Tag Archives: the hunger games

Thai Protesters Adopting the Hunger Games Salute: Valid Expression, or Intellectual Bankruptcy?

Protesters raise three fingers during an anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok on Sunday. Photograph: Sakchai Lalit/AP. Taken from The Guardian website.

Protesters raise three fingers during an anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok on Sunday. Photograph: Sakchai Lalit/AP. Taken from The Guardian website.

A few years ago, the Occupy movement appropriated Guy Fawkes masks as a symbol of resistance against an all-seeing state. The masks served two purposes – to anonymize participants in protests that were being filmed and shared around the internet, and to create an image of solidarity. While Guy Fawkes has been a symbol of resisting authority for hundreds of years (ever since his attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament), the mask that was used had been popularized by Alan Moore’s graphic novel, “V for Vendetta,” which was later made into a film of the same name.

Now, it looks like Thai protesters against the military coup have taken on a symbol from another film: the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games franchise. While the exact meaning of the salute (in the context of Thai political protesters) isn’t precisely clear, its use as a symbol of resistance to authority is. So much so that the military has made statements saying they will arrest any group of more than five people using the sign if those people refuse to disperse and desist.

The Guardian published an article deriding the appropriation of mass-culture symbols as displays of political protest, finding the gestures “intellectually bankrupt” as compared to the gestures of the past, and this seems unfair. Isn’t the point of a political hand gesture that it requires no outside resources and can be performed by anyone wishing to take part in resisting authority? That it’s widely recognizable by members of society, while perhaps escaping the notice of authorities? Reading from the Canadian Globe & Mail, it would seem that the junta isn’t even sure of what the protesters are symbolizing when they use The Hunger Games’ three-fingered salute.

While I’m no fan of The Hunger Games novels, finding fault with a mode of expression available to those under military rule seems petty and unnecessary. If The Guardian finds the Thai protesters’ use of Suzanne Collins’ fictional gesture, like that of Occupy’s use of the Fawkes mask, to be intellectually bankrupt, their insistence is intellectual naval-gazing:

Images have meaning. The clenched fist of Marxist revolutionaries was not just a gesture. Behind it lay a history of revolution going back to 1789 and a huge body of serious political thought from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte to the writings of Antonio Gramsci. But what does it actually mean to claim allegiance to The Hunger Games?

Whatever its literary quality, The Hunger Games enjoys widespread recognition thanks to its blockbuster success as a film, and the gesture adopted by these protesters is instantly recognizable to teens and young adults bound up in the franchise, around the world. If the writer of this article thinks the Thai protesters are “claim[ing] allegiance” to the franchise, they’re either being deliberately derogatory or else unprofessionally obtuse. With limited resources and few opportunities for group gatherings, what better way to get a message out about how the protesters feel their rights are being trampled on than to use a pop-culture gesture that’s loaded with weight and meaning?

The hand-gesture symbols of the 20th century were just as manufactured and have gained widespread respect over time. From Wikipedia, regarding the “V-for-victory” sign that gained popularity during WWII:

On January 14, 1941, Victor de Laveleye, former Belgian Minister of Justice and director of the Belgian French-speaking broadcasts on the BBC (1940–1944), suggested in a broadcast that Belgians use a V for victoire (French: “victory”) and vrijheid (Dutch: “freedom”) as a rallying emblem during World War II. In the BBC broadcast, de Laveleye said that “the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, [would] understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly awaiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure.” Within weeks chalked up Vs began appearing on walls throughout Belgium, the Netherlands, and northern France.[24]

Buoyed by this success, the BBC started the “V for Victory” campaign, for which they put in charge the assistant news editor Douglas Ritchie posing as “Colonel Britton”. Ritchie suggested an audible V using its Morse code rhythm (three dots and a dash). As the rousing opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony had the same rhythm, the BBC used this as its call-sign in its foreign language programmes to occupied Europe for the rest of the war. The more musically educated also understood that it was the Fate motif “knocking on the door” of the Third Reich. (About this sound Listen to this call-sign. ).[24][25] The BBC also encouraged the use of the V gesture introduced by de Laveleye.[26]

By July 1941, the emblematic use of the letter V had spread through occupied Europe…since 1942, Charles de Gaulle used the V sign in every speech until 1969.[31]

Using pop culture, art and the will of the people to manufacture ways to express dissatisfaction with political leadership is a technique that’s been used through the ages, around the world.

