deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
[personal profile] deborah
I wanted to make a post about The Hunger Games trilogy before I saw the movie, because I didn't want this post about the trilogy in general to be colored by how much I'm having reactions to the film right now. Instead, I will break it into two parts. And if I wait until I have all of my thoughts coherent before I make this post, the second movie will be out, so maybe I should just go ahead and post it.

Here's what I thought I was reading when I finished The Hunger Games for the first time: a book where the desperately poor fight and struggle simply to survive while they produce material goods for the upper classes. A book where the top tiers of the producing classes are given to believe that they can make their way into the upper classes if they only dedicate their children's lives to doing nothing but training, ultimately risking death, with the understanding that anyone who doesn't make that effort deserves what they get. A book where even the working folk among the top strata of society live in luxury unimaginable to the people at the bottom, a luxury whose every bite of food and scrap of cloth relies on the direst poverty of the people at the bottom. A book in which the malicious and cruel control by the people at the absolute top would be unmaintainable without the complacency of individuals -- often genuinely nice, kind, well-meaning -- lower down in the upper echelons.

In other words, I thought I was looking at a vicious condemnation of us .

When I read Catching Fire, I still thought this might be the trilogy I was reading. As in book one I had seen that evil comes from systems, in book two I saw that heroism comes from large groups of people who have been working together and struggling for some time. Those people were choosing Katniss as their necessary figurehead, not as their rebellion's leader. And I loved that, the idea that a young adult heroine could be perceived as not necessarily the savior of the world, but as somebody who could play a part in a larger struggle. (If you haven't read Herbert Kohl's She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott you really should; there's a lot in there about how desiring a certain kind of heroine removes agency from systems of people who fight and organize and coordinate in a struggle for liberation.)

My sadness at Mockingjay was primarily about how I felt both of these dynamics broke down. Instead of the evil being the responsibility of everyone who profited by it, no matter how well meaning, the evil was the responsibility of villainous President Snow. And instead of the rebellion being the frustration of oppressed people leading them to work together with the help of media hype generated by an excellent figurehead, it turned into Secret Missing Rebel Forces and ultimately decisions made by Katniss, the kingmaker.

Not to mention my negative feelings about the romantic plot's resolution. (A secret which will surprise no one at all: I was on Team Katniss all along.)

Media Issues:

My reaction to the film was complicated by my reaction to the media frenzy around it. Peggy Orenstein has an excellent takedown of the fairly obvious irony around the spectacle of the movie, with "Panem-is-Us? Thoughts on The Greed Games". Even before I saw the movie, I was prepared for how much the disturbingly self-referential nature of the cultural critique presented as blockbuster culture were going to cause cognitive dissonance.

One example: I was prepared for the general fact that Katniss was going to be beautiful and mostly clean, leaning over a sweaty, filthy Peeta with visible lip gloss and an artistic slash on her forhead. But I admit I was thrown when District 12 is introduced with crowd scenes chock-full of despairing workers wearing clothing that would have looked appropriate in any Dorothea Lange photo, and we see Katniss switch to her hunting clothes: a gorgeous boutique jacket and boots most of us could never afford. In fact one site put together some suggestions for people attempting to cosplay Katniss's District 12 hunting costume and come up with an outfit which collectively (not counting wig or weapons) would cost either a little over $200 -- and that's if you don't include the $328 boots which the site claims are the exactly the ones worn in the movie.

So already I had this cognitive dissonance at the very beginning of the movie, this attempt to enjoy the movie which is part of a media spectacle while realizing that spectacle is exactly what is being critiqued by the book (if not by the trilogy as a whole).

[ profile] diceytillerman pointed out, among other things, that the painted, glittery, somewhat queer representation of the people at the Capitol makes them so alien, compared to the very recognizable people of the Districts, that it is even harder to see ourselves as judged. We can't relate to the people of the Capitol; they are as genuine as the Transylvanians doing the Time Warp in Frank-N-Furter's castle (whom they fairly closely resemble). Ideally, we should be relating to the people from the Capitol, and finding ourselves wanting in that portrayal. (While I've not personally seen Natural Born Killers, I've been told that's basically what happens in that film; you identify with the killers and don't feel good about yourself for it.) The lost relationship with Katniss's stylists really hurts this part of the film. The stylists are one of the primary ways readers of the book can insert themselves into the life of the Capitol -- and this is maintained well for all three books.

