Tuesday, September 4, 2012

All Infantilized Up: Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" Music Video

Let's get one thing straight. I love Taylor Swift, or at least the idea of her. I mean, look at her.

If this young woman isn't America's sweetheart, I don't know who is. But I think, perhaps, that classic white, pure, blonde, country-girl look and character can only go so far. Recent history tells all the story that there is. Over the past two years, Taylor has made a transition from a teen with a country twang to a more poppy, bubbly sound in stardom (though she still manages wins CMA's galore regardless of an obvious change in style from "our song is the slamming screen door" to "Why you gotta be so mean?").  And even while her nonthreatening image sells, we know exactly what we buy; a generic, clear message of sweetness and heart unsullied by our multicultural and shades-of-gray reality. Score one for the white right, I suppose. 
That's all acceptable, for the most part -- I can stomach it, if barely. After all, we need some happy-go-lucky music once in a while, and even I will attempt to stop short of taking the joy out of everything. Apart from pandering to very particular country and celebrity "sellable" image, there really isn't that much harm being done by T-Swizzle.
Until it comes to Taylor's latest music video for "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," which does its best to infantilize adult issues, water down an adult Taylor's relationship story into a fifties-in-fashion parade that drives home the song's typical country and pop undertones of feminine subordination and immaturity.
Swift's music video opens right where we should expect it to, based on the opening lyrics of the song:
"I remember when we broke up the first time / Saying, 'This is it, I've had enough,' 'cause like / We hadn't seen each other in a month / When you said you needed space
And we see Swift wearing cute fifties cover-up pajamas while in the background the apparent neer-do-well boyfriend ("How dare you break Taylor Swift's heart?") drifts about looking uncannily (and I mean creepily) like Adam Levine a la "Misery" and mouthing vague protestations to the camera. 
And, once again, look at her. She doesn't look like an adult capable of a relationship, she looks like she's put on her hipster frames to pretend to read along to her own bedtime story.
What's wrong with that, you ask? I mean, what's the harm in looking so sweet and innocent? Ask yourself if she could be the heroine of the music video without looking so sweet and innocent. That innocent cute look is what makes us root for her -- because who would hurt this innocent beauty. She must be in the right.
Now take a look at the band, whose appearance will certainly haunt my nightmares:

They're dressed up as happy stuffed animals.
Look at the headline to this blog post. Look back at this picture. Do I need to explain any more?

Thus, not only is celebrity Hollywood unwilling to sacrifice their token of white purity that is Taylor Swift -- even when she is singing breakup songs clearly indicating she's been in relationships, even when those songs have a more mature tone hidden in their lyrics. Don't believe me about the "more mature meaning" claim? Remember the line of Taylor Swift's "Mean": "Someday I'll be big enough so you won't hit me"? You probably don't, because in the music video, we only see Taylor singing the line once, after a big glitzy costume change, and in the very last minute. The other two times, it's sung with Swift off-camera; the first time we hear the line, a young fashionista is bullied by football players, and the second time, Swift's voice is again background music to the unhappiness of a elementary schooler's exclusion during recess.
Whatever you do, don't think of abuse when you look at this picture.
Suuuuure, but what does "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" have of substance in its lyrics that its video imagery dismisses? 
It's a tale of love addiction, a relationship gone truly bad: "I say, I hate you, we break up, you call me, I love you."
Swift, however, has been made so craftily small and diminutive in her surroundings that we feel she's childlike, which forces any evidence of her obvious maturity, mostly that betrayed by song lyrics, to the back burner of our consciousness . Look at the size of that table, the chair, the cups, even the big-leaved wallpaper. Note that Swift is 5'11", a veritable amazon woman to today's other wispy starlets). 
Not convincing? How about: "I'm really gonna miss you picking fights / and me, falling for it screaming that I'm right."
I would do an in-depth analysis of those lyrics, but I don't really think it's necessary. It should be obvious by now. Your eyes aren't deceiving you, unlike music videos and doctored photos: Swift is a woman. She has the capability to sing about real issues, regardless of the too often whitewashed nature of pop music, particularly county music, and all the other young stardom she has attained. Unfortunately, whatever voice she could have is lost in her music videos' collective whirlwinds of infantilization, a deeper message lost behind the blinding light of her purity.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The New Normal and the Acceptance of Bigotry

