First of all, can we get out of way the notion that this movie ‘leads young people to reading’? I can’t remember exactly what I was reading when I was 14 years old, but around that time I had discovered Ayn Rand -- as well as J.D. Salinger,Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky. Perhaps my interest in reading can be traced to Hortense O’Dell, the librarian at Harlem Road Public School in Amherst, New York. Once a week we would go to ‘library class’ and she would read to us, mostly from Charles Dickens. I remember her kittycat glasses, and her left leg thrust forward forcefully in her long skirt -- poised to seduce us, through literature.
Nowadays it’s a different matter. Young people are not expected to read adult books. There is instead a wealth (and believe me it’s all about wealth) of ‘young adult’ titles. Increasingly, these books are tied – as nearly everything is – to multi-media mass marketing schemes. Harry Potter was not a book; it was a video game, a movie, as well as countless promotional objects. The idea of ‘getting young adults/children to read’ was merely the first phase of a marketing tool aimed at tricking gullible young people into buying products.
This is one reason I get so angry when people celebrate the latest tween phenomenon -- The Hunger Games .
I haven’t read The Hunger Games and I don’t intend to. I am here to speak about the movie. While watching it at a matinee in Hamilton, I had the treat of sitting behind a group of breathlessly quiet teens who gazed up at the screen as if in church, while two much older working class denizens in the back row chatted loudly. In a quite unprecedented switch of roles, the young people felt obligated to shush the septegenarians.
So what’s going on in this movie? As film fare, it’s a pretty straightforward action flick peppered with ‘touching’ moments. Nothing special. In terms of race issues the movie manages to foreground a touching non-white character named Rue (whose moniker is reminiscent of a flower that Ophelia tosses during her mad scene in Hamlet -- a book that, sadly, most fans of The Hunger Games will likely never read). Rue dies in a moment of particularly nauseating sentimentality. The presence of this non-white character in the film has apparently offended some young moviegoers who expected the characters to be white. Apparently they didn’t ‘read’ the novel too carefully. Well, so much for anti-racism!
When it comes to sexual politics the movie tries to cover its misogynistic ass by featuring as its central character a woman who is also an archer. But she is also (surprise!) pursued by two young men. Is it just a co-incidence that the heroine of Twilight was also pursued by two hotties? I don’t think so. If these movies tell young women anything, it’s that -- whatever their actual talents might be -- their actual worth is only to be measured through the eyes of attractive males.
Then there’s the homophobia. The heroine Katniss (um, what’s up with that name?) lives in a poverty stricken, mountainous American rural mining town – it’s obviously meant to represent Appalachia. The people who live in that town appear to be predominantly God-fearing white country folk. If they lived in present day America they would be members of the extreme Christian right. But alas, Katniss must desert this tough yet wholesome country life and travel to a big city that somewhat resembles the Emerald City of Oz, except everyone who lives there appears to be homosexual, or at least ‘homosexualized’. The men are all effeminate and wearing make up and bizarre dandyish outfits, and the women appear to be men in drag. This is no accident. The romanticization of Christian, wholesome country life and the demonization of amoral corrupt city life (i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah) is promulgated daily by the Christian right. Born-agains believe that evil people (i.e. desiring women of all ilks and homosexuals) are created by cities. This message is masterfully concealed in The Hunger Games by the notion that the city folk in the movie are merely a symbol of dystopian ‘decadence.’ Well they are, but if they were decadent macho men and their feminine wives, being decadent with their decadent families, it would present a very different picture than the image of queer party people as a God-loving heterosexual’s nightmare.
Okay, I recognize that the movie contains no crosses, and no mention of the word God, or Christianity. But the images speak to a Christian worldview.
True, using homosexuality as a stand-in for decadence is a time worn tradition. After all, it makes sense. (Queers can’t make children and contribute to the ‘future’ unless they do something unqueer – copulate with the opposite sex -- in real life, a test tube, or in mommy’s belly). And on the bright side, I’m sure this movie gave tons of work to unemployed gay actors who were more than grateful to portray the depraved cityfolk -- unless of course the director (as is so often the case) thought homosexual urbanites were best played by heterosexual actors stretching their ‘instruments.’
If what I’m saying about the film seems crazy to you, then it may be that the idea of the effeminate male as queer, decadent undesirable/impotent figure of fun is so incredibly entrenched in our culture these days (especially with the rise of the gay male TV designer fag) that we don’t even notice it.
Well…. speaking of dystopias….