Monday, April 09, 2012

The Hunger Games

Just finished it. Glad I read it, though I'm not quite sure how I feel about the book. I get now why people have spent so much effort trying to parse the politics of the book, and why everyone thinks they can claim it for themselves. It sort of reminds me of the Star Wars prequels in this sense, in that it looks like it refers to current politics somehow, and we want it to. We want to be able to extrapolate who's at fault for Panem, which party's agenda it more closely resembles, etc.

The problem is, I think the allusions are largely illusory. It looks like it refers to us, but it really doesn't, at least not in any coherent way. Sure, you could potentially spin something out about wealth inequality or big government or whatever, but what's the point? That having a government that keeps everyone under its thumb, keeps most of the population in a state of destitution, and puts children to death for entertainment value and fearmongering is bad?

 I suspect that instead this is going to be a story about how bright-eyed young people, even if poor, can "change the world" if they can keep it from changing them first.

 Another thing, too: I get that this is a book for teens, and Katniss clearly has elements of Diana/Artemis in her, and people get all uptight about the possibility of teen sexuality, but seriously, Katniss never at any point in the first book even considers or feels any urge to go beyond kissing with either of her beaus, one of whom is coveted by every girl in town and the other is as strong as an ox? I love the idea of female heroes, especially stories showing women that are strong, intelligent and independent. It seems to me, however (and I could be totally out to lunch here), that just as it's demeaning to portray heroines as thinking about nothing but their man and wanting to be his barefooted housewife, it's also demeaning to strip the heroine of their sexuality in order to show their independence, as if a woman can't be independent, wise, good-hearted, and have normal biological urges at the same time. As if sexual activity for girls is mutually exclusive with a strong moral compass.

Contrast Katniss, for instance, with Peeta, who is smart, wily, and strong, but who expresses his sexual attraction to Katniss freely in the book. Does it cross some line for Katniss to feel those things that it doesn't for Peeta?

Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive or obtuse about this issue, but it just seems to me like we made a lot of progress in the '90's in terms of portraying young women who could be sexually active without being implicitly dismissed as sluts, and that progress is being rolled back now. Consider Buffy Summers, for instance, who has multiple sexual partners in high school and college, or Monica Gellar from Friends who sleeps with a guy on their first date on the pilot episode, and admits that she has a lot of sexual partners, but is likeable, independent, caring, and good in relationships. It's sad to think we're actually regressing now when it comes to sex-positive portrayals of women.

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