Lately, it seems like everything producer and writer Ryan Murphy touches turns to gold, spanning the range from the thrilling (Glee) to the seriously chilling (American Horror Story). But could his latest series, The New Normal, tarnish that stunning record of success? Unlike Glee, the show only takes stabs around funny -- though most similar to Glee as a situation comedy of sorts, the New Normal is not based around a group of basically immature highschoolers punchily belting out pop hits, and since the characters of the New Normal are left without the props of song-and-dance numbers to boost their charm, Murphy's forced them to rely solely upon their dialogue. And with just dialogue, it's easy to see a couple things more subtly disguised in Murphy's Glee: a legitimization of racism and homophobia, with no backdrop of show tunes to lighten the mood.

Let's take it from the top. The New Normal, in case you haven't watched the Pilot episode or read all of the press, is about an Ohio mother, Goldie, who realizes, through a series of conversations with her caustic mother Jane and an unfortunate walk-in on a cheating boyfriend, that she wants more out of life for herself and her daughter. Thus, she impulsively moves to California. With no high school or college degree to speak of, Goldie comes to the conclusion that the one thing she's good at, and can make quick money at, is reproducing (let's not even get into an analysis of how demeaning that is to similarly disadvantaged women everywhere... yet).
Goldie, played by Georgia King, decides to become a surrogate mother
after an attempt to "drive to Honolulu" on half a tank of gas. 
A few sentences ago, I mentioned a caustic (grand)mother, Jane. Here's a sample of  the racist, homophobic, and generally bigoted dialogue that Jane provides to the episode:

"Would you look at that. Just strutting down the middle of Buckeye Road in broad daylight, proud as gay peacocks." (While gazing at a pair of lesbians)

"I happen to love the gays. I could never get my hair to look this good without them."

"Oh, and now with the PDA? Those ass-campers have some nerve."

"I am extremely tolerant to all peoples! When they opened that Chipotle here, I was the first of my friends to go. And that is Spanish food." (After her granddaughter says she's 'unfriending' her on Facebook due to her bigotry).

"You people are so darned good with computers. And thanks for helping build the railroads." (to a young woman of Asian descent).

"Oh, no. You are not growing one of her kind of eggs in my granddaughter." (referring to the eggs of NeNe Leaks).

"I feel like I ate a black and gay stew right before falling asleep. This is a nightmare."

"I never could stand going into that store. Leon gave every hamster some queer name from a Broadway musical."

None of this inflammatory language is truly taken seriously by the other characters, and Jane's bigotry is accepted as merely part of her character, an integral piece of her identity that cannot be helped -- and is forgivable because of its darkly humorous content. But the fact is, this behavior is unacceptable no matter the age, race, or gender of the person it comes from.
Now, we could take the approach that by presenting such a character, especially in such a humorous light, Ryan Murphy is attempting to weaken the strength of such views, which, if never spoken, in theory become all the more dangerous and damaging. Read: if those hurtful and hateful view centered around homphobia and racism are never presented, they can never be challenged, and opinions can never be changed.
But if this is indeed what Murphy is attempting to do, it's a decidedly lackluster effort -- Jane's character,  which spins hate in as much a laughable way as Glee's Sue Sylvester, is never seriously admonished by a main character of the show. Her relationships to her family are never threatened, neither her daughter nor her granddaughter, who present to her the legitimacy of being white and are assumed to be compulsorily heterosexual to boot, say "enough is enough" to Jane's behavior.
Everybody just sit as you are and keep being backhandedly funny. Let's not actually approach the frankly life-threatening issues of homophobia and racism in a mature and thoughtful way. We might offend people if we did that. 
Just because Jane's character is meant to be humorous and just because her behavior is tongue in cheek and is meant to be interpreted by viewers as inappropriate, it doesn't mean that the other character's reactions to her, the legitimization of her homophobia and racism, is acceptable in any way. And as viewers, I would go so far as to say that we should not accept it, that we should demand more than a humorous approach and humorous admonitions to very serious issues.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Breaking Dawn, Part 2: Culturally Inclusive, or Culturally Insensitive?

