This is the kind of stuff I say on Twitter, if you were curious.
Since I can never let anything go and I get weirdly self-conscious whenever my commentary starts to spread around the internet, I thought it’d be a good time to elaborate on these two quippy tweets I made the other day.
This is a point I make with some frequency, although it’s kind of divorced of context here because, you know, Twitter. Basically, I get a really bad case of eyeroll whenever I see/hear people complaining about how the romance/love triangle in THG was “unnecessary” or “annoying” or any of the other million words people use to say they think the series would have been better if Katniss was a lone fox who never kissed anyone.
Here are my main problems with this.
1) The initial “romance” between Katniss and Peeta was LITERALLY STAGED. SHE DIDN’T REALLY CARE OR WANT TO DO IT. There’s an entire subplot dedicated to Peeta’s sadfeels about the fact that Katniss wasn’t really into him and did it for the cameras/survival.
2) The subsequent actual developed romance between both Gale and Peeta was about a frightened, confused teenage girl hashing out some very complicated feelings about life, death, love, and friendship/family. The girl was loaded with a whole lot of baggage she didn’t ask for or deserve. I’m perfectly okay with her wanting to kiss a boy once in a while as escapism or just getting a jolly in amidst the misery. If I were a teenager whose life was in literal danger all the time, I’d want some nice memories, too.
3) Anyone who’s actually read the books knows that, comparatively speaking, the “romance” takes up very little of the series. It’s a subplot at best. She does have feelings for and cares for both boys, who have very intimate, personal ties to her and her constant near-death experiences. Sue her or something.
4) In my mind, Gale/Peeta has always been a metaphor of choice between revenge and healing for Katniss. That’s how I read it. I hate seeing it reduced to some throwaway kissy-face to appeal to the teenybopper girls or whatever.
5) The “Team Peeta vs Team Gale” stuff has always been spearheaded by the media, not the series itself.
These are the reasons I tend to eyeroll whenever The Hunger Games is criticized for being too heavy on the romance, or Collins accused of bowing to the corporate publishers’ desire for sexy kissy-time. It grates on me.
THAT SAID, the context of these particular tweets is steeped partially in these observations, and also in some other, overreaching personal observations. As background, I first read 1984 as a 17-year-old senior in my AP English unit of utopian/dystopian literature. I loved the book. LOVED it. Liked it more than Brave New World, which I also read during that same unit. I have no doubt that it was formative in my love of dystopian literature.
To get this out of the way, I’ll admit that every time I make this point, I *always* hear the following arguments:
You can’t compare 1984 to The Hunger Games because one’s a literary classic and one’s a contemporary commercial bestseller.
You can’t compare them because the context in which they’re read is different and THG is at the forefront of media and fandom in the modern age, while 1984 isn’t read that way.
And here’s my response to those arguments: that’s not the context in which I’m making the commentary here. I’m fully aware that it’s pretty much impossible to accurately compare the two works because they’re from different times and often read in wildly different contexts (academic vs pop culture). But that’s also part of the issue.
Academia is not some untouchable monolith whose intentions are always pure and true, first of all. Academia is far and away influenced by carefully selected “quality” literature filtered through a lot of sieves that end up producing a lot of books by white guys. We’re at a period in history where the past is largely overwhelmed by dominant voices and minority voices are still only just being recognized as worthy, when they’re recognized at all. Books we consider classics today are classics because we’re told they’re classics. They’re the books that survived and were labeled “literature.”
I’m not here to argue that THG is destined to become a classic. Probably not. But who knows? Ultimately, my argument is that these two books are books that we feed teenagers. They read 1984 for class as assigned reading, they read THG at home for pleasure. The context is that we make snide remarks about a teenage girl written by a woman as having needless romantic entanglements that muddy the story, while we teach that the man sleeping with a woman is expressing love in a society devoid of it.
We read Winston and Julia as metaphors, as foils, as illustrations of the opposing themes of the novel. This is what we tell young adults reading the book for the first time — this relationship is a metaphor, it has a purpose.
Katniss’ relationships, however, are stupid. Pointless. Meaningless fluff to appeal to girls and distract from the “real” story. This is what we’re telling young adults, too. That THIS relationship, in THIS dystopia, in THIS context, is totally the worst and not worthy of exploration.
Time and time again, I hear people argue that men who wrote the literary classics knew how to write love/sex without making it “distracting” from the core literary thread. Ladies, however, remain the damned mob of scribbling women who can’t write a single kiss scene without it ruining an otherwise worthwhile story.
Can we really compare 1984 and The Hunger Games? I think so, on some level. They’re the same genre. They explore similar themes of destructive totalitarian governments and oppressed citizens. There’s love, hate, betrayal, destruction, misery. It’s not a far stretch, really.
Can they ever play on the same field? Well, I don’t know. We don’t really let them, do we? 1984 is removed because it’s an academic classic engrained in our curriculum because somewhere down the line someone thought it was worth it. We don’t have to give THG that distinction. We can write it off.
(And before people argue that 1984 is THE dystopian novel, I’ll just remind you that dystopia in fiction existed decades earlier)
Can we argue they’re the same quality with the same teaching potential? Yeah, I think we can. They’re different, certainly, but we have a tendency to write off modern literature as lacking when compared to the classics. We do it in art, in literature, in music… always. Nothing that’s made today is ever good enough to compare. Except that it is, and some of the art we create today WILL survive and WILL be “classic” a century from now. It all depends on how the cards shake out, doesn’t it?
Anyway. I’m rambling. This is why I don’t try to make elaborate arguments on Twitter. That’s what my Tumblr’s for.
THESE ARE MY THOUGHTS, I HOPE YOU ENJOYED THEM. If people want to make counter-arguments, that’s cool. I laid my cards on the table. Let it lead to wherever.