Notes on The Hunger Games

With the Hollywood movie version looming around the corner, I decided to pin down some images from the own movie version in my head before it’s replaced by the director’s interpretation. Before, well, my own version’s death. It’d still be there, of course, but it wouldn’t be the same. For starters, after seeing a movie-adaptation of a book, I tend to replace the actors’ faces from those I had made up and had cast by myself.

But that’s just really trivial. With a new interpretation from the director or the new plethora of fan interpretations it might acquire, there will be bigger discourses and an explosion of meanings. So, I would like to remind myself where I come from–at the risk of sounding like a silly brown American fan elitist purist–just so that I be reminded why my blood boils at any major negative talk on Suzanne Collins’ story.

 

I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it. – Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

My attachment towards the book may have a lot of people scoffing, the way they did at Katniss’ concern about choosing between Peeta and Gale while in the middle of a revolution, because my attachment stemmed from a heartbreak.

Others may regard it idiotic, a 23-year-old fawning over a book due to a boy dumping her. But people forget that it’s the small things that make a big impact. And I’m not talking about ripples in water ala Pocahontas. I’m talking about that moment in Dolores Claiborne when she got home, found a note from her daughter on her refrigerator, and then decided–because of that “innocent” note–that she would kill her abusive husband.

Reading The Hunger Games, I decided that I am through being lost in regression. You see, during the break-up, I disintegrated into this person full of self-hate and just plain lost, all the hurried goals built in 8 months on a squeaky foundation crumbled back into what they were really were, in the first place, dust. My friends and family (Doctor Who and Law & Order too!) were my life-savers, of course, holding me by the hand like a little girl being led into the busy streets for the first time. Slowly, I got back into the routine, got back into what magazines would have outlined as steps-to-get-over-your-ex. But there was a grain of lie in every plans I made, a sort of fake it, ’til you make it mantra. And I’m not sure if I have had made it if my friends didn’t lend me that book.

I wasn’t really enthused to read The Hunger Games. In fact, I avoided it the first time I saw it–was it a year before I read it?–because I just thought it was a Battle Royale rip-off. But I needed more books to take my mind off the lies of my routine so I borrowed it. I was ready and armed to diss this book made for 13-year-olds.

I eventually ended up squealing about it on my social networking accounts.

Reading this book was a different yet equally important life-saver. It was about a girl, it was fast-paced, it was about a revolution, it was about shaping a hero, it was about the personal is the political, it was about the complexities of a war, it was about women’s roles, both feminine or whatever and how others will use her for what they believe was needed. And one didn’t even have to reach Catching Fire (my favorite!) or Mockingjay to get that! After a very long time, I finally read a book that made my adrenaline pump, that made me remember why I loved books and why I suffered a writing course to begin with! It reminded me of issues I am passionate about and who I am–not just a 23-year-old whose life used to revolve around some boy… I was like, hey, I forgot that I actually have an identity. All. By. Myself.

Katniss reminded me that I fell in love with Buffy. And Buffy’s talking through Katniss. And she’s saying, “Stop moping. You got over the worst parts. Plus, we rock.”

 

Collins’ writing style

Though it’s pretty obvious where some of the metaphors are, the author doesn’t rely too much on them. Her language is pretty straightforward, drawing more drama and complications from the situations, not the poetry.

And it works pretty damn well.

This is a story about war. And this is a story about war for teenagers undergoing through puberty–as well as its own adolescent characters. I doubt that the majority of them would fully appreciate the wonderful wording of Khaled Hosseini’s:

“She would never leave her mark on Mammy’s heart the way her brothers had, because Mammy’s heart was like a pallid beach where Laila’s footprints would forever wash away beneath the waves of sorrow that swelled and crashed, swelled and crashed.”

I’m not saying kids are stupid. I’m just guessing a lot of them, at their stage of development, would choose in-your-face descriptions, words that paint a bigger picture of the situation to let them understand the complexity and emotion of a situation, rather than one or two sentences that paint a wonderfully brief complex picture, but they have to deconstruct to elicit their emotions.

Take for example this. How can Gale, who is in love with Katniss, be disgusted with her at the same time?

Gale pushes me roughly away from him. “You leave, then. I’d never go in a million years.”

 

“You were happy enough to go before. I don’t see how an uprising in District Eight does anything but make it more important that we leave. You’re just mad about–” No, I can’t throw Peeta in his face. “What about your family?”

 

“What about the other families, Katniss? The ones who can’t run away? Don’t you see? It can’t be about just saving us anymore. Not if the rebellion’s begun!” Gale shakes his head, not hiding his disgust with me. “You could do so much.”

But then again, sometimes, Collins seem capable to call for poetry to combine with stating-the-obvious at the right time in the story:

Gale, who I have never seen cry, has tears in his eyes. To keep them from spilling over, I reach forward and press my lips against his. We taste of heat, ashes, and misery. It’s a surprising flavor for such a gentle kiss. He pulls away first and gives me a wry smile. “I knew you’d kiss me.”

 

“How?” I say. Because I didn’t know myself.

 

“Because I’m in pain,” he says. “That’s the only way I get your attention.” He picks up the box. “Don’t worry, Katniss. It’ll pass.” He leaves before I can answer.

