Agency in The Hunger Games

Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Hunger Games trilogy.

By the time I actually get around to posting this, this is going to be old news, but I’m writing it anyway because I have to get it out.

Someone is wrong on the internet. Again.

One of my friends recently posted this article and received the chorus of “Yes!” and “This!” that such links normally receive. And that’s fine. Except that I disagree with most of this, and I didn’t want to get into an argument on my friend’s facebook page; so I’m starting that argument here, now that no one cares anymore.

To be fair, I agree with some of what this article has to say. I’m not sure why the author feels the need to connect her argument to the racism controversy over the first movie. And to be honest, that turned me off immediately, because too often gender issues and race issues are positioned against each other in a way that implies we can have gender equality or racial equality, but not both. That is, of course, stupid. And I don’t think the author thinks that, but I think that by juxtaposing her argument about gender problems in The Hunger Games with the fact that some movie viewers are racist, she inadvertently implies that. So let’s just acknowledge that some people are racist, some people are sexist, and both of those things are bad. Moving on.

I recommend you read the article so you can make up your mind about it, but in a nutshell, the author argues that The Hunger Games is “more sexist than a rap video” because Katniss is essentially a passive character. And as I said, she’s not wrong about everything: Katniss spends a lot of the trilogy letting other people make decisions for her. She’s not a natural born leader, she doesn’t want to be a leader, and, let’s be honest, at virtually no point in the story is she the brains of the operation. But to some degree, I think that’s the point of the story.

For me, at its very core, The Hunger Games is a coming of age story. And for me, it’s a story about a young woman learning to find her voice and learning to act decisively.

Katniss is a teenage girl. She is not a woman. Yes, by the time we meet her she’s been through more than most of us ever will. She’s been the main provider for her family for years. But biologically she’s still an adolescent. Which means she still has the brain of an adolescent, no matter what sort of lifestyle she’s been leading. And her life up until the reaping has been about survival. Survival in and of itself is a choice—look at the rate of teenage suicide in our comparatively cushy society. Katniss could have chosen to let herself die years earlier, but she makes a choice she’s going to live and keep her family alive.

The plot begins with a choice. One the author of this article acknowledges, but then dismisses. I think that’s a problem given that it’s a big damn choice. She chooses to save her sister by walking into almost certain death. Not a really passive action.

(I’m going to suppress the folklorist in me and not get into how wrong the author is about fairytales, because I think she’s mostly ventriloquizing other people’s arguments there.)

Let’s look some at some of the article’s specific points: Katniss never kills anyone in the first Hunger Games and does absolutely nothing to win. Well that’s wrong. If we’re looking at choices here, the first night she chooses to kill the girl making the campfire, she just doesn’t get the chance. No, we can’t know whether she would have gone through with it, but she clearly makes the decision. But maybe that’s still passive—she makes the decision, but doesn’t follow through.

Let’s look at who she does kill: She chooses to drop the tracker jackers on the career pack, and that is carefully planned out and executed. Yes, yes, it’s only in self-defense, but it’s still a choice. Are we really going to argue that the bees robbed Katniss of her agency? Yes, she chooses to let the bees do her dirty work and true, she doesn’t know that they’re going to kill the girl, but she knows it’s a possibility. It’s still a choice.

The author amends her statement in a later paragraph to say, “she’s never guilty of murder one.” I will concede in a court of law she would probably escape any first degree murder charges. And frankly, I’m okay with a heroine who doesn’t actively seek to kill other children to win a depraved game. That’s a long way from being passive.

I dispute the argument that her killing of Rue’s killer is instinctive and therefore not a choice. A choice was made somewhere in there, even if it was instantaneous.

And honestly, I think we have to acknowledge that she has made a choice to let Peeta die until she finds out that saving him will not mean sacrificing herself. She then chooses to save him and chooses to feign a romance, knowing on at least some level it’s going to hurt him, in order to manipulate potential sponsors. And all of this leads to her ultimate choice not to play the game and not to kill. Like her first choice, this is kind of a huge one, if for no other reason than it gives us the next two books.

