Team Peeta or Team Gale?

How about Team Katniss instead?

It’s difficult to miss how massive The Hunger Games movie has been. It had the 3rd largest grossing opening weekend ever, Hunger Games fever has been everywhere, and, best of all, in my opinion, this attention is focussed on a movie aimed at teenage girls, with a well-developed female character as its protagonist.

Except, for some reason, the media just can’t stop talking about the boys.

Perhaps it’s a Twilight thing. Twilight made mega-bucks off the rivalry between Edward and Jacob, not only in the popularity of the series itself but also in an endless stream of merchandising. But Twilight was a paranormal romance. The idea point of the story, the entire reason the francise was written, was for swooning over hot, supernaturally talented boys and the normal highschool girls who love them. The Hunger Games isn’t about boys. The Hunger Games is about poverty and oppression and the media circus that is reality TV and a hundred other things, but teenage love isn’t really one of them. The characters are too busy trying to stay alive.

The Hunger Games is an incredibly successful mainstream movie about a female protagonist who manages to hold her own in a fight to the death and ultimately outsmart the men acting as puppetmasters of the whole cruel show. The movie is about her relationship with her younger sister. It’s about her loyalty to her District and her hatred of the Capitol and her strength and involvement in a massive rebellion. Romance does play a part in the narrative, but mostly as a negative, as a way that Katniss’s freedom is taken from her, as she is forced to play the role of a helpless young girl in love in order to survive. So it’s somewhat surprising and disappointing to walk into a shop and see shelves covered with “Peeta or Gale” merchandise. Or to read article after article comparing the series to Twilight and turning Peeta and Gale into Edward and Jacob. Or see and hear entertainment programs that are just obsessed with this rivalry, discussing “teams” like they’re the entire point of the series. It’s highly ironic that the romance that Katniss performs in the movie to win over ship-happy viewers of the Games has carried over into the advertising of and dialogue about the whole movie, as though everyone has missed the point of the act entirely, and are taking part in some twisted kind of performance theatre about the world of the movie. Social commentary indeed.

Perhaps I’m being petty. I love obsessing over a good fictional romance as much as the next person, and if the Peeta and Gale story speaks to fans, then who am I to criticise them? But I think that the obsessive focus on the men of Katniss’s story — one of whom is barely in the movie, and the other of whom doesn’t really do anything beyond contributing his charisma — not only underestimates the intelligence of potential viewers but undermines the success of the movie and the message it could give to the movie executives who oh-so-frequently sideline female characters. The Hunger Games is an incredibly successful action/science-fiction/dystopian movie with a female protagonist. The movie never makes a big deal about the fact that she is a girl. She doesn’t succeed despite being a girl, and she isn’t presented as “one of the boys.” She’s just Katniss. Surely the movie industry must take note of this, and see that women can lead incredibly successful Hollywood movies. That women don’t have to be shoehorned in movies where their only interest is finding a husband. That all genders are willing to see a movie about a female character if the story is compelling. But when popular discourse focusses on the boys, on the love triangle that barely even features in the story, passing Katniss around like she’s a prize for the most deserving of the male characters, it becomes easy for executives to dismiss it as another “girly,” “romance” sort of story, popular with teenagers but not exactly a sign that women can lead non-romance-based movies.

And they hardly need another excuse for that.

What do you think?

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