I really can't wait for Amy's post about the film, because she's a media scholar with a focus on reality television, and she's going to have smart things to say about that aspect of the text that I can't even begin to approach.

Race Issues:

On the one hand, I was annoyed at how much the Rue storyline was cut down, and I thoroughly wanted the scene in which Katniss receives bread from District 11. On the other hand, even as it stood, the explicit whiteness of Katniss (and the world as a whole) made the Rue's death/grieving scene seem very much to be one of those Black Girl Dies so White Girl Can Learn moments, which with the more vague racial representations of the book doesn't happen. And, as [personal profile] sanguinity made eloquently clear, with that new racial dynamic the bread scene would have read as a white girl getting cookies for grieving the death of a black girl.

Thresh came off as scary, overpowering, terrifying, and generally playing into a lot of nasty stereotypes about black men, which made me fairly queasy.

(I thought Rue was incredibly well acted and characterized, and I wanted more of her.)

General non-spoilery positive thought: if this movie and trilogy of movies do as well as it looks like they might, perhaps it could be the end of the of no female action heroes or superheroines in film? Television realized a decade ago that there's money to be made with high-quality female action heroes; will film finally catch up? Where the studio realizes that not only do women have plenty of money that they like to spend on movies marketed to women, but also men show up for these movies and buy tickets as well?

And for a completely non-academic note: when I was talking to my boss about how awesome Lenny Kravitz's portrayal of Cinna was, she said "everyone wants a Cinnabon".

Date: 2012-03-23 08:41 pm (UTC)
owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)
From: [personal profile] owlectomy
That's a really good analysis of the first book and how it opens up some possibilities that largely aren't carried out in the third book.

if this movie and trilogy of movies do as well as it looks like they might, perhaps it could be the end of the of no female action heroes or superheroines in film?

It seems like every so often a movie comes along that makes people say, "Look! Women can be the stars of movies too!" and people chatter about it for a while (and attribute the success of the movie to everything BUT the heroine) and then forget about it until the next time. I may be overly cynical.

Date: 2012-03-23 11:23 pm (UTC)
amaebi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] amaebi
I was also extremely disappointed by the books. The premise was so full of social crit promise, and the execution was so focused on detailed gore. And then Mockingjay seemed to come with the bottom line that the thing to do is Withdraw From Politics. Yeah, what we did is more people priding themselves on the mythos of "off the grid."

I haven't seen the movie and am not likely to do so soon: my son is seven, and my being mostly on his timeline has me going to bed pretty much when he does, though I get up lots earlier.

Date: 2012-03-24 02:38 am (UTC)
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tahnan
the painted, glittery, somewhat queer representation of the people at the Capitol makes them so alien, compared to the very recognizable people of the Districts, that it is even harder to see ourselves as judged. We can't relate to the people of the Capitol
I don't find that all that different from the books. I'll admit that the three stylists, with what can really only be called First World Problems, felt uncomfortably familiar to me. But Effie? And the people of the Capitol in general? I read the book as wanting us to identify with Katniss (and Peeta and Gale), telling us that we too could be scrappy heroines if the world suddenly became post-apocalyptic, and Effie (at least in the first book, and as I recall most of the second) never felt like anything more than a glittery alien to me. It didn't feel like "as a white middle-class privileged reader, you should realize that you're just like the Capitol citizens and the poor of this country are like the Districts", but more as "even as a white middle-class privileged reader, you should realize that you're precariously close to District life, while the 1% are the Capitol citizens".

I suspect I'll feel differently when I read Katniss's Shadow, about a girl living in the Capitol who watches the Hunger Games with enthusiasm and slowly grows to realize that she identifies so strongly with the archer from District 12 that she realizes how awful she's being. But this book wasn't that book.

Date: 2012-03-25 05:29 pm (UTC)
afuna: Cat under a blanket. Text: "Cats are just little people with Fur and Fangs" (Default)
From: [personal profile] afuna
*eyes last paragraph* So, uh, is that a real book or fic? Because uh. Oh man.

