Thursday, 29 March 2012

Love in the Hunger Games

Fighting for love?





I love dystopian future stories. I don't know maybe there it is the part of me that loves to watch how things might fall apart. From the bleak Joss Whedon Firefly and Dollhouse TV shows or the amazing Metatropolis anthology to this new trilogy of books and 1st film the Hunger Games. By Suzanne Collins this triology explores a bleak near future where America has collapsed and ruled with an Iron Fist the capital city holds 12 districts under its thumb treating them as slave labour. Barely able to survive, working back breaking jobs the vast majority of the population serve the few rich capital city dwellers. As part of the capitals drive to keep the districts under heal and broken they city forces each district to select 2 young people to fight to the death in a televised event called the Hunger Games. The games themselves unfold in a very similar way to the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale but the world they are set in is significantly different. Sarah Hall has written a great summary article about the wider social themes the books/film comment on. And TearFund has made this resource about The Real Hunger Games of world inequality and poverty. 
 
I have run a quick youth session exploring the social issues and have written a quick blog review about it.


But I want to have a brief look at how the 1st book and film deal with that important issues of love and relationships. I will try and suggest three discussion points to use with young people who are interested in the Hunger Games




*******Spoilers Alert*********
I am going to try and avoid giving away any of the great surprises and especially the ending but if you read the next few paragraphs you will learn things you may not want to know if you haven't read/watched the film yet.

The Hunger Games series is already being compared to both Harry Potter and Twilight. True they have a similar target audience and true like Twilight the Hunger Games has a principle heroine making tough choices. Katniss (the heroine) even has two potential partners but personally I think that the Hunger Games does a much better job of exploring love, relationships and trust. 

Scary sacrificial love 

The whole story ramps up and gets excited when Katniss and her Sister Primrose face the random selection process. The selection lottery is not an equal chance for all but weighted so that the older and poorer you are the more likely you are to be chosen. Primrose being only 12 is the least likely to be chosen yet fate pushes her into being the chosen district tribute for slaughter in the Hunger Games. Katniss who has taken over the role of primary bread winner for the family when her father died takes the extreme step of volunteering to take her sisters place. Katniss knows that her 12 year old sister is certain to die in the games. Being only 12 and with no physical skill (unlike Katniss the bow and arrow hunter) she is sure to be killed brutally in the Hunger Games. Katniss knows that with odds of 24:1 and being just 16 her own chances are not that much better. But Katniss' love for her sister overrides self preservation and she takes the opportunity to offer her own life to save her sisters. This kind of sacrificial love has been explored hundreds of times before in stories but usually with characters older then Katniss 16 years of age. Katniss is presented as skilled but vulnerable and in my eyes realistically filled with teenage worries. Yet this scary sacrificial love is poured out by her on her sister and show cases how young people are capable of extraordinary actions of love when faced with hard choices. Thankfully most young people (in my work) wont face life and death choices but they will often face opportunities to put the needs of others first. Katniss is a supreme example of putting the needs of others in front of your own. 

Learning to trust

From Wikipedia
When Katniss finally makes it into the Hunger Games she is alone. 1 out of 24 people ready to kill each other. She is alone for the first few days, hiding from killers and battling the elements. But after a particularly dangerous close call she meets Rue who saves her from a natural danger that could have ended her life. The two meet away from immediate danger and make a tough decision. Team up and face down the shared enemies or try and kill each other. They attempt to trust each other, both scared, both meant to fight each other, both unsure if this is a trick a bluff to take advantage. They have to learn to trust each other. It is not easy and a shared enemy is not enough. They share experiences and share stories. Trust builds up as the become more intimate with each other and risk more of themselves. They start a friendship they know wont last, they know that it will either end with one of them being killed by another tribute or by them having to try and kill each other. Yet they embrace the friendship for what it is, a temporary connection that stops them being alone. Talking with young people it is useful to discuss the idea of starting new relationships and friendships. New connections take risks of trust. True honest relationships need people to expose themselves and risk intimacy. The mutual give and take, gradual and slow is the strong foundation of a relationship. There relationship is a wonderful exploration of this in a condensed time. Time is condensed by the extreme situations of the Hunger Games but it is also worth asking young people what situations with short time scales could they start a new relationship in.


Love and relationships are not simple

Within the Hunger Games Katniss meets up with her fellow district 12 tribute and has to deal with trying to form another uneasy relationship. This time not just based on what could be called share enemies and mutual self interest and shared backgrounds. This relationship is for the benefit of the cameras to illicit sympathy and gain an advantage from added sponsors. The relationship becomes complicated due to the other Tribute Peeta expressing public love for Katniss. Katniss does not know if this is genuine or part of Peeta's game plan. But she plays along for the sake of the games whilst in personal turmoil about her own feelings for Peeta. Again the Hunger Games have condensed this natural question into a short sharp incident. "Does she/he really love me?" This entire story element is a fantastic conversation point with young people. How do you know if someone really loves you? Are words enough to prove love? Can actions prove love and will people ever fully know or does it come down to trust? The darker side of this story element is the issue of people manipulating relationships for their own personal gain. In the Hunger Games it is the manipulation to stay alive but in our world do people manipulate relationships for personal gain of sex or social gains? 


What next?


Relationships in the Hunger Games are a treasure trove of discussion points. If the books and film continue to gain momentum and influence I believe they will be a useful resource for all sex and relationship educators. My suggestion is we should all have a closer look at the Hunger Games and the relationships it contains.