Monday, December 9, 2013

What Pisses Me Off About the Hunger Games

Now, before you get all psycho-fan-geek on me, I'm as Hunger-Game-crazed as they come. My pre-pub paperback copies of books 1 and 2 are respectfully mutilated. And Mockingjay I listened to on audio book, which concludes with a rare interview with Suzanne Collins. Highly recommended, if you haven't yet ventured into the world of audio books.

Additionally, if you're paying attention at all, I've adopted HG's charmingly clueless protagonist, Katniss, as my alter-ego. There may be some Freudian interpretation to my chosen persona, but let's move on.

There are many reasons I believe Collins' trilogy to be one of the finest pieces of recent literature. But for the sake of not losing every reader to my geeked-out drool session, I'll sum up. 

Important themes: challenge the established system, whether it's "good" or "evil"; human connections are messy, but ultimately make life worth living; does the end justify the means?; what you are told should always be run through the filter of what you feel is right or wrong. 

It is this outside-the-established-boundaries thinking that makes HG so popular, like so many cherished iconic stories. The audience has an easier time imagining how "things could be different" because it's someone else's reality. It's much easier to see how some other person, culture, way of thinking is flawed than to evaluate your own, from within the bubble.

This is no easy task. In real life, it can be difficult to recognize that you are even confined within a bubble. Oftentimes, breakthroughs require a catalyst. An event that pushes you beyond your limitations, out on the ledge, so to speak. Or sometimes, you realize the small-ness of your world when you come into contact with someone from another culture. And you start to ask yourself: why do I do it this way? Why do I do it at all? 

The reason is because you didn't know you had a choice. Culture (and oftentimes religion) keeps you within certain restrictions and breaking out of these can mean isolation, rejection, and in mythical contexts, eternal damnation.

Novels like HG help us wake up to our bubbles. Our pre-programmed actions that we run through without realizing it. The structures we use to make our decisions, not realizing there are other structures available, or (wonder of wonders!) that we can make our own!

While I will always have a soft spot for all things Katniss, Collins fails in one very obvious way. She questions the very fabric of society (her's is fictional, but still), but she doesn't question the possibilities of relationships structures. I mean, it's okay if we start talking about equality, peace, (and in the real world) gay marriage, and freedom from religion. But monogamy? This isn't even brought into question. Collins assumes that Katniss will have to choose between Peeta and Gale. Or, at least, that her faux-mance with Peeta means there is no possibility of her being with Gale. A big assumption for a fictional future dystopia.

Oh, Katniss is kissing Peeta on national television? Gale must be sad, jealous. Oh, Gale is sneaking kisses in the woods with Katniss? Because if Snow and the Capitol found out, then it must mean she doesn't really love Peeta. There's no way she could truly love both. (And for Katniss's sake, she doesn't really love either, but realizes she needs both to survive. But that's another story.)

Others have written about the poly/mono implications in HG and more recently Catching Fire. Some have focused on gender issues, and have even made good points. 

But what really pisses me off about the HG is the assumption. The assumption of the author. The assumption of the readers. We're thinking progressively here, people ... oh, but not quite that progressively. You couldn't possibly have a love triangle without conflict. I mean, how much would that bring in at the box office?

As long as these assumptions prevail in our entertainment, it will cement the mass populace in their comfortable bubbles.

In Collins's defense, I appreciate her ending where (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Katniss ultimately chooses neither. She is content to allow things to be as they are, as long as no one is getting hurt, which I would argue was her position all along. 

If I see one more Team Gale or Team Peeta, I think I'll puke.