The Hunger Games: Gale vs. Peeta

A day late and a dollar short.  The story of my life.

Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t read the books don’t blame me…

Last week, I finally finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games Trilogy.  I usually don’t read fad books, but I found a copy at the library and the premise got me — dark and gory, the story of one girl fighting for survival against other kids isn’t for the faint of heart.  I really liked the first book The Hunger Games, which displayed Katniss and her world in a very vivid and Outsiders’ fashion.  The boy Peeta who’s always had this ominous presence in her life is actually in love with her, and she starts falling for him and ignoring her survival instincts.  The second book, Catching Fire, took a little warming up to because the early chapters are Katniss being bored and thus we’re bored but eventually it picked up momentum when she ended up back in the ring for the Quarter Quell game.  Catching Fire also showed a bit more of the other districts and introduced Gale’s love for Katniss beyond friendship and the start of the rebellions.  Finally, Katniss becomes the symbol of the revolution in Mockinjay.  This book I had a hard time deciding if I liked or not, because either you love it or you hate it.  I’m somewhere in the middle, with parts I liked and those I didn’t.

Mostly, I didn’t like what they did to Gale at the end.  He doesn’t seem remotely like the boy Katniss grew up with, and while I liked how they drifted apart, I think attaching him to Prim’s death or District 2 (traitors to rebellion and lapdogs to the Capitol) was too extreme.   Though Gale in real time did not match Katniss’ memories of him this was actually a good literary technique, because it shows she doesn’t see things as objectively as she’d like to think.  Her affection for Gale does cloud her thoughts of him, and even in Catching Fire she learns he kissed other girls and that he knew he cared about her for a long time.  We know so much about Peeta, but he seemed hollow to me at some points, existing solely as Katniss’ personal Jiminy Cricket.


The Wrong Kali

I’m a quarter of the way through American Gods and Kali has made her appearance.  Out of all the deities in the Hindu pantheon, Western writers are most fixated on Kali.  She’s made appearances in Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series and on Supernatural that were far more prominent than any other god.  My family is Hindu, so I make mental notes of every time Western culture makes a reference to the religion.  (When you’re in a small minority, it’s nice to feel “acknowledged” by the majority.)

For every appearance Kali has made in Western entertainment, her portrayal is always wrong in some crucial way.  In The Last Vampire, the narrator thought Kali was evil, which was something no  Hindu would make an error on.  It’s like a Christian calling St. Paul an evil demon.  Kali does get demonized in a really bad way in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (of course that movie was all kinds of wrong about “Hinduism” to begin with).  In Supernatural, she’s made into this sort of stupid waify creature (but bear in mind all the gods were screwed in that episode) and considering the context of the episode, Durga would have been a much much better deity to go with.  Kali would also be a much more decisive and Gordon-like character.  In American Gods, it’s made to sound like she’s not worshiped anymore which I find hard to believe since Navaratri (which celebrates the nine major female deities) was just two weeks ago, there are temples and sects still devoted to her, and every so often someone mentions a blood sacrifice made in her name.  Plus she made the cover of the temple’s monthly newsletter…  So why would anyone say she’s forgotten?  She’s as popular as she ever was.  Perhaps it’s that Western culture thinks because it sees her so much that the West thinks Hindus have forgotten?

I’m not exactly sure why Westerners find Kali the most fascinating, but it’s probably because she’s the dark side of “goodness.”  The hard decisions, the cold and calculating dark actions we make to preserve goodness.  The goddess images are also graphic and bewildering.  She doesn’t come up very often in Hindu functions I’ve been to compared to Lakshmi, Saraswati or Durga, but no one ever skimps on her offerings when they come up.  She’s also not a common idol found in people’s houses either.  So for Hindus, it’s a little odd to see her come up so much in Western culture, more than Shiva, Ganesh or Durga.

The West chose Kali as the representative for Hindu culture, but then still doesn’t quite understand her or the role she plays.  She’s not forgotten or neglected, but rather an extreme that people don’t always want to face.   (Moral ambiguity is a never-ending source of fun for Hindu philosophy.)  Kali is an awesome goddess by all means, but I’m waiting for the day when Western culture will get right what her role is…

Lots of Evil, Not Enough Editing…

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

Finally I went to the library last week, and managed to express some self control when choosing books. Instead of my usual dozen, I only checked out five (that’s a new record for me). For some reason, most (if not all) of the good sci-fi and fantasy books come from the teen section. Lots of people who don’t know me say I still look (and sometimes talk) like a teen, so perhaps that’s why no one bats an eyelash when I’m circling the teen shelves like a hawk.