For the first four movies of the Twilight saga, the answer to the title question is obvious: yes, this series is one of the most culturally insensitive movies about Native Americans since Disney's Pocahontas:
My face is this sad because now millions of children will think that Native Americans run
around the forest in sexy, short dresses,  paint with all the colors of the wind, and have a special ability to understand native wildlife.
While it's tempting to be hard on the high muckity-mucks who apparently engineered such cinematic missteps, especially since it's cases of racism we're dealing with, it's helpful to recall that the ignorance that causes racism is not a crime but a shame. Yes, one might indeed argue that Stephanie Meyer's portrayal of Native Americans is one-dimensional, narrow, and diminishing, but, then again, so is the entire Twilight series, to just about everyone in it (unless you happen to be a white male). Thus, it would be silly to suggest that Stephanie Meyer "has it out" for the Native Americans -- though, yes, she clearly failed to do her research and represented the Quileute tribe as both caricatures and, perhaps most offensively, actual animals (supernatural, yes, but still animals). No, instead it is a shame that Meyer did not do her research before molding an entire culture to her storytelling whims, for she could have had the opportunity to present tribal life in a much more beneficial and realistic way. The Quileute tribe actually exists, by the way, which adds a whole new level of colonial oppression and horror to the scenario. Do you see what I'm getting at? While bigoted or reductive interpretations of other cultures is upsetting, it's more of a shame (caused by ignorance, remedied by education) than a direct and pinpointed affront deserving of our critical anger. Good, now that that's clear....
Look at these pictures. They're of South American vampires Senna and Zafrina, who will be introduced in Breaking Dawn, Part 2, this November.

According to the Meyer's novel version, Senna and Zafrina arrive in Forks as representatives of "the Amazonian coven." To Meyer, it seems that the Amazon is some great, unexplored, unnamed wilderness and so one can just say people are "from the Amazon" like they're "from Africa" or "from Europe." No. Geography lesson:
See that place marked "the Amazon Basin"? It covers most of South America, 1.7 billion acres, and belongs to nine nations. But Zafrina and Senna? Who knows where, exactly, they're from. It's not important, right? It's just important that they look ethnic.

Hopefully, the movie will reveal the characters' exact origins, but so far, Zafrina and Senna roles appear to be relatively minor; they are described in various Breaking Dawn wikis and write-ups to be "from South America," which obviously is an even broader area than "The Amazon." Though we could spend quite some time on how angering that whole debacle is, let's get off of that tangent for a minute and focus on one of the most superficial issues here. To be honest, I can't believe that no one in the media has protested this yet, and by "this" I mean the attire of the so-called "South American vampire coven." Here's one of the actual stills released from Breaking Dawn, Part 2, and it's worth at least a thousand words:

Here, Zafrina (played by Judi Shekoni) and Senna (played by Tracey Heggins) are having a conversation with Bella and Edwards' offspring, Renesmee.  To put the actors' attitudes in context, here's an excerpt from an interview appearing on breakingdawnmovie.com; Judi Shekoni stated "I went to the London Zoo pretty early on and met up with Tracey [Heggins].  We came up with the idea of them [Senna and Zafrina] having these animalistic qualities.  We actually went to the LA Zoo together before we started shooting.  We looked through all the animals and decided which animal we can pick our movement from. We came up with the black jaguar, because there are a lot of them in the Amazon and they have these beautiful bright eyes that very similar to vampire eyes.  We’d go to the zoo, using video and watching the animals in real life and taking pictures, deciding which aspect.  Basically, they have a lot of power and a lot of energy in their shoulders."
There you have it: the actors came up with the idea of acting animalistic in order to portray a specific (yet unnamed) race of people, and the directors did nothing to discourage what was a potentially offensive choice -- to be honest, they probably encouraged it: "Actually, it’s quite funny on set, Stephenie Meyer came up to us at one point and said she noticed our vampires are really different from the other ones.  She really noticed us and thought it was really pure.  It was all a success for it to be noticed by Stephenie," Shekoni's concluded in the aformentioned interview. 

