Monday, April 9, 2012

Faceoff: Twilight Versus The Hunger Games


Protagonist: Bella Swan is the center of the Twilight universe and a more bland protagonist you could not find in any other series.  It probably does not help that the role is played by Kristen Stewart whose version of acting involves rolling her eyes, stuttering and biting her bottom lip to convey the appropriate amount of angst.  Bella essentially has no personality and all you really need to know about her is that she is desperately in love with Edward.   She is so in love with Edward that when he temporarily ends their relationship she takes to her bed like all good wilting flowers are wont to do in moments of crises.

The only time she acts against Edward’s wishes is when she decides to carry the White saviour baby to term.  She does not even pause to consider what giving up her life at the age of 18 to become a vampire means, but hey when it comes to the child, why have any doubt at all.  This is after all a classic Mormon love story. John Smith would be so proud.

World Setting: The story is set in dreary Forks.  Bella moves there after her mother goes on the road with her baseball boyfriend.  Little does she know that Forks is the ideal location for vampires because even the sun does not like the small town enough to shine on a regular basis. This means that Edward does not have to worry about sparkling in public.  [Note: I still have not forgiven Meyer for creating a sparkling vampire, and I don’t care that she blamed it on his venom]

Main Plot Theme:  The entire saga is essential a love triangle with Edward the stalking, controlling vampire vying against Jacob the werewolf who believes that the word no really means try harder.  

Conflict:  What conflict?  I suppose you could count the overly emo Edward who is convinced that he is evil.  

Inclusion/treatment of marginalised issues:  Twilight does have a disabled character and his name is Billy Black.  He is Charlie’s drinking buddy and instrumental in teaching the young werewolves how to deal with their change.  The werewolves in question are from the The Quileute tribe.  It would seem on the face of it that this is good inclusion; however, the Quileute people have no legends that match the one featured in Meyer’s book and so it amounts to pure fiction and appropriation.  It is further troubling that next to the whitesome and delightsome Cullens, they are poor and often constructed as savage.  
The Hunger Games

Protagonist: Katniss is an extremely complex and rounded character. Forced from an early age to feed her family she has had to struggle for a very long time in an extremely unfair world. Katniss is all about survival - not entirely for herself (since she could have easily allowed Prim to take her place in the Hunger Games) but to protect her family.

Through the books she learns quickly, adapts well and fights to her very last breath and beyond, enduring all kinds of hardship in order to live to support those she loves. She constantly has her agency threatened - whether by the rules of the game or the machinations of the President or the scarcely less problematic manipulations of Coin and the rebellion - yet she still maintains her choice and some of her control over the world even as she is openly used as a puppet. She is not untouched by what she endures, obviously suffering from the trauma she has experienced and sometimes feeling like she has the world on her shoulders  - she suffers but she endures.

There are few characters out in the genre as strong, as real and as impressive as Katniss.

World Setting: We have an incredibly rich world here developed from scratch. This dystopian future with a variety of districts each with their own cultures, the capital and its excesses as well as the hidden history of District 13 all reveals an incredibly rich and well thought out and balanced world. There is a lot of detail gone into this to draw on historical parallels (such as the idea of Bread and Circuses and the decadence of the Capital) as well as send powerful nuance about issues like collaborators, class and propaganda and so much more.

Main Plot Theme: Is there just one? With the complex inter-woven themes of class and poverty, of control and agency, of rebellion and betrayal, of survival and principles - we have a lot of powerful themes throughout this serie with extremely powerful and emotional messages. In many ways, especially for how people regard YA novels, Hunger Games is extremely impressive with its nuanced and complicated themes and topics.

Conflict: There are several avenues of conflict in this book - and not just Team Gale vs Team Peta (honestly - all the complexities and depth of this book and we boil it down to a love triangle?). There’s the constant battle for survival in the Games against other participants as well as the game organisers. There’s the idea of killing people who are blameless to survive. there’s the conflict of the rebellion - and the battle between victory and maintaining your principles. And lastly the conflict between the oppressive capital and the controlling and increasingly oppressive rebellion. Conflict - real, powerful conflict with powerful lessons runs throughout this series.

Inclusion/treatment of marginalised issues: The Hunger Games includes several marginalised characters - including several POC (though it seems a large number of people who watched the film missed this fact). Indeed, even the descriptions of Katniss and Gale strongly suggests they are POC. Rue does die but her death matters and is treated with respect and regard and her fellow District member, despite looking like a stereotype avoided being one.

There are also several characters with various disabilities, including a developmentally disabled character (who is shown as loving and having a relationship which is unusual - but also shown as a victim who has to be protected) and many of the characters have powerful symptoms of PTSD and other issues related to their traumatic experiences. while it’s good to see these representations and the realism of them being included, they are not always regarded with the full respect they deserve - such as contempt of Haymitch’s alcoholism and Katniss’ mother’s depression.