Catching Fire and the thing about “strong female characters”

This post is a part of my Nerd.Vomit series, which will analyze popular television shows from a feminist perspective and analyze the portrayal of female characters in terms of character development and plot device. 

Warning: This post features major point spoilers 

Catching Fire

Catching Fire (Photo credit: duncan)

Late last November, the second film installment of the Hunger Games hit theatres in the U.S. The film became the movie with the highest pre-sold tickets of 2013 for Fandango, and the seventh highest grossing premier day of films of all time (even beating the third and last installment in the Twilight series.)

Because ya know, big shocker there.

The Hunger Games, is quickly becoming one of generations many iconic novels–it offers something that we rarely see in both literature and film. Katniss Everdeen is a strong female character. She’s everything that women and most importantly, human beings are supposed to be–she’s multidimensional.

The Hunger Games is the best trilogy I read when I was 19, and still one of my favorite series.

A recent article from NPR focused on Katniss’ relationship with Peeta Mellark, coining Peeta as Katniss’s “Movie Girlfriend.”

A commenter brought up an interesting point, which is, that even in Katniss’ independence, her relevance is linked to the men around her. Katniss’ characterization is dependent on it being the antithesis of Peeta’s. This contrasts is common and important to the plot in both the films and novels.

In the official trailer for the film, there are more clips of the male characters, including pictures and voice overs, than of Katniss-despite her being the main character.

Even in the long run, Katniss’ story ends with her settling down with Peeta and having children. So it seems that even strong, independent woman–must still abide by the code of femininity.

Sociologist Leslie Grinner has analysed popular YA books, for example Twilight, using what she calls, the SCWAMP analysis. The acronym stands for Straightness, Christianity, Whitness, Able-Bodiedness, Maleness and Property Ownership. Grinner argues that a lot of what we see in popular culture fits this model.

In all the badassness that is the Hunger Games, it is not exempt from this.

The series still exists within the parameters of a world in which the people that matter, both on screen and in text, are white, young, virginal, able bodied and masculine–both the heroes and villains alike.

So more importantly, what does the Hunger Games say about who can save the world?And what does it say about strong female characters?

catching fire

catching fire (Photo credit: i heart him)

Essentially all of the Black characters in the novel are minor characters and they all die. The strong female characters are still largely motivated by irrational emotions and are objectified. This can be noted in the fact that Katniss is literally the Mockingjay and her only purpose is to do TV promos to the remaining districts to help spark the rebellion.

So if this is our archetype for what strong female characters are, what does that say about our expectations of women?

And if the answer is somewhere along the lines of “not much,” or even “a lot,” why are so damn impressed with what seems to be the bare minimum?

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