Catching Fire gives us Katniss allowing herself to be manipulated by the Capital in order to save her family and loved ones. Not really the choice we want her to make, but a choice nonetheless. And one that doesn’t work. Remember how I said this was a coming-of-age story? This is where our heroine learns a lesson: You can try to avoid the difficult choices in life and hope the world will leave you alone, but it won’t.

Yes, Katniss is left of out the big revolutionary machinations in the second book. Like I said, she’s not the brains of the operation, and the plotters were probably right that she would have screwed things up if she’d known. Yes, she’s just being manipulated by a different group. I could go through all of the choices she does make in this book, but overall, I’m going to concede that in this book she does a lot more of letting people choose for her. I will only offer up that she’s a teenaged girl with severe PTSD and that made me cut her some slack.

Mockingjay for all that people complain about (complaints that are at least somewhat justified) is ultimately the story of Katniss learning to stop allowing herself to be manipulated. She waivers back-and-forth between taking active part in the rebellion and rebelling against the leaders of the rebellion. For me, it’s a pivotal moment when she shoots an unarmed woman in the Capital. In that moment she sort of recognizes that she can’t just keep her head down and get through. She’s going to have to get her hands dirty. It’s harsh and brutal, but that’s the world this story is set in.

But this all leads up to another momentous choice: The moment in which Katniss shoots President Coin. For me this is what all three books have led to. This is the moment when Katniss truly finds her voice and decides to “speak” and damn the consequences. She’s learned already that choices have consequences, often nasty ones. She knows this one might. But it’s all a matter of choosing to no longer allow herself to be used or manipulated by anyone, even if the only way to do that is by dying. And our coming-of-age tale is complete.

In the end, I think this article just reads to me like way too many negative responses to books (fiction or scholarly); “This isn’t the book I would have written” “This isn’t the book I wanted it to be.” Okay. Go write your book. Go read a different one.

‘Cause yeah. Katniss not a bold, revolutionary leader. If you want that kind of heroine, you’re going to need to look for another book. She’s not the brightest heroine. You don’t have to like her. Heck, I like the books, but I don’t know that I’d want to have coffee with the girl. But I really don’t think you can say she never makes choices. Not unless you ignore a lot of the story.

(Note: in looking back over the article, I realize I don’t actually know that the author is female. So assume all my uses of “she” are meant to be gender neutral.)


They’re Fucking You With the Cell Phone

“They fuck you with cell phones. That’s what it is. They’re fuckin’ you with the cell phone. They love it when you get cut off. Y’know why, huh? You know why? ‘Cause when you call back – -which they know you’re gonna do. – -they charge you for that fuckin’ first minute again at that high rate.

Above is the only line I remember from Lethal Weapon 4* and it’s highly applicable to my current dilemma.  

My family has been with a certain large wireless carrier** since the first cell phone we had (an ancient Nokia which I remember fondly because I inherited it to call home with in college–it was also the same phone that’s featured fin the X-Files PC game.  Mulder and Scully used my cell phone for a few years there.  How’s that fun, useless info?).  We went with this carrier mostly because my Dad’s company was using it, and there’s been a company discount, plus, it meant calls to his phone would be free.  

For the most part this has worked out.  Being the luddite I am, I kept with the basic phone for several years after it was passé, but finally, in order to get in on the last of the unlimited data plans, I went for the smart phone in 2011.  And I’ve loved the thing.  It’s been my GPS, my note taking device, my way to read e-books while I eat lunch, my way to keep up with telenovelas and has, generally, saved my sanity over the past couple of years.

But, all good things must come to an end, and in my case, the end was my phone’s ability to charge.  I’ve tried all known fixes (yes, kids, I have cracked open a cell phone and replaced parts because I’m not a girl to be cowed by something that involves very tiny hex keys).  But, it’s bricked. Read the rest of this entry »

My Asian Pear Dealer

I’ve written before about the amazing farmer’s market we have in my current city of residence. I’ve gotten into a routine where I go there every week as close to opening as I can, buy whatever fruit is in season (peaches in the Summer, apples in the fall) some salad things, eggs if I’m going to be baking, and then I get out of there before I get persuaded to buy things I really don’t need but which are delicious.

