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Jaune Chat Takes on The Hunger Games

It's my turn to talk about the Hunger Games. When I saw the movies were coming out, I had precisely zero knowledge of what they were about or that there were books about them. But, hearing some good things, bought the books, read all three, and watched the movie, and found it entirely satisfying and an excellent translation of the book.

But when I went to check reviews of the movie, I found a great deal of the same complaints from many reviewers (even those who generally found it favorable or at least all right). They said there was little horror from people in the Districts about the deaths of their children, no explanation or background as to why the world had gotten the way it was. There were complains about Katniss, that she hadn't "earned" the love given to her by Peeta and Gale, and that she was too skilled with her bow. And that there was too much of a focus on the clothing and presentation.

I have my own opinions to counter those:

One, this is a Young Adult book, and while that doesn't translate into "simple," it generally means there isn't going to be super deep philosophical discussions about the morals and ethics of bloodsport. Nor are they going to get into a long history lecture about how the old USA collapsed. Remember this - This book is done in the first person. Katniss knows what she was taught in school, and has had neither reason, motivation, or opportunity to get into the politics of her world. Her life has been focused on survival, on getting along with the bare minimum, and politics and history don't fill the belly. We know what Katniss knows, as Katniss knows it.

As for Katniss being too good with her bow - Her father taught her how to use one at a young age. And then Katniss returned to using it for five solid years as the sole breadwinner for her family. The two harshest and fastest teachers in the world are hunger and survival, and I don't think anyone can argue that Katniss has very strong survival instincts. When your choice is make the shot or die, you learn quickly and you learn how to do it right. All of that adds up to a perfectly legitimate and believable reason as to why she'd be good with her chosen weapon.

The focus on clothing and presentation to the apparent detriment of the horror of televised bloodsport - Again, this is a first-person story. For Katniss, for probably everyone still living in all of Panem, this is the way it's always been. There have always been Hunger Games, always been kids killing kids, always been deprivation in the Districts and excess in the Capitol. To the people of this book, this is not unusual. Upsetting to those in the Districts? Of course. Wrong? They know they'd rather not have it happen, but there is no choice, no alternative, no other way it could ever go. There is no alternative in the world as the way Katniss knows it. There is no other place that she knows of to compare it to. She doesn't have Internet access or even free TV showing other places in the world. She's isolated, ignorant of a world without Hunger Games. To her it's a bad thing, but it's also a constant thing. A normal thing.

Those beautiful clothes and pageantry presentations are her only weapons against the wider world of the Capitol, and, being a survivor, she uses them. And to be fair, this is the first time in her life when she's not had to spend every free moment trying to keep her family going. Wouldn't you, after a lifetime in deprivation, take even just a second to appreciate a little of that beauty and luxury knowing that it could be the last time you'd ever see anything?

As for Peeta and Gale... I want to say this - Katniss is not required to "earn" their affection. She wasn't trying to compete for it in the first place. People lose their hearts to those who are oblivious all the time. Unrequited love and crushes abound, and they're not remotely logical. Peeta liked her singing, admired her beauty, or appreciated the way she took care of her family, and went head over heels. Katniss doesn't have to return his affection, even after his confession of love. Just because he loves her, she's not required to. She's not required to act like she loves him, but does it to keep them both alive. She's neither callous nor untruthful when she confesses to him that she was acting. Peeta saw deeper into her care of him than their actually was, and while it's sad that she doesn't go gaga for him, I actually appreciate that she didn't. They develop a friendship, but she doesn't go throwing her heart after him. She has severe trust issues, and it would have been contrary to her character, in my opinion, to have her go sappy. Her ambiguity about her feelings rings true to me.

The horror we feel at the situation of the Hunger Games is one of contrast, that we know what is right in our world. We feel sorrow and anger at Katniss' relative acceptance of her situation, because we think she should feel more horror. But we don't live in Katniss world. She shouldn't have to point out the wrongness of her situation, nor should the narrative hit us over the head with the political message of the dangers of government control. The inherent fright is in our reaction to the Hunger Games, on our own merits, rather than putting the words in Katniss' mouth. If you want to hear about how utterly wrong government mandated televised bloodsport is, read the Hunger Games, then listen to yourself.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
etoiledunord
May. 12th, 2012 06:00 am (UTC)
This is very interesting and very well articulated. I agree that the first person narrative is something that must be taken into account when considering the attitudes towards the ways of Panem. Sometimes people can conflate a first person narrative with an author's direct mouthpiece or with a reflection of the target audience's assumed attitudes towards the issues in the book, but I find that first person works best for me when neither of those are the case--when it's distinctly the character's voice on the page.

