Friday, October 26, 2012

The Hunger Games vs Twilight

This might be a bit rambly. It's 10pm and I've JUST finished The Hunger Games (first book, no spoilers for books 2 and 3 please).

In my mind it is linked with Twiligth because they are both very popular young adult books, with female protagonists, loved by teenage women.

That's about all they have in common though.

Now, I really really enjoyed Twilight.  I don't think it's anti-women, I don't think it's anti-feminist.  Yet a few chapters into The Hunger Games I couldn't help but comment that Katniss is far better role model than Bella will ever be.

But that's missing the point of Twilight.  Bella isn't meant to be a role model.  She's a cipher.  She doesn't need distinguishing characteristics because the story is not really about her - it's about Edward and his Amazingness.  And it's about Edward  and his Amazingness because it's a romance fantasy.  A teenage romance story.  For readers to identify with Bella they just need to know that she feels as swallowed up by love as they do.  Of course, it's not real love that Bella feels, it's heady infatuation, extended.  Obsessive world conquering infatuation.  It's hormone fulled teenage lust and it's very different to what you feel when you've been in a relationship for several years.  We all know that.  But teenagers don't - they think what they are experiencing is what everyone else feels.  They don't understand how love grows, develops, simmers down and matures.  I'm not criticising teens for this.  It's just how life is.  Teens haven't been alive long enough to experience changes in love that long term relationships experience.

But to denigrate Twilight for not being grown up and for Bella for being wet is to miss the point.  It is not really a book about adventure, the vampire/supernatural thing is just the window dressing.  Bella shouldn't be too developed as a character because then she will alienate too many readers.  Twilight's readers need to identify with her raging hormone lust and her love for Edward, but that's all they need in common.  In that way the focus is on Edward - he also becomes a cipher for the person that Twilight fans adore.  the vampire/werewolf stuff is window dressing to make it more exciting.  To give this obsessive love a framework in which to operate, to have a story.  The details of Edward's and Bella's personalities really aren't that important.  Which is why they aren't role models.  They are ciphers.

They are a bit like teenybopper boy bands (does anyone even use the word teenybopper anymore?  Am I showing my age?).  When I was a teenager (many moons ago..) the girls in my year idolised Take That.  before Take That it was new Kids on the Block.  The guys in the band were ciphers.  Symbols.  One dimensional products that hormonal teenage women (possibly some hormonal teenage men too) could project their ideas and fantasies onto - they could become the perfect boyfriend in their fans heads.  I guess maybe One Direction (?) fulfil that niche now.  Twilight is the fiction equivalent of Take That but with better window dressing.

This isn't a problem.

Whereas Katniss is a hero.  She's someone we are meant to look up to, to emulate.  And as that she's a fab hero.  She's clever, resourceful, fiercely loyal and protective.  The Hunger Games is a proper adventure story and Katniss is a fully developed character.  We suffer alongside her, we understand her family, her background, we grow and develop with her.  She faces very real challenges.

She's a million miles away from Bella, because they are written with very different purposes.  For a different type of story and to fulfil a different type of goal.

There's nowt wrong with that.

Now if you'll excuse me I've got book 2 of The Hunger Games to start reading, and a Twilight film marathon to arrange.

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