about the bending society; therefore they will no longer view her as a holy deity but as an enemy. They logically realize that there are no powerful figures to represent them as sides from Amon. By stating himself as an act of providence, Amon develops a cult following. The non-bender’s hatred towards the Avatar aligns them closer to him because they view as him savior who will “usher in a new era of balance.” His repetition of the Avatar’s errors enhances the persuasive effect of his strong argument. His use of logos and pathos generates a committal cognitive response from the receivers of his message.
Amon’s peripherally routed messages rely on psychological warfare to sway non-benders into following his cause and to terrorize the benders. His psychological warfare tactics include propaganda and public displays of power. According to Taylor (1987), psychological warfare is defined as “ the planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objects”. In the elaboration likelihood model, peripheral routed messages rely mainly on aesthetics and cues to target participants who are unable to rationally process Amon’s arguments. The primary purpose of Amon’s propaganda is to portray himself as the liberator and benders as the enemies. For example, on the Equalists’ recruitment posters, Amon is depicted as godlike figure raising his hand to sky beckoning for the sun to come through. The depiction of him stresses for reverence and makes him an adored figure non-benders should faithfully worship. The national objective of his organization is to bring equality to Republic City, thus the beaming sun symbolizes a new era of peace and equality. As for the public demonstrations, he brandishes his anger and power in order to shock benders into submission. During his Revelation rally, Amon publically exhibits the strength of his power by fighting a captive criminal Firebender who was leader of the Triple Threat Triad, a gang notorious for exploiting non-benders. As the ultimate scare tactic, Amon conquers the Firebender by taking his firebending away with a blow to head. The demonstration portrays him as vigilante seeking divine retribution. The peripheral messages rely on the receivers’ emotional involvement, whether their emotions are adoration or trepidation. Depending on the content of Amon’s message, they recipient will either feel either protected or threatened.
Differing communication processes further divide Republic City’s societies. Amon’s propaganda and arguments utilize a rhetorical message design logic that benefits both him and non-benders but not benders. For example, Amon weaves a story in order to justify his cause and to appeal to his followers:
“My quest for equality began many years ago. When I was a boy, my family and I lived on a small farm. We weren’t rich and none of us were benders. This made us very easy targets for the Firebender who extorted my father. One day, my father confronted this man. But when he did, that Firebender took my family from me. Then, he took my face. I’ve been forced to hide behind a mask ever since” (DiMartino & Konietzko, 2012).
Amon is an enigmatic figure whose personal history is still a mystery. Nonetheless, his peripherally routed lies evoke sympathy from non-benders and allow them to superficially evaluate the content of Amon’s messages, and with hopeful feelings they align themselves with the opposition. On the other hand, benders perceive Amon’s story to be deceitful and his communication hostile and threatening. As the Equalists continue to grow in size, the number of conflicts between benders and non-benders grows, as well. Each group has developed their own distinct ideology and belief-system towards the issue. These in-groups serve as social affiliations to which an individual feels belonged. The anti-bending and pro-bending groups communicate their social identity by either supporting the Equalists or Republic City’s government. Amon’s persuasion has created a divide amongst society that will escalate into a civil war.
The elaboration likelihood model provides an open-ended heuristic approach to analyzing the persuasive tactics of central and peripheral routed messages. Although the model is able to describe the process that results from an individual’s motivational state of, the elaboration likelihood is limited in the way it predicts the motivational state. Amon’s propaganda and public speeches might have been able to previously persuade non-benders, but those same tactics are not a guaranteed indicator that they will be effective in the future. The elaboration likelihood model does not acknowledge other external factors that might influence an individual’s decisions. Additionally, multiple peripheral cues may be considered to be a centrally routed message. When Amon publically displayed his ability to take a bender’s bending away, this can be viewed as a central routed message. Benders will logically perceive him to be threat since his demonstration revealed that he is powerful threat that cannot be stopped. Despite its few limitations, the elaboration likelihood model provides a relatively straightforward process in analyzing persuasive content.
Dainton, M., & Zelley, E. D. (2010). Applying communication theory for professional life, a practical introduction. (2 ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
DiMartino, Michael Dante (Writer), Konietzko, Bryan (Writer), Ryu, Ki Hyun (Director), & Santos, Joaquim Dos (Director). The Revelation. DiMartino, Michael Dante (Producer), Konietzko, Bryan (Producer), The Legend of Korra. Burbank, California: Nickelodeon Studios.
Taylor, Phil. (1987). Glossary of Relevant terms & Acronyms Propaganda and Psychological Warfare Studies. University of Leeds. http://icswww.leeds.ac.uk/papers/vp01.cfm?outfit=pmt&folder=64&paper=665