I generally don’t expect too much of the fashion industry. After all, these are the jackals who parade underfed, oddly made-up creatures wearing impractical, ridiculously expensive garments, while trying to convince the rest of us to buy this nonsense. While I sometimes enjoy the theatricality of fashion shows, I always hear in my ear the incomparable superhero costumer “E” from The Incredibles. “Bah! Supermodels! Nothing super about them! Whiny, selfish stick people with poofy lips! I used to design for gods!” So when I saw this monstrosity from the recent Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, I was struck not only by the idiotic design, but also by what it says about the complete lack of comprehension of what the story of The Hunger Games is really all about. Follow me after the jump for more.
My first thought, upon seeing this crazy get-up, was that it looks like poor has-been stylist Tigris from Mockingjay is getting work again; after all, she does sell furry undergarments, and there is all that tiger business. But then I realized that this goofy concoction, part of a completely ludicrous “pop culture” themed show, is a clear example of how the general population often misses even the most obvious of meanings in a text. Of course, this get-up is not something one would find in a Victoria’s Secret Store (though the phrase “Victoria’s Secret” generally makes me think of the plot twists in Eclipse instead of a store that sells overpriced dainties). But the cutesy “wings” made of flames, the tiger skin, and of course, the ample amount of model’s skin all add up to a big “We don’t get it” from designers and show organizers. Such a monstrosity, more suitable for the Tributes being paraded before the Capitol, is evidence of how often the “message” of the novel is missed by the mainstream.
In a world where this kind of goofy “fashion show” is the next level for image-saturated audiences (“We’re bored with the usual gorgeous, unattainable women in their undies and giant feathered wings! Give us more! Give us different!”), it’s clear that a story like The Hunger Games, which clearly criticizes the very shallow materialism at work here, flies right over the head of the majority of people.
Usually, when I teach the Games, my students are transfixed by the novel: its compelling characters, its gripping plot, and its clear indictment of the shallow, selfish worldview that leads to the panem et circenses of the novel. These days, many of them have seen the movie, and I have to deprogram them a little. They are generally amazed that the novel is so meaningful and critical of violence (rather than endorsing it, as most action stories do).
I do sometimes get the student or two with no concept of what is really going on in this novel. Sometimes a student will grouse, ” I don’t get this book. It’s all about kids killing kids,” or “I didn’t agree with the ideas in this book, with the kids killing and stuff.” These comments usually come from students with poor comprehension skills who either A) didn’t read the book or read it closely or B)really don’t understand anything they read. Both of these are indicative of long-term comprehension problems, and I am encouraged by the many thoughtful and interested students who really do “get it”; they also help the others to see the many layers at work. Indeed, most of the students who read the novel in an academic context “get” what is at work here.
I spoke to two amazing groups of high schoolers this week. Though they were very different groups, they each had really connected with the novel’s underlying meanings. One group was interested by the military and political meanings of the trilogy, while the other students really identified with Katniss and her role as provider and marginalized survivor. These students, and the majority of my delightful college pupils, give me hope that all is not lost, that there are still critical minds reading and thinking. Now, if we can just get a few of those thinkers in the underwear industry…