Katniss vs. Anti-Culture: ‘Why the Hunger Games Resonates’

by John on April 5, 2012

I’m a newcomer to ‘Brant’s Blog’ but if his Katniss and Her Friends: Why ‘The Hunger Games’ Resonates is any sign of the quality of the thinking there, I’ll be back. The heart of it goes something like this:

Katniss finds a boy/man who is flawed, but self-sacrificing, protective, warm, and committed to not being changed by the culture. He will not, he says, become a self-seeking “monster.” The Capitol, the culture, is patronizingly charmed by that… as it is fully committed to changing him into a self-seeking monster.

Katniss knows truth matters. She’s no philosopher, but she knows loyalty matters. She knows sacrificing for the vulnerable matters. She knows there is such a thing as Good, even if she can’t articulate it. The Capitol, the culture, tries to convince her otherwise.

Katniss loves her family. The Capitol finds that quaint, and valuable only in that it adds to an entertaining storyline, since amusement is, of course, the ultimate goal. And a human, a teenage girl, only has value to the extent the Capitol, our culture, is attracted to her.

No wonder Katniss wants to kill it.

And millions of teenage girls want to help her.

I think Brant’s point is spot on and hope you will go to his blog to read the whole thing, which isn’t very long. I’d make the following notes as only corrective expansions to his insights.

In my talk at the University of Chicago on Monday night about the use of literary alchemy in The Hunger Games, I touched on Gale and Peeta as the alchemical Quarreling Couple of nature and culture, body and spirit’s conflicting demands on the soul, and that the Capitol is the story transparency of the fallen world’s great pull on the soul away from both human poles. My difference with Brant is only that he calls the Capitol ‘culture,’ when it is really anti-culture.

Culture derives from the Latin word for plowing, hence our ‘cultivation.’ Culture, by definition, then, is nourishing, what fosters our growth from ego persona and fallen image of God to something closer to a ‘likeness.’ Peeta, as the stand-in for the City aspect of District 12 in Games, is the proper nourishing Culture icon in the narrative because he is art, music appreciation, and religion rolled into an adolescent boy, a young man who will die sacrificially (repeatedly!) to save the pure of heart and to draw out the powerful effect she can have, an effect she does not know she can have. Gale is his foil as the call of the body and nature, natural justice more than supernatural mercy and love. Each is an ennobling and challenging catalyst to Katniss’ transformation and she loves them both.

The Capitol, in contrast, as Brant points out succinctly, is anti-culture in valuing everything exterior about a person: where they are from, the clothes they wear, their ‘style.’ It distracts from the cultivation of interior virtues and dissipates the influence of unadorned nature and true culture. The Gamesmakers make us less human in the demeaning stories they package and force feed us as voyeuristic Panem viewers, but it is more their ‘Not Real’ effect on Katniss, the distance they and the Power Holders in the Capitol strive to create between Peeta and Katniss, whose Love is ultimately the only ‘Real’ of the series, that is the threat to her survival or greater existence.

Collins is definitely taking aim at the Gamesmakers in her Morality Play of the Soul’s struggle to relate to greater truths through the Not Real distractions and flat-out attacks from the World, here presented as the Capitol. And, as Brant points out, this spiritual allegory rolled into social criticism resonates in the human breast, perhaps especially but certainly not exclusively in the young woman’s heart. The hijacking of this message in the Lionsgate movie, in which Peeta’s relationship to Katniss is downplayed and obscured to make room for the Seneca Crane-President Snow Show celebrating the Gamesmakers in relation to the evil government, is all the more tragic consequently.

Your comments and correction, of course, are coveted.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

anon April 6, 2012 at 9:02 am

The capital culture is so close to American culture – and in its extreme form Hollywood culture in particular – that the movie is less dystopian and more a critique of the present experience of so many American young people.

The only quibble in the quote you chose: Katniss very much appears not to want to kill.

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