Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quick "Hunger Games" Thoughts


I read the complete Hunger Games Trilogy over the course of a few weeks, shortly before the movie came out. One of the things that no one seems to mention (granted, I haven't looked very hard) but that I actually find most interesting and unexpected are the politics of the book - Katniss is an anarchist. She's tasked with assassinating the Bad despot, murders the ostensibly Good dictator, and has a generally fractious relationship with every other person in a position of authority. Except Boggs, maybe, though he's really just a soldier. (Even her mom is criticized for being a poor family matriarch, though she redeems herself as the series goes on.)

That might feel like standard teen rebellion stuff, but, of course, the book shows her to be right to distrust them in pretty much every instance - and really gives her no figure of authority to trust, or who proves worthy of trust. (She trusts Haymitch, in a way, but he's certainly no authority figure; and she begins to mistrust Gale - again, we learn, with good reason - just as he begins to gain actual power and influence within District 13.)

And Katniss resists taking any leadership role herself, and resents being thrust even into the position of symbolic figurehead. It's not even until (SPOILER ALERT) the epilogue that she's willing to become a mother and the head of her own family, which she agrees to only after a decade of cajoling by Peeta.

The one desirable type of community, it turns out, is the post-war District 12 of the epilogue, which is populated by about a thousand people who do their own thing, each of whom appear to live there precisely because it's beyond the reach and notice of the government. That's one hell of a surprising lesson about society to take away from a book ostensibly written for an audience of teenage girls. And the same teenager girls, no less - at least, according to the marketers - that devoured the absolutely awful and unapologetically conservative Twilight books.


What has been getting a bit of discussion - little of it in the mainstream media, though - is the gendered double-standard that's apparent from the "is this too violent for kids?!" fear-mongering. Because no one asked this about Spider-man, where Uncle Ben is shot and the Green Goblin impaled and Spider-man gets the shit beaten out of him. Really, no one asks this question (except for the obligatory and generalized "the question must be asked..." type articles that pop up every so often) at all about teen boys' movies. No, what the question doesn't state explicitly, but what it's actually asking, is whether this is too violent for girls.

Added the next day: All that said, the movie really isn't much less violent or graphic than the book itself. (With the possible exception of, say, the exploding boils that are produced by tracker jackers.) What they have changed, though - possibly because of the teen girl audience - is Katniss' relationship with Peeta. And by that, I mean that they downplay it to a huge degree - there's virtually no romance, here, and certainly very few suggestions that Katniss is only pretending to love Peeta. Which might strike people as counter-intuitive, I'm sure - why would a movie with a majority female audience eliminate the romance? - except that it isn't, actually. Because Katniss is, during many moments in the novel, thoroughly unlikable for her willingness to manipulate the audience and lie to Peeta. And that is probably why it had to go. (On the other hand, she's redeemed to a significant degree when, after they win, Peeta is dying and taken away from her and she screams for him to come back. But maybe they thought that was too disturbing to include in the film.)

In any case, the violence discussion is a red herring. Clearly, it wasn't the violence that producers felt might be problematic - it was Katniss' ambivalence, her Machiavellian streak, and her rage. They couldn't risk the possibility that tween and teen girls might find her mean or cruel, and might actually dislike her.


And then there's the horrifying
Twitter responses of racist fans of the book who a) didn't read it closely enough to recognize that some of the characters aren't white, and b) are enraged that some of the actors are black. Not that it should matter if characters who are explicitly described as white happen to be played by black actors, (I've written about why this is even desirable, before) but it speaks poorly - sometimes hilariously so, but often just depressingly - of both their reading comprehension and the subtle ways in which racism and white supremacist thinking works itself into the most unconscious operations of our brains. From an article on Jezebel:

The ubiquity of whiteness in popular media is so overwhelming that, in the absence of any racial signifiers, I would guess that the majority of white people and a significant number of non-white people automatically assume that characters are white. I know I do. (To be clear: I am a white lady.) I mean, Jesus, the impulse to default to white is so strong that the above child prodigies defaulted to white even when explicitly told not to.
It's a good lesson to take away from this horrible thing, at least. That is, the recognition that a lot of us default to white when we're not told otherwise, and that this is not an unmotivated or unproblematic process, even if it is so automatic that we don't have to think about it. In fact, lemme rewrite that last part for emphasis: "especially because it's so automatic that we don't have to think about it". (And now the question is, what do we do about it?)

1 comment:

BuySWTORAccount said...

Good for you to read the whole trilogy before the movie came out! That was my goal before, was looking for a book quite some time till my colleague sent me an e-book. Still halfway at Catching Fire. With the racist fans, don't mind them. Let them re-read the book and take note on how every character's description. :)

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