We knew it, but The Hunger Games proved it: Girls got the power. In the biggest opening weekend ever for an original movie, Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games’ somber protagonist, kicked ass at the box office with a cool $155 million earned. She shoved Bella Swan of Twilight out of the way ($143 million opening for Twilight: New Moon) without breaking a sweat.
Two iconic female characters + the hunky men who love them = gold.
As in billions of shekels. And that kind of financial clout is incredibly powerful.
But as Spider-Man (and your lovin’ bitch) sez, with great power comes great responsibility. And while authors Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins have done amazing jobs as storytellers — especially in print — they’ve also done something incredibly dangerous that’s amplified on the big screen.
Without the internal exposition that the books provide, both Katniss and Bella project an unearthly ideal for girls and women: the fully controlled female. And the fantasy of somehow being able to lock down emotions to a point of cold, calculated, badass domination doesn’t work out so well in real life. Just take a gander at Betty Draper across the entertainment way on TV’s blockbuster Mad Men.
Somebody pass Katniss and Bella a valium, they’re gonna need it.
I can’t help but want to bitch slap those somber teens until they smile, at least once (a real grin, not a half-assed one that makes them look constipated). Or crack an idiotic joke, make a collage for their BFF, or put on some damn blush. I get that they are not your average teenagers. Bella’s sad because she has a shitty relationship with her mom, heavy-duty responsibilities to her family, and lives in an eternally dreary place. Ditto for Katniss. But what I don’t get is how expressionless, emotionless, and dull they both are. Tamped down to a point of barely speaking above a flat, depressive monotone. And so damn serious.
Even when the hottest boys in the universe profess undying (literally, undying) love in a crazy-ass love triangle, Katniss and Bella don’t blink. Nevermind swoon, pass out, throw up, or have a minor nervous breakdown as a real girl would do. Sure they live in depressing dystopian worlds, but even then, there’s no excuse for it. Note to Katniss: if I were alone in a cave with a hunky guy who loved me madly on the eve of my imminent destruction, I would be jumping his bones, not picking up a bow to throw myself back in the face of the aforementioned destruction. And hullo Bella, I certainly wouldn’t save myself for marriage with a hot vampire and (often naked) werewolf on my tail. Not now, and definitely not when my hormones were kicking into adolescent high gear. But that’s just me, and I hope, every other emotion-ridded chick on the planet.
I’d argue that the ultimate key to Meyer’s and Collins’ success is sexually charged suspense. We just have to know if Katniss and Bella will ever weaken or waver. The passion of pining set against the steely focus of the two protagonists is intoxicating. Like an eating disorder, emotional control is the goal. And we are not disappointed, as the two wan waifs hold steady… and win.
But what’s lost is the ground that’s been gained by embracing the core qualities of us girls: our moods, our love of communicating and connecting, and our joy in claiming our place in the world not in spite of our emotions, but because of them.
The feminine mystique of Katniss and Bella is something at once familiar and also disturbingly retro. And it makes me hungry for the good old days, when emotional lockdown happened in an attic, with disturbing incestuous plot lines and arsenic-toting mothers.
Where is V.C. Andrews when you really need her?