I first encountered The Hunger Games several years ago while serving as a judge for the YA Lit Track’s costume contest at Dragon*Con. An excellent young costumer showed up at Katniss, and I thought she was an elf. While I recall the costume well and know we gave her at least one award for it, I didn’t get around to reading the book until my recent flight from Warsaw to Hanoi.
Planes are for sleeping, especially since I usually don’t have time to sleep the night before I travel, so it says something that I stayed up to read it. It’s a quick read, but for me it was a hard book, because no matter how visceral I often found it, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters except perhaps Cinna (who is definitely my favorite, I suspect has more secrets to reveal in the later books which are currently beyond my reach), Rue, and the silent Foxface, who fought for her life the way I always played dodgeball.
But as someone who experiences fiction through identification, the book mostly sort of left me at a loss. I didn’t identify with Katniss or the boys, and I didn’t care about the romance, true or false; I only cared about whether Peeta was a Slytherin.
But what I have cared about, passionately, since before I even read the book, is the film’s marketing campaign, which makes us all residents of the Capitol, because it’s not us, and it’s not our children. It’s savvy — insert the audience as the audience, and a little cruel — do we feel like not nice people by virtue of being outside the story? Do we pause to consider that, just like in historical reenactment, none of us would probably be any of the fictional privileged we’re being positioned as? And do we care as long a we can buy the limited edition nail polish celebrating this season’s Capitol fashions?
Of course, I love it. And I love it not just as an indictment of our worse natures and our fame culture (who wouldn’t, for example, find Celebrity Apprentice more riveting (or at least finally mildly interesting) if immediately after “You’re Fired!” there was cannibalism?). I also love it as a statement of the obvious: sometimes in fiction it’s fun to be the bad guy. If you’re a resident of the Capitol, what’s your life like? Sex in the City with a lot of hot pink eyeliner and a little bit of blood? How decadent! Let’s get cupcakes! Do you like my new wig?
But even through all that (and if you follow my Tumblr you know that good marketing is one of my turn ons), what keeps lingering for me about The Hunger Games is the exquisite nature of some of Suzanne Collins’s phrases.
From the first time it appears on the page the girl who was on fire almost made me weep for the cadence of it, but also for the past tense of it. Chosen and chosen and chosen again, and Katniss even wins, or at least survives. But I feel like in that phrase is the book’s greatest warning about ordeal and spectacle: even illusions will change you; and even if you survive, everything ends.
I’ve been assured that the next book in the series is all about the stuff that really gets me going: fame and the construction of it, and I wonder if little girls in the Capitol write RPF about Katniss and Peeta, or if terrible pop songs come out about it all in that world — sort of like how the vampire Lestat has a crappy band (and speaking of the construction of fame, there’s something I need to revisit). I think about how every dress Jennifer Lawrence wears when promoting the film is flame colored; as we ponder whose fame is really being constructed in light of that, I find myself just wanting to whisper sweet nothings at another blurry fourth wall.
Of course, what I’ve said here is probably all ridiculous and trivial in the light of the second and third books, which I won’t manage to get my hands on until probably mid-April. But I probably will get to see the film in India (after some obligatory and eagerly awaited Bollywood), which excites me beyond measure. With the largest film industry in the world (someone once told me that Bollywood has made more films about the life of Alexander the Great than all the films ever made in Hollywood combined; no idea if it’s true, but it’s my favorite piece of possibly accurate information ever), it seems like a perfect place to see a movie where we’re not just in the audience, but cast as it.
Meanwhile, I can’t believe I thought Katniss was an elf.