Date: 2012-03-25 05:37 pm (UTC)
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tahnan
Neither; the title is just a play off Ender's Shadow, the idea being "here's the same story from a different perspective". It...well, I'm not likely to write it as fic myself, but it would probably work, wouldn't it? Much like Natural Born Killers (which I haven't seen).

There must be other works of fiction in which we slowly realize that the protagonist with whom we've been identifying might be on the wrong side of things, but none come to mind. (A couple of interactive fiction games do, though one isn't really an example and the other is...excellent but not something I'd recommend.)

Date: 2012-03-25 05:53 pm (UTC)
afuna: Cat under a blanket. Text: "Cats are just little people with Fur and Fangs" (Default)
From: [personal profile] afuna
Hmmm, there is this one book I read, which is split into three parts. The first part is a fairly standard hero narrative, where the heroine wants to be a $super_elite_person_thingy, but she can't because she wasn't born to the right family / doesn't have the right training, etc etc, but by natural talent and hard work she eventually proves herself and becomes a $super_elite_person_thingy.

In the second part she meets someone who goes "okay you're a hero, you got in. But that hasn't changed anything for *the rest of us* who were in your position. You won a place in the system, congrats, but that hasn't changed the way the system works." and the rest of the book goes ahead and deals with that.

It's not quite the same as what you describe, but it's one of the few I can think of that's addressed the point of the protagonist winning doesn't automatically equate to progress, or them being *right*.

I have a vague idea that I may have seen fantasy series where the protagonist gets things wrong -- but usually it's to show that the protagonist was pretty spoiled near the beginning and grows up, or it's a inaccurate / biased narrator thing, and not *quite* along the lines of what you're referring to.

Date: 2012-03-25 06:20 pm (UTC)
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tahnan
There's also Stephen R. Donaldson's Gap series, but in this case (like in the case of the IF I was thinking of), the reason that the protagonist you identify with is on the "wrong side" involves fairly unspeakable actions. (In the first of the Gap books, a character kills her entire family because of a secret she was hiding. That's kind of the high point for her; life goes downhill after that.)

Date: 2012-03-25 06:51 pm (UTC)
afuna: Cat under a blanket. Text: "Cats are just little people with Fur and Fangs" (Default)
From: [personal profile] afuna
Hm is that the same as the Thomas Covenant series? Or did Stephen Donaldson write another book with a main character who does horrible things?

...that reminds me of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series actually, but in that case, the protagonist doing horrible things is not intentionally written as them being horrible.

Date: 2012-03-25 08:44 pm (UTC)
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tahnan
Though I think a major difference, when it comes to the Covenant series, is that you're not supposed to identify with Thomas Covenant when he does all these terrible things. Whereas in the hypothetical Katniss's Shadow, you'd be supposed to identify with the young capitol girl, and then wonder why you identify so much with her.

At least, I assume you're not expected to identify with Covenant. I didn't; but I also assume you're not expected to read the books, based on my experience with them.

Date: 2012-03-25 08:53 pm (UTC)
tahnan: It's pretty much me, really. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tahnan
One of them is kind of a bad example anyway (while controlling the character, you don't explicitly do anything morally reprehensible), and to name it would spoil it.

The other is De Baron, which I just played last night. In it, you play a lumberjack who has to free his 12-year-old daughter, who has been kidnapped by the baron for possibly immoral purposes. I can't do much better than the author's note:
"The Baron" is about a tragic and possibly shocking theme. Therefore, it is not appropriate reading for children; I advice an age limit of at least fifteen years. In addition, anyone who does not want to be confronted with fictional misery would do better to avoid this story.

For the Spring Thing competition, wherein you will have to read a given number of works in order to be allowed to vote, this may mean that you will have to give "The Baron" a one when you decide to avoid it for this reason. Don't hesitate to do so. I would much rather have a one than a reader who reads on against his or her wishes.
Also, from the in-game note:
"The Baron" is not a traditional text adventure. There are no puzzles to solve, and you cannot win or lose. It is quite literally interactive fiction, not a game. The aim is to experience the fictional world and its disturbing themes as intensely as possible.
It's a terrific use of medium, it's really very well-written, and it's very, very dark. The upshot is that, on your way to saving your daughter, you encounter a number of obstacles, and how you have the lumberjack deal with each may end up having you sympathizing in places you don't want to be. (Irrelevant caveat: the author's first language is Dutch, so if you play it, don't be too thrown by the hints of non-native speech. They aren't overwhelming, but they stand out all the more when they do pop up.)