And finally, I get to say it: WHAT ARE THEY WEARING?
The Native American tribes of the Twilight saga aren't forced into traditional garb; why do the Amazonian coven? And is that clothing accurate? Who's to say, because we don't actually know where the characters are from, exactly. How fair is it for the producers, directors, and everyone involved in Twilight
to support an image of another race that (unfortunately, because of the minimal amount of ethnic diversity in the cinema) will unfairly be seen as representatives of their people? And why must that image be as sexualized as possible? Other vampires get to keep all their clothes on:
Interestingly, this is the only still that I could find of the whole group. I'm not sure what they're doing, maybe being stunned by their awesome whiteness.
These are issues that need to be taken more seriously in today's cinema, and I find it both disturbing and distressing that no critic has commented on such an obvious shortcoming; in a series as popular and influential to today's youth as the Twilight saga, there really is no good excuse for such a bizarre and parochial portrayal of non-white culture.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

This Just In: Hooking Up is a Culture Now!

Hey everybody, I'm thrilled that we've finally decided what to call my generation. Hanna Rosin of the Atlantic Monthly figured it all out for me in her newest article, and after reading it, I'm led to believe that I no longer belong to Generation Y, I'm not an Echo Boomer, not a Millenial or Generation Next-er. No, I am a member of what Rosin calls "the hookup culture."
Just what we needed after the romanticized "No Strings Attached" and
"Friends with Benefits" -- a vaguely authoritative article on how awesome
it is to have fun buddies during one's formational years! And let's assume,
since you're reading the Atlantic after all, that you've been to college.  
.... Really, though?

I tried to put aside my biases and read the article thoroughly, hopeful that it wasn't going to simultaneously accomplish what it's title indicated -- criticize our "oversexed" generation of Americans, and then claim that sex has a unique and defined tie to feminism/women's liberation that college women are acting out in some kind of (beneficial) body politic. But it did.

Where to start?
Well, Rosin claims from the beginning that sex and the "hookup culture" of today's age is not harmful to women at all (even younger, college women, which her article focuses on) but is actually an "engine of female progress -- driven by women themselves." I've taken this as her thesis statement, criticisms aside.

Again at that crucial beginning/hook section of her article, Rosin states that today's young women (and these are young women; again, she's largely talking about my generation, women under thirty, with a particular focus on women in college) are "proud veterans" of the hookup culture that she says, "over the past 15 years or so, has largely replaced dating on college campuses and beyond."
Now, I'm not exactly sure how Rosin determined exactly what a "proud veteran" of hookup culture looks like, especially with all the gratuitous mental images that this supposed hookup culture entails. Which raises, actually, my major criticism:
It's silly, and more than a little myopic, to assume that women are using their sex lives, even in retrospect, as motivational or formational.
It seems that it isn't Rosin's point of view that young women have found this supposedly a-la-carte sex to be somehow professionally or personally motivating through a thought-provoking experience -- rather, she appears to believe that the same young women not taking sex "seriously," hardly thinking about sex, having fewer boundaries around sex and detaching the emotional thought connection to sex, are proving in their thoughtlessness that they are empowered.
I can't right now, darling, I'm busy studying -- since I don't think about
sex all the time, I get to fill up all that extra space in my brain and maybe
accomplish things that, you know, a relationship would keep me from.
That's nonsense.
First of all, it's ridiculous to assume that sex is in the forefront of every young woman's professional and personal experiences with the world. Yes, it is a near-constant confrontation in most colleges, but  to say that "feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of hookup culture," as Rosin does, is perhaps attributing too much power to the role of sex in the young woman's life. And it is not to be seen as a kind of liberation that some women do not participate in the hookup culture -- women have had the ability to refuse sex for years. 
Furthermore, in spite of her claims that the hookup culture is liberating, Rosin also appears impressed by the fact that women can put their life goals before sex. Again, all respect to feminist role models, this is not a new phenomenon. It shouldn't blow someone's mind that women can have sex and still keep their brain on their career or other personal goals, any more than it should blow someone's ind that women can have a career and personal goals to begin with. There's a female secretary of state, for crying out loud. There's women in congress. And you can bet that all of those women are over forty, most of them have had sex, and yet ... they maintain their success. Shocking.
And I only became the highest-ranking female politician in American
history by remembering to separate sex from my personal goals!

