Friday, March 23, 2012

The Friday Discussion: Katniss Everdeen: The Good Kind of Poor Person




This is a guest post. Tom Houseman was born white, straight, male, cis, and rich. He has done a lot of work unpacking and understanding his many forms of privilege. He is far from perfect, and still says wildly ignorant and inappropriate things on occasion, but he is learning. Mostly he just sits down, shuts up, and listens. He writes film reviews and analysis for www.BoxOfficeProphets.com


The Hunger Games is a great book, and its exploration of the impact of class, wealth, and status on the world, both socially and politically, is remarkably complex and mature for a work that targets a young adult audience. The ways in which the government dominates and subjugates the districts while placating the citizens of the capitol is fairly spot on as a allegory for modern society, although in The Hunger Games the government is the sole perpetrator of these wrongs, as there are no corporations in this communist dictatorship.

Our protagonist is Katniss Everdeen, who lives squarely under the heel of the boot of the capitol. She is one of the poorest citizens in one of the poorest districts, and yet she is able to fight back against the oppressive government and help lead the rebellion. She is smart, clever, self-reliant and brave. She is, in fact, everything you could ask for in a poor person.

Several people have written about the idea of good poor people vs. bad poor people. Elizabitchez sums it up very well regarding the idea that we have about how a poor person is supposed to act to earn our sympathy and respect. This is an idea that is true of many marginalized communities, especially the overweight. One of Chris Rock's most famous standup bits perfectly articulates the idea of the good black person vs. the bad black person (Black People vs. N***as). Rich people and conservative politicians have so many ways of arguing that poor people deserve to be poor if they can't pull themselves out of poverty (without quality education or healthcare, of course), and if any poor person embodies any of these characteristics, they are written off. But Katniss manages to avoid all of these pitfalls, which is why we have no reason not to care about her and root for her. Here are some of the reasons why Katniss Everdeen is the perfect poor person.

1. She is Young and Pretty
Thereby obviously making her more worthy of our attention than a poor person who might not have been born with similar aesthetic qualities or who is too old to be worth caring about. In the movie they even make her whiter (her skin color is described as “olive” in the books) just to increase our sympathy for her.

2. She is Articulate and Well Mannered
Katniss is very well spoken, both in her dialogue and in her first-person narration in the book. I do not know if Suzanne Collins intended for Katniss to have an accent. It is never implied in the books that she does and she does not have one in either the audio recording of the book or in the movie, despite the fact that District 12 is located in the Appalachian Mountains. Certain kinds of accents (Southern, Cajun, Cockney) are often associated with people who are poor and uneducated, and these people tend to be mocked for their accents. Having a General American accent precludes Katniss from this kind of ridicule.


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