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March 24, 2012

A Little Bit o’ Scribbling About Context-Lenses

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 2:16 am

I just got home from seeing The Hunger Games. It was…y’know, fine.

I read the books a few months back when I was stuck in bed sick for a week. They’d originally piqued my interest because I’d heard them described as an allegory for contemporary USian politics with some challenging themes around resistance, allyship, and the relationships between several (potentially) women of color as main characters — and ’cause, y’know, the plot sounds kinda cool. And I followed the uproar when the casting call for Katniss was limited to white actresses.

I won’t go into a big discussion about why representation matters. It’s a huge topic that I don’t have the mental focus to talk about succinctly tonight. I will mention that, because representation matters so much, people who don’t often see themselves represented in pop-culture are highly attuned to pick up on small hints or potentials for representation where others might miss them. Suffice to say: I initially read The Hunger Games with a mind toward political critique but I wasn’t able to stay in that headspace at all because I got so wrapped up in the story — and the main reason I got so wrapped up was because the “love triangle” between Katniss, Peeta and Gale was (to my hungry eyes) so ripe with the potential for a working polyamorous relationship that there were moments when I found myself thinking, “Holy shit. Really? Did that scene just happen? Is there a real chance she’s going to do this in a Young Adult novel?”

[SPOILERS] Of course, she didn’t. Several times throughout the story, I found myself cursing the author: “Seriously? SERIOUSLY? You’re writing a protagonist who’s such an iconoclast she’s been breaking laws that could get her executed since before she could write, repeatedly puts her life on the line just to spite authority, and starts a revolution against a fascist dictatorship pretty much just by being Katniss…but she just can’t figure out that she can choose two boyfriends? Seriously?” And then there’s the conversation, when they’re all locked in Tigris’s basement, between Peeta and Gale about which one she’s going to choose — in which they’re basically both like, “You’re cool, dude. I totally respect you and she obviously loves you. You two should be together,” to each other. I must’ve re-read that scene five times. And so I kept holding out a little bit of hope… Maybe. Maybe…

Until the epilogue, when I was so disappointed I practically threw the book across the room. * sigh * [/SPOILERS]

But here’s the great thing about the death of the author: It doesn’t matter what Suzanne Collins was trying to do with that romantic subplot; I’m capable of reading it as a polyamorous love story (albeit one with a tragic ending) and connecting with it on that level. Humans are meaning-making machines and we’re great at making a variety of different meanings out of the same cultural artifacts. This is an incredible power, because it allows us to resist cultures that might otherwise want to erase us. I once wrote a great paper (that I never turned in) about all the various queer gender identities and homoerotic triangulations in Grease — concluding that, insofar as Grease is held up to be a classic and wholesome representation of “normal” American adolescent sexual culture, it actually does a fabulous job because normal American adolescent sexual culture actually is (and always has been) a lot more queer and genderfluid than we’re led to believe.

Reframing pop-cultural artifacts is a good exercise in resisting dominant interpretations of situations and selves. It’s also fun:

[SPOILERS] I went to the Hunger Games movie hoping that, political critique of the casting aside, it would be a good flick because it would capitalize on the rich, explosively colorful visual descriptions in the book. It didn’t. Meanwhile, Gale was basically a non-entity throughout most of the film and, without access to Katniss’s internal dialogue, the whole thing ended up looking like a fairly stock standard Boy Meets Girl, Boy Woos Girl With Burned Bread, Boy and Girl Fight to the Death in a Giant Arena story. I was bored. [/SPOILERS]

Then, about halfway through, something about the Jennifer Lawrence/Josh Hutcherson on-screen chemistry caught my attention and I started reading a kind of D/s power dynamic between Katniss and Peeta. With this contextual lens snapped in place, I started thinking back on all the additional details I knew about this relationship from the books, and found myself struck by Peeta’s powerful, unwavering, submissive devotion to Katniss. Suddenly, I found myself drawn much more deeply into the movie and actually invested in what happened to these characters. I probably never would have picked up on it just reading the books themselves, though, because I was so fixated on the poly potentialities. It was something about Hutcherson’s performance that clued me in. Now I kind of want to go back read them with that framework in mind.

This is normally where I’d put some kind of conclusion or try to make a broader political point. I don’t really have one. TL;DR: Whether the context you care about be racial identity, alternative relationship structures, US foreign policy, or fashion, there are lots of different ways to read The Hunger Games. Try it sometime. Lemme know what else you find.

(For the record: When I read them, the only character in the entire book series I genuinely cared about was Finnick. This probably tells you something about me. đŸ˜‰ )

ETA Case in point: Txt from my girlfriend – “No spoilers. We’re going to play a drinking game: Every time something straight happens, take a drink.”


1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on That's Not a Kink Blog; THIS is a Kink Blog!.

    Comment by thirdxlucky — April 15, 2013 @ 2:26 am | Reply

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