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Monday, March 26, 2012

What Travyon Martin and the Hunger Games have in common

In today's blog, I use my communication professor voice rather than my fiction writer voice. I started a different The Hunger Games inspired blog yesterday, and I'll get back to that later.  Today, a friend tweeted this link, and I needed to talk a little about it. Please take a moment to read the link.
Racist Hunger Games Fans are Very Disappointed

The article showcases several tweets which reveal the way some fans reacted to the casting of Rue, Thresh, and Cinna, in particular. A few examples are beyond vile, but they can be summed up with this one,
"I was pumped about the Hunger Games. Until I learned that a black girl was playing Rue."
Obviously, people become emotionally attached to characters, and casting can be disappointing. Does anyone remember when Robert Pattinson wasn't considered hot enough to play Edward Cullen?

But this isn't about disappointment.  This is about racism. These fans can no longer connect with Rue, and in some cases with the movie, because she is black. Putting the words, "I don't mean to be racist" in front of such a comment doesn't make it less racist either. 

The article gives a good assessment of potential outcomes of this type of thinking. I don't need to re-hash the general concept, but I can't help but note how it parallels current rhetoric regarding the Trayvon Martin case. President Obama stated,
“But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. And, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened”
Clearly, the statement is coded (rightfully?) to remind us that race is still an issue in the U.S. Even for the President of United States of America. Thus, begins the connection to the tweets about The Hunger Games' casting.  Both Suzanne Collins and the President of the United States have coded their language and avoid saying "black" or "African-American". In Collins' case it may have made sense to reference dark brown skin in the context of her novel, but perhaps it was too vague a code. More than likely, readers fell victim to selective perception.

Our culture has an ongoing discomfort with race and racism. Once Obama was elected, it gave people an excuse to believe race simply wasn't an issue anymore.  It seems we're not sure how to react when we discover it hasn't disappeared.

Well, everyone but Newt Gingrich, that is, who called Obama's statement about Trayvon Martin "disgraceful" and added,
"Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling."
Here's where I take a deep breath to avoid screaming. And often fail. Trying to take something that is, in fact, inherently racist and make it not about race is what appalls me. To be unable to recognize that when a someone can publicly say on Twitter,
"Why did the producer have to make all of the good characters black?"
that these issues are woven together and not in some loose afghan you could pull apart just by yanking one loose string. This fabric is tight and strong. Not at all breathable.

Of course, some folks aren't conscious of this heavy blanket they carry. They don't realize that they've been conditioned to see black as less than, as bad and white as more than and good.  They don't know that it makes them more suspicious of people whose skin is not the same, whose language is different, and whose ideas deviate from their own.  They can't fathom that it could ever lead to the kind of misperception that ends in death.

I suppose for some, ignorance is bliss.  But those upset Hunger Games fans don't have to look very far to figure out that ignorance is also a tool, used by the evil, used by the powerful.  The folks of the Capitol cheered and bet on Tributes, completely blissful in their ignorance. 

I guess I'd rather not have bliss than to be a tool.


  1. I read this post a couple of times and had to sit still before I could publish a comment. Not because of anything that I disagree with in this post. Actually, I'm sitting here shaken by how so many of the things you've said resonated with my mind, my confusion to how some of these things are being viewed.

    I've no words for the Newt Gingrich statement. Political opportunists tend towards such things if it vaguely appeals to someone/some folks of like mind.

    I suppose I'm reminded of the irony of The Hunger Games movie. The book is about people ecstatic to watch teens battle each other to death. Countless fans lined up all over the country to watch teens battle each other to the death. With the reality TV culture thriving in our microwave-change-overnight society, how far away, are we really, to being the Capitol?

  2. Really great post. I was disgusted when I read the Jezebel post. What you said in your second-to-last post is what's especially disconcerting. That people may not even realize they're being racist. I couldn't believe these people were posting their racist opinions openly on Twitter, as if it was okay. We have a long way to go in America...