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Katniss: The Girl Who Was On Sale

As a blogger with a site about books, I would be remiss if I ignored the growing phenomenon behind The Hunger Games series. With the film adaptation of the first book receiving critical and financial success, the books have experienced a new boost in sales, pushing The Hunger Games towards a Harry Potter level of popularity. As a result, I should warn you that I’m not reviewing the books, but addressing the effects of their recent fame.

The Hunger Games, of course, is the story of a Barbie doll who must fight to the death against other toys. Oh wait, that’s not it. The books are about a pillowcase trying to survive and overcome a dystopian government. Hmm, that’s not it either.

Before I start questioning the over-saturation of Hunger Games merchandise coinciding with the movie, let me say that I did enjoy the film and I don’t think all of the attention is necessarily bad. For many viewers, the film was inspiration enough to find the original books and read through them all. There’s a reason why every store I’ve been in the past two weeks has plenty of copies in stock (when last summer I had a hard time finding a single copy). People want to read the source material.

My main concern is that with the host of merchandise coming out – from the aforementioned Barbie doll and pillowcases to socks and cookbooks – the original intention of the series might become distorted. Katniss is such an accessible protagonist in the first novel of the series because she doesn’t care about the materialism and superficiality of the Capitol, but she is thrust into the situation against her will. The series contains a lot of commentary on the destructive nature of celebrity, so fans buying anything with Katniss or a Mockingjay on it seems like a contradiction. Will the original message of the books be lost underneath the weight of commercialism? Only time will tell.

Despite my apprehension over the abundance of Hunger Games merchandise, one positive has come from the attention to the series: the popularity of Katniss. In both the books and the film, she is a very positive role model for young women. She is a strong character, but still has human flaws. She is physically strong without being hypersexualized for a male audience. The fact that a female character can fit into a traditional hero role so naturally and receive wide acceptance from both men and women is an important step forward.

What do you think? Is the commercialization of The Hunger Games overwhelming the original story? Should we simply be happy that an entertaining series is receiving the attention it deserves?

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8 thoughts on “Katniss: The Girl Who Was On Sale

  1. I think you make some very valid points. I for one am happy that this series is meeting the success that it has because of it’s differing greatly from what is in my opinion a horrible series: Twilight.
    Bella is one of the worse “protagonists” that I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading, and yes, I’ve read all of the books and seen all of the movies thus far… Bella is a selfish, stubborn, whining, weak willed character who is one of the poorest “role-models” that I’ve seen as of late.
    Hermione was a wonderful character, from the Harry Potter series of course, exemplifying such great noble qualities; studious, loyal, diligent, etc.
    Katniss is slightly more complex than Hermione and characterizes a little less of the typical “paragon” protagonist structure. That being said, her flaws simply add interest to the character and story. She is of course thrust into the situations that undeniably change her throughout the series, but at the very beginning, we see who she is before being so radically changed by the capitol; loyal, strong willed, cunning… This is certainly a hero that I would like to follow through an interesting story.
    Bella on the other hand begins as a “emo” kid with a grudge against life, purposefully lonely, self-depressing, selfish… characteristics that initially turned me off and fueled to the failure of the first Twilight movie (despite it’s financial successes).
    I agree with you in full that Katniss is a character that can be accepted and respected by both men and women and I’m quite happy to see such a character who is not simply a hypersexualized barbie doll.
    It is sad that the commercialization of the series as it is now being demeans the root of the story in regards to it’s comments on society, but that’s the world in which we live. I hope that perhaps if someone does don a Mockingjay pin on their collar that they’re in fact promoting a dislike for the same things that Katniss did, although, sadly, that’s unlikely to be the case.

  2. First of all, thanks for the comment!

    I considered comparing Katniss to Bella, but decided against it because I have only read small sections of the Twilight books. However, from what I can gather, it sounds like your impression of Bella is accurate. One can only hope that Twilight fans do not consider Bella a serious role model or influence.

