Rebutting Wilson’s “Why the Hunger Games is Flawed”

by admin

Trevin Wax’s friend N.D. Wilson commented on the Hunger Games and why it is seriously flawed as a work.  I really appreciated the level of thought and the perspective of a writer on how people’s motivations should be written.  He definitely caused me to think more deeply about the messages the book sends and the question of realism in terms of how the people acted and reacted in tune with (or out of sync with) human nature.

However, I found his arguments for what makes the books so flawed to be seriously… flawed.

Warning: if you have not read the books or seen the movie yet, the below will contain spoilers.  Don’t read any further unless you don’t mind them.

Are Heroes Always Consistent in their Morality?

He makes several successive points about the decisions that are made by the characters and what results from their action.  In the first quick point, he talks about Katniss’s decision to sacrifice herself for her sister.  He says the nobility of the decision is completely undermined by her subsequent actions to survive and “play by the rules”.  To this I say (and I will say it again later because he returns to this argument) it is ridiculous to confine the hero to a narrow moral viewpoint and demand absolute consistency to it.  I would argue he fails to understand human nature if he thinks that leaders must be absolutely consistent in their ethics and morality in order to inspire.  This is especially true in light of the setting of the books, which I will expand on below.  The truth is nobody is absolutely consistent – except Christ.  We all make mistakes, we all find ourselves compromising our own ideals sometimes.  That is true humanity.

I will concede that more effective leaders are able to portray a consistency of morality and ethics that inspires, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have failures.  He also fails to recognize the similarity between the Hunger Games and “reality television”.  This means what we read in the book is not what the rest of Panem perceives about Katniss.  The producers and directors of the “show” carefully plan the footage and edit it to present the “characters” they wish to portray that create the most entertainment value.  That is the basis behind the entire “love story” plot.  Nobody in the Hunger Games had ever played that hand before, which is what allowed Peeta and Katniss to survive.

His second point is that by justifying Katniss’s murderous actions with the victim card, Collins (the author) she makes her catalyst for revolution a monster.  He then postulates that human nature should dictate that a revolutionary catalyst should have a consistency of character that would not have allowed her to comply with the “game” at any point.

She should be rising above the game and defending herself (and everyone else) from the Hunger Games. Instead, she kills her fellow victims. Sure, if someone is in the act of trying to murder you, shoot them through the throat. But dropping tracker jackers on sleeping kids? Negativo. Why is she playing this game by the rules at all? The Hunger Games are the real enemy.

Wilson wants to rewrite the books but his version makes even less sense than Collins’.  He is expecting a teenage girl who has lived under oppression all her life, who is not well educated, who has no sense of history to somehow have developed into a person with the strength of character to nobly object to and fight the sinister system from the very beginning of the books.  He expects Katniss to play the game like Gale would have.  Gale is older than Katniss and has already formed convictions.  Katniss from the beginning of the book clearly does not share that same level of conviction.  She is not that hero Wilson wants her to be.  She struggles finding the backbone to resist.  She doesn’t know who to trust, doesn’t believe that Haymitch or Cinna or anyone else is truly on her side.  She doesn’t know what it’s going to take to survive.  She knows the games are the real enemy, that Snow is the real enemy, but has no idea how to begin to affect change.  The Trackerjackers?  A group of tributes have her treed and are going to kill her as soon as she runs down if she doesn’t starve to death first.  It was her only option, other than dying.  How could she have creatively gotten out of that jam?  An inspiring speech that causes her attackers to magically lay down their arms and weep at their own complicity in this charade of a game?  Yeah, that sounds realistic.

He especially spins the question by postulating, what if it were not a “to the death” competition, but a rape competition?  Would we be a sympathetic to Katniss then, if she complied with any number of rapes before winning?  This comparison is not in my mind an indictment of Collins’ system of reason as much as it is an indictment of what we in our culture will consider entertainment, and what moral rules we will allow to be relaxed in the name of entertainment.  We as a society have decided that it is possible to be morally ambiguous with regards to “Thou shalt not kill”, but not with sexual crimes.  Somehow, killing people is less immoral than raping people.  This is the zeitgeist’s view, not the Biblical one.  And that is why his thought experiment doesn’t really hold water.

His last argument is basically contending that nobody would be inspired by Katniss in real life, because she shows no consistency of character and her ultimate act of defiance is not a rebellious one but an unadmirable move to suicide, and incitement to suicide.  This would not inspire anyone, he contends.  Again, I return to the argument I explained at first: the view that Panem saw of Katniss was not what we saw from her 2nd person narrative.  When the climax of the book is reached, there was no other act that she could take that would have sparked what was to follow.  Let’s say for a minute that the book was plotted as Wilson thinks it should have been: Katniss carved her locator beacon out of her own arm, then proceeded to instead of killing tributes, subduing them (with blunt arrows maybe?) and carving their own locator beacons out. The story would have been over long before the climax because the producers (and Snow presumably) would have had her killed by a “natural disaster” like the fire, or engineered her demise at the hands of another tribute immediately upon her rebelling by disabling the tracker.  And yes, they could have because they not only had the trackers but also strategically placed cameras everywhere to film the whole thing.  So she gets herself killed almost immediately, and nobody in Panem ever gets to see her rebellion against the system because the producers simply edit out any footage of her rebellion.

The whole point of the book was that there may have been many acts of rebellion in the games in the past but nobody ever found out because the Capitol controlled the production.  The only way Katniss could have become a catalyst for rebellion was to survive to the end, playing the game at least in part, then setting up a double bind that cannot be disguised by editing.  The catalyst that set off the rebellion wasn’t really Katniss (except in a proximal sense) but the weakness that the Capitol showed in the face of her machinations.  The districts were already primed for rebellion.  The districts used her just as Snow was using her for a demonstration of control.  That is another level of story to be discussed another time.  She was not a Che Guevara, a George Washington, an Evita, a Winston Churchill.  That’s the point.  She was just an excuse for them – a convenient symbol.  They had no need for her to be truly heroic, like Maximus in Gladiator.  They could tailor the perception of her to their needs instead of relying on the objective external view of her actions which could not have been controlled.  The only ones who saw those views of her were the producers of the Games themselves, and they were already complicit.  Mostly.

There are flaws to these books, but the human motivations of the characters aren’t one of them.


2 Responses to “Rebutting Wilson’s “Why the Hunger Games is Flawed””

  1. I really appreciate this, I completely agree with you.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Nice thoughts!! I appreciate this :)

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