 

Katniss and masculinity

Although I was not one of those weird people who were amazed that Katniss would be worrying about which guy to flirt with during wars (I will never get that, by the way, love, companionship, and even sex, becomes much more important in the face of death, whatever age you are), I was one of those people who did not empathize with her rants. At first.

At first, I regarded her like she has some Harry Potter-like sense of annoying importance. At the latter part of the Harry Potter series, I was sick and tired of Harry Potter moaning about being an orphan and his obligations. Then, I wanted Ron and Hermione to leave the selfish little brat alone and save the world themselves. Now… I still feel that sometimes. Heh.

Katniss, on the other hand, eventually gained my respect. All her rants, a manifestation of not wanting to accept the role of a hero, were normal justified, albeit sometimes too much, rants. Mind you, I’m still not in love with her but she acts quickly to get the job done–whatever she thinks that job should be. She rants and then decides relatively quick. I then realized that the lack of empathy I felt was due to her certain detachment with dealing her problems–a grim and prim, grit your teeth, action-based solution–which is traditionally masculine. When I finally realized this, I thought, would I still be giving her shit if she was a he? In hindsight, all her “rants” of reluctance were even philosophical in essence. In the end, there is no need to label such trait as masculine. All her thinking was just what Katniss did, what a normal person would do, how a boy or girl have this normal need to sort it out.

“Katniss, it’s just hunting. You’re the best hunter I know,” says Gale.

 

“It’s not just hunting. They’re armed. They think,” I say.

 

“So do you. And you’ve had more practice. Real practice,” he says. “You know how to kill.”

 

“Not people,” I say.

 

“How different can it be, really?” says Gale grimly.

 

The awful thing is that if I can forget they’re people, it will be no different at all.

And best of all, and veering away from discourse of masculinity, I totally love how she is very honest with the implications of her decisions. There might be a tinge of self-hate, but she stands by her decisions, doing what’s need to be done–even if she thinks that makes her a monster. And then using it as a platform to change who she wants to be next.

Because I’m selfish. I’m a coward. I’m the kind of girl who, when she might actually be of use, would run to stay alive and leave those who couldn’t follow to suffer and die. This is the girl Gale met in the woods today.

 

No wonder I won the Games. No decent person ever does.

 

Media and femininity

There is this weird thing going on where it’s considered cool for girls to consume stories “for boys,” while it’s not cool for boys to consume stories “for girls.” Another weird thing is, when the main hero is a girl, the story is automatically for girls. Even before Hunger Games, I’ve wondered a lot if Harry Potter would have gotten an almost universally accepted approval if the boy who lived was the girl who lived–I actually think it would still but since its is a boy, it automatically didn’t have to face that problem of reaching genders (to digress: I am very pleased that Pixar is finally releasing a woman hero for its latest project, also, there is a reason why I’m trying not to use the term heroine).

The Hunger Games, on the other hand, faced and survived this problem… and yes, even survived the endorsement of Twilight’s Meyer (which, honestly, another reason why I avoided it because I thought it was just another love story). It’s not everyday that you have a mainstream lead female without superpowers, who kick ass, has love triangle problems, and still not be overtly sexualized by the boys who consume her story–which is why I think it’s a little sad that the movie’s marketing team sometimes panders it to whoever as a chic flick or Twilight part two. (Although, I really hate the derogatory view of chic flicks and the over-hyped hatred of Twilight.)

But even this gender profiling/exploitation has already been pointed out in the book. For the Capitol people to love Katniss, she has to play the part of a damsel in distress, well, a damsel in distress who knows how to handle a bow and arrow. Katniss and Peeta had to show off their relationship for them to survive and she definitely had to dress the part too. It’s all about image of what they want Katniss, a woman, to be–and they want her to be a “pretty” woman blindly in love. The discourse would be then: was she able to use this image-obsession-oppression for her benefit, like how women are taking back the label “bitch”? Or how a long time ago, a female villain using her feminine wiles were the past pop-culture’s version of feminism?

I wonder if the marketing team was very aware of the irony of it all.

 

Gale versus Peeta

I think a past blog post is suffice to show my feelings for this. And other people have articulated it better than I did. I just want to emphasize a few more things:

First, I approve of Katniss ending up with Peeta. Simply, because it made sense.

Second, Gale loved Katniss, even if he seemed to have shooed her away when he became part of the rebellion. I cannot repeat this enough: not because someone chose to stand by their principles means that they don’t love you anymore. That’s like saying your parents don’t love you just because they’re working to feed you. Some things are bigger than us. Once, in the Uncanny X-Men cartoons, they showed a post-apocalyptic alternate universe where Wolverine and Storm fell in love and got married. Then, they found out they can do something to save their war-torned world by changing the course of time, wherein they had to give up their present. They would be able to put order back in the world, but in that world, they are not in love and not married (which is really sad, especially because in that world, Wolverine is always hung up on Jean Grey, heh).

The Hunger Games shows how a situation bigger than individuals test us. We are confronted with certain choices we must make that define who we are, not who we love. When Wolverine and Storm decided to give up their love for the betterment of the world, it was something heartbreaking and fucking noble. When Gale was ready to do the same thing–be it because of the revolution or Peeta–it showed how much he knows, loves, and understands what and who Katniss is, showing just how much who he was in the process.


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