Anyway, one of the books I got this time was Catherine Jinks’ novel, Evil Genius. The main character was the evil boy genius, Cadel, and his twisted spiral into becoming a true villain — a tragic hero.

Trudging through chapter after chapter, I waited for the book to pick up momentum. Sure there were some interesting twists and gory yet creative deaths along the way, but overall the book reminded me of prose that needed an editor. The story was terribly inflated with too many subplots and while it builds on the larger concept of what makes someone evil, it never achieves of showing “evil” as anything more than self-inflicted by poor choices. The entire book presents itself as people always choosing to cheat, lie or steal and based on that they can easily be manipulated.

Boiling down all human motivation to “people have no self control” is absolutely ridiculous. This book was pretty much a waste of time to read and felt like something I could have easily read on FictionPress or some other free writing site.

Holding out for a Heroine

We once again circle back to the lack of strong female characters in today’s day and age. While I’d say the U.S. is still far more advanced than most countries in that it is even willing to have a discussion about female empowerment, it’s still got a long way to go.

NY Times writer Peggy Orenstein decided to tackle the issue with her daughter getting bored by princesses waiting to be rescued. There’s a song from a Disney movie that seems oddly appropriate titled “Cinderella.” There was one princess cartoon movie, not from Disney, titled Anastasia, where the girl did save herself and the guy too. It’s one of my all time favorites from my childhood.

Girls rarely get the chance to play the hero. The hero’s girlfriend (Sue Storm), the hero’s archnemesis (Catwoman), or just his sidekick (Supergirl). Orenstein quickly recognizes that most female heroines are just eye-candy molded for boys and that its an unfortunate thing she and her daughter must settle for. Female heroines often find themselves in conflict with their femininity. Often donning revealing costumes, they are one of the few outlets for young girls who are sick of waiting for Prince Charming to save them. I won’t go into the body types of female characters because really, how is that less biased than the male form depicted in fiction? Both are beautifully fit and flexible, with form-fitting costumes that leave little to the imagination.

I read a debate recently about the Power Rangers not having a female leader, and the one time they did, it was an interim period between when their original leader (also the female’s boyfriend) died and the next one was to take his place.

Why aren’t heroines unable to escape this cycle? Well, most cartoon artists are male for one thing. The American comic book nation is male-oriented, so they won’t waste R&D with marketing dollars for a niche like this. A lot of things are catered to men, more so than women. It’s okay for girls to look up to men or be tomboy-ish, but the minute the tables get turned, people get mighty sensitive.

For those TV watchers out there from the early 2000s, you’ll remember the “girl power” phase that swept the nation. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer became the beacon of this idea and the girl hero for the 21st century. The task of keeping humanity safe was left in the hands of a girl, and one that played by her own rules no less. Another show that comes to mind was James Cameron’s short-lived Dark Angel series, which too featured a street smart, genetically empowered teenaged girl who was the hero with not one, but two hot male sidekicks.

In the literary world was where I found refuge as a young girl anxiously looking for that slick, smart heroine I knew had to exist somewhere. Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy was great, with two female leads who carried on with unsure steps but a ton of heart. If you browse through any young adult section in the bookstore or the library, you’ll quickly notice that a majority of the books are female oriented — girls in mythical kingdoms who have to save it, sword-wielding smart alecs, princesses who have to save princes, girls with superpowers from other planets… The list goes on.

I won’t make many bones about it, most people don’t like to read these days and so a lot of things go uncensored. That is where the female heroine has been relegated to, the underground, between the lines world of novels and what is sometimes known as “chick lit.” Good heroines do exist, but their PR sucks. If Harry Potter were a girl, it is highly doubtful it would have reached the proportions it has today. Author J. K. Rowling had to take the nom de plume “J. K.” instead of “Joanne” because publishers feared boys wouldn’t read books written by a woman.

Society has yet to embrace the notion of a popular, individual heroine with mass appeal. Until that happens, girls are stuck just reading about great heroines rather than seeing them in action.