What we should be most concerned with, I think, is Rosin's use of "sex sells." While it's probable that she was simply trying to investigate my generation's apparent obsession, I'd challenge anyone to find a generation (ever) that hasn't been sex-crazed. Our ability to get it doesn't mean that we're mature enough to understand it, to put the experience to use, or even to have it either of the ways that Rosin believes we do. According to her, my generation has the opportunity to feel nothing about sex (how exciting...?) or to feel empowered by it. Both options severely overestimate, again, the maturity with which sex is considered by the average college student, and underestimates women's character as not purposeful without consideration of their sex lives.

image credit 1image credit 2image credit 3

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Call Me Maybe: Your Summer Song about Courtship Conformity

All the boys only try to chase her, because she can outrun them even in those heels. True story.

Call Me Maybe, anthemically sung by everyone from Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber to the US Olympic Swimming Team, to (sort of...?) President Obama, has launched Carly Rae Jepsen’s career and ruined my summer radio.  And it’s a little difficult to look beyond that, at first – it’s upbeat, perky, and catching like a staph infection, but the saccharine pop lyrics can surely be taken at face value. Additionally, given that the song’s mercilessly mocked as much as it’s hopelessly beloved, there isn’t much new we can say. Right?
No, and no.  When examining the actual song lyrics as they compare to the instagram-esque music video, we can see that there’s more than poppy sweetness to this song – regardless of Carly Rae Jepsen’s intentions, Call Me Maybe (and its music video) reinforces outdated standards of courtship demeaning to both parties involved.
Don't believe me? Have a listen, and review the following step-by-step analysis.

So here we have Carly Rae Jepsen, wiling away her dull summer by reading romance novels and playing with her otherwise all-male garage band. Suddenly, enter love interest: the next door neighbor rippling with muscles and fulfilling all standards of conventional media masculinity. That’s where her song hits its stride:
I threw a wish in a well / don’t ask me, I’ll never tell / I looked to you as it fell / and now you’re in my way.
Yes, the ladies wish for me all the time.
Basically, Carly Rae wishes for a love, but true to conventions of courtship, cannot express her feelings to the object of her affections (don’t ask me, I’ll never tell). To play the devil’s advocate, maybe she’s just shy – there’s no need to imagine that she’s actually taking the burden of hackneyed courtship rituals. But then we get to the next few lines (after, of course, she described ripped jeans and skin showing):
Hey, I just met you / and this is crazy / but here’s my number / so call me maybe!
It’s hard to look right / at you baby / but here’s my number / so call me maybe!
Through this montage, the music video shows that as much as Carly appreciates her desires’ physical attributes, it would be improper for her to make her feelings truly known.
What are you doing?! I'm honor-bound to, like the Christian maiden
I am, pretend that I dislike you and rebuff your advances until we are
I bet this will stay in style for at least 500 more years, just wait and see, Reginald.
Here, too, we reach the crux of the problem. We’re also apparently supposed to find it crazy, out-of-this-world bizarre and quirky that Carly would dare give her number to someone and suggest that they noncommittally “call her maybe,” an offensive suggestion – Carly doesn’t come with a dowry and a chastity belt, so what exactly is the issue with her (and therefore, any woman) showing how she feels about a man? Answer: there is no issue. But doing so would superficially challenge courtship norms, in which the man is supposed to take the initiative even if, in Carly’s situation, she is doing her best to not seem interested. As the rest of the lyrics say, all the other boys / try to chase me.
Perhaps catching onto this, instead of portraying Carly as simply shy, the music video shows her as over-the-top in trying to catch the neighbor boy’s attention – she writhes and gyrates on a soapy car, making a fool of herself until she eventually blacks out.
Well, at least the car's clean. A small price to pay for a few brain cells.
By pushing the character of Carly into that of literally “a fool for love,” the music video further emphasizes the notion that it’s silly for Carly to challenge heterosexual courtship norms and continue to suggest that the neighbor boy “call her maybe.”
Thus ends the song’s assault on female empowerment, but the music video takes it a step further and tries to make a mockery of homosexual courtship as well.
After Carly’s serenaded her great love, literally performed what we’re meant to see as adorable craziness to him, she turns away to write down her number. But – what a shock! The neighbor boy gives his number to one of her bandmates.

