Katniss, Peeta, Media Imagery, and the Underlying Stories We Tell Each Other

Just finished reading the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I haven’t watched the movie yet because I thought it might be best to read the books first, which were very well written, by the way … entertaining, and thought provoking at times … but definitely written for teenagers. Ever since my days as a youth pastor I’ve always thought it best to at least be acquainted with the stuff of youth culture. Which has the added benefit of keeping me young in mind!

This is not a book review. Rather, I would like to make some comments about what I perceive to be cultural and aesthetic questions that came to me from reading the trilogy and then inquire theologically about them. I did some internet reading and found many comments, observations, and criticisms about its portrayal of an “Amazon” feminist archetype.

Do the books advocate a positive militant feminism? Is Suzanne Collins a feminist? Is feminism being pushed down the throats of gullible teenagers? Will it bring an unrealistic expectation of what it is to be female in the already pressure-filled world of teenage angst?

No doubt Katniss Everdeen is a strong, capable, and fierce protagonist, and one I strongly gravitate toward. But she’s not perfect. Johanna nicknames her “nobrains” for her lack of tactical awareness in the arena. She’s impulsive and rebellious, doesn’t take orders and often gets her allies into trouble with her lack of forethought. Later, in the rebellion’s tactical planning, she is often left out. She’s selfish. But she’s also loyal.

Peeta, on the other hand, is good with words. With his savvy story-telling, he gives both Katniss and himself an advantage in the games. But in the actual games, he turns out to be a wimp. In the first Hunger Games, a leg injury makes him a passive participant. In the second Victor’s Hunger Games, he is incapacitated from the outset, having to be carried around because he ran into a force-field and nearly died.

And so we have a reversal of the typical male/female movie roles which is quite refreshing. So often in movies, women are portrayed as the passive ones, while the testosterone filled, macho Stallone types run around mindlessly wreaking havoc. It’s no wonder, female actors often complain about a lack of interesting roles for women in Hollywood.

Which leads me to make a side comment on Jennifer Lawrence, the actor playing Katniss. One of the teenagers at my church, who’ll go unnamed, thought the movie sucked. “Errr… it was okay, but I was disappointed.”

Since they’d read the book, I thought the criticism would go somewhere along the lines of the book being much better than the movie. Haven’t we all done that? But to my surprise, the criticism had to do with the lead actor, Jennifer!

–What about her?

–She just didn’t meet my expectations. I thought she’d be … thinner…

Thinner? The explanation was that since Katniss was from the poorest district, famished and having to hunt for food, the assumption was that a ‘thinner’ actor may have better suited the role. Nevermind I think Jennifer Lawrence is one of the better, interesting young actors to have emerged from Hollywood. She was, simply put, a tour-de-force in Winter’s Bone, some two years earlier. Amazing movie!

So, please, Jennifer, don’t succumb to the expectations and starve yourself! Keep developing your acting chops because you have so much potential.

But it got me to thinking about how media expectations play a significant role in what we perceive to be beautiful or acceptable or successful, and how the constant barrage via advertisement and movies and magazines contribute to our tastes and preferences, even in such seemingly innocuous places as the Seminary or Church.

Our culture is visual.

Even the Protestant church, supposedly iconoclastic, has become so … visual. The successful Pastor, at least as portrayed in Christian media, is, for lack of a better word, ‘thin’. And for that matter, perhaps their theology is even ‘thinner’.

But aside from silly puns, I caught myself this year worrying about my own weight. Since Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, having shared  a few wonderful meals with friends and family, I’ve added quite a few pounds to my already burgeoning body. And I haven’t been able to shed them entirely. One might now describe me as a rather buxom Pastor!

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