Monday, March 26, 2012

Reflections on the Hunger Games

Last night I saw the hot new movie, Hunger Games. The night before, I finished the book. Yay me, being barely on top of things!

Normally I'd consider myself a book worm. Perhaps it's not as obvious now as when I would devour books when I was little, but I love reading. My reading habits changed when I got to college for the sake of time. I realized that when I was reading a good book, nothing else mattered. I wouldn't go to supper, I wouldn't do my homework, I wouldn't sleep. So I stopped reading at school, and mostly saved it for holidays.

Last summer, Dave was home sick (a rare occurrence. He's the type who would try to go to work with the IV still in his arm). A coworker had lent him The Hunger Games book the night before, and he read the entire thing in one day. Then he found the next two and read those as well. I think it took him a total of four days to get through the trilogy, and it only took that long because at some point he was healthy enough to go back to work.

Unfortunately, Dave thinks by talking. Every time something interesting happened in one of the books, he'd tell me about it. By the time he was done and insisting I read them for myself, I swore I'd never read them because he'd spoiled them.

Then they announced the movie (so, it may have been announced earlier. I'm clueless about these things). I don't like watching movie adaptations of books without reading the books first, and I knew Dave would want to see this movie. So I grudgingly decided I'd read the books.

It took me a loooong time to get around to it. I started listening to the audiobook last week. I finished it Saturday night, before going to the theater Sunday.

And, even though Dave "spoiled it," I did like it. The book was well written and interesting. The premise was different than anything I'd read before without being bizarre. It was young adult fiction without being corny, and included action without being overly gory.

The movie was also good. It was very true to the book (I found myself commenting every once in a while about how something didn't match, but in hindsight they were all things that didn't change the integrity of the story, and helped move it along to fit a screen). It also had very little gore, which I appreciate, but enough action to keep all the guys interested.

One thing I've been thinking about, however, more than how good the book was or how much I wish I could write something that awesome, is an article I read a few days back comparing Katniss to Bella (of Twilight). The woman who wrote this particular article had read both Twilight and The Hunger Games, and was comparing how the two heroines stood up as role models for the young girls who read their stories.

She said she understood why girls loved Bella. She was lost, starting over and honestly needed to be saved. Every woman's been there at some point or another, and loves the idea of a perfect guy stepping in to help. She also knew why Katniss was appealing. She was strong, powerful and independent. She wasn't necessarily good with people, but people liked her anyway. The author concluded by saying that if she had a daughter, she'd understand if she chose Bella as a role model, but would be overjoyed if she chose Katniss.

This really stuck with me. I read Twilight and didn't like it. I'm not a fan of vampires or anything like that, so that didn't help. But I honestly didn't like any of the characters. Bella was whiny and dull. Edward was creepy and ridiculous. Yeah, everybody's started over and wanted someone to help them out, but Bella took it to a whole new level.

Katniss, on the other hand, is almost too strong. That's what really hit me when I finished the book. In every situation, she saved Peeta. He was playing the role of the damsel in distress, and she was his knight in shining armor. Now, I understand that challenging gender roles is a good thing, and women should try to be strong, but I thought the characters were almost too much so. I wanted Peeta to save her, just once. I wanted him to be smart or strong or cunning or even just be good at finding and making food. He always almost died, and she always saved his life.

Granted, I'm probably  not the best person to comment on a movie that challenges gender roles and features a strong female in the lead. After all, I aspire to be a housewife and mother someday. And I'm proud of it. But I wonder if, by forcing so many strong women on our daughters, we're really causing the opposite problem than we had before? No, girls aren't going to pine away in their ivory towers, waiting for prince charming to come save them. Instead, they're going to go out and try so hard to prove that they're strong, independent women that they'll never know the joy of relying on someone else. They'll never be a helper because they'll insist that they'll never need help. And that's just a lie. Everybody needs Somebody.

I know many people don't want their daughters reading fairy tales or princess stories. They don't want to force them to be girly, or even encourage any love of pink or lace that could be read as weakness someday. However, I think girls should be exposed to fairy tales. That they should read them (and boys too!). If you really read these stories, or even watch their Disney versions, you'll realize that often these women aren't helpless. Perhaps they're thrust into a situation where they can't save themselves, but they don't give up. They go on with life--and are good and kind and sweet and hard workers in the process--and when someone shows up willing to help, they are willing to accept it.

If I ever have a daughter, I'd understand if she connected with Bella. I'd be happier if she wanted to be Katniss. But I'd be overjoyed if she understood that being a girl isn't something to be ashamed of, and was kind and good and hard working, and still willing to accept help.