What are we to make of this?
First of all, we can’t, no matter how hard we try, conclude that the video is attempting to make some grand gesture of acceptance toward homosexual relationships; if that were so, Carly could have been flirting with a woman the entire music video, or her bandmate could have been coached to not respond to the hot neighbor’s come-on with such a shocked and horrified expression. Instead, the music video has obviously attempted to add another layer of the ludicrous to show just how “crazy” and mixed up Carly has the potential to make people’s love lives – the hot neighbor’s attempt at love with Carly’s bandmate is a parody, and is not to be taken seriously by the viewer. Rather than actually contributing something meaningful to the cotton-candy fluff of Carly’s song, the tiny sliver of a scene merely makes a sad yet demeaning punchline to an already disappointingly conformist song. That's all, you can go back to trying to enjoy the music now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Political Animals" misses the Title Mark

Am I the only one to think that everything in this title should be in the same size font as "MOTHER"?

Within this election year (is it really a coincidence?) “smart” television shows have made a startling yet pleasing comeback, and one of those top shows is USA Network’s Political Animals. The series, now on its fifth episode, focuses on the struggles of a political family a cross between the Kennedeys and the Clintons, that lives in and out of an alternate universe White House in which Adrian Pasdar looks oddly presidential and it’s evidently plausible that Americans voted for an Italian to lead the greatest nation on earth. Apart from starring Sigourney Weaver, a feminist favorite ever since her iconoclastic roles in just about every science fiction movie since 1979’s Alien, the aggregate acting talent of the remaining cast smooths out a show that is still relatively rough around the edges. The heady ensemble of characters don’t have to be talking politics to hold the viewer’s attention or make an impact, as the scene-stealing Ellen Burstyn proves as the alcoholic mother of Elaine Barrish.
"They never let me speak on record," Burstyn's Margaret
proclaims, a martini in her hand. "I'm always too drunk, or
too honest, or God forbid, both."           
And it’s a good thing that the characters don’t talk politics, because that’s an evidently huge gap in the knowledge of the writers of the show. Elaine’s Secretary of State title actually seems to denote a dedication less to foreign affairs in and of themselves but rather “extreme humanitarianism” work that forces her to save others – one week, forced to go outside the payroll of the White House to save three kidnapped journalists, the next, convincing the president to provide aid to a woefully downed Chinese sub filled with a helpless crew (in both scenarios, Ellen is cast as  the only person to understand the importance of a human life, a singularity underscored by continuous references and flashbacks to her son TJ’s attempt at suicide). Had true political knowledge been bestowed on all Political Animals characters, then the show would have more to run on than what quickly becomes the fumes of antifeminism – for Ellen, as an unintentional figurehead for working women the world over, does not debate and take advantage of the machinations of the political system. Instead, she quickly goes outside the box of the government she could use to her advantage in order to “mother” away at foreign affairs difficulties, ardently proclaiming what is right and wrong in whatever situation happens to have reached her attention rather than lobbying, consulting her colleagues, or ever letting the viewer know just how much government power is at her disposal.  
Carla Gugino's journalist, Susan Berg, was clearly meant
to bring a context and translate politics for the viewer;
however, Political Animals lack of politics forces the
impression that  she's not the hardened reporter we want her
 to be, but little more than an empathetic gossip columnist.
Thus, the Political Animals title seems like a teasing misnomer as politics quickly takes a backseat to the dramas of Elaine Barrish’s life. Again, the writers have made the decision that it’s ultimately most important to Elaine’s story that we delve into her personal life as well, to understand what motivates and hinders such a powerful woman and to, perhaps, further remind the viewer that Elaine is indeed a woman who cannot step outside the bounds of traditional feminine roles. Elaine as a Politician is portrayed as inseparable from her role as Elaine the Mother, Elaine the Divorcee, and Elaine the Daughter, and the show becomes such a complex puzzle of those sometimes purposefully contradictory roles, that the most we ever learn of politics is that all politicians ever talk about is their former terms or their plans to run again. Even Elaine’s plans to run again for president have less to do with broad political decisions and more to do, again, with her “extreme humanitarianism” and her attempts to fulfill the role of moral center.
Why do I always have to be the one with a heart and feelings to guide
my hand? It's because I'm a typecast matriarch, isn't it? 
As the show develops, it’s likely that the requisite family dramas will become ever more intense, regrettably obscuring the powerful role that Weaver’s Barrish could take on. Practically speaking, we’re a nation obsessed with the American elite that the Barrish family is based on, so of course we find the “insider” drama of Political Animals irresistible. As long as we’re getting our gossipy fill of the meat of a political family dish, with skilled actors accomplishing the seasoning, perhaps we’ll be able to ignore the fact that Political Animals contains some disastrous substitutions for a few key ingredients. 
Stay tuned, my next Political Animals post will probably focus on the show's highlighted roles of sex, sexuality, and gender.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy is Anti-war and Anti-government?

