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.