The Hunger Games series — about a girl taken from home to participate in annual games which will result in almost certain death — have been called the “new Twilight.” Both of these movie franchises come from best selling books aimed at teenagers, both have female lead characters, both have love triangles, and both have parents wrangling with suitability for their kids.
However, I said no to Twilight and yes to Hunger Games for my kids, and here’s why.
First, our culture needs more Katnisses and fewer Bellas:
As the parent of a thirteen year old daughter, I was disappointed at the lead character in Twilight (Bella Swann) had become so popular… though she’s always been ingrained in the popular imagination, hasn’t she? As long as I can remember, there’s a damsel in distress tied to a rail road track, screaming for a man to rescue her in the nick of time. Just because Bella is waiting for a werewolf or a vampire to rescue her doesn’t make her weakness any more palatable. Bella is defined – some would argue consumed — by her romantic love.
Which is understandable since she doesn’t have a great relationship with either parent. In fact, both Bella and Katniss have missing parents. Bella’s parents are divorced and her mom is an emotionally weak woman living far away from her. Katniss’s dad died in a coal mining accident. Ever since her husband’s death, her mom is “vacant.” This plunges Katniss into a dire situation. While Bella’s absent parents cause her to seek an intense love outside of her immediate family at an incredibly young age, Katniss assumes the role of care giver for her family, learns to hunt, and deals with merchants in the marketplace. She’s fierce, loyal, and independent even in the most trying of circumstances. (If we could bend the book/time/movie continuum and introduce the two characters, Katniss wouldn’t get Bella. “Why is she so depressed all the time?” she might say to Gale while looking for squirrels in the woods. “ Why is she so sullen when she has so much food to eat and so much free time?”
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were fewer Bellas and more Katnisses in high schools across America?
Second, love in The Hunger Games is outward focused, while love in Twilight is inward focused:
Both Bella and Katniss have conflicted romantic feelings, but there’s a huge difference. Rebecca Cusey wrote about Eclipse:
What concerns me is the very nature of Bella’s love. Edward is … always there, but they never do anything. They don’t hike or fish or go shopping or watch movies or play Wii or volunteer at a soup kitchen or even work at the local ice cream shop. They never laugh. They talk about their feelings. It’s all intensity all the time… While the emphasis on marriage is refreshing, the film begs the question what is the purpose of love, romance, and marriage? Is it solely to love and adore each other?
If the inward-focus of love is all there is, the intense talks and wildflower meadows, then Bella’s desire to become a vampire and adore Edward throughout eternity makes perfect sense. However, if that inward focus is designed to evolve into a greater outward focus, then she will surely miss out.
The love triangle in The Hunger Games centers on whether Katniss shold choose, childhood friend Gale or fellow contestant Peeta. However, the real story is the fight for survival, and the romance does not require characters to walk around without shirts for the duration of the film. (In fact, there’s no sexual content in The Hunger Games.) Katniss Everdeen’s love causes her to bravely sacrifice on behalf of others – from taking care of her family to figuring out how to play a game in a way that hopefully won’t kill her friend. As Rebecca pointed out, the love in the Twilight series is inwardly focused and makes you want to toss cold water on the characters’ heads. The love in The Hunger Games is outwardly focused, and movingly portrays characters acting in loving and courageous ways in the midst of tragedy.
Third, we live in a tough time, let’s have tough conversations.
Obviously, The Hunger Games has a more violent — and dark — plot. Though the producers do a great job at avoiding gruesome killings, Katniss must battle it out with the other contestants until there’s one survivor. So how do you justify letting kids read about such a horrible situation? Because there’s a strong message about personal freedom, liberty, war, and oppressive governments from which teens – and adults — would greatly benefit.
Plus, it’s time we face it. We live in tough times. Let’s start having difficult conversations with our teenagers.
In conclusion, there’s been a great deal of ink asking Twilight fans whether they’re Team Jacob or Team Edward, and Hunger Games fans whether they’re Team Gale or Team Peeta. I say we put away these silly questions and declare ourselves Team Katniss over Team Bella.
Because, in the battle between these two teenage characters, it’s not even close.