Wednesday, June 1, 2011

#24 -- "The Hunger Games" Reviewed | * * *

"A farmgirl with a compound bow on a mission to kill teenagers on a reality TV show run by a totalitarian government in the not-too distant future wilderness."

We deliberately kept ourselves from reading The Hunger Games too much, because we wanted it to last.

Ready for some misogyny? Women need to stop writing self-pitying stories about childhood and motherhood and iambic pentameter that have the themes of 'sadness' and 'ladyness' circled in big fat "fuck my life" red marker. Looking back, we had to read shitloads of books about female oppression in school, and do you know the moral of all those stories? "Sucks to have a gash." 

Yes, we've heard that one. Now tell us the one about the girl that isn't a girl with girl problems who can't overcome them because she's a fucking girl in a world built by the dudes, for the dudes, and of the dudes, and you just might construct a character worth remembering. Christ, Pride & Prejudice was a load of shit with an apocryphal 60 pages tacked on by Austen at the end because she wanted to hit a page quota, and thus that whole bit with her sister running away for no discernible reason is entirely irrelevant to the already wholly-resolved plot. And yet at least Elizabeth was an interesting woman. She liked embracing her inner shrew and she hated her life, so she curb-stomped it with English riding boots, Colin Firth's in-born bionic eye-monocle be damned.

Woman are inherently better at capturing character motivation. As such, women should always be better writers than men. Instead, they settle for being just equally as bad at writing as men, per-capita. If you handed a woman an outline to Raiders of the Lost Ark and told her to write a screenplay of that story, it would become a better movie (that's funny, because the story outline was co-written by a woman, haha!). As a decent rule, female writers are less direct with physical movement in their work, going for a poetic approach to internal character dialogue instead of writing a fucking story that goes somewhere. Without the primal infatuation with things that explode that mens' dicks bless them with, most women will lack the idiotic aggression to write something that isn't inherently female at its very core.

As an aside, modern femininity actually is something, whereas modern masculinity is entirely an absence of aforementioned femininity. We know, ironic, right? That's some twenty-first century yin-yang right there.

Men are men, and they are not complex in how they convey emotion. In storytelling, women are the wandering deltas of the Amazon basin, rich with life, indifferent side-thoughts, tangential little streams, and bent, weird, tributaries -- men are the LA River. Men are the LA River. Men are the LA River. Concrete. Shopping cart.

Writers want to reveal themselves via a medium that they are most comfortable with, hence the written word. Or maybe they're just boring, self-aware individuals and they want to disguise that plaster-white personality in cryptic, directionless similes like a fantastic grilled cheese bought at an east coast train station.

People are boring. People dealing with fantastic circumstances is not boring.

This is where The Hunger Games succeeds. Like a fantastic grilled cheese at an east coast train station, it succeeds.

We've read thousands of books and stories where the hero/ine is a talentless ponce that is chucked into a fantastic situation and has to whimper and whine their way through the whole thing before finally capping the big-bad with a one-liner and copping a feel on the love interest in the second-to-last page. It's insulting to the reader when the story's lead doesn't enjoy their adventure. We readers want more actionable traits to envy! Think Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. We want more world-building! Think Neo in The Matrix. We want latent talent to shine through, not a destined pussy getting magic powers from a sword hewn from living stone. Think Arthur in The Sword in the Stone. He took orders from an owl.

The heroine in Hunger Games is a girl. She's a member of the badass tribe but doesn't like to admit it. If we had to equate her to a mythical Greek demi-goddess, it'd be Atalanta. Sure, there was some initial mouth-puking when we realized that the book was written in the first-person present tense, meaning we were going to be up in Katniss' head (in the MOMENT!) for the duration. This, whiny, self-pitying 14 year-old girl was going to be our guide?

She's not going to talk about the boy she likes, is she? Or worse, be smarmy in her desire for independence? Did she like a band before they were cool? Shit, she doesn't like photography, does she? If so. . . just. . . goddammit.

No, actually. Yeah, wipe off the chocolate milk that you just spat all over your display, man! Seriously, Katniss is a dynamite girl. She's a great big sister. She provides for her family. She's an expert at cool crafts like hunting and trapping and skinning. She's responsible. She's a crack shot with a bow and she knows twelve thousand ways to skin a cat -- in the future!!

