Teenagers, Twilight and the Hunger Games

The media machine around Catching Fire is heating up. Stills and trailers have been released. People are getting excited. And I’ve been interested in how the media has presented and discussed The Hunger Games sequel, especially in comparison to that other YA blockbuster, Twilight.

Both are mega-selling book series targeted primarily at teenage girls. Both led to blockbuster movies and tons of merchandise. Both have a female protagonist, action, and romance, although the general tones and themes of the books are as far from one another as can be. But since The Hunger Games launched, the two series have been discussed in very different ways.

As I wrote about on Thursday, some parts of the media have attempted to make The Hungers Games more like Twilight, so that they can fit it into the “things teenage girls like” box and be done with it. I’m not sure I ever heard people being “Team so-and-so” before Twilight, but the media borrowed the term for The Hunger Games, discussing “Team Peeta” and “Team Gale” as though they were the only things that mattered in a movie where Gale plays only a small role and Katniss’s romance with Peeta is all an act to gain popular support. Our world seemed to mirror the Capitol in the stories, as the doomed romance, and not the political message, became the only thing worth discussing, even though it wasn’t real.

However, I’ve noticed that people rarely discuss The Hunger Games as a novel aimed at and loved by teenagers any more, as they do with Twilight. “Aimed at teenage girls” or “popular with teenage girls” is the ultimate insult. “Teenage girls” means boy bands and giggling and stupidity. They are constantly mentioned in connection with Twilight, because the world doesn’t like Twilight that much, and it’s much more fun to mock the series’ popularity with some snide remarks at its fans than it is to try and seriously understand that popularity. And mocking it isn’t very hard. Just say that teenage girls love it, and that seems to be enough.

Yet the world at large seems to like The Hunger Games. While Twilight always remained a subject of mockery (much of it admittedly well-placed), The Hunger Games has been praised and embraced as a mainstream hit. It’s not uncool or girly to like The Hunger Games. And so the book’s target market, its initial fans, the readers who first made it a bestseller in the YA section and lined up at midnight for the premiere? They are not mentioned. Their very connection with the books, any mention of them in related articles, would discredit the series, changing it from a cool new cult thing into something shallow and poor quality and a bit ridiculous. Occasionally, they’re thrown a bone in the form of “Team Peeta or Team Gale?” discussions, but this only separates the original audience even further from the idea that The Hunger Games is a worthwhile mainstream series. By bringing out “Peeta or Gale?” every now and again, separate from its other discussions, the media is able to praise the series itself for its action, the characters, and the commentary on politics and the media and compliment the mainstream audience (aka the white male grown ups) for enjoying them, while simultaneously suggesting that teenage girls only care for “shallow” things like boys and romance. The Hunger Games is not a series for teenage girls — only its Twilight-like elements are for them. Elements invented by the media itself, because girls liking a violent dystopian series with lots of serious themes? Impossible. It must be the boys.

04 comments on “Teenagers, Twilight and the Hunger Games

  • Anne , Direct link to comment

    I mostly agree with what you say. And it annoys me to no end that anything even remotely marketed towards girls and young women have to include some sort of romance. I thought the love story was the weakest link in the book and in the film; they really could (and should) have done without it.
    However, I would argue that at least Katniss’ strength and position as a heroine have also been stressed within the film and the marketing, without glamourizing her (errr, I mean, at least not more any other actor glamourized by movies) as a girl, which, of course, is the very least they can do, and this does not excuse at all the Team Peeta/Gale nonsense which makes me wanna puke, but I still see this as a step forward. She is also often treated like any hero, male or female.

  • VVendetadlc , Direct link to comment

    I really like your blog.

    I think it’s funny that the media behaves in the same way that they do in the book. Not only girls and women crave romance (Katty Brie and Dritzz? doub it’s there for the girls sake XD). The point is there’s nothing wrong with romance, whats wrong it’s to force in a plot or story just to make it fit some people ideas so they don’t fell threatened.

    *spoiler alert

    I was pleasently surprised when Katniss didn’t hock up with Gail. In twilight Bella ends with a stalker and that’s creepy. But the real shock was when Katniss sister died. I guess it makes sense. People used Katniss to be the face of their revolution and, in the end, there’s a price in blood. And the most disturbing thing is that it could happen again. Anyway, the books make an interesting read.

  • Caleb , Direct link to comment

    I agree completely with this. And I would like to point out that these magazines never thin that teenage boy might be interested in the romance subplot of the Hunger Games. I’m a boy and I was just as invested in the romance side of the book as well as the political and action sides.

  • Michael M. , Direct link to comment

    Kind of a side note, but is it fair to say that Bella is the protagonist of the Twilight series? I mean, she is central to the plot, and the story is given from her perspective, but she seems to function more as a MacGuffin than a protagonist, having hardly any agency and just being bounced between events (and male characters).

    That aside, I agree that the marketing of things “for girls,” teenage or otherwise is incredibly shallow, insulting, and has a real, negative impact on women and men both. Even if a story focuses only on romance, that doesn’t mean it is “girly” and the lack of emphasis on romance in the Hunger Games isn’t what makes it better than Twilight. “Girly” or not, Twilight is just objectively bad writing. I don’t think Hunger Games is up there with The Great Gatsby, or Mansfield Park, it’s YA, for sure, but it is definitely good YA.

    Reducing what girls and boys are allowed to like in fiction (and otherwise) to such a narrow point is damning, but it’s profitable, and that’s why it continues. We have to teach our sons and daughters better so that it stops making money.

What do you think?

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