And, I mean, really, we exist alongside unpleasant parts of our own lives and world and don't feel the need to explain our complacency or our revolutionary aspirations as main aspects of our identity. Most people that I know don't talk about their thoughts on contemporary genocide when they introduce themselves, nor do they even think about it every day. Even with an issue that's visible in our everyday western world lives, like homelessness, most people ignore it and some even go so far as to blame the victims for the problem. So I don't think it's at all far-fetched that the citizens of the Districts would suffer the Hunger Games in near-silence, especially given the likely/possible Capitol retribution, and I very much don't think that we could get away with calling them depraved for doing so. (You didn't mention that, but I've heard objections along those lines.)

Wow, that got long. Sorry. I'll just say that I like what you've said about other issues, too, and stop talking now. ^_^
jaune_chat
May. 12th, 2012 03:30 pm (UTC)
Like Katniss says about her prep team, she really can't hate them, even though they're essentially preparing her as a fatted calf (pre-Games) or a prize horse (post-Games). They're not depraved, because that implies some wicked pleasure or conscious acknowledgement of the inherant wrongness of what they're doing. They don't see it as wrong - it's just part of their life, like changing fashions or the sun rising.
game_byrd
May. 12th, 2012 02:24 pm (UTC)
I agree. Some of the objections about the movie sound as though people are digging hard to find things to object to. Like Rue's race? Really?

In the Old West, some of our "best" gunslingers were youths, a few never making it to 20 years old. They were great shots with guns. From what I know of bows, they are comparable skills.

As for pageantry and presentation, I wonder what people in third world countries feel about those in more privileged countries, with the gadgets, big houses, estates, stylish clothes, endless amenities and so on. That's in the real world. There are plenty of real examples of extreme inequities. Yeah, people are unhappy about them. So? It's a major source of conflict in the story, just as it should be.

Complaints about love? Yeah, I knew that was coming. Anything that's not a simple and straight forward pairing of hero (male) with reward (female) is going to elicit objections. Even Harry Potter had some when Harry was "distracted" by Cho Chang, like she was some evil temptress. There is such an outcry online about "friendzoning", too, which is a stupid, entitled argument. Guys don't have a right to sex with women just because they want to.

Thanks for posting this.
jaune_chat
May. 12th, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC)
What grinds my gears on this whole entirely ridiculous "objection" to Rue's portrayal is that in the book she's explicitly described as being black. "Dark brown skin," is what is said. Apparently some people need that to be "dark tanned skin on a white person." Did those complaining even read the book? Oi.

Aye to the youngsters having skill. Take a look at our current Olympic champions. Most of them start extremely young, and a lot of them are competing well before the age of twenty. Hell, the gymnasts are usually teenagers! You're not required to have passed your third decade to have mad skills.

I was actually impressed that, throughout the entire series, Katniss is never explicitly mooning over any male. She is conflicted, she has deep bonds of friendship and affection, but isn't crying over losing or gaining some romantic bond. The author doesn't flinch away from portraying her ambiguity, or even essentially making her look bad in her uncertainty. (Which can hurt people, even or especially without intending to.) Without spoilers for the other two books, it does bring up that people do change their perceptions of others as they grow, and the undying puppy love that was there one day can alter drastically, so Katniss just can't "pluck the fruits of love" whenever she feels like it. (Not that she is looking to pluck anything, but you get the gist.)
game_byrd
May. 12th, 2012 03:38 pm (UTC)
The race thing is irksome. I know the Harry Potter fandom/response had a jolt when they cast one of the characters as black. I think Blaise Zabini? Like it was a big deal. Geez. It's England. Black people live there! Get over it! What I found particularly weird is how people got their backs up over Blaise and trotted out these weird arguments about racial breakdown of England and such, yet didn't blink about Cho Chang or the Parvati sisters. Double standard much?

It was because the readers had defaulted to viewing any character without a racial marker as white, and it was jarring to imagine the character different from that. (I found it surprising that Blaise was male, but I wasn't upset by it.)

The crap about Rue was just the same racist crap, except now they had even less ground to stand on given the author's own canon description. "Dark brown skin" can mean a lot of things, from darkly tanned Caucasian to some people of Arabic or Indian descent to some blacks. In the movie, Rue's skin was definitely "dark brown", so I was good with that.
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