‘The Hunger Games’ is a blue-state ‘Harry Potter’
If you’re wondering what the next big thing is now that Harry Potter has laid down his wand, you’re already behind the curve. The braces-and-acne set has moved on to Suzanne Collins’s post-apocalyptic trilogy “The Hunger Games.” With Lionsgate adapting the best-selling novels into a trio of movies beginning next spring, the blogosphere hangs breathless on every casting tidbit and new photo. MTV even hyped a teaser trailer for the movie during its youth-targeted Video Music Awards on Sunday night.
The new trilogy answers Pottermania in more than just popularity — it represents a radically different point of view. Master Potter and his friends, for all their British accents, turn out to be very red-state while Collins’s Katniss Everdeen could not be more blue-state.
Let me explain.
As a movie critic, I tend to break down Hollywood’s offerings into red-state movies and blue-state movies. The third category is “movies so stinky they should be avoided like a rabid badger,” but that’s a different issue.
Voting patterns reflect something deeper than political preferences. In media, it all comes down to a tolerance for irony. Red-staters tend to avoid irony, gravitating toward, in the extreme, saccharine films that out-Mayberry even the ’50s. We like our guns big, our motives un-conflicted and our bad guys un-nuanced and in need of killin’.
Blue-staters, on the other hand, exhibit all the symptoms of irony addiction, twitching when a character sincerely salutes a flag or straightforwardly sacrifices for others. They are much more comfortable with Norwegian black-and-white films in which a lost reindeer becomes a symbol of the desperate tragedy of life. They want to understand the darkness, maybe cuddle it a little.
“The Blind Side” is red state. “Black Swan” is blue state.
“Lord of the Rings”? Red state.
“American Beauty”? Blue state.
See how it works?
The categories aren’t about quality. A thoroughly red-state movie such as “Battle: Los Angeles” can be mediocre at best while a blue-state movie like “Avatar” can be mind-blowingly good.
How does this relate to Harry and Katniss?
Harry Potter, the boy wizard whom destiny slowly reveals as the nemesis of a Hitler-like would-be despot, becomes the focal point of a wizard resistance. Similarly, fate thrusts Katniss into the spotlight when she reluctantly steps forward to become a fighter in a battle to the death, televised throughout dystopian future America. Think “Survivor” meets the Roman gladiators.
(Beware: Spoilers ahead.)
Like Harry, Katniss becomes a flash point for revolution. Her reactions echo his: Anger, a desire to walk away from the problem, confusion about whom to trust, doubt about the underlying value of his battle. However, as Harry grows, he learns to believe in justice, freedom, and basic decency, to identify the trustworthy, and to take responsibility for fighting evil in his time. His battle is hard, the costs high, the path lonely, but ultimately the hardship only adds to the meaning.
Katniss, on the other hand, finds herself increasingly used by unscrupulous power-mongers. She meets few she can trust, certainly nobody with any authority. The revolution turns out to be an empty farce, another group of liars using fighters to consolidate their power. Justice doesn’t exist and freedom is just an illusion. Katniss ends her story estranged from family, friends and love interests, used up psychologically and emotionally, thoroughly disillusioned.
If Harry Potter represents World War II’s Greatest Generation, Katniss is the worst blue-state image of an Iraq War vet, a pawn in a game that has no meaning.
It’s a letdown at the end of such an absorbing and well-written series, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Irony can be a hard habit to break.
Rebecca Cusey is a movie critic and entertainment reporter.