April 17th, 2013


thoughts on the Hunger Games Trailer

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Lionsgate released the first The Hunger Games: Catching Fire trailer two(?) days ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, because while the glimpses we get here have the making for a much more epic movie than the original Hunger Games, it also leaves me feeling a little uneasy. It just doesn’t seem like the same basic story than I found in the books.

First, the video. And obviously, there are loads of spoilers in the trailer and my comments below.

There’s a lot to love here. The graffiti about the odds being ever in our favor, Katniss’s being slightly lost in herself in District Eleven, Effie’s complete and utter ridiculousness, and the way Plutarch is really walking the edge of a knife in his discussion with Snow. I also really like the touches of affluence in Katniss’s family, like Prim’s much more elaborate hairstyle.

But there seems something not quite right (perhaps only a little not right, but persistently so) about Katniss’s character, and I think I’m finally starting to figure out what that is. She strikes me here as someone very much in danger of turning into a mini-Effie: someone without strength of her ownsomeone who is ridiculous and consumed by appearances. She seems, quite simply, like the very creature that book!Gale accuses her of being when he gives back Cinna’s gloves: someone who belongs with the Capitol now.

In the books, there’s a few things that contribute to how Gale got this impression. First, there’s Cray, the original head peacekeeper who’s something of a soft touch. Katniss grew up surrounded by hunger and she certainly saw the Capitol as cruel (they could have lived better if her father had been allowed to sell bows, they turn her people against each other, their mines killed her father, etc.) but to her in many ways they’re almost silly, people who need to be pacified and taken seriously, but their cruelty comes more from ignorance than true malice in her eyes. She’s not grown up with whippings and executions being a routine occurrence, and while she hates the Capitol she can also laugh at her stylists and become genuinely attached to Cinna. The Victors’ Tour is a real awakening for her in that way.

Then there’s the fact that Katniss is both traumatized by her time in the arena (rightly!) and has been purposely threatened by Snow, who’s presented as a much more dangerous specimen than he seems here. (He strikes me almost as the Mitt Romney of Panem: a bit awkward and doltish, but only dangerous because he’s used to such an excessive lifestyle which makes other people seem so insignificant. She’s been led to believe that her trick with the berries – which, really, was just about getting home to her family and a growing fondness for Peeta – has put all those people in very real danger. Snow’s threatened her with their death unless she performs very well on the Tour. But Snow makes it sound like she could succeed if she plays it right, and he’s also made her feel like not playing along wouldn’t accomplish anything anyway.

All of which helps explain why she goes along with Snow’s instruction on the Tour and why her instinct is to run rather than fight back in District Twelve. Here, we get the impression that literally everyone, even Prim(!) wants to fight the Capitol. Everyone other than Katniss. The scene with Haymitch just makes her look selfish, short-sighted, and weak, when in the book her reaction to the news that she’ll never be able to give up the ruse is much more controlled, even Stoic. (Peeta’s reaction in that scene also just falls flat, but that’s not so great a surprise given the way the movie has characterized him.) In the Capitol, Katniss is almost a little too self-possessed; she seems like she’s become a part of the Capitol world, almost sees herself as in Snow’s circle when in reality she should be anxiously trying to gauge whether she’s succeeded.

I’m afraid we’re getting set up for a Denethor moment, when all the factors that explain her actions in the books simply aren’t in the movie. The trailer also makes it seem like the revolution is about Katniss, that the new Games are a last-minute idea that occurred to Snow prompted to Katniss simply being too prideful. Which really isn’t the case in the books. Katniss is the flashpoint for something much bigger than herself. I think that’s one reason the trilogy works so well for me despite its lack of worldbuilding: Katniss was always a very small part of the picture and not the one most informed on what’s going on, so the fact that things don’t make sense from her vantage point doesn’t mean they don’t make sense objectively. Part of that relied on our being kept in the dark about what was really going on in the halls of power, and the movies seem to be going too far away from that model.

You can only tell so much from a trailer of course. I still hope it will come off better than it promises to here. But I am a bit concerned.

What do you think? Did you like the glimpses we get in the trailer? Why or why not?


other April 15 deaths

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

A few days before the Boston shooting, I stumbled across a HuffPo report about a demonstration in DC last week. According to the piece, 3,300 people have been killed by guns in America since the Newtown shooting. I realized that that’s more than died in the 9/11 attacks, so in the days since then I’ve been keeping my eyes on Slate’s gun-death tally database, because it seemed somehow if so many people were dying, Sometimes I’m too chicken to check out the latest stories, or just too busy. But when I can I do feel compelled to read these stories, particularly the ones involving children. It seems like if they’re dead, the least I can do is remember them.

