Katniss Everdeen

KATNISS: The Girl on Fire

katnissinterviewKatniss, a girl who finds herself in the forest, who had her childhood taken long before the reaping and throws herself on the sacrificial block for the desperate love of her sister becomes the celebratory commodity of the 74th Hunger Games. She is thrust into the limelight and a circus of publicity that is a masterful mix of sentimentality and terrible exploitation (Alleva).

Children are not able to embrace their identity as we would perceive children to be able to do. They are the possible saviours of their families, waiting for the reaping, adding their names to the lottery for the benefit of feeding their families. Katniss is different. She is set apart from her peers because of the time she spent with her father in the forrest. The knowledge and tools gained from her father transforms into the role of protector and provider of her family after her father is lost. She makes the sacrifices necessary for the survival of her family. Her behaviour at the reaping is not surprising. Her rebellious nature has been natural to her identity:

When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts. (6)

It is this rebellion that lives within her that makes Katniss different from the other Tributes, different from the other children. It is here that there is a spark that can be ignited to connect others, to show them that change is coming and fire is spreading. Peeta, who is more aware of how to play the game the Capitol expects them to play is always trying to protect Katniss, in her stubbornness, and lack of education of how the colonization has made the rules and why they must first conform to them . She is, however aware of the gaze.

I’ve been right not to cry. The station is swarming with reporters with their insect like cameras trained directly on my face. But I’ve had a lot of practice at wiping my face clean of emotions and I do this now. I catch a glimpse of myself on the television screen on the wall that’s airing my arrival live and feel gratified that I appear almost bored. (40)

It is Katniss’ father who first gave her identity, as he told her, ‘as long as you can find yourself, you’ll never starve’, which is meant to be literal, referring to the plant she was named for, but it also speaks to Katniss’ ability to know herself, to lean on that which provides her with an identity, a tool that others lack because of the way in which they are forced to live. It is this ability to stand out that Katniss can use the celebrity that is thrust upon her to motivate an entire body of people who are ready for change but stripped of the ability to seek it out. This gives Katniss a tremendous amount of power. This is power that the Capitol, especially the game makers and President Snow does not want her to have. She is using their game and using their tactics against them. She is aware that she is watched, that she is broadcast and she has practice of self editing and understands the ability she has to control what others see. It is this new power that draws others to her.

Katniss is aware that there is a division between what she is on the stage and what she is in the arena. She is aware that there is a shift in her power. She can be presented as a captivating figure, one to be admired, but that is changed and stripped in the arena as she becomes a source of entertainment because of the body that controls the video feed (Ming Tan). She must simultaneously be seen as worthy of love and desire in order to attract sponsors and young and harmless in order to avoid the wrath of the Capitol, both identities juxtaposed to reflect a real need of survival.

As she tries to defy the Capitol as she decorates Rue in her own show of a funeral, Katniss realizes that the power still lays with the Capitol and with their ability to edit the images as they see fit. They will not be able to ignore the image of Rue’s body being removed from the arena, but they need not show those watching the ritual Katniss performs. Her next opportunity for defiance is one that Capital cannot ignore, “Both she and Peeta play to the audience and outwit Snow by threatening to swallow poisoned berries. Katniss’s memories of her family and her father punctuate her time in the arena and contributee to her growing sense of social and personal justice” (Muller).

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The need for an understanding of humanity, especially a humanity that exists beyond what we immediately recognize as such is just as important as the questioning of the ‘reality’ that the media we consume today is delivering to us. As Katniss arrives in the Capitol there is a disconnect between her and her prep team – neither immediately seeing the other as ‘human.

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The Capitol prep team on Katniss: “The three step back and admire their work. Excellent! You almost look like a human being now! says Flavious, and they all laugh” (62).
Katniss on her prep team: “I know I should be embarrassed, but they’re so unlike people that I’m no more self-conscious that if a trio of oddly coloured birds were pecking around my feet” (62).

This divide is part of what allows the horror of The Games to continue. The people don’t view the tributes as they are, people – to be valued and honoured and protected. As those from the Capitol vacation in old arenas, reliving the entertainment and becoming part of the action, consuming the atrocities into their real lives, so will we, as plans to develop a Hunger Games theme park more forward. And this, in the name of profit. In the book, it was in the name of power, in today’s society profit and power are synonymous.