By criticizing Thai protesters for using the methods of protest readily available to them and insisting they adopt an intellectually-sanctioned (Western) gesture of political protest instead, the Guardian article only demonstrates its own ethnocentrism and ivory-tower intellectualism, showing its own irrelevance when it comes to commenting on the right of oppressed people to choose their own method of showing dissatisfaction with their ruling over-class.

The Independent’s New Stance on Gender-Biased Books

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/02/how-to-tell-if-a-toy-is-for-boys-or-girls_n_4372629.html

Graphic from The Huffington Post.

Reading my twitter feed this morning, I saw an article @AndrewDucker posted about the Independent on Sunday’s new policy towards reviewing children’s books:

“Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.” – Katy Guest, Gender-specific books demean all our children, so the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex

In theory, I think this is great idea.* Don’t offer free publicity to books that exclude one gender or another. Unfortunately, in describing how the policy will be executed, Guest stays fuzzy on the details, which makes it hard to figure out exactly what kinds of books — other than those with glittery pink covers – .the Independent on Sunday will no longer be offering column inches to.

While the headline statement – that the books will be excluded based on their marketing – seems fairly clear, I’m not comfortable with how Guest goes on to outline what books might or might not be covered. The Independent on Sunday won’t cover books with sparkly pink covers, but what about blue covers? Does her jibe at “Snot for Boys” includes the kids’ series “Captain Underpants,” which – for a time – was literally the only thing one of my younger cousins would even consider reading? The covers were done in bright, primary-colored colors, if I recall correctly. Would that wind up on the excluded list?

And although Guest speaks well of Harry Potter, as a high-placed member of the literary community, she must be aware that:

“Although she was christened Joanne Rowling, and is known as ‘Jo’ to her family and friends, millions of Harry Potter fans know the best-selling children’s author as ‘J.K. Rowling’.

The use of a pen name was suggested by her publisher, Barry Cunningham. He thought that young boys might be wary of a book written by a woman, so Joanne chose ‘K’, for ‘Kathleen’, the name of her paternal grandmother.”

http://www.jkrowling.com/en_US/#/timeline/pen-name/

Isn’t that a little more of an insidious marketing move than putting glitter on a book’s cover? “Sure, girls, you can be a famous and successful author, but only if you hide your name, because boys probably won’t read your stuff.

What about books with content that specifically promotes gender and class stereotypes? Alloy publishing’s Gossip Girl, with its oversexed rich teens? What about something like A Little Princess, which not only has a gender-specific title, but takes its orphaned heroine from waif to princess? What about The Princess Diaries, for that matter? 

I see Guest’s point. I really do. And I agree with her intention of helping kids access a wider range of books. There’s no reason for books that have wide appeal to be sectioned off into “for her” and “for him” sections. There’s no reason that a boy shouldn’t read Matilda without having to be self-conscious about sparkly pink glitter on the cover, except that some little boys might very much enjoy having a sparkly pink book and some books have themes that might be inclusive but which are appropriate for a sparkly pink book cover. And what about grown-ups? Will the paper still publish reviews that fall under the general category of “chick lit”? (Now that Bridget Jones is back, by the way, are we still calling it “chick lit”?)

Because Guest avoids giving specific examples of the books that will be excluded from review under the new policy and fails to list specific criteria which books must fulfill (other than the “no glitter” thing, and why the hell does she have such an issue with glitter, anyways?), it’s very difficult to see this as something other than a broad stroke to generate positive publicity for the paper. Why restrict the judgment of a book to its cover? What about looking at the content of a book and deciding whether it reinforces positive gender values? (And whose values?) Twilight has completely unobjectionable covers, according to the guideline of gender-based marketing, but they also promote what many consider to be an unhealthy teenage relationship (codependent and borderline emotionally abusive/controlling, according to a star of a new teen franchise, the Divergent books, and written about over and over on the web if you care to do a quick Google search).