But there’s a problem with this. The Asian pear dealer.

One week in October, I’m walking through (our city has also stupidly inserted parking meters all around the market, so I try to get in and out as fast as I can) and there’s hardly anyone there yet. I had already bought a box of honeycrisp apples and was looking to see who had the best price on turnips when an older Asian gentleman steps into my path holding a pear. “Would you like to try an Asian pear, miss?” he asks. A whole pear. I mean, I’ve been offered slices of fruit before, but never a whole damn pear. I go to the market before breakfast, so I was in no position to say no. I thanked him and took the pear as he explained to me that all his produce is completely organic and that the fruit will say fresh in my refrigerator for a long time.

The pear was delicious, of course, and the man had given me a whole pear for free, so I felt obligated. Plus, there were no other customers around, so it wasn’t like I could just sneak away while he was distracted by someone else. Fine. I spent $4.50 I really shouldn’t have on a box of Asian pears.

Which were delicious. Seriously, I can’t tell you how amazing these freaking pears are. I’m not even crazy about pears, but these things were life changing.

So the next week I go back determined I’m just there for apples and some smoked cheddar if the Amish cheese people are up and running (they weren’t) and maybe a black bean and goat cheese tamale if the tamale vendor* is open (he wasn’t). And as I’m walking through I see the pear dealer. And I remember how wonderful those pears are. And even though I still had a few left, the market will soon be closed for the season and I won’t be able to buy any for months. And he says they keep in the refrigerator for a long time…

So I bought another box of pears.

That was the trend for the rest of the run of the market. Every week, I bought a box of pears from that man. Sometimes he threw in a couple extras from his secret box of not-pretty-but-still-delicious pears.

And then it occurs to me that this man stole his technique from drug dealers. Sure, the first pear is free—that’s how they get you hooked. Now I’m addicted. Problem is, the market is closed for the season and I just ate my last pear. Oh sure, they sell them at Kroger, but are they going to be as good? Of course not. What am I going to do?

Give me a month and I’m gonna be lurking in dark alleys buying contraband pears off some guy in a trenchcoat. Dammit.

*They aren’t real tamales. They’re what Midwestern gourmet snobs think tamales are. But they’re still good.

Coffee with the Lady of Mercia

Would we drink coffee with Aethelflaed?

Kristy: Yes. Surprise, surprise. Kristy’s willing to drink coffee with the badass medieval lady. But seriously, she would be an interesting one to talk to. Like most people from her era we know some of what she did, but very little of who she was. I would kind of like to know what she was like personality-wise. If Aethelred was already willing to make her co-ruler, you think she had to either be brilliant or super tough or both. Or was that all about impressing her daddy? Inquiring minds want to know. One of the things I like about her story is that while we have other examples of medieval women who got power through scheming and manipulation (which, admittedly, I enjoy as well), she seems to have just earned it outright. She was actually named ruler rather than having to find ways to control said rulers. I’d kind of be interested in hearing her perspective on the position of women after her time. A thousand years later England still seemed unsure of whether women should rule–you have to think she’d be a little miffed about that.

Cammy:  I have a strict policy which states I will always take the opportunity to sit down and drink any beverage with a person whose name begins with “Aethel-”   So far, the policy has not led me astray.  Not that it’s actually gone into practice anywhere but here, for beverages in the Spacial Anomaly Coffee Bar and Refueling Station, but nevertheless.  Realistically though, she seems like she must have been one smart cookie.  Kristy already covered the good questions, though I’d also like her two cents on the fact that she (like other women in history who were actually pretty awesome) is not even on people’s RADAR today?  I mean, I had no clue she existed until Kristy brought her up, and she’s not the first female monarch that’s been that way.

Foreign Objects (aka Alien Tracking Devices)

It’s always a little unsettling to find foreign objects in your body. And yes, I say “always” because it’s happened more than once. I’ve had the not-so-unusual finding grains of sand and gravel in places you recently had scrapes, that’s not too bad, but twice I’ve had slightly more dramatic findings.