It's semi-totalitarian future-America. There aren't a ton of details, but the states (districts) don't have names, just numbers. If we had to guess, Katniss lives in future Pennsylvania coal-mining country, aka, District 12. The above-mentioned totalitarian government exacts control over the states by having mandatory annual battles between children from each district. Killing kids is a no-no, which is why Spielberg always puts them in near-mortal danger, so when The Hunger Games Capitol government makes kids kill other kids, shit gets downright Japanese gross-out brutal.

These Hunger Games are the most popular thing on TV, which is a tar-black heroine caliber of morbid, and even more sickening is the huge American Idol vibe running beneath the competition. You need sponsors and support from the crowd to get supplies dropped in, so you have to be charismatic to get better survival tools. This is a brilliant plot device that in the most perverted way possible, forces the kids competing, Katniss especially, to come out of their shells and grow up a little bit. . .

. . .And to learn how to shoot a boy's throat out at point-blank range with the ol' compound bow.

It's during the sequence where they're prepping for games etiquette that it all gets interesting. We were nearly blackout drunk at a bus-stop in South Boston reading this part and we still remembered it, so listen the fuck up when we say this shit is good! Training sequences are great world-building moments. If done well, they make the reader giddy -- "What? They're going to have to crush each others heads with massive stones? They're going to have to become corporate whores to earn supply-drops during the event? That one girl weighs approximately 40 lbs., and can jump across tree branches like a squirrel? Can't wait. Lead on, Hunger Games." The press covers all of the competitors' prep work too, so the kids are getting total exposure to the pageantry of a competition that will end with all but one of them dead. So don't make any friends. Haha! Just like high school! Except with quicker, less heart-wrenching death, decades later, due to a Xanax overdose. . .

The shades of American Idol, and reality TV in general, pop up elsewhere too. Some of the kids from the other districts are raised from birth to be selected for the competition, pampered, and given idiotic names like "Glimmer" -- a certain nod to the half-human, half-stripper names that people in the south give their kids, like Amber or Chastity, or perhaps a reference to the dickish names east-coast WASPs give their kids (seriously, we were told this past weekend that a couple had just named their child "Crew" (we asked if it was spelled "Crüe" (it wasn't))). With this in mind, we realized that this wasn't a simple young-adult novel. It was a smarter than that. It was meaner than that.

Want to know what happens when the games start? Exactly what you expect. It's children murdering children, and we're inside the mind of a very scared, but quite capable, 14 year-old murderess in-training. She knows she could physically kill the competition with her bow skills, given the chance, but she is, again, a 14 year-old girl that loves her little sister from future-Pennsylvania coal mining country. There's going to be conflict. Who do we root for? We root for Katniss. What a stupid name though. 

Here is where the "woman-writing-a-woman" shines. Did we mention that The Hunger Games was written by a woman? Let's check back up top. Wow, no, we never actually said it during our women-writers' pep-talk. Huh. Whatever. It'd be fucked up if a guy wrote a book from the first-person present-tense about a 14 year-old girl. Or if a woman wrote a book about the awkward pre-pubescent years of a young boy wizard going to school in Scotland.

Back on the topic of rooting for Katniss, we don't care if you're male or female, we are all instinctively bound to cheer for the girl that you know is capable, if she can just summon the guts to compete, and there's nobody better at getting into the scariest brain-corners of a non-combative huntress than a sardonic American woman writer. Katniss cowers on occasion. We all would. She isn't saved by a man or by a more reckless friend. Actually, she is, once or twice, but she also saves the day a bunch of times on her own too, and that's all the better. Friends saving each others lives is vital to building likable characters in adventure stories, which we talked about in Princess Mononoke, and it holds true here. It's all of these gender-neutral "fuck-yeah!" moments that make The Hunger Games great.

Read it. The heroine is a real girl. You get scared with her, you share triumph with her. The world is a dark realization of America's obsession with competition and death. It's light on futura-slang but it's not pretentious and it's easy to read. It wants to be read by a lot of people and yet it's almost written with modesty and humility. No snarky rebel is trotted out at the beginning, clicking through her iPod, hating on girls prettier than her, pining after boys -- nope, just a farmgirl with a compound bow. A farmgirl with a compound bow on a mission to kill teenagers on a reality TV show run by a totalitarian government in the not-too distant future wilderness.

* * *
(out of 4)

Recommended related reading:
[Shakespeare In Love | * * ½] by Ghost Little
[Paradise Lost | * * * *] by Ghost Little and Doberman
[Jane Eyre (2011) | * * *] by Ghost Little

-- Ghost Little and Doberman
on Twitter | @GhostLittle_WTF

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