All posts by Cory Lund

I Wanna be Like You: Racial Coding in Disney’s The Jungle Book

     The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or as you’ve heard UNESCO, released a series of essays in response to leftover Nazi Racism, along with other more PG forms of biological racism. UNESCO published these essays with help from big names like Claude Levi-Strauss and Morris Ginsberg in 1950 and intended to distribute them across the United Nations. The main point of the essays went like this, “The biological fact of race and the myth of “race” should be distinguished. For all practical social purposes “race” is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth”(The Race Question). The problem they directly addressed is gone. We (hopefully) aren’t swayed too much by Nazi propaganda or signs saying “No Colored Allowed” as they really don’t exist anymore, at least where people reading this article would reside. What fucks things up now is culture. Culture and entertainment are the new ways in which the world creates and displays racial ideas. Races are assigned characteristics, stereotypes and more sinister tags through their portrayals in movies, TV and radio. But it’s not minstrel shows and blatant racism either. It’s the unnoticeable, subtle ways that non-white characters are shown in superficially harmless media. And likely to your dismay, Disney movies are an absolute case study on the subtle depictions that give people the hostile ideas about race that are currently tearing our country apart. Disney’s The Jungle Book, although widely loved as a benign children’s movie, harbors shockingly sinister depictions of race.

I didn’t notice any of this as a child. And outside of some hyper-astute worldview you may have had as a nine year old, neither did you. Disney does this by avoiding the question of race altogether in any obvious way. They rarely show non-white characters in their films, and when they do, most everyone is of the same race to avoid the issue on the surface. Mulan doesn’t feature a single white character. In Moana they are all ancient Polynesian islanders. The Princess and the Frog only features black characters apart from a few animals and minor white characters, and basically every other movie is as white as Frosty the Snowman’s midsection. But, a major way that Disney depicts race is through animals and inanimate objects. It’s much harder to point out race as race if they are Hyenas rather than blacks or Latinos (Didn’t catch that in The Lion King?). Especially in The Jungle Book, animals depict different races and contribute to the social understanding of race.

See the source image

Specifically, the most obvious depiction of race in The Jungle Book comes with the monkeys. The monkeys enter the plot swinging through the Indian forest in search of Mowgli, the man cub. They swoop down from the canopy to kidnap Mowgli and take him back to their home in the ancient ruins. Before we even get to their actions, the first issue is their actual depiction. These monkeys are plainly coded as black characters in an extremely harmful way. Baloo, the man-cub’s adorable pseudo-father, fights the monkeys and shouts at them, “Why you flat-nosed, little-eyed, flaky creeps!”(The Jungle Book). He doesn’t say you scoundrels, you rascals, you evil people, he points out their physical features to shame them. Baloo is a brown bear, a species native to the North American forest and not the film’s Indian jungle, with a booming american voice, so obviously he goes on the whiter side of the animals. He points out their flat noses, one of the most distinctive, stereotypically African facial features. Baloo also calls them “Flea Picking” and “Mangy” during the same chase. Further, their voices are forced into a gravelly, exaggerated register. The lines, voiced by all white actors, strike the same tone as minstrel show actors performing in blackface for white audiences in the Jim Crow era. The white actors voicing these monkeys went out of their way to voice these characters as black. And not just black people, black fools. They laugh wildly at everything and can barely hold themselves back with swings of hysterics at whatever they do. They were intentionally portrayed and voiced to paint black people as foolish, dirty criminals.

See the source image

Further, depicting black people as monkeys and Orangutans has sinister intent on its own. The relation between black people and primates in culture goes back to evil forms of biological racism that assert black people are closer to monkey than man. Brett Mizelle writes, “This recurring linkage between blacks and apes was used to reinforce Euro-American supremacy and ultimately to justify slavery”(Man Cannot Behold). This fucked up idea is one we would like to fully separate ourselves from in today’s reality, but it obviously still lingers in cultural artifacts we would have deemed harmless and intended for children. Disney furthers this by forming the connection between African and ape in the most straightforward way possible. Black people are monkeys and therefore are to be seen as far from human.