Date: 2012-03-25 06:05 pm (UTC)
afuna: Cat under a blanket. Text: "Cats are just little people with Fur and Fangs" (Default)
From: [personal profile] afuna
I'm chewing over the cookies for doing the bare minimum thing. I didn't pick up on it while reading the book, partly because Rue's race is more vague (...I thought she was Asian I dunno! /o\), and also partly because I got focused on the bread thing as an act of defiance(?) in memory of Katniss defending Rue (and not purely for grieving her). But yeah, huh, looking at things in a slightly different light now.

I too wanted more of Rue; it makes me sad that her part was cut down as much as it was, because I really really wanted to see more of her and have more of her story onscreen ;_;

Date: 2012-03-26 07:05 pm (UTC)
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
From: [personal profile] sanguinity
I'd have to re-read the book, but going off of memory, the book didn't strike me like that was about cookies, either. But when I imagined the movie version, with Amandla Stendberg and Jennifer Lawrence, and the simplified big gestures of things... Yeah, I was dreading that airmailed bread.

And yanno, I'd rather see Rue properly grieved for than her death all but ignored a la Darwin in XMFC (I wish to god I could consider that a spoiler), but after a bit, it starts looking like Katniss's grief is more important than Rue's death. And so forth. It's like playing whack-a-trope.

...although not having Jennifer Lawrence in that part would have helped lots.

Date: 2012-07-18 05:56 pm (UTC)
pauamma: Cartooney crab holding drink (Default)
From: [personal profile] pauamma
We can't relate to the people of the Capitol; they are as genuine as the Transylvanians doing the Time Warp in Frank-N-Furter's castle (whom they fairly closely resemble)
You owe me a monitor.

Date: 2012-12-05 04:55 am (UTC)
ayelle: Art by Katherine Dinger,  (Default)
From: [personal profile] ayelle
How did I miss this post when it first appeared? Weird.

It's a little late to get into extended analysis now. But the thing is, I thought I was reading the same trilogy you were reading for the first two books... and I thought I was still reading that trilogy in the third book (which I thought was the best of the three). It's in the third book, when we see the Capitol up close, that I felt no American reader can escape the knowledge that the Capitol is us. (On the same note, I didn't share [personal profile] diceytillerman's feeling that the portrayal of Capitol citizens in the movie was deliberately alienating. Quite the opposite, really -- I got "the Capitol is us" message from the very first scene of the movie, the disturbingly familiar-feeling conversation between Seneca Crane and Caesar Flickerman on some kind of news show.)

I don't share the "Katniss the kingmaker" reading of the events of Mockingjay. It's not clear that Katniss's action has made any real difference to the governance of Panem in the long run -- other than preventing a restart of the Games. Although I would say that it is the single moment of clearsighted action in which Katniss accomplishes anything real in the entire book (which is one of the complaints of many readers, though for me it's not a complaint; and it's of a part with the action of the other books, in which most of what looks and feels like decisive action while it's happening turns out to be meaningless. Most -- but not all). I also understand from the third book that being a child soldier doesn't prepare you for a life in politics. It prepares you for a life of recovering from PTSD.

I was reading yesterday about drone attacks in Pakistan. TRIGGER WARNING for violence -- I quote: "Based on interviews with witnesses, victims and experts, the report accuses the CIA [drones] of 'double-striking' a target, moments after the initial hit, thereby killing first responders." Here's the link:

I felt my breath taken away when I read that line; it hit home for me how just painfully, immediately relevant a book like Mockingjay can be.

Sigh. Some day I'll get my act together and write my Hunger Games essay that explains all my feels.

Date: 2013-02-28 09:45 pm (UTC)
ayelle: Art by Katherine Dinger,  (Default)
From: [personal profile] ayelle
I submitted an abstract for a Hunger Games paper to ChLA, so if it gets accepted, I'll *have* to! (At least ~10 pages of it, anyway.)
Edited Date: 2013-02-28 09:46 pm (UTC)
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