Honest and lively YA book reviews
Ahh - The Hunger Games Covergirl advertising campaign ....
Covergirl have released a makeup line based on The Hunger Games, offering themed collections to go with each of the Districts to allow girls to "get the look". Oh dear. Anyone else spot the irony? Anyone else see the giant point missed here?!
We, as humans have mastered the art of "The Blind Eye". There's nothing we do better than pretend everything's alright, nothing's wrong, we're fine. We ignore bills, ill health - even death we can pretend is not rushing up to greet us all. It's easy to forget war, poverty and hunger are all happening, right now in all corners of the earth. Humans are the only species on the planet to have insight into our condition, our fates, our fragility. Animals don't know they're going to die. Humans have to live with the burden of this terrible knowledge for pretty much their entire lives. If we succumbed to the weight of this realisation, we would be crushed because it's horrific and inevitable. There's nothing we can do to prevent it. Think about it too long and it starts to hurt.
This ability to square away feelings of guilt, responsibility, fear and file them away in a neat little box, tucked out of sight and out of mind, is part of what drives The Hunger Games. The Capitol lives for entertainment, extravagance and power all the while conveniently turning a blind eye towards who toils, slaves and starves behind the scenes to make their everyday delights possible. Sadly, this is not some fantastic dystopian world of another place, another time, other people living in a greedy, disposable reality. No. This is simply an extreme model for the world as we know it today. Beautifully highlighted by our friends over there at Covergirl.
Tell me - why, oh why would I want to "get the look" of the oppressed, the controlled, the manipulated citizens of the districts?!! And why, oh why would I ever wish to emulate the greedy, selfish and ignorant citizens of the Capitol?! Hey girls!! Wanna look like a sweat-shop slave?! Wanna look like an under-payed, over worked, abused kid?! Yeah?! Well step right up!! Paint your face!! Play dress up!! Because this is what this range and advertising campaign amount to - the reality is, the world Suzanne Collins created in The Hunger Games has scary parallels to how our society is structured and to trivialise this with goddamn make believe is kinda sickening.
A little over six months ago, a factory in Bangladesh which stitches clothes to provide to cheap clothing chain stores such as Primark and H&M collapsed, killing over 1130 employees. 94% of surviving employees are still waiting for compensation and have received no legal aid or sick pay. What the hell are these people supposed to do now?! Yeah, sure retailers in the US and the EU have pledged since April to provide better working conditions for their employees working in the factories they use in Bangladesh, but if your factories are in such a poor state of repair they are collapsing to such an extreme as to kill people just trying to earn a measly living, well the situation is kinda too far gone already don't you think? That's heading towards being pretty much as bad as it can get. And of course, despite all this pledging, a solution to the situation has yet to materialise. So are employees currently working in factories in Bangladesh waiting anxiously, peering nervously at the ceiling above their heads, dreading the day when the whole fucking lot collapses on top of them as they sit at their sewing machines sewing some crappy dress together for £shit per hour. And these massive companies don't think there's any need to hussle in coming up with an action plan to put this right? No. As long as they continue to receive their orders and rake in their enormous profits each month, what the fuck do they care, right?!
This is exactly the point Suzanne Collins is trying to make - don't live in ignorance of where all your comforts originate. Some kid coulda died so you can buy a t-shirt for £5. Which brings me neatly back around to my issue with Covergirl - would you really be comfortable buying makeup which helps you to dress up as these poor kids? Because that's the essence of it. And that's really bad .....
The district are the sweat shops for the Capitol. They provide heating, lighting, food, and fancy things to entertain the citizens while not even being provided with a basic wage enough to live on without starving and freezing almost to death. Each year the Capitol holds The Hunger Games - a "game" created to strike fear into the hearts of the districts by reaping a boy and girl from each of the 12 communities and forcing them to fight to the death in a staged arena for the Capitol's amusement and control. The Capitol is desperate to keep the district subdued as without them they would no longer be supplied their cushy lifestyle. But when Katniss Everdeen volunteers in place of her younger sister for the games, she is set on a path to change the country forever, unknowingly becoming the face of a revolution that will ultimately change everything.
That's the other thing that bugs me about this goddamn Covergirl debacle - why not encourage girls to take on the strong role that Katniss does, instead opting to offer them the option to fluff about playing make believe as the downtrodden citizens of the districts masquerading as something cool and current?! Women are still even now, in what we call a modern society, being treated a second class citizens. And Covergirl, with this absurd campaign are not helping.
As of August this year in the UK, women's bonuses at work were approximately half of that of their male counterparts, decisions about what women can and cannot do with their own bodies are still being made by male politicians in many states of the US and unbelievably, it is illegal for the women of Saudi Arabi to obtain a driving license. Women make up around 50% of the world's population so by treating women this way, half of the people on the earth are having exclusions and restrictions placed on them which have absolutely no foundation in reality, other than adhering to some rather nasty traditions. So, Covergirl, how about teaching women to take on a powerful role, to stand up to injustices and realise their full potential and worth rather than encouraging this frivolous shit which is in effect, again placing women on the bottom rung of the ladder by having them dress up as the oppressed characters in the book pretending it's all fun and games? How's that for an idea, Covergirl?