The subhuman notion of black people continues throughout the film with the beloved song I Want to be Like You. The song was an absolute earworm, using classic Disney songwriting to make every viewer sing along. And, chances are if you have seen the film, you could sing the song right now given the instrumental. This melody is sung by King Louie of the apes, a character intended by Disney to be famous trumpeter Louis Armstrong but was instead played by white singer Louis Prima (Cutting Cultural Thicket). This tune is all about how King Louie wants to be like Mowgli. Louie serenades the man-cub with lyrics like “I wanna be a man, mancub, and stroll right into town, and be just like the other men I’m tired of monkeyin’ around”(The Jungle Book). King Louie dominates Mowgli in the jungle world. Louie is jungle royalty and physically overpowers Mowgli at his will, but still longs to walk like him and talk like him. Louie should be happy about his position in the jungle but instead wants to become ‘civilized’ like Mowgli. And Mowgli, although not a white person, represents a certain degree of whiteness as the most civilized and attached to human life, while also sporting an American accent that sounds much more like Ralphie from A Christmas Story than an Indian villager. The notion of ‘civilization’ has been long associated with white people and whiteness. People (not good people) would state that white people have civilization where black people do not. Disney is apparently all in with this sentiment as it has made its only black characters strive to be ‘civilized’. More on that notion, King Louie and the other monkeys ask Mowgli for the secret to “man’s red fire”. Fire is the most basic form of civilization, as you could likely call upon images from past media you’ve seen of cavemen huddling around a spark, elated having discovered fire. Disney intentionally makes the black characters search for civilization to reiterate the racist notion that whites are more civilized than blacks.

Image result for king louie the jungle book

Another racial depiction in the film that went largely unnoticed was the villain in the movie. The evil Indian tiger sparks the initial conflict in the film by threatening to kill Mowgli, who was currently residing happily with his wolf family. The menacing antagonist threatens Mowgli because as Bagheera states, “He hates man. And Shere Khan is not going to allow you to grow up to become a man”(The Jungle Book). He hates man. And man, in this case, is white people. A conclusion not too wildly made as he fears their guns, a hunting technique not used by Indian natives but by white colonizers. Shere Khan, as a name, also draws attention. Although the name literally means ‘tiger king’ in Persian and Punjabi, ‘Khan’ calls upon certain associations. Khan refers to Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan or any mongol leader that strikes fear into the hearts of viewers. Further on that point, Shere Khan has slanted, yellow-colored eyes, pushing him further towards an asian association. The villain is an anti-white mongol lord, roaming the forest on a hunt for the only human character. Shere Khan is the king of the jungle and everyone knows it. The wolfpack fears him, the bear and panther run from him and even the brigade of elephants is struck with fear at his mere mention. The only things that scare Shere Khan are guns and fire, both associated with civilization and man. So the most badass character in the movie is non-white. But he is still afraid of, and eventually defeated by, the products of whiteness.

Additionally, the ending of the film seems off to many. The ending features Mowgli leaving his beloved jungle home and Baloo, after being seduced in the most PG, Disney way possible by an Indian girl he spotted by the waterside. She sings a song while refilling her water vase and Mowgli simply can’t take his eyes off her. He eventually follows her into the “man village” where the viewer assumes he is to live from now on. In many ways, this ending felt wrong, at least to me. The happy ending I expected had Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera dancing off into the forest arm in arm singing The Bare Necessities while the screen fades off to black. I mean they fought the whole movie to keep Mowgli in the jungle, so why would the ending feature Mowgli leaving? Why would Disney depart from such a happy, sensical ending in favor of an odd, seemingly pointless conclusion? Simple. The ending they chose keeps the races in line. Mowgli, although spending the whole movie with the beasts of the jungle, is not an animal. Disney says here that after everything’s said and done, you are to stay with people like yourself. Even though Mowgli owes his life to the animals, he can’t actually be with them. They are nothing more than a vessel to get him back to his people. So Disney’s assertion is this: Stay with your own kind.

