The feminism of The Hunger Games: Katha Pollitt
It's cultural news when an esteemed writer/critic/poet goes head over hells for the latest in pop culture. Expresses his or her love for a work's artistry, even if a million other people love it too, even if it's making a gazillion dollars. To a believer in democracy, this ardency speaks for itself.
Philosophers such as Plato and Kant say that's wrong, but I say the human response to an artistic offering deserves to be a part of the weighing of its worthiness, if not the only part.
So let me turn this space over to Katha Pollitt, who in The Nation marvelously explores The Hunger Games. After gushing for a moment about the book and the movie, she turns to well-accepted interpretations of the story:
There are many ways to analyze The Hunger Games. You can see it as a savage satire of late capitalism: in a dystopian future version of North America called Panem, the 1 percent rule through brute force, starvation, technological wizardry and constant surveillance. The Games exemplify these methods: as punishment for a past rebellion, each of the twelve districts of Panem must sacrifice two teenagers, a boy and a girl, to come to the Capitol (sic) and compete in a televised ritual of murder and survivalism until only one is left. Tea Partiers can imagine an allegory of oppressive Washington, and traditionalists can revel in the ancient trope of the moral superiority of the countryside: the district people are poor and downtrodden and wear Depression-style clothes but they live in families, sing folk songs and have a strong sense of community. In the Capitol, which has the dated-futuristic look of a fascist Oz, the lifestyle is somewhere between the late Roman Empire, the court of Louis XVI and the Cirque du Soleil. You can also read the book as an indictment of reality television, in which a bored and cynical audience amuses itself watching desperate people destroy themselves, and the movie plays this angle for all it’s worth.
Much to unpack here, but note how she catches the movie's ability to avoid taking sides politically. To reach young and old, leftists and Tea Partiers. And that's not even mentioning its feminism:
The element that is the most striking to me, though, is Katniss, portrayed in the film by the splendid Jennifer Lawrence. Katniss has qualities usually given to boys: a hunter who’s kept her mother and sister from starving since she was 11, she’s intrepid and tough, better at killing rabbits than expressing her feelings, a skilled bargainer in the black market for meat. No teenage vegetarian she! At the same time, she’s feminine: never aggressive or swaggering, tenderhearted and protective of the defenseless—when her little sister Prim’s name is chosen for the Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place; during the games she risks death to protect the lovable girlchild Rue (Amandla Stenberg). Not to get too literary about this most popular of popular fiction, you can see Katniss as a version of the goddess Artemis, protectress of the young and huntress with a silver bow and arrows like the ones Katniss carries in the Games.