The first was about ten years ago. I’d had this bump on the outside of my foot for years. No clue when it first appeared. I never thought much about it; feet are bumpy, it was just a bump on my foot. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all, except it was a little pinchy. Not all the time, but when shoes rubbed it I would get this minor pinching sensation. Again though, never really thought about it. I figured it was a vein that stuck out and maybe there was a nerve there… what do I know.

One night I was putting lotion on my feet before bed (something I do every night) and when I raised my hands up, one was covered in blood. That did seem odd. So I looked—again, this is on the outside of my foot and since my legs are naturally turned out, it’s not an easy place to see. I could see a little cut though and thought there might be something poking out of it. I pressed the skin on one side and whatever it was poked out further. That did not seem normal. So I went and got the tweezers and pulled it out. Once I had the blood cleaned off of it, it was a thin shard of glass about half an inch to three-quarters of an inch long. I have no clue how it got in my foot or how long it had been there. Long enough I had grown numb to how uncomfortable my shoes were, because when I put shoes on the next morning it was like heaven all of a sudden.

Okay, but glass in your foot makes a certain amount of sense. It happens.

Last week I found a foreign object in my shin. I’d had this little red spot there for a couple weeks. I thought at first I’d cut myself shaving and then I decided maybe it was an ingrown hair. It kept getting progressively irritated and eventually it became clear it was infected. One morning I sterilized a sewing needle and drained it, but a few hours later it was full of puss again. So I went to drain it again, trying to be extra thorough and I noticed there appeared to be something inside the wound. I honestly thought it was just more puss, so I squeezed and something popped out.

My use of the word “something” here is deliberate, because I still don’t know what it was. It was thin and about a quarter inch long. It looked like a bit of wood or fabric or something. No clue how it got there or how long it had been there.

My best guess is it was an alien tracking device, which now has me stressed out because Agent Scully got cancer when she had hers taken out.

Humorous epilogue: I’m a folklorist. I have friends that study alien abductions. The night after this happened I was telling one of said friends about what had happened and she soberly asked, “Can I have it?” I explained I’d thrown it away, and she seriously contemplated coming over and going through my bathroom trash to retrieve it. Sanity prevailed when I told her it didn’t really look like alien technology.

Musikalischer Mittwoch: Poor, Poor Jenny!

I was bummed when I heard the news about Phil Everly passing late last week.  My parents had a Greatest Hits collection from the Everly Brothers in our car for just about as far back as I can remember.  I have plenty of their stuff in my library, but it hasn’t been on my iPod so I haven’t given it as much play in the 6-8 months.  So, in looking for an appropriate song to plug tonight, I sat down and cranked up the full catalog.

At first, I thought to plug their version of “Barbara Allen” because–thanks to that tape my parents had,–I was well into my teens before I realized that “Barbara Allen” was a widespread ballad that far pre-dated Don and Phil Everly.  But then another song queued up and I was stunned by the images that flooded my mind’s eye from the dusty recesses of my kid-memories.  I didn’t just remember the song in relation to a moment, I remembered–with frightening clarity–exactly how my child-mind had imagined the events of the song.

And since the song was “Poor Jenny” it was pretty trippy stuff.

Most people I know think of “Wake Up Little Susie” or “Dream” or “Bye Bye Love” first.  “Poor Jenny” doesn’t rise to the top of the list, but trust me, you need to give it a listen.  It’s got that fun late-50s, early rock sound going on, in the vein of “Wake Up Little Susie” but with a bit more drive to it.

The slightly amped up drive is appropriate, because Little Susie with her potentially damaged reputation from falling asleep out at the drive in with her boyfriend got off oh-so-much lighter than Poor, Poor Jenny.  You see, Jenny goes out to her first party, on a first date with a guy.  A party that broke out in a fight.  Jenny punched in the face and knocked out.  The cops are called.  The moron boyfriend (who, incidentally is singing this tragic tale) couldn’t carry her, so he leaves her.  Jenny winds up getting tossed in the jail. And plastered on the front page of the paper.  And labeled the leader of a teenage gang.

No, seriously.  It’s in the song!