See the source image

To make matters worse, the medium of animation itself makes these sentiments even more distinct. Animation came into serious consideration as a kind of cinema around the 30’s and 40’s, shifting from a non popular form of visual trickery to a widely loved cinema medium. Yes, the visuals were highly appealing to viewers, but what the producers and directors loved was the control they had over the product. Sidin Ishak actually states that the defining feature of the genre is its intentionality (Understanding Culture Animation). Ishak’s proposal adds weight to the propositions presented in Disney’s The Jungle Book as it tells us that the creators did everything with intent. In animation, there is no ‘going off script’, there are no accidental images. Every scene was created by hand, by animators with absolute control over the world they depict. Everything we see in Disney films is completely intentional, nothing is coincidental.

Altogether, a film like this is immensely dangerous for society. Something nearly everyone loved having the capability to instill highly fucked up notions of race is a thought that few want to confront. This film catches viewers at their most malleable, impressionable stages between the ages of 3-12. Young viewers may not have serious conceptions of race yet as they watch films like this and they also lack the capability to point out racially charged dialogue or imagery. But the subconscious connections this film forces on viewers certainly work to change that and force feed Disney brand racial tropes to American youth.

An earlier draft of this essay was read by Tyler Scott

I have written this essay in the style of Chuck Klosterman

Tom’s Diner: An Exploration in Popular Music

Pop music takes a lot of grief. “It’s too loud”. “Too much autotune”. “There’s no skill”. “It’s all the same”. Many, specifically those of an older generation, are quite up-in-arms about what music has come to in the modern era. They say today’s brand of music isn’t nearly reminiscent of what theirs is or used to be. To some, today’s popular music resides at a lower level of sophistication, quality and value than the beloved music of yesteryear. Conversely, modern popular music is not something to be deduced to good or bad, or even confined by the title ‘genre’. There’s a quality to modern popular music that makes it obviously discernable from genres like folk, country, metal and jazz to anyone remotely familiar with modern music. It’s difficult for many to put a finger on, but this difference has important implications in our impression and interpretation of today’s popular music. The identity of pop music, its implications and its value in our current society can be readily investigated through Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner.

Vega’s 1989 single found success among indie and alternative circles throughout the 90’s, featuring solely her vocals without the support of instruments. Her voice rhythmically runs over a spoken beat as she recalls a morning in a local diner in New York City. Vega’s voice registers more like talking than singing as she rarely abandons a moderate tone and pitch. Vega’s piece was a well made song and was beloved by many listeners, but anyone could tell you that it wasn’t pop music. Its subdued stylistic techniques along with an emphasis on storytelling compel us to categorize this work as alternative or indie. Many likely appreciated the artistic aspect of this song rather than its aptitude for mutual enjoyment and listenership.

Moving forward, Tom’s Diner’s intersection with pop music comes not at the hand of Vega, but through the work of two British music producers, who refer to themselves as DNA. This duo produced a remix of Vega’s piece a year later, taking the original’s ad-libbed outro and transforming this beat into the song’s driving hook. Employing digital music production to morph her 5 seconds of spoken beat into an incredibly catchy remix, they overlayed thumping bass, building synthesizers and a snappy snare to send Vega’s niche, indie work atop the pop charts. Their piece peaked at the second spot in the UK charts and the fifth spot in the US Billboard charts in addition to reaching the top spot in 3 European countries. Billboard tagged this new take on her work as pop music and few would stand to argue with this categorization as the song’s listenership changed and appeal grew. Now, the question is this: What changed? If Vega’s original work was ‘un-pop’ and this new version was received with open arms into pop music’s upper rankings, the changes made by DNA must be close to what defines pop music.

So now, pop music seems to be nothing but the electronically produced version of acoustically made songs. But it can’t just be that. Songs can’t be all layered with identical features to create hits. Similar additions to other folk songs along the same vein of Vega, like those by Tori Amos and Sinead O’Connor, and many of Vega’s own songs would sound wrong and jumbled with additions similar to these. The changes that DNA enacted on Vega’s original work are a reflection of an inherent quality of certain works referred to by popular music scholar Motti Regev as the ‘rock aesthetic’. Regev defines this as production “based on the use of electric and electronic sound textures, amplification, sophisticated audio craftsmanship, and ‘untrained’ and spontaneous techniques of vocal delivery”(Pop-rockization of Popular Music). While not a fully fleshed out description of this quality in my mind, as I would propose the addition of a characteristic that works back towards some of the blues/swing qualities within modern music, this ‘rock aesthetic’ serves as a valuable tool when talking about what defines pop music.