There are other layers to exclusionary marketing that Guest doesn’t even touch on. As many authors know, the cover art decision lays far outside a writer’s purview when it comes to most traditionally-published novels. Rather than singling out and punishing a single author, wouldn’t it be more effective to also ban reviews of books from a publisher who endorses gender-marketed books? In most cases, the publisher is the one walking away with the payday, after all.

What about other types of exclusion that demean all readers? Specifically, the publishing industry’s tendency to “whitewash” heroes and heroines on their covers. I don’t want to drag specific authors into the conversation, but I’ve had friends whose books, when published, featured covers showing white people when the character supposedly being portrayed was a person of color. Is that more or less demeaning – both to the reader’s intelligence and the author’s original intention – than a copy of Matilda that comes with a sparkly pink cover?

Overall, I admire what Guest is trying to do. But from my pre-coffee Sunday morning perspective, it seems that (while the motivation for this new reviewing tactic comes from a positive place) it might have been helpful for Guest and the Independent to more clearly outline the solid criteria that, in their eyes, makes a book’s “marketing” identifiable as being for girls or boys – and why this “marketing” is such a valid litmus test. 

Speaking of tests – the real one will be the next time a mega-hit book rocks up the charts and the Independent on Sunday sits out reviewing or covering it in their literary pages. When that happens, please, somebody give me a shout.

What do you think of this new book reviewing policy? Is it a step in the right direction, or a self-congratulatory and probably ineffective PR move?

*For now, I’m not even going to touch on the implicit endorsement of a gender-binary society, but I’ll also grant Guest that at the moment I can’t think of a single children’s title that endorses anything but the identities of “girl” or “boy.”

Edit: I went looking to see if the Independent on Sunday was featured in this year’s VIDA study, which examines who is writing the material that winds up in literary magazines. It wasn’t included, but if anyone has access to that information I would be very appreciative if it were passed on to me for inclusion here.

Edit: On Sunday afternoon I asked Guest, who has a Twitter account, to have a look at this blog entry. She tweeted back two points:

 

 

independent independent2While my feeling is that this still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of clarifying a book – what makes something “explicitly aimed” at girls or boys? I appreciate Guest’s response.

Note that an earlier edit indicated the tweets no longer existed. This morning I retrieved them via HootSuite, which indicates the tweets are still in fact present and just didn’t show up under search; apologies for any confusion.

Edit, 4/2/14: Since its original posting, the Independent has clarified that they specifically mean books that include “For Boys” or “For Girls” in the title. I believe this was poorly explained in their initial statement and, particularly in light of the comment below regarding boys and reading skills, the policy may require further review.

All Your Edits Are Belong To Us

It’s stupid o’clock at night and I’m up and staring, bleary-eyed, at a monitor filled with prose.

I am inserting commas and full stops, changing tenses, and occasionally leaving what I later realize to be horrifically acidic commentary in the margins – calling out a character’s actions, bringing up the effect the writer’s having on me, as a reader, and advising as to whether I feel that’s the appropriate effect for the moment.

I’m in the middle of editing another writer’s first novel. I am fucking tired, and I’m terrified I’m going to miss a typo’d pronoun.

There’s not a lot I can say about editing that isn’t going to make me sound like a jerk. I’ve done it for over a decade. I’ve done it professionally. I’ve done it and gotten paid for doing it (and yes, I can send you a rate sheet).

I’ve edited as part of teaching undergraduate journalism. I’ve edited my own work, I’ve edited the work of my peers, and a few months ago on this blog I re-edited part of The Hunger Games to highlight  the entirely lackluster job done by its editor.

I tweet Twitterers from my home stream and correct their grammar, and call out people I’ve never met before (and whose points I agree with) because they’re lazy with their language in conversation. My excuse? “It’s the editor in me.”

This marks the first time I’ve ever edited someone else’s novel. It wasn’t easy, but it was a hell of a lot easier than writing a blog post about editing. Because what can you say about editing?

You’re essentially telling a parent with a pretty decent kid – all the limbs, everything where it should be, no vestigial body parts and no major diseases – that their happy, healthy kid isn’t good enough yet. You’re pointing out every pimple, every crooked tooth, too-short eyelashes, the pouches of fat around the kid’s middle. “You don’t say that like that,” you say. “Wait. Wait. Take an extra beat there before you keep talking.” It’s like pageantry coaching, only on the page instead of the stage.