And then the asshole has the nerve to go visit her in jail.  Needless to say, she wants nothing to do with his lousy ass.  And vengeance may yet be hers on some level since her brothers on his trail and her daddy wants to run him “outta town on a rail.”  Poor Jenny!

The ghastly image of a black-eye’d Jenny behind bars, looking like total shit that flew into my mind after all these years, I have to wonder if this amusing little ditty didn’t somehow go to work on my childish unconscious resulting in me avoiding the dating scene to this day…

Downton Days are Here Again…

Cammy:  Please raise your hands if you held out this teeny-weeny-miniscule-scrap of hope (carefully nurtured by a studious avoidance of all things spoiler) that Sunday’s Downton return would wipe away the tragedy that last season ended with in a completely cheeze-tastic and deus ex machina “Surprise!  It was all a dream!”

Anybody?  No one?  Really?  I’m all alone here?

Read the rest of this entry »

Kristy Becomes a Damn Dirty Hippie

From early May until early October I did not shampoo my hair. Yeah, I can see you wrinkling your nose in disgust; bear with me.

The “No ‘Poo” regime has been circulating on the interwebs for quite some times. Many of my hippie and hippie-ish friends have at least tried it. Several of my non-hippie friends have tried it. The gist of “No ‘Poo” is that you clean your hair with baking soda and condition with apple cider vinegar. While the name implies no shampoo, I would argue it actually is shampooing, just shampooing without commercial products. It has a lot of advantages. Everyone I know who’s done it agrees it keeps their hair softer than commercial products, it cuts down on your chemical exposure, and (most appealingly for me) it’s cheaper than using commercial products.

I’ve thought about trying it several times, but I was concerned about what it would do to my hair color. One woman who had the whole regime posted online did acknowledge that baking soda can lighten your hair, especially if it’s color treated. I used to use ACV rinses to treat dry scalp, and I know that lightened my hair. I like having dark hair and the sun already lightens it more than I’d like, so this has always stopped me. Also, most of my friends who’ve tried “No ‘Poo” seem to have stopped eventually, though I haven’t heard a reason from any of them.

That’s not what I’m doing.

What I’m doing is called “conwashing” or “cowashing”. This consists of simply skipping the shampoo step from your normal routine, but continuing to condition your hair. You just rinse, condition, rinse. It’s pitched as being especially good for girls with curly hair (of which I am one) because the lack of chemicals to strip your hair cuts down on frizz.

I’ll admit I was skeptical, but my roommate tried it and seemed pleased. So when I knew I’d be out of town for a month and not seeing anyone I knew while my hair was down, I thought I’d give it a go. It appealed to me for three main reasons: saving money (buying one product instead of two), saving time (It normally takes me close to an hour to wash my hair. Anything that cuts down on that is appealing.), and having prettier hair (I’m super vain about my hair). I also thought it would probably help my color last longer.

The verdict:

Well, if you’re going to try it, be warned it will take several weeks for your hair to trust you again. It produces extra oils to combat the shampoo it expects you to bombard it with, and it will take a while to stop doing that. Before conwashing I typically washed my hair about every four days and it took 3-4 weeks for it to calm down. I imagine if you’re one of those people who insists on washing every day, it will take longer. Keep in mind though, I kept the same schedule of only conwashing every four days. I think if I had conwashed more often, my hair might have been less greasy.

You will never get that squeaky clean feeling at your scalp you get from shampooing. I think that’s a good thing, but it takes some getting used to.

On the other hand, my hair instantly became less frizzy and more manageable. I was right in my three suppositions of saving money, saving time, and having prettier hair. And I do think my color has lasted better.

I took a brief intermission a few weeks back. It started because I got a sample of shampoo from Birchbox and I wanted to use it so I could review and get points. Then I got a haircut and couldn’t bring myself to ask my hair dresser not to shampoo. Then I colored it, which is sort of like shampooing, even though it’s not. I enjoyed having a squeaky clean scalp again, but I did not enjoy the extra time involved (my hair was straightened by the hair dresser and after coloring it, so it’s hard to gauge whether frizz would have been a big issue. But as of Friday I’m back to conwashing. I’ll let you know how being a damn dirty hippie goes.