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Hunger Games and Twilight - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Hunger Games and Twilight
So, someone somewhere online (I know, specific, right, but I watched this two days ago; you can't expect me to retain ;p) was going on about how we as a society can't handle deep themes, opting for light teens, like Bella Swan and... Katniss.

I actually stopped and raised my hand to speak before remembering that I was watching a video. Then I forgot about it, but now I have time to kill.

I'm sure it will surprise no one that I don't agree with the analysis, but I want to get into some of my reasoning.

First, I only made it halfway through the second Twilight book. Or maybe two-thirds. It's whenever Edward is trying to sparkle himself to death. I know the story well enough from then on by cultural osmosis, but I just decided I had better ways to spend my time.

I don't even hate Twilight, per se. I don't think I could muster that much energy on its behalf, especially now that we've seen the relatively short shelf life it had in terms of cultural influence.

Bella deserves the annoyance the talking head expressed toward her. She's an entirely self-centered character, and the stakes of the story are insanely low. Attempts to make them higher turned out to be laughable.

Now, I don't want to say that low-stakes stories can't be good. Sometimes, those "little" stories are super effective. As someone pointed out with Coco, the land of the living is not about to be invaded by the dead, or to come crumbling down because of evil ghosts. It's a purely personal story about the Rivera family. And obviously, I think it's a good one. But even within the intimacy of that story, it's still about finding the larger picture (literally, now that I think about it!). Everyone in it starts out being selfish, but, because of their love for each other, they are able to band together and repair an ancient injustice, and bring healing to the whole family. Coco written Twilight style (if sans the romantic angle) would have been about how Miguel only wanted to be like Ernesto de la Cruz, but he felt some vague connection to Hector and didn't want to disappoint him. Hector and Ernesto would spend the whole movie talking about how great Miguel is and how they both want what's best for him, and Hector would eventually see that Ernesto could provide him with better music education. But no sweat, now Hector can be the spiritual mentor for the little sister.

Not exactly a world-beater of a plot. Also not Katniss-related, but I'll get there. Basically, my point is that a low-stakes plot doesn't have to feel self-centered. Twilight did. It was a book that was all about wish-fulfillment for being the center not only of your own life, but of the lives of every other character you encounter. Let's say that there's a continuum from self-centered to self-expansive--Bella would be ground zero on the self-centered end of the axis. Then there's a low-stakes, high-stakes axis. She's be pretty close to the bottom of the stakes there, too. But so would Miguel. So would all the boys in Lord of the Flies, for that matter; they may symbolize mankind, but they're at base just 30-odd British kids on a tiny island.

Plotting Katniss on this kind of graph would put her in a radically different place. She's not all the way at the endpoint of being totally other-directed (I'll put genuine Luke Skywalker from RotJ there, as a reference), but even when other people put her a the center of the universe--which they don't, always--shed doesn't give the sense of feeling that this is only right and proper. She's completely confused by it. There are also side issues going on around her in people's personal lives, not to mention the conflict in the world, which she's drafted into, but which she certainly didn't create.

Is she in a love triangle? Kind of, but it's one of the most functional I've seen--the two boys represent very different lives. And only one of them really inhabits her moral universe, which explicitly includes the Other. This is seen most clearly when Gale can't figure out why she's upset about her preps, but it's also there earlier, when he thinks she wants to run away with him. Gale thinks he's in Twilight, and gets royally pissed off when he realizes that Katniss is barely even thinking about that, and is also planning to bring Haymitch, her mother and sister, and--to Gale's biggest annoyance--Peeta. And it never occurs to her not to.

As far as the stakes go, they're space opera high.

So if they were on a graph (counting where the stories end up and what the character needs to do), they'd be in opposite quadrants--low-stakes/selfish (call it the personal angst quadrant), versus high-stakes/selfless (heroic quadrant, also occupied by Luke, Harry Potter, and most mainstream heroes). Anakin might be in high-stakes/selfish (anti-hero quadrant), and Miguel in low-stakes/selfless (no good name for this quadrant, but he's there with folks like John Boy Walton or Mr. Keating from Dead Poets). Katniss would be a little closer to the center line on the self-involvement axis than Harry or Luke, but not dangerously close.

I don't know that I'm necessarily arguing for superiority. I have my preferences, but that's all they are. Where I do want to hold up my hand and said "Wait a minute" is in the assertion that they're basically interchangeable teenage airheads in silly plots. Bella is kind of an airhead in a silly plot (which can be fun sometimes, even if I didn't like this one). But Katniss and THG are not in the same family of books. Like, at all. Are they seriously just being lumped together because both have female protags and a love triangle?
9 comments or Leave a comment
matril From: matril Date: October 20th, 2018 02:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Really great analysis. I'm also highly irritated by this bizarre conflation of two incredibly different characters/franchises just because they're both YA speculative fiction with female protagonists. I really dislike Twilight and will not be encouraging my teenage daughter to read it except perhaps with a highly critical eye of "why is this story problematic?", but I also really dislike the tendency of critics to dismiss it simply because it's popular with/aimed at young girls, whose tastes must of course be inferior. And then they apply that to The Hunger Games as well, because their analysis has all the nuance of a blunt axe.