From the beginning of the Hunger Games, I imagine it’s fairly easy for readers to get caught up in the pageantry, the romance, the intrigue of the Games and Katniss Everdeen’s war against the Capitol. This is so much the case that readers tend to laud the books for their strong heroine, their encapsulated and far-fetched view of teen romance (more than one man wants me at once! Whatever shall I do? It’s a tale as old as time), that the same readers don’t see through to what is probably the most important messages of the trilogy: War is Bad and so is Controlling Government. According to Collins’ narrative, those two things actually go hand in hand, as when in the last book the Capitol’s power begins to disintegrate, District Thirteen takes an even greater interest in war-mongering. And Katniss has demonstrated through her regret at the death of her friends and countrypeople, the destruction of her homeland and the murder of her sister, that the violence and so-called casualties of war are exactly what makes war so undesirable.
Thus, at the end of the Hunger Games, we find Katniss in a position strikingly similar to that of a veteran who didn’t want to serve a second term after the horrors of a first. To carry this rusty metaphor further, Katniss began the 74th Hunger Games in the position of a drafted soldier, but a soldier grudgingly willing to follow orders (orders that she set herself, yes, but orders reinforced by the “kill-or-be-killed” rules of the Hunger Games) and she promises her sister that she will, in fact, “Really, really try” to win the Games. She consoles herself with Gale’s advice that if she forgets the other tributes are human, than she won’t have any trouble killing them at all. From there on, it’s perhaps too easy to excuse Katniss’s actions of murder: she’s defending herself, her sister, and the people she kills have been manufactured by Collins to be real villains, seen as fully-formed killers and baddies while Katniss retains her purity as a girl who’s been forced to grow up too soon in a situation one of her age should never be in. 
Old enough to kill people, old enough to become
reluctant figurehead of a rebel army, I always say.
As the novels develop, Collins allows Katniss to maintain this innocence and bewilderment towards horrors of violence, victimizing her character at every turn with the crushing control of first the Capitol, and then through a wary alliance with District Thirteen.
Thus, at the end of Mockingjay, the final book of the Hunger Games trilogy, veteran Katniss is quite literally battlescarred, a recluse, terrified of what the future may hold, refusing to play any part in the new system of government installed and well aware that more violence is likely just around the corner, for as Plutarch says, “We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.” In this way, Collins’ Katniss rounds off her argument about the horror of war and the unnecessary control of government.

What is the greatest challenge to Collins’ dilution of an anti-war, anti-government trilogy? There always is one. In this case, there’s going to be three huge ones: the movies. The small message Collins did create by her trilogy will not translate into the trilogy of Hunger Games movies, blockbusters though those movies may be, for the movies are at their basic level an insult to the readers of the books – by watching the movies, the readers become the very spectators of Hunger Games and violence, fans of the Hunger Games and supporters of the tribute Katniss, we've been educated by Collins’ trilogy to dislike. In an unfortunate turn of events, stardom, screenwriting, and popularity have tragically caused the Hunger Games books to be regarded with the same youth angst and enjoyment as Twilight and Harry Potter, examples that do not carry the same enduring message through their sequels. Collins spent three whole novels criticizing the controlling viewers of the Hunger Games; with the movies, we're all made into hypocrites.