Why The Hunger Games is the anti-Twilight
While Twilight compelled you to be either Team Edward or Team Jacob, The Hunger Games is refreshingly different.
Movies don’t tell you what to think, they tell you how to think.
If you saw Twilight then you know that the movie never said she needs to pick Edward; it said she needs to pick someone. This 16-year-old girl needs to decide right now, among the limited number of people she knows, which boy she is in real-true-forever-love with.
If you are a Twilight fan, you are probably either Team Edward or Team Jacob - that's a given. And if you are, you feel the other team is wrong. The point isn’t whether Bella would be happier with Jacob or if she belongs with Edward; the point is that you are asking this question.
Why is this the most important question in the series? It doesn't matter if she survives the vampire attacks, or if she lives with her father or mother or if she moves away. You don’t care how she’s doing at school, or what her career prospects are. She doesn't have any real friends aside from Jacob and he’s only friends with her because he has a crush on her. From the very beginning it is almost obvious that Bella will end up with Edward. She has eyes for him only - her entire life revolves around him.
So why does a Team Jacob even exist?
Here's the answer: To provide the illusion of choice.
A rebellious viewer may think that the movie is telling them that Bella needs to pick Edward and that is her only choice, so they’ll reject that conditioning and say they would rather she choose Jacob.
This is why I love The Hunger Games.
The audience is roughly the same as that of Twilight and so of course, Team Peeta and Team Gale duly appeared. Simultaneously, people who really paid attention quickly formed Team Katniss. While they may have enjoyed Katniss’ interactions with one or both of the boys, (and some of them may have had strong preferences as to which boy was better), they all understood her love life was only one aspect and did not define her in any way.
Girls who loved Twilight come away from it saying “I want a boyfriend like Edward or Jacob” and boys may say “I need to be more like Edward to get a girl” (not necessarily a girl like Bella but any girl). Girls who loved The Hunger Games on the other hand say “I want to be like Katniss” - so do the boys. Gender lines are blurred; she’s not just a girl, not an object for boys to fight over and not a thing to be controlled. She is a person with her own agency. Go Team Katniss!
Katniss has real relationships with both these boys. She may or may not have romantic feelings for either of them but she cares about them both and not for mystical magical ‘true love’ reasons. Her potential love interests have actual human characteristics instead of just archetypes. Her choice isn’t between the mysterious bad boy who seems dangerous but is really just misunderstood, and the safe choice who adores her indiscriminately. All three of these people are fully three-dimensional, equally flawed and heroic; they each have good and bad qualities.
Gale is her best friend, her hunting buddy. He has the same problems she has - they understand each other. She admires his desire to fight injustices and right the wrongs; he represents everything her life was before the game. They have their fire in common. As her fellow competitor, Peeta is the only person she can really trust, she has had to put her life in his hands. She admires his compassion and ability to love. What they have in common is their willingness to sacrifice themselves.
While the ambiguity of love and the nuances in human relationships is very unusual and fascinating on its own, what elevates this love story is that at least part of it is faked. In Peeta’s interview, he professes his love to Katniss just to create a narrative, because he knows that’s what the audience wants. He may actually love her but that is not why he says it - he says it to save her, to manipulate the system, to use its own rules against it. To the casual observer, he comes across as a lovesick puppy, but that’s only because that’s what he wants to come across as. He understands that the person who wins the games isn’t necessarily the strongest but the one that the audience wants to win.
Susan Collins doesn’t write in a vacuum. The audience of Twilight roots for Bella and Edward because they are “in love”, so her character employs this tactic to get the audience inside the book to root for Peeta and Katniss and this makes the audience outside the book root for them too.
The audience outside the book knows this. But if we were watching the games, the way the people of the capitol are without any context and without the benefit of seeing Katniss’ perspective, would we buy into the fiction of their love?
How much of it is fiction and how are their real feelings towards each other influenced by it? Would we still see it as Katniss’ story of survival or would it become another tale of “love can beat all odds”?
The love story is easier to digest for the people of the capital and perhaps by us as well. We ask whether you are Team Edward or Team Jacob because that’s an easier question than “Do we search for love because it’s what we want or because its what we are told we want?”
Read more by Hala here and follow her on Twitter @halasyed