    Hermione is not as strong or as complex as Katniss, but I think she’s a positive female character overall. She is just as developed as Ron, her male equivalent, and has traits that make her more valuable (not to discredit Ron’s comic relief).

    I’m interested to see if female characters will change after the success of the Hunger Games.

    As for the commercialization, the popularity surrounding the Hunger Games isn’t anything new. We have seen the same kind of merchandise for Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Twilight, but it was more glaring with the Hunger Games because of the commentary of the media in the book. Of course, we can’t expect every product to match the original intention of the source material, when companies are trying to make money. As you said, that’s how the world works.

  3. To the comments above, I think it’s important to note that with Bella she is essentially a shell – and this was done on purpose so that any teenage girl could put herself in Bella’s position and become part of the story. As someone who read the Twilight books in her ‘tweenager’ years I did absolutely love them, (although now that I’m older I really dislike them, funny how that works) but I never saw Bella as a role model, I wasn’t interested in her as a character at all, I was just at the perfect age where yong girls start getting ‘dreamy’ about boys, and I think that is essentially the reason for the popularity of the books. I also think people need to give young people more credit, we’re impressionable sure, but we’re not complete idiots. πŸ˜›

    Haha and to your post Dan, I find it funny that you brought up the merchendise thing, because that was also something I brought up when looking at the Hunger Games on my own blog to some of the commenters. I too noticed the irony. I must admit those Mockingjay pins do look rather appealing. I think all the merchendise is ok, as long as people DO still take on the message of the film.

    I loved Katniss’ character, it was one of the main reasons I loved the book! I’m hoping for lots more like her in the future! πŸ™‚

    • That’s a very interesting detail about Bella, Becky. As I said above, I haven’t read the Twilight series, so I’ve only heard her described as “passive” without knowing the reasons behind that choice. I also didn’t mean to insult young people. I think people of all ages are impressionable in some ways. That’s why advertising can be so effective.

      Yeah, I definitely like the merchandise as well (maybe not the pillow cases, though). I think a lot of the products are pretty cool, but it seems a bit ridiculous when people are sleeping on Peeta’s face. I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed the irony. I’ll have to check out your blog post πŸ™‚

      • Haha no not the pillow cases, and the Barbie is just creepy! Although maybe it’s a good thing for children to have a kick ass Barbie doll rather than one that wears pink. πŸ˜›

  4. Excellent points, Dan. I agree that the merchandise thing is overblown and counter to the story. All the enthusiasm over the series should be better directed. I wish that we could somehow put all that willingly spent money into programs for people to learn more about what made the series so interesting, perhaps skills such as archery or plant identification, or even an education system for kids to take an interest in politics or about how different systems of government work. But that’s unrealistic of me.

    What I’m really worried about is the potential explosion of dystopian societies in the literary market. Now that it’s so popular, bookstores will be inundated with that sort of material.

    Speaking of which, your post has reminded me of the Black Mirror episode “15 Million Merits”. It’s worth a watch.

    • I think a program for archery or forestry might be successful, because a lot of kids probably want to be like their favourite characters, but ultimately it’s easier to manufacture a million Mockingjay pins instead. Maybe safer, too, because I could see some accidents occurring from the arrows.

      I don’t mind books about dystopian societies, but it’s bad whenever people start writing based on trends rather than their own creativity. That happens all the time, though. The most glaring example is the increase in vampire and werewolf books after the success of Twilight.

      I’ve heard good things about Black Mirror. Thanks for the suggestion!

      • It’s true, organizing those programs would be a nightmare and a risk of money. I taught archery and survival skills to children for a few years and they loved it, with a minimum of scary moments involving arrows or fire. Also, I won’t deny that I considered buying a mockingjay pin the last time I was at a bookstore. But for the price it was marked, I could have gotten a book, so I left it.

        I agree with perils of trendy writing. That’s a more direct way to put it than I had. But I suppose that’s always the struggle, write for popularity and money or write for creativity.

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