I was thinking about those stories when I heard the news about Boston. Because, you know, I’ve been thinking about terrorism vs. gun deaths like suicides, murders, accidents. The different ways we react to the different news. And don’t get me wrong – the news out of Boston is horrifying. We should be upset over it, and I really don’t want to downgrade the impacts on the families, or the way terrorism impacts us all because it’s designed to make us scared, take away the places where we feel safe. And really, there’s something off about comparing body-counts between tragedies. There’s a quality, a wrongness, that gets lost that way.

At the same time, there were “only” three deaths in those Boston explosions, at least so far. Those deaths are a world of pain for the people touched by it, and the fact that it could have been any of us when we go to a marathon like those folks is chilling. But because my mind was primed to compare terrorism to gun deaths, and because I was checking the gun-death database anyway, I decided to check out what else had happened that day.

These are stories that I want to share. It’s a bit grizzly, but I hope you won’t mind if I go ahead and share them.

Rosetta M. Samuel, an off-duty Brooklyn police officer, shot her boyfriend and their one-year-old son, then committed suicide. All died. (NY Times)

A Dallas man, name unreported, shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend. (IB Times)

In Garner, NC (south of Raleigh), the police received a domestic violence 911 call from LaTasha Renee. Police found her shot in her home, and she died in the hospital. (WRAL)

A Brooklyn man, name unknown, was shot several times on the street. (Twitter)

A man returned home in the middle of the day, in Enumclaw, WI, to find he was being robbed. He shot one of the robbers fatally and the other escaped. (Komonews)

And in Reno, NV, an unnamed man was shot in a downtown hotel. Circumstances unknown. (RGJ.com)

In some of these situations, we might write off the dead person as not a true victim. Ms. Samuel shot herself and was a murderer. People shot in hotel rooms are sometimes victims of robberies but often are up to something shady, too. If you’re shot multiple times on the street, you may be up to something. And a man is king in his own castle; if you find someone robbing you, we naturally think you have a right to defend yourself. It bothers me that we have to make those kinds of distinctions. The fact that I can sit here without knowing more details and parse people into deaths we should be concerned about and deaths we shouldn’t be, based only on these basic facts, makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. But even supposing we should sort out the “good” deaths from the “bad” ones, that’s four people, one of them pregnant and one of them a small child who were shot on April 15. And those are only the deaths that have been reported as of 3:07 AM on Wednesday April 17. (I’ll post this in the morning.)

It’s not been a very good month for kids. (I checked back to April 1 when I found the database.) Yesterday that one-year-old was shot by his mum in that murder-suicide. Here are a few others:

Shayla May Shonneker, a fourth-grader in Oregon City, was accidentally shot by her mum’s live-in boyfriend. (Oregon Times)

An unnamed thirteen-year-old was accidentally shot in a home in Jacksonville, FL. Several children were home alone and were playing with a gun that discharged. (News4Jak)

Andy Chavez (seventeen) and Justin Hansen (thirteen) were shot by a man after getting into an argument, on the streets of Pomona, CA. (KTLA)

Joseph Gomez (seventeen) was shot in a McDonalds parking lot in York Co., NY. (Fox News)

Eric Godner killed Jonathan Johnson (both seventeen) as the latter was headed for his school bus. (The Tennessean)

B.J. Scott, a tenth grader, was shot when a “playground fight that erupted into a gun battle”; police describe him as a spectator to the fight. (Philly.com)

An unnamed seventeen-year-old was shot in a condo parking lot, and later died at the hospital. (Alabama.com)

Three-year-old Qui’ontrez Moss “found a gun and shot himself.” in Sumter, SC (WLTX)

An unnamed thirteen-year-old from Placerville, CA was found shot in his home, in what police describe as either an accident or a suicide. (News10)

Michelle Miller was a “17-year-old honor student [who] was set to begin basic training this summer”, from the MD suburbs of DC. She was shot by an Army staff sergeant recruiting her, who her friends and family suspect she was involved with romantically. (Washington Post)

Six-year-old Brandon Holt was shot in the head while playing “pretend shooting” with his friends. (NJ.com)

Alexander Wilson of Phoenix, AZ was driving a stolen car and gunned for a police officer trying to do a traffic stop. The police officer shot him, and the teen drove off and crashed into a nearby house, dying from the gunshot. (AZFamil.y.com)

Michael Orozco, a fourteen-year-old gang member, was shot in a Chicago drive-by. (HuffPo)

Joshua David Petersen of American Fork, UT, shot his five-month-old son in a planned murder-suicide. (Petersen was not able to kill himself, but the baby died.) (Deseret News)

A Fort Wayne, IN, boy (unnamed; seventeen) was chased down an alley and shot by several gang members. It’s not clear whether he was in a gang or not. (WSBT)

All in all, forty-two kids and 177 teens have died since December 14, not counting the twenty who died at Newtown.