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Katniss will never have the ability to be whole, as she has been part of a society that sends its children off to their deaths. She has the ability, however to heal, as she provides the catalyst, the spark, the inspiration to change. She is saved through the entire narrative of moral depravity. The premise of the Games, and the way the winner wins, decides that the victor is a killer. It is no stretch to believe they are ruthless, survivalists and strong. Katniss’ journey in the Games does not depict her as such. The audience is not forced to feel ethical question with any of the kills Katniss is responsible for. As she drops the wasp nest on the band of assassins below her, we struggle to feel anything beyond relief for those who perish. As she takes down the boy who slays Rue with the arrow, we are proud of her for defending her ally. As she kills Cato, she takes pity on him and rather, ends his suffering. How could she have ever killed Thresh? – as he spared her and came from the District that embraced her with the gift of bread following Rue’s death. Or Foxface? – who was scared and alone and just a scavenger. She was excused of all of these acts. We are all spared the questions that would have come if we had been paired with a girl who could kill people as she killed animals. We are excused because of the horror that the Games and the Capitol inflict upon themselves, with the oppression, with the surveillance, with the want for visual violence.

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The captivating nature of Katniss is seen first in both Peeta and Haymitch. Peeta understands how to present her and Haymitch knows how to employ the manipulation. They see this power in a different way than Katniss who is operating in desperation and strictly with her survival instincts, we must, as she must, see Katniss through the eyes of others. It is Peeta who aids in this elevation of her as a commodity, with their relationship, now as a thing to be emulated, fawned over, consumed, as Peeta can be genuine and authentic as the cameras roll on – he has more faith in Katniss than he does in himself (a sad fact that he mirrors from his own mother) and Haymitch understands the shallowness, the material nature and the way to the pockets and the favour of the sponsors. Katniss does not merely elevate herself, she is working with a team who sees something in her and pushes her to fulfill her legacy as leader of a much needed rebellion.

And we are captured, just like the fictional audience, by the trope of the YA genre, the underlying love story, the quiet relationship between two seemingly star-crossed youths. It’s what makes us devote ourselves to these characters, what excites the Capitol, what distracts Snow and what gathers the momentum needed to capture enough of the moment to change the course of history for the Districts that have suffered too long.

SOURCES USED IN POST

Alleva, Richard. Sentimentalized Barbarity: The Hunger Games. Link. April 23, 2012

Brown, Adam and Tony Chalkley. “Beautiful, Unethical, Dangerous: Screening Surveillance and Maintaining Insecurities”. Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. Link

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, New York. 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0-439-02352-8

Ming Tan, Susan Shau. “Burn with us: Sacrificing Childhood in The Hunger Games.” The Lion and the Unicorn 37.1 (2013): 54-73

Muller, Vivienne. “Virtually Real: Suzanne Collins’s the Hunger Games Trilogy. Link

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A Meme means you made it

A meme is a piece of media used to transfer cultural ideas through the internet. Thus, when memes exist about an entity, the popular culture is paying attention. It is therefore interesting to examine some of the memes that can be found surrounding The Hunger Games.

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Jennifer Lawrence is portrayed in the media as ‘real’, genuine and a little bit clumsy. She famously tripped walking up the stairs before she could accept her Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. Of course, this meme is just a funny way to look at Lawrence’s real life klutziness, which actually makes her more human and relatable to her admirers, it blurs the lines between Jennifer Lawrence and Katniss Everdeen, a character she plays. So indeed, it’s good for a giggle, but plays into the danger that Collins comments on through her work – that there is a problem when the real blends with the fake, when we have trouble noticing the difference. The irony, when understanding this meme critically, is not lost.