Image Credit to: Fanpop

Lord Byron vs. Don Juan

Once more perusing when I stumbled across this gem, Lord Byron’s Great Insight and it brought me back to my British literature course on the Romantic period. The article itself looks exactly like the mini-biographical excerpt from my anthology and only summarizes what is pretty much considered common knowledge for anyone who would ever care to know more about Byron. I have more information scribbled on two pages of an old notebook about his life than what the writer offers to us. But that is by far not the most grievous thing about the article. No, that award goes to the supposition that Byron understood knew what women wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, Lord Byron is one of my favorite poets, just like I enjoy Nietzsche’s philosophy. But that does not stop them from being complete lunatics and incestuous, misogynistic pigs. Lord Byron just knew what women wanted to hear and used it to his advantage. He was a selfish and manipulative scumbag who showed no remorse for his actions. As one of the commentators put it, reviewing Byron’s homosexual pinings and the way it caused him to lash out at his female consorts in an effort to assert his masculinity. Of course, there are also plenty of closeted gay men who don’t resort to the kind of extreme behavior Byron did. We should try to steer clear of generalizations though.

An actual review of what the book provided as a new angle or information on Lord Byron would have actually made sense rather than positing some childish notion based on one man’s promiscuous outings.

Image Credit to Limite Magazine

And the Fangs Come Out

While doing my daily perusing of I decided to stumble on over to Double X, the “female” off-shoot of the popular online magazine. I found yet another article raving at the anti-feminism of the rebooted vampire genre focusing on Twilight and True Blood. Being the sci-fi/fantasy geek that I am, it is eye-rolling when someone not into the genre attempts to combat the forces of misogyny. The writer couldn’t seem to make up her mind about True Blood‘s stand on the vampire misogyny, but Twilight was clearly hardcore Mormon. The two works are then held against the vampire feminist icon of the 90s, Buffy. I too have ranted that Bella is the absolute anti-Buffy, and nearly choked on my coffee when a commenter called Bella a “strong female character.” Yes, my strict, traditional parents taught me that tripping over myself and crying for someone to come and save me was a hallmark of a strong person… (Actually, it was more like ‘Get your ass off the ground and give back twice what you got.’)

Buffy and Twilight are easy to compare because they’re both in the teenage fare. They share the girl loves vampire scenario common to this subsect of the vampire genre. The major difference is that Buffy slays vampires and demonstrates that even if you love someone, bending to their will is not in your best interest. Buffy made her own rules, not only feuding with the Watchers but coming back from the dead. Bella on the other hand is subject to the whims of the vampire she’s in love with and waits for him to come and save her. Twilight‘s mores make me cringe, and I come from a marriage based, wife cooks and cleans and raises the kids ethnic background. Bella just lives to pleasure Edward, and has childish fits when he leaves her. She doesn’t fight or assert herself. At least keep some garlic handy if your boyfriend needs help (or wants to suck all of your blood out)!

True Blood/The Southern Vampire books should be set apart in 1) they are adult fare and 2) it’s less along the lines of female/male dynamic than it is a sort of satire of minority vs. majority. I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of the characters, but it’s this intrinsic difference of what vampirism stands for that puts it away from Buffy and Twilight, more towards Anne Rice’s vampires and social commentary.

Now here’s where I take offense. The idea that the vampire subjugation fantasies are “bad for women.” The title is too provacative for a fluff piece that was featured. While I would like nothing better than to Fahrenheit 451 all of Stephanie Meyer’s works (which are cheap knock offs of actually good books), I wouldn’t go so far as to start calling them “bad for women” (bad for literature and a butchery of the English language, by all means yes). I tend to leave people and their sexual fantasies alone. To say these books are “bad for women” is crossing into the territory of “violence in music, TV, movies and video games caused Columbine.”

I will now refer back to the Aristotle’s idea of “catharsis.” Unlike Plato who thought that everything should be publicly censored (please tell me they haven’t swapped out Republic for Twilight just yet), Aristotle believed that exposure to our darker natures through entertainment would sate our need to act on them. In other words, we get off on seeing someone being shot rather than getting off on actually being Deerhunter ourselves. Slasher movies are a big part of American movie fare, but how often do we hear in the news that someone took a hacksaw and went on a killing spree? Some of the people who I’ve found enjoy reading Twilight novels are actually really assertive women. I just chalk the subjugation up to another kink fetish, like feet. Not really that harmful until it moves into reality.

I abhor the model of waiting for a guy coming in to save the day rather than saving yourself, and the free fall of “girl power” in the late 90s to the “lying, cheating backstabbing best friends” business that we’re currently in is a altogether disconcerting. But all in all, it’s just a phase that one can only hope passes quickly before it really does set the feminist movement back. If you want to be that tough chick who gets the job done, you’ll find a way. If you’re that girl who drops her keys to bend over so you can catch a guy’s attention and wallet, you too will find a way. There isn’t just one female archetype running around. I’d say the scary part is the fans who’ve lost touch with reality and mistake the books for some kind of psychotic bible instead of enjoying it for the entertainment value it holds.

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