Saturday, November 23, 2013

Late-Night Cinema's Uncomfortable Truths: The Hunger Games

Thursday night, Greta and I attended the pseudo-midnight premiere of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  I love late night premieres.  The anticipation, the excitement, the techniques of sneaking in pre-bought candy... (as if I'm going to spend $5 of my hard-earned tips on one box of candy?  No thanks.  I'll gladly shop at Cub before the show).  To make matters ever better, the theatre we went to has recliners.  Like, of the caliber of leather living room chairs.  (A few weeks ago, my parents saw a movie at this theatre and came back raving about how comfortable the seats were.  I brushed it off, but I now know exactly what they meant.  It's heavenly).
I could devote a blog post to indulging the over-tired, overgrown teenager parts of me that wants to marry Peeta Mellark.  I could, but I won't.  You're welcome.
For anyone who doesn't know, Catching Fire is the second installment of the film adaptations based on Suzanne Collins's bestselling Young Adult book series, The Hunger Games.  As someone with a degree in literature, I can be snobbish when it comes to an author's stylistic choices, and I often criticize YA novels for not measuring up to my standards.  Regarding the Hunger Games, the prose itself doesn't move me to the degree that many other works affect me.  However, the heart of Suzanne Collins's work shines through in the narrative, despite an admittedly simplistic writing structure.  I devoured the trilogy in less than two days during the Christmas break of my junior year in college and was both disturbed and refreshed by what I read.  Katniss Everdeen is not just rough around the edges, she's downright brutal in her struggle to protect her family and to survive the oppression of the Capital.  However much she hates it, she is capable of killing and proves that fact more than once.  She fabricates a romance with the boy who is clearly in love with her as a ploy to win herself more time in the Games, which later spins into a messy, painful love triangle.  No, Katniss might not be a perfect role model, but she exudes strength, determination, and above all, unconditional love for her sister; these qualities, as well as her horrifying situation, render her flaws entirely forgivable in my eyes as a reader.

I was impressed with the film.  The production was wildly successful in transferring the book to the screen.  On an aesthetic level, the cinematography was spectacular.  Moreover, Jennifer Lawrence, although she's not exactly how I imagined Katniss to physically look, flawlessly plays the part, and her scenes with Liam Hemsworth and with Josh Hutcherson entirely convinced me of Katniss's underlying love for both characters, in spite of her fastidious struggle to close herself off from love altogether.  Actually, the combination of Katniss's denial of her feelings and series's overarching theme of the Big Picture is what makes this love triangle so persuasive; it exists, in spite of denial and in spite of the impossibility of a neatly wrapped solution.  Now, I could devote a good portion of this post to gushing over Katniss and Gale's first kiss scene, or to her raw anguish at her discovery of Peeta's capture, but I won't.  I appreciate all that as much as the next person (or maybe more, considering that cynics are actually just jaded romantics) but the omnipresent oppression and evil embodied by the Capital's forces struck a chord far more profound than any romance could.
Even if the rest of the movie bored me (and it definitely did not), I could sit through it again just for this scene.
The scene that resonated the deepest with me was, not surprisingly, the same scene that affected me the most in the book.  After their victory in the first book and film, Katniss and Peeta are forced to tour each district on behalf of the same regime that forced two children from that district to be killed by or to kill one another.  In the first district that they visit, Peeta and Katniss disregard the shallow speeches prepared for them by the Capital and instead speak from the heart, apologizing for the loss of their children, particularly 12-year-old Rue.  The crowd is silently moved, and one old man whistles the mockingjay's call and salutes Katniss with three fingers, imitating her poignant defiance of the Capital after Rue's murder.  The people in the crowd follow suit, but a riot breaks out, the Capital "peacekeepers" storm in and the old man is executed as Peeta and Katniss are dragged away.  It is brutally moving to read and even more powerful and disturbing to watch on screen and I know I am not only one who hold this sentiment.  When I came home from the movie, I logged onto Facebook and read something my dear friend Lorelle had shared as a reaction to that sequence:
As I'm watching this I start crying when they murder that old man, and when they ransack the Hob because all I can think is, "How many people watch this movie and believe this is fiction? Because this is REAL. This is what life is like for thousands if not millions of people living in Afghanistan, Syria, North Korea, anywhere an evil regime takes power and squashes the rights of its people." And it just makes my heart break to see these characters who aren't even REAL experiencing something that IS so real to so many people.
I am of the belief that any story holding any value to readers is valuable because it carries something true or authentic about the world of its audience.  Lorelle's insight emulates the very real suffering that far too many human beings have suffered, do suffer, and will continue to suffer at the hands of corrupt governments.  It's an uncomfortable thought.  What's more uncomfortable, though, is that to some degree, "we" the people of the United States of America are the people in the Capital.  It's not as clear-cut as it is in the universe of the Hunger Games series, but our collective hands as a society are dirty.