Now imagine you’re doing this to the firstborn child of one of your close friends. And as much as you respect your friend’s dedication to their child’s career, there are a few things that could really up her chances of winning. Or in this case, honing a successful and clear representation of the author’s original intention, in the author’s voice, plus finding all his typos. And you don’t just have a responsibility to the parent who hired you, you also have a responsibility to the book itself (or the toddler and her beloved tiara). If you slack or try to spare feelings, it will ultimately hurt more than it helps.

I’ve been reading pieces and versions of this book for a few years now. I’ve seen a couple different incarnations of the book, and I’ve peeked in intermittently, over the years, on the journey the author’s had in writing and now self-publishing it. This time, I fixed typos, changed pronouns, and did my best to help make the experience of reading the book frctionless. It was the first time I sat down and read the book all the way through. Beginning to end.

Saying anything more would be spoilers.

An Exercise in Editing, or, Why The Hunger Games Makes My Eyes Bleed

From the back cover of THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. The following quotes, from other writers in what one might call “related genres,” are meant to draw attention to the positive features of Collins’ work.

Go ahead. Read ’em.

Note that each of these quotes, from luminaries and sources including Stephen King (Entertainment Weekly), Stephanie Meyer (OMG she’s OBSESSED), and John Greer (The New York Times Book Review), talks about the plotting and structure of THE HUNGER GAMES.

Not a single one of the back cover comments brings up the question of the quality of the book’s prose. 

There are many reasons this might be the case: the marketing team may have learned that putting quotes about suspenseful page-turners sell more copies and left out things like “Collins’ prose challenges some of the greats of our era with its artistry and subtle evocation of the stresses that authoritarian governments manufacture to maintain control of their populations.” They could have left out, “Her words added an emotional depth and clarity to this packed, well-paced story.” They could have left out lots of things. I haven’t looked up the full reviews.

My personal feeling is that they cherry-picked quotes about pacing because THE HUNGER GAMES suffers from a case of seriously bad writing.

Which brings us to this blog entry. Collins is an author who presumably worked with an editor to get her words to this pointI presume they both considered it publishable. (And charge-for-able). Editors do a lot of different things when it comes to getting manuscripts ready for publication. One of those things is language. And I think both Collins and her editor fell down hard on that front.

My background with THE HUNGER GAMES:

I read chapters 1-4 on my Kindle when @tyyche gifted me a copy. I was at the tail end of two weeks of intensive editing work on Hot Mess, and while I could certainly see why Collins’ story was an entertaining one, the actual quality of the writing made it impossible for me to continue. I said at the time, and continue to maintain, that my guess is the book translates better to the screen than most adaptations. If I ever see the film, I’ll make sure to let you all know.

Anyways, fast forward to the end of May. My roommate’s copy is lying on the kitchen counter and it’s Memorial Day Weekend and after walking past the book a few times, I think, well, maybe I should pick that up and just breeze through it, so at least when people start defending it on Twitter I can come back with a more informed opinion than the one I have now, which is based on reading four chapters of the thing on a Kindle.

There was no way in hell I was going to start reading the book from the beginning again. I backtracked about a paragraph into chapter 4, then continued with chapter five, which was badly written but at least kept moving, then headed into chapter six. It wasn’t until the last page of chapter six that I became aware of a string of paragraphs I probably would have let go through without too much rewriting: page 85 in my edition, from the point where the Avox girl is picking up Katniss’ unitard (UNITARD!) to the end of the chapter. This was the first time that the spare, simple voice beneath Collins’ prose really came out to me, and one of the first times (only 85 pages in!) where I felt like Collins had really hit her stride.

Then it was into chapter seven, and that wasn’t any bloody fun at all.

By this time, half of Twitter had figured out that I was actually reading the book I’d been complaining about for months, and I started getting snarky comments from my co-writer, Eric, particularly because I’d given him such a hard time back when he did the reviews of the first book for The Masquerade Crew. One thing led to another and when I started talking about how what I actually want to do is a top-to-toe rewrite on the entire thing, and I half wanted to do red marks all over a page from the book and show people what my editing process was like, Eric challenged me to do precisely that.

So everything after the break is his fault.
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