There's a lot of question marks surrounding the romance in The Hunger Games. Is it a love triangle, is it not a love triangle? WHERE DO WE STAND?! In my opinion, there's no love triangle. There's just a girl caught in the middle of political unrest, trying desperately to make the right choice, not only for her only family but for her whole community. Katniss has a strong relationship with Gale. He has been her confidante, her companion, her support for years and naturally she has strong feelings for him. Katniss has next to no relationship with Peta. She's thrown into the hunger games with him and naturally they form a bond as they navigate a traumatic experience together. At the end of the day, theirs is a relationship of convenience, for Katniss at least. By entertaining the Capitol with their tru lurve, she gains sponsors and aid, she gathers a following which is of benefit to her survival. By wait!! Katniss is a girl!! She couldn't possibly be this calculating, scheming and manipulative!! No - she's a delicate feminine flower, right?!
Please. C'mon guys, let's wake up here. Survival instinct is the strongest natural instinct we possess. Remember the fight or flight lesson in high school biology? Yeah, that's Katniss' plan. Katniss is not portrayed as the usual simpering, damsel-in-distress YA heroine. She's focussed, determined and desperate. For the majority of the story she's fighting to stay alive. She's not making eyes at the cute boy across the game arena: Ain't nobody got time for that!! Just because she's a teenage girl doesn't mean that her sole aim in life is to impress da boyz. Heads up everyone - some girls have other things on their minds than who's hawt and who's not. We need to stop applying stereotypes to every young girl who shows up on the radar. This was one of the things which impressed me about The Hunger Games - the lack of conventional romantic interest. Of course Katniss has feelings for Gale - they're close, they actually know each other and understand each other. But she doesn't allow herself to give in to these feelings because she's expecting great loss. She's expecting to lose her life. So she protects her heart by distancing herself from him. She then recognises the value in contriving a make-believe relationship for the cameras of the Capitol and acts on this for her own gain. Because she wants to survive. Not because she's in love. Love is a luxury she cannot afford because her death is lurking around every corner, hovering over her, watching her closely. It just highlights our low expectations of teenage girls that this plot point is mistaken for a love triangle, rather than a will to make it though the night, an opportunity to be grabbed and held onto, a chance to keep breathing for one more day in the hope that Katniss will be able to return home to her beloved Gale and sister, Prim. Some girls have priorities and I applaud Katniss for hers.
The craft of this book is not brilliant (enough with the sentence fragments, Ms Collins! And how about padding out a few of those supporting characters, hmm?!) but the subject matter is incredibly thought provoking, packaged in a way that's entertaining and easy to swallow. Look - I don't know what the solution is to the issues outlined here. I mean what's the alternative? Communism? Nah, I'm alright thanks. And I'm not saying that it's possible to opt out. This is the capitalist world we live in. It's not easy to not participate. In fact, short of heading out into the woods and living entirely isolated, eating wild berries and peeing in the bushes it's impossible to avoid contributing to this consumerist society. It's unavoidable. What I am saying is educate yourself, be aware of the flaws that exist all around and, where you can, source your goods responsibly. Every time you buy cheap shit, some kid has worked there little fingers off in return for pennies to manufacture this, because sadly it's just not possible to provide super cheap products and pay people what they deserve and need to survive at the same time.
I feel I have some authority to speak up about unfair pay. I work for a company that does not see the need to value their employees by paying them a fair wage. I don't receive a living wage, which is a relatively new idea proposed by our government urging employers to pay their employees an hourly rare which is feasible to actually physically live a life on. The amount is currently sitting at just over a pound more than the minimum wage but is not a legal requirement for employers to provide. This is bad enough that I am paid nowhere near this living wage amount. However, the worst of it was that up until a week ago I wasn't even being paid minimum wage which is illegal and which I did not even realise as this information is not readily available or obvious. It was only after threatening the company with legal action that they grudgingly increased my wage to bring me up to just over the legal requirement. And keep in mind I don't do an unskilled, bottom rung of the ladder job. I work as a nurse's assistant working 12 hour night shifts caring for people who are nearing the end of their lives. This is an intense job both physically and mentally. But my employers don't care. As a massive private company all they care about are profits and ensuring their CEO can continue to receive his annual £870,000 bonus (I'm not joking, that's a genuine figure) So you see, it's happening here in a supposedly forward thinking progressive, western country - employees are paid not even enough to live on, despite a manager finding enough money to award himself almost a million pounds worth of bonus, on top of his regular six figure salary. And I quite frankly think it's disgusting.
So let's hear it for all those minimum wage workers out there! You guys are heroes!