Editor's note: Colette Bennett, aside from being Geek Out's main otaku, is an obsessive fangirl. Recently, her love of "The Hunger Games" series led her to call it the "thinking woman's YA series." As fans across the country camp out to buy tickets to "The Hunger Games" movie premier, Bennett explains the singularity and relevance of Katniss worship.
In the era of obsessive young adult literature fandom, a new heroine towers above all the others - Miss Katniss Everdeen.
Friday marks a great day for avid fans of "The Hunger Games," as they anticipate public vindication for their devotion to the book's 17-year-old lead character, who has a handsome boy on each arm and a political uprising to lead.
The first movie adaptation of the popular book series opens Friday night, and the trailers have already whipped fans into a frenzy. The madness is sure to soar this weekend once moviegoers get their first real taste of Katniss. Fans will grab their friends and emit high-pitched squeals. Surely the sight of Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth will have some girls reaching for their smelling salts.
"It's sooooooo good," is a phrase that easily falls from "Hunger Games" fans' lips. But what makes people (especially women) love it?
As I watched the fan frenzy build up around Suzanne Collins' young adult trilogy over the last year, (it debuted in 2008 and spent 100 weeks on the New York Times best seller list) I remembered the similar, passionate fan reaction to another series: "Twilight" and its self-named fanbase, the "TwiHards."
It's easy to spot the similarities between these two fandoms and the objects of their affection: both "The Hunger Games" and "Twilight" focus on a central female character and two handsome young men fighting for her affections. Many fans of "Twilight" also praise "The Hunger Games." They proudly show off their Mockingjay hoodies and choose which boy to root for in the battle for Katniss' affection. (Instead of Team Edward of Team Jacob, there's Team Peeta and Team Gale.)
The thing is, "The Hunger Games" is nothing like "Twilight." It's much better, and the fans know it.
"The Hunger Games" has a better central role model for young women: better storytelling, healthier supporting characters and depictions of male/female relationships. It poses questions through a dystopian universe that easily resonate into our real lives.
Although many of the characters in "The Hunger Games" are forced into action against their will, the struggle against oppression is a very real fight for people to this day. And while the characters' fight against The Capitol (the dictatorial government in "The Hunger Games") is very much dramatized, it serves as a reminder that we have to fight for what we believe in, sometimes for much longer than our legs have the strength to carry us.
This is headier stuff than sparkly vampires.
Railing into Stephenie Meyer's supernatural romance series is old territory and doesn't necessarily get to the heart of "The Hunger Games" fan movement. The cultural impact of the "Twilight" stories is one of strong division. Rabid TwiHards will go to the ends of the earth to tell you why they love it and why it makes them feel good, while haters preach the evils of the stereotypes set in place by Bella and Edward and swear it's poison.
"The Hunger Games" story, like "Twilight," also centers on a young female character. Both Katniss and Bella are archetypes that a large segment of the fan population can relate deeply to, regardless of age.
Bella is the girl that many women have once been: unsure of herself, feeling alienated, and finding some form of salvation through a source outside of herself. In this case, it's handsome werewolves and vampires, but at any rate, it all makes sense. Who doesn't want to be saved by a powerful being who adores you (and who is super hot, to boot)?
Despite what people who hate "Twilight" say, there's nothing wrong with not knowing who you are or wanting to be saved.
Bella is a blank slate, the way most of us are at some point in our lives. She needs a reason to live. Through her story, readers have hope that they can be saved, too. That they can find an enduring love, and most of all, that they can be loved exactly how they are - even if they have no idea who that is yet.
But in 2012, many women long to do more in this world, to be more than an object of affection. And when we look to Katniss Everdeen, we see that desire brought to life in a burst of flame.
This young girl, from the beginning, is a warrior in the truest sense of the word. Her first concern is for her family's safety. Katniss has flaws and insecurities too, but there is one key element she possesses that Bella does not: integrity.
Like Bella, Katniss has feelings about the men around her. She is human. She makes discoveries. She is confused about her emotions. However, while Bella's gaze is consistently turned inward to her own thoughts and feelings, Katniss' is always turned outward.
I'd venture to say we all enjoy, to some degree, how it feels to be self-centered. But there is something greater in reaching outside of ourselves to help others. Helping others gain strength teaches us to be stronger, ourselves.
If I had a daughter, I would understand if she chose Bella as a role model. She has an exciting life (although the pregnancy part didn't seem so great - since when was it a great idea for vampires to knock up humans anyway?). I have to admit, though, that if she chose Katniss as a role model, I'd be thrilled. Because women deserve role models that teach them to be plucky, yet forthright - to carefully measure their choices and actions, and still comprehend their own flaws, and live bravely through both of those things.
When I look at Bella, I hear her words in my head, although she never utters them aloud: "Save me." I understand how that feels. Yet, when I face the fire of Katniss' determination, imagine her steely gaze, her carefully aimed bow, I hear another message altogether: "I will save myself."
Fans love her courage. And so do I.