Furthermore, when we look into the elements of the ‘rock aesthetic’ we can draw back on the history of what we now define as pop. Regev’s comment on ‘untrained’ vocal technique as a characteristic of rock music is a loaded statement. What he classifies as ‘trained’ vocals would be classically trained, as in opera skills, vocal range and consistent pronunciation across notes. What is classified as ‘untrained’ would be much of what we now see as rap, blues, scat, jazz and rock, as these styles are far from his definition of traditional. Now, when looking at his ‘untrained’ vocal categories, we can see that this is associated with forms of music rooted in African-American tradition. Amplification and electronic music also have roots in the work of black pioneers like Jimi Hendrix as well as in big band jazz. And, when Regev notes on sophisticated audio craftsmanship, he refers to sounds that, although now associated with electronic music and DJ’s, share associations with the blues in their focus on bass-central rhythm and non-traditional sounds, thus pegging this definition to the start of blues music in the post-emancipation south, another inherently African American quality.

Additionally, the history of the rock aesthetic can be traced parallel to the history of the rock and roll genre. Obviously, the rock aesthetic sort of defines what we interpret as rock and roll, but looking into the history of rock and roll allows us much more depth and clarity on the actual roots of both. Rock historians, although finding conflict in some minutia of the growth of this genre, reach a general consensus on the basic origins of rock music. Rock music’s roots can be traced back to the blues movement in the post emancipation south and the birth of jazz music in early 19th century New Orleans along with the growth of swing and soul music. These styles morphed, mixed and worked with European-American styles of music like country and folk music to create the sound we now recognize as rock and roll. Many people, though, have serious grievances with the fusion of black and white music and accuse early white musicians like Elvis Presley of ‘stealing black music’. Although many white artists did in fact remake versions of earlier black songs, the integration of black and white music was more of mutualistic than parasitic. In his essay “The Church of the Sonic Guitar”, music writer and professor of American Music at the University of Mississippi, Robert Palmer argues for the positive, mutually beneficial relationship between black and white music during the dawn of rock and roll through the detailed history of the electric guitar. He argues, “Rock ‘n’ roll was an inevitable outgrowth of the social and musical interactions between blacks and whites in the South and Southwest. Its roots are a complex tangle … but the single most important process was the influence of black music on white.”(Present Tense). Palmer argues that the outgrowth of rock music was a positive result of black music transforming white music. He elaborates further in his piece saying that many of the defining characteristics of rock music noted in the aforementioned rock aesthetic are inherently black characteristics. Palmers argument allows us to concretely peg both rock and the rock aesthetic as the influences of black music.

Image result for blues

Now, looking back to the earlier topic of Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner and its subsequent ‘popification’. This would often be seen as a bad progression. To take a song that was so beautiful on its own right and turn it into mainstream, consumable pop would be heresy for many listeners. But, as we just broke down, the transformation of Vega’s piece wasn’t the commercialization of her work. The elements added to Vega’s work were inherently black features of music. What we initially interpreted as ‘popification’ was actually the ‘blackification’ of her work, but not in a manner that cheaply appeals to black listeners or those with tastes for black music, but in a sense that channels the roots of african american musical culture. In this way, the pop culture appears to not be a cheap channel for reproduced, identical music, but rather a place for integrated music to flourish without the title of black or integrated.

Furthermore, pop music serves an immensely beneficial purpose for society. Popular music, which we can now mark as music featuring the fusion of black and white musical elements, presents integration of the races in an incredibly positive light. This normalizes diversity in all aspects as it allows the product of racial integration to bring simple joy to the listener in a catchy beat or a hook that makes you get up and dance. When the mainstream listenership is exposed to versions of racial integration that positively reinforce diversity’s role in society, society is likely to benefit from decreased racial tension and increased acceptance of more diverse forms of culture.