In any case, I'm intrigued by these two axes of low/high stakes and selfish/unselfish. It gives me a fresh perspective on why I like the stories I like.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 22nd, 2018 05:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I also really dislike the tendency of critics to dismiss it simply because it's popular with/aimed at young girls
Exactly--this is a series that has enough legitimate problems without someone going nuts over one of its audiences.

Genre-biased reviewing is bad enough ("Icky, it's a vampire, so it's dumb, because there are no vampires"), but at least a compelling case can be made. Well, a case, anyway. If you have X point of view, then things that don't fall in that category are going to annoy you. But audience-biased reviewing? That's literally unrelated to the story. "I don't like it because those people like it." I mean... really?
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: October 20th, 2018 02:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really thought the love triangle was a combination of Collins being forced to put it in, and media commentary. That was the original purpose, after all. Dystopia meets Reality Television.

Honestly, I always get the impression people who write these things skimmed the book or are basing it on the thinnest details. Although... I don't know, even before I read THG, I knew the books were way deeper than Twilight. Incidentally, the only reason I initially read the books was because I was writing an article about the movies for school, and I wanted to avoid basing the article on my minimal knowledge. So I wouldn't do what this writer did. I wasn't expecting to like them as much as I did, but I actually thought they would be too dark and gruesome.

Kind of, but it's one of the most functional I've seen--the two boys represent very different lives. And only one of them really inhabits her moral universe, which explicitly includes the Other

Excellent point. I agree 100%.

As far as the stakes go, they're space opera high.

Yes. Again, I have a feeling the writer not only hasn't read the books, but has barely heard anything about them beyond "there's a love triangle."

Are they seriously just being lumped together because both have female protags and a love triangle?

Sadly, that's likely, but I also think they were both popular around the same time, which makes people assume they must be the same. It's like when people claimed Harry Potter was just like LOTR. I don't think either of those series are bad, obviously - well, LOTR wasn't really my thing, but I don't deny that it was incredibly well-crafted. However, they were completely different worlds with completely different purposes. Not to mention that LOTR is pretty standard high fantasy, whereas HP felt more like the love child of high fantasy and urban fantasy. Again, both good series, but just so different... yet people who were unfamiliar with one or both of those series lumped them together. Don't talk about things you don't know about.

Edited at 2018-10-20 02:35 pm (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 22nd, 2018 05:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Collins was definitely directed to throw it in. I think, though, that she made good use of it once she did. Instead of turning the story into a love story, she made the love story subservient to the theme, and used it to amplify the choices.

Harry Potter and LotR are a good comparison to this kind of thing. Not only both fantasy, but fantasy based in British culture and mythology. Neither could have been written anywhere else. And yet, they're very different animals. I like both of them and read them both pretty deeply, and I certainly see the family resemblance insofar as literary influences go (JKR is an Inkling in spirit!), but within that family, they're at about opposite ends of the personality spectrum.
beceh From: beceh Date: October 20th, 2018 09:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was babysitting last night and flicking channels and stumbled across one of the later Twilight movies. Made me remember just how problematic that story was.

I'm a high school English teacher, and despite there still being MANY copies of Twilight in the library, the kids just don't seem to bother reading it. I've had loads of kids get into and obsess over Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Cassandra Clare's books (I've never read those - have been avoiding due to the old fanfic plagiarism saga back before most of my students were born...) but Twilight doesn't seem to be holding up to the passing of time, thank goodness!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 22nd, 2018 05:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I literally haven't been able to give the stuff away for a couple of summers now. Which is why the problematic stuff doesn't bother me as much. (I remember when it was still hot, I was talking to a teenage girl at the library about what kinds of programs to have. The idea of a self-defense class came up and she jumped on it--"Half the girls in my class read that stupid Twilight stuff, so they're going to need to know how to defend themselves eventually." I wasn't as familiar then, and asked her about it, and she mentioned the part where Edward goes in and watches Bella sleep. She said that if she woke up and found some guy spying on her, she'd grab her baseball bat or her father's gun, and was genuinely angry at the girls in her class who though this was romantic.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 22nd, 2018 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that someone somewhere online might not be able to handle that society CAN handle more then air-head teens and they'd prefer to go on feeling superior because they love Catcher in the Rye which I found to be the most obnoxious story I was ever forced to read. I kept yelling at Holden to stop philosophically wanking and get on with it and I was only 16.
Willow at work
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 22nd, 2018 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've never made it through Catcher. It just always grated on me. What the hell? Stop whining. Holden and Bella could have a major whine-fest together while Katniss and Harry Potter give them puzzled looks and then get on with more important things.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 25th, 2018 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Beyond me how someone can read THG and completely miss the themes and social/human commentary going on.

And very interesting axes and quadrants idea, will be thinking about that.

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