To illustrate my point, I will draw upon something Louis CK said in one of his stand-up routines.  (Before I get into that I have to admit that, much as I love well-done comedy, I'm wary of stand-up because I've come across too many cheap rape jokes and similar misogyny).  There are a lot of jerks who reinforce sexist and racist hegemony through what they brush off as entertainment, but Louis CK doesn't fall into that category.  I've come to appreciate him as a satirist and philosopher who, in spite of rough edges, actually seems like a decent guy.  
Louis CK certainly doesn't shy away from offending people; regrettably, this limits his audience.  I think if most people could get past the profanity and vulgarity and truly listen to what he's saying, they'd be better for it.

On a unrelated note, I recently discovered that Louis "CK" is really Louis Székely, as in Székely Hungarian, the specific ethnic group of Hungarians I taught and lived with this summer in Romania.

In the last segment of his "Oh My God" routine, CK enters into a monologue beginning with "of course" and immediately rebutting that statement with a series of uncomfortable "but maybe" scenarios:
Of course, of course slavery is the worst thing that ever happened. Of course it is, every time it’s happened. Black people in America, Jews in Egypt, every time a whole race of people has been enslaved, it’s a terrible, horrible thing, of course, but maybe. Maybe every incredible human achievement in history was done with slaves. Every single thing where you go, “How did they build those pyramids?”  They just threw human death and suffering at them until they were finished.  How did we traverse the nation with the railroad so quickly? We just threw Chinese people in caves and blew ‘em up and didn’t give a shit what happened to them. There’s no end to what you can do when you don’t give a fuck about particular people. You can do anything. That’s where human greatness comes from, is that we’re shitty people that we fuck others over.
Even today, how do we have this amazing microtechnology? Because the factory where they’re making these, they jump off the fucking roof, because it’s a nightmare in there. You really have a choice. You can have candles and horses and be a little kinder to each other or let someone suffer immeasurably far away, just so you can leave a mean comment on YouTube while you’re taking a shit.
His last point (about Chinese factories) particularly stood out to me when I first listened to that segment.  In college, a Chinese friend of mine was working towards her degree in International Business and asked me to help her with a business-related ethics paper.  She had chosen the recent Foxconn suicides as her topic and, because of her Chinese citizenship and connections, had obtained a personal interview from a Foxconn employee.  I was horrified to hear his account of the widespread dehumanization of factory workers; it was very like something out of a dystopian work of fiction, only it's not. fiction.  And for my own, selfish, personal reasons, what bothered me the most about the issue was--and still is--that the laptop I use to type this blog, was manufactured in a factory by workers of that same monstrous, oppressive, corporation.

How can we help our collaboration with the oppressive corporations that create these nightmarish conditions, though, when our entire lifestyle and livelihood depends on existing into the societal framework already in place?  How can we oppose factory abuses if we are, like most of the glamorous citizens of the Capital, oblivious to the harsh price tag on material wealth?  I'm honestly wondering, because I don't know how to escape this system.

Right now, I don't have any answers to these questions, but I'm thankful that Louis CK and Suzanne Collins have prompted me to ask them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Coming Back to Life

I just posted a long-overdue entry on my travel blog, and I've decided something:  It's time for me to pull myself up by the woeful-post-graduate bootstraps and take charge of my life.  (Note: I've always wondered... what exactly does a bootstrap look like?  None of my boots have straps).
Greta, Mom, and I went to the Apple Orchard last month.

Seriously, though.  I've had enough of this moping "life-is-so-hard-for-a-graduate-I-wish-I-were-back-in-Europe-poor-me-the-couch-is-my-home-now" attitude.  Yes, my summer abroad rocked.  No, that's not a reason to lose the zest for my life here.  Granted, I've done some productive things since I've been home: I do have a couple part-time jobs and I haven't completely retired from the world, but––as any number of Disney Princesses from the late 90s would say––I want more.  Not in a greedy, materialistic sense; I want to do more with my life, here and now.  I want to introspect, to nurture and cultivate my relationships, to produce more writing, more meals, more sewing and furniture projects.  Admittedly, I'm being a little hard on myself.  I haven't been completely pathetic these past ten weeks, but I know I can do better than I've been doing.  (Part of the problem is that I have zero balance.  For example: There's nothing wrong with getting into a show but marathoning four seasons of True Blood in a week?  Excessive).
To be fair, though, what isn't excessive about this show? (eg. "Sookeh")
On more positive notes:
I took this at the LA Public Library when I visited my brothers in March.
  • I joined my friend Torrie's book club.  It's time for me to pull out my Lasallian Honors shared inquiry chops and dig back into literature!  (I supplemented this milestone by opening a Goodreads account).  At any rate, I hope this club will meet my social and intellectual needs regarding books. 
  • I met my cousin's baby boy for the first time this past weekend, and he is a beauty.  It's exciting to again be part of an expanding family!
  • I'm obsessed with my new bread machine.  Until I find a day job, I should be more useful around our house, so my Craigslist treasure has been serving me well.
Speaking of bread, the machine just beeped so I'm going to end this entry now and take it out to cool.  Anyway, I hope I'll get to updating this blog with more regularity.  Thanks for reading!