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This meme continues on the real vs. make believe theme. The truth behind it is that we are all excited for The Hunger Games. Crowds gathered for the releases of the books, they eagerly anticipate the releases of the movies. They populate fan sites, chatrooms, create memes, artwork, jewellery. This meme, though meant as a commentary on the story, on our culture, in a light way, it is interesting again, when critical thought is applied. The districts do not excite for The Games. They are a time of sadness, of loss, of tragedy. The Capitol excites, for they do not equate the spectacle with the loss of real children. They do not feel the pain, for they do not go without throughout the entire year. They do not wonder how they will eat, depend on their children to survive. They have the power, the wealth, the ability to see the tragedy for the entertainment it should not be. And this is the power that President Snow exploits. So, as we devour the novels, love the characterizations, become involved in the plot devices and clamour for our movie tickets, who do we most emulate? And what does that say about us? It has made Suzanne Collins’ work that which helps define our culture, but does that definition show us in a light we should be proud of? That’s a lot to extrapolate from the dinosaur above.

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This one plays on the importance of the literature that shapes current culture. These are the books that will anthropologically represent these years in western culture. This is the meme that will shame you for what you like, what you connect with and what the stories say about you. Arguably, the writing itself is best in Rowling’s work, next, in Collins’, last in Meyer’s. There is no argument that each of these franchises captivated the popular movement. They sold. They got kids reading, they filled the seats of movie theatres. These stories meant something to people, and have thus been developed and reflected in material and visual culture. Though yes, Bella may have just been ‘the girl who died’ or ‘the girl who sparkled’, she still found herself, just as Harry and Katniss did. Although her story may not have had the depth of the other two series’, her journey had meaning, and that meaning is consumed by the masses. It’s unfair to shame those who connected, because finding who we are is an important journey that anyone should be privileged enough to complete.

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Continuing with the shaming between fandoms, this is the Hunger Games fans trying to flex superiority over the fans of Twilight. A major marketing tool was the ‘Team Edward’ vs. ‘Team Jacob’. It was recreated with Gale and Peeta, but without the same passion. This is a commentary also about the relationships that come in and out of focus in the story. Following along a trope of the YA genre, there has to be a love story.  We find that in Katniss and Peeta, and Katniss and Gale. The Capitol lifts Katniss up because she is fussed over by Peeta. Knowing that one or both of them will die does not seem to bother those of the Capitol, their appetites are whet with the entertainment of it all. Focussing on the relationship is a perverted diversion of what is really happening. It is subject to manipulation by Haymitch, and by Peeta, who arguable plays the game much better than Katniss ever could have alone. It’s telling that culture places the relationship as something to swoon over, much like those of the Capitol, much like President Snow later in the series. It puts us in line with those of the Capitol. Perhaps this meme is a reminder of where we should position ourselves.

tumblr_m7gyphR7Dl1qf4h75o1_250This is a sarcastic look at President Snow’s legacy. It eludes to the rebellion as to be expected, however, his plan has suppressed a rebellion for almost 75 years. The message is that of course a rebellion will happen, it must because of the enormity of the horror this powerful man inflicts. It’s important to look at this as a commentary on our handling of those in power. We are often held down by those with more power, more ability to decide, more influence to affect action. And there are elements in our real history that have dictated wrongdoing and no one with the confidence, ability or faith to rebel against it. Consider the equality that exists in the real world today. Living wages are a distant memory, those who have don’t share and those who go without will continue to do so until something changes. Katniss led the charge to change the horrors of Panem, who will lead the masses in the world today?

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This meme reminds us that Collins had real places in mind, and real suffering to build from as she wrote The Hunger Games. There is great suffering that happens in the world. Children die for nothing. People starve because no one has the ability, the knowledge or the tools to change it. It is important to remember that although this narrative is fiction, there are traces of truth in the pages and on the screen. It is important to remember that as the bombs go off in Gaza, as the coffins return from the middle east, as the streets house those without means to find shelter, these stories don’t end when we no longer see them. We must remember our place in the narrative of the world and the power we have and either use or neglect to use when we are in a position to. It is essential to understand the impact of suffering and just because it doesn’t seem to touch us directly does not mean that it couldn’t and does not mean that it doesn’t matter to those it engulfs.

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Not a meme, but a comic serving to illustrate the above point. We need less ‘constructed reality’, we need less opulence. We need more Rues, Katnisses, Peetas, Gales, and Cinnas. The power is always fought best from within and there are those who can get there and change it if we see them, give them the tools and let them make the changes needed.