Again, some of these stories are just flat-out tragic. I cried for five minutes straight when I read about Brandon and Qui’ontrez. I think it was the age and the fact that they’re just so damned pointless. At least with the five-month old, there’s a sense of what could you have done – mental illness is hard to root out, especially in rural areas of Middle America where people aren’t always receptive to psychiatry. And some of the cases involve crime and gang affiliations, which is at least understandable. If you steal a car and aim it at a police officer, I wouldn’t ask the police to just stand by there. What are you going to do? But even there, some of those kids were really kids. Justin Hansen was only thirteen; even if he was really involved, are we really prepared to say a thirteen-year-old is so responsible for his life, we don’t need to ask any further questions about why he was allowed to die? Or for that matter, is seventeen?

I don’t want to draw a one-to-one connection because as I said, it’s not as simple as saying twice as many deaths is twice as bad. And even aside from the body count there are aspects of the Boston bombing that are unique to it – the intent to terrorize, the loss of a safe space for the rest of us. I do think there’s something of a terrorism-like effect for certain kinds of gun violence, too In an inner city, in bad neighborhoods (I live in a fairly decent one), gun violence is something of a staple. You live with the reality that someone you love might be killed that way. It impacts the choices you make to go or not go to certain events. This is particularly true of gang violence or violence due to crime.

Those accidental shootings of all those young kids has less of an effect, though the weight of those deaths still feels awfully heavy as a while, especially when you think that the tragedy might not be so often if there were less guns lying around. Which is not necessarily  the same as saying less guns are owned by people; but it does require an acknowledgment that gun ownership carries definite responsibilities and dangers that go beyond our current discussion of rights. I know most gun owners are very safe, but our rhetoric here doesn’t help. (As a side note, I got into a discussion on a piece at TIME.com this week, on whether parents should ask other parents if there were guns in the house before letting their kid come over and play. Most of the commenters thought this was intrusive and insulting, so out of bounds. I disagreed.)

I don’t have any real answers for what to do about gun violence, if anything. I don’t think rounding up all the guns or even restricting sales is necessarily the answer, if only because it seems to provoke such fear in the people who hold the guns, and that’s not a good frame of mind. But simply because I don’t know the answer, that doesn’t nean we shoudln’t be asking the question, in fact it’s proof we *need* to be. Just once, I’d like us to give one of these “tragedies” (or their collective weight, if that’s easier) the kind of full-court press we give the Boston bombing. Why did this happen? Who was responsible? How did he carry it out, and how can we make sure it will never, ever happen again? Even the security theater we get at airports would be better than this stultifying silence we get on what really causes these gun deaths.

Mainly, I’m just tired of the silence here. Or maybe it’s the noise of people shouting at each other rather than really hearing what the other has to say. I want to know what happened, and I want to know why it’s almost sure to happen again.


political thought of the day: the Senate rejects background checks on gun purchases

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

My political thought of the day:

The US Senate rejected an amendment to require background checks today. I’m sincerely sorry it didn’t pass, although not heartbroken – as I’ve studied the issue, I’ve come to believe that background checks rely on the same good guy with a gun/bad guy with a gun dichotomy I find so ridiculous when spoken by NRA spokespersons. I much prefer efforts to emphasize the responsible part of responsible gun owners, like requiring anyone with small children in their house to secure those guns.

But rather than going down that rabbit hole I want to make four quick points:

1) The Second Amendment was never in jeopardy. Really. See that word well-regulated, right there in the text itself? It’s there for a reason.

2) Fifty-four Senators voted for it, and the measure failed anyway. Next time you complain how Congress can’t get anything done, check out an opinion poll and see how often 60% of Americans (let alone our elected representatives) agree on any issue. Requiring more than a simple majority for routine bills is tantamount to obstructionism these days.

3) To my fellow progressives: don’t beat up on those four Dems who voted against this measure, unless one of them represents you. If they do, fight like hell to get them out of office if you think they were wrong here because this issue really and truly matters. But this is the glory of representational democracy: those folks are accountable to the people who elected them. “Liberal” means different things in Massachusetts than it does in Missouri, and so a Democratic Senator from the latter state might believe he was truly representing his constituents. He might even have disagreed with the measure himself. That is his, and their, prerogative.

4) To the noble opposition, those Americans who oppose background checks but are committed to fighting this problem: Now that you won on this measure, what’s your plan? As I mentioned on my blog this morning (http://www.fidesquaerens.org/blog/?p=1834), more people have died from gun-wounds since the Newtown tragedy than died on 9/11. Twice as many *kids* have died since as died that day, and that’s not counting the 177 teens. Not all of these were murders, of course, but many of them were. In one upsetting story in my own NYC, an off-duty cop shot her one-year old kid and her boyfriend before committing suicide herself – yesterday. So my question to you is, if background checks aren’t the answer, what is? Are we expected to accept all these deaths as unavoidable? Or do you have a better plan than what the Dems have proposed? (Be specific.)

That’s a longer note than I usually offer, but I can’t reduce myself to a simple boo/yay on issues like this. They’re complicated, and that sometimes requires a few words.