Friday, January 17, 2014

The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen is an Excellent Role Model

First published in the Western People on Monday.

Positive role models for girls and young women are thin on the ground in our current culture. As such, for one of the few to get a belt a national paper’s crozier is disappointing in the extreme.

The Irish Independent reported last week that “blockbuster film 'The Hunger Games' was responsible for the most complaints to the Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) in the last two years.” When you read that, you wonder just what was this awful film about, that so many people rose up against it? What are they doing that’s so appalled the public?

And then you read on and discover that the bar for the “most complaints” isn’t that terribly high. Do you know how many complaints the IFCO got about The Hunger Games movie over two years? Five. That’s one every five months.

If you’re doing something that only registers a complaint once every twenty-one weeks I’d say you’re doing pretty well. If you told James Horan that complaints about him, his selectors, his team, his team’s style of play or even the particular hat he chooses to wear on the sideline would come in at rate of one every five months he’d weep real tears of relief and gratitude. As it is, I doubt he can go down to the shop for a pint of milk without someone bending his ear about something. Five complaints in two years really isn’t a problem.

We read further, and discover the nature of the complaints. One complainant objected to the nature of the film itself, which he or she claimed featured "teenagers killing each other!! Stabbing each other, twisting each other's necks off, beating each other to death, a little black girl got an arrow into the chest … that’s when the children started crying."

On the face of it, that sounds bad. But then again, what would you say about a movie, ostensibly for children, that features a husky, big-boned child who is only subtly mocked because of society’s monstrous and judgmental attitude to body shape? Not only that, but the child ends up cast into a river, stuck in a pipe and ultimately ends with his distraught mother having to rescue him from being poured into a boiler. A boiler! A child! Inside in a boiler!

But Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Wily Wonka, now would it?

The line in the complaint that refers to the moment “when the children started crying” gives something else away about this particular complainant. The Hunger Games was given a 12A rating by the Irish Film Board, which means that the movie is inappropriate for any children younger than twelve, and that twelve-year-olds themselves must be accompanied by an adult.

These ratings aren’t picked out of a hat. A lot of effort goes into setting these ratings. And if parents are too dumb to understand them or too lazy to pay the ratings any heed than there’s going to be a reaction.

Generally speaking, modern twelve-year-old girls only cry over Master Niall Horan, and twelve-year-old boys only cry over Mr Robin Van Persie. The Hunger Games features neither personality, and therefore there is no reason for twelve-year-olds not to take it in their stride. It’s a reasonable guess that the children who cried should not have been brought to that movie in the first place, because they were far too young.

Some years ago there was a Livelive brouhaha over a movie called Bad Santa. Some genius brought her kids to the movie, despite the fact that it was rated for eighteen-year-olds and over only, despite the fact that tag line on the poster said “He doesn’t care if you’re naughty or nice,” despite the fact that the poster featured Billy Bob Thorton leering out at you with his beard hanging off, and despite the fact that this visibly Bad Santa is about to be licked like an ice-cream by a lady who is a little too young to be Mrs Claus and a little too va-va-voom to be one of Santa Little’s Helpers, normally a much more demure group of ladies.

And despite all this evidence, despite the warning signs everywhere that Bad Santa (Bad Santa! Couldn’t she even have twigged it from the name?) is not a kids’ movie, your wan rolls in anyway with the kids, and then turns around to tell Joe Duffy she was conned.

As for The Hunger Games itself, your correspondent is personally far from an expert on what’s appropriate for children / young adults in terms of movies, books, music or video games. No idea. But I saw The Hunger Games on the back of a seat on one of Aer Lingus’s excellent jumbo jets during an eight-hour flight, and I was enchanted by it.

The Hunger Games is about a young woman, Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to compete in a fight-to-the-death competition so that her kid sister doesn’t have to. Katniss is played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie, and she’s wonderful. She’s good and kind and brave and smart. Is she hailed from the rooftops for being good and kind and brave and smart in the Irish Independent? No, she is not. People will skim the headline in the Independent, not read the story but stil make a mental note to ban the Hunger Games movie from the family home.

It’s such a pity. Katniss’s competition for female role models seem to be the Kardashian sisters, the wives and girlfriends of English Premier League soccer players, or else singers like Lady Gaga and Rhianna. So the role model alternatives for girls and young women are the heroine of the Hunger Games, who is good and kind and brave and smart, or else someone who goes prancing around the wheatfields of County Down dressed in her underwear. Dodgy at the best of times, but in the Irish climate especially, a real risk of catching your death of cold.

I know which I prefer. You go, Katniss. You go, girl.