An Indefensible Position: Katniss Everdeen is Sexy

I don’t mean Jennifer Lawrence, though she’s kind of sexy too. What I mean is the character, Katniss Everdeen. She’s sexy in a way that can only exist in a book or film about a post-apocolyptic North America. Tough. Completely unaware of her own effect on other people. She’s broken, but in a way that makes you want to, well, know her.

I resisted “The Hunger Games” for what I thought were good reasons. One, I read the Harry Potter books and turned my head when admitting how much I liked them. Then, there was the “Twilight” fiasco. I didn’t read those. But my wife did. In fact, she read all of them in less time than it took her to read my first book. She devoured them. Finished the first and started the second without getting off the couch for a glass of water. Stood in line for hours after purchasing advanced tickets to the movies three months ahead of time. I bought her each of the first four as gifts and watched them with her – once. They got progressively worse and worse, the characters less and less likable or even possessing enough depth to inspire any sort of emotion other than indifference.

Her friends loved the vampire franchise too. And when they started reading “The Hunger Games” in anticipation of the movie, when it became something they were posting about on Facebook, I swore I would never read the books or see the movies. Of course I had seen the books. They’ve been everywhere for years; at Costco, the grocery store – I even saw them for sale at a kiosk inside our local carwash. I knew they were a literary phenomenon. I knew all the kids were reading the books.

I just didn’t care.

And, more than that, I was against the idea of fad-lit, particularly chicky/kiddy fad-lit. I was done. It felt exploitive. “Super Fudge” didn’t have plush dolls, why should Edward Whatshisface? Potter felt original. It felt creative. “Twilight” was a bad retelling of “West Side Story,” which was a mediocre retelling of “Romeo & Juliet,” which was yet another story about a girl wanting something she shouldn’t want, something that could kill her and that story goes all the way back to Eve. Someone told me the premise of “The Hunger Games” and I felt like dialing Shirley Jackson’s estate lawyer.

My facade of measured indifference began to crack when I saw the first preview for “The Hunger Games” movie. Something about the lush forest, that scene where she pauses and salutes a TV camera and is saluted in return by a faceless horde somewhere distant, somewhere else, that little whistle soundtrack – I got curious. And then my wife spent all day Sunday reading while I took the kids to the zoo to enjoy an unseasonably warm afternoon and I began to rationalize.

Why not read it? What could it hurt? Besides, how could I properly make fun of it unless I’ve actually read it?

I flipped it on my Kindle and began reading. I read for a bit before bed, then through my lunch hour, then in the car on the way to the theater in a desperate attempt to finish the thing before the 7:30 showing began.

A note: I don’t love Suzanne Collins as a writer. She repeats herself too much, introduces ideas the second before they are useful and has a tendency to introduce characters that seem like they have potential only to abandon them a few paragraphs later. And she does this thing where she tells you only a very little of the detail that would support her narrative. But, it’s tough to write in the first-person, so I’ll forgive the later. But the twitchy repetition gets a little exhausting and caused me to skip paragraphs that may have been useful. I’ll grant her that she’s created a phenomenon, but in terms of nuts and bolts, she’s not my favorite.

All that being said, however, Katniss Everdeen is sexy and there’s no two ways around it.

Save me the underaged girl ranting and raving. My wife lusts for an undead 17 year-old. Me thinking that a 16 year-old who shoots squirrels through the eye to feed her family and fights to the death with her peers is sexy is fair game. Healthy in fact. And here’s what I like about her. I like that she’s just the right amount of paranoid. I like that she can be fearless, but that her fearlessness is not due to a lack of awareness of consequence, but of need; she’s fearless not because she chooses to be, but because she has to be – she knows the consequences of not facing immediate fear and fears those more. She overcomes, she does not avoid.

I like her instinct to survive and while the first half of the book (and movie) felt like maybe Katniss was going to be a victim, there’s a change, a switching incident where she goes on the attack. I like that a lot. I like that you are never quite sure if she’s going to kiss your ring or kick your ass. I like even more that she doesn’t seem to know either. I also like that Collins writes her as the anti-romantic. She’s all heart, but she’s not dreamy-eyed or soft. Love, it seems, to Katniss is akin to commitment, not romance. I like that and it makes her sexy.

Katniss Everdeen isn’t the kind of sexy that gazes at you from glossy posters or the kind of sexy you fantasize about. She’s the kind of sexy you aspire to. Teenaged boys probably don’t get it, not the way older men may. They don’t get that Katniss isn’t a hunter, she’s not a killer, she’s a survivor. She knows what’s in them there woods and she knows that no one is going to put food on the table she doesn’t do it. She knows that you can shoot a strange boy in the chest with an arrow and still cry over a particularly brutal situation.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure.

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