Finally, what we saw in Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner is able to inform, define and evaluate pop music. DNA’s recreation of her work allowed us to concretely identify what separates pop music from other genres with the assistance of Motti Regev’s rock aesthetic. After looking further into the history of rock and roll music along with breaking down Regev’s claim, it became relatively obvious that what we interpret as pop and rock music leans heavily on African-American musical styles, revealed by Palmer’s take on the development of rock and roll. Now, it’s easy to see that despite the common gripes that today’s pop music is cheap and lacks skill, pop music remains a solid example of how popular culture should function as it positively associates racially integrated works to the listener. What popular music already does can be applied to other areas of popular culture. Movies can depict comical characters of color to follow a similar vein, allowing the viewer to enjoy integration subconsciously, or a television show can build lovable, diverse characters, relatable to the viewer on a basic level. Pop music’s, and further pop culture’s, role isn’t and hopefully will never be one that lacks substance, but one that attempts to depict and promote a more accepting culture.

Politics in Modern Film: May the Odds be Ever in your Favor

The Hunger Games is the 3rd highest grossing action film of all time, making 408 million dollars at the box office (The Numbers). But why? Aside from an expansive production budget and top name actors, there must be something more that appealed to the public enough to generate this cult following and extensive profit. One review argues that the film, “Begs us to be disgusted by the spectacle of the games and, like Katniss, to determine what is the best response to those who would go to any lengths to maintain power and wealth for themselves.” (Power and Wealth). The public sees hope in Katniss’ struggle against an oppressive, overtly classist totalitarian government and cheers her on from their theatre seats. But what you likely missed, masked by the pseudo-progressive fight against oppression, are the hidden politics that reinforce the very same oppressive systems that it externally seems to speak out against. As much as this film seems to speak against the system, it strikes a much different chord in its ideological charge.

First off, to establish the basis of why this film reads as interpreted as anti-establishment. The first scene of the film shows extravagant showman Caesar Flickerman in a television interview with meticulously bearded Game Maker Seneca Crane talking of this year’s Hunger Games. Crane says “It comes out of a particularly painful part of our history. At first it was a reminder of the rebellion, it was the price the Districts had to pay” (The Hunger Games) demonstrating the oppressive nature of the games. They punish the masses for revolting against the government by hosting a gladiator-esque showdown between tributes from each district in the futuristic, dystopian version of North America known as Panem. The next scene pictures Katniss illegally hunting in the woods and talking to Gale about how they could stop the games with a boycott. Barely three minutes into the film, it’s obvious what the conflict is meant to be. The individual, female, rebellious Katniss is pitted against the oppressive, overarching, predominantly male capital embodied by Seneca Crane and, later, godlike president Coriolanus Snow. And, in the end of course, Katniss wins the Hunger Games along with her newly found love interest Peeta Mellark. The heroine shows up the oppressors and gets a boyfriend along the way, so her side wins, right? This often-reached conclusion has misled most every viewer of the film and successfully masks the ideological charge.

Image result for hunger games peacekeepers

As we move throughout the film, the underlying politics become increasingly evident. Katniss and her sister Primrose walk solemnly to what is known as the ‘Reaping’. The scene of all the children of District 12 walking to this event is visually reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps, featuring children in literal striped pajamas surrounded by sterile guards, known as “Peacekeepers”, armed to the teeth. The children’s fingers are pricked for blood to determine their identity and register. The stage is taken by the ridiculously adorned Effie Trinket, whose name (Trinket? Really?) and garb reflect eccentricity and wasted wealth, a not-so-subtle reference to the 1%. Effie calls the names of the tributes who are being sent to their seemingly imminent demise, in the games. This situation shows a decadently rich socialite being allowed to act as essentially the Grim Reaper, randomly selecting individuals for death. As she calls the names, Katniss’ younger sister Primrose is called as the female tribute. Katniss, of course, ‘volunteers’ to be tribute in her place to spare her 14-year-old sister. Katniss is congratulated by Effie on her choice, remarking that this is the first ‘volunteer’ from District 12 in the history of the Games. Katniss is consistently reminded that she ‘chose’ to be there much like in today’s world, oppressed people are often reminded that their position is their choice as they could have simply worked their way out of it. The motif of the ‘Illusion of Choice’ reverberates throughout the film in even the most basic explanation of the games, suggesting that the Districts consent to the Games by their own choice. The illusion of choice throughout the film is highly reminiscent of modern society’s similar mode of oppression.

Image result for hunger games gifs

Moving away from District 12, the two tributes are whisked away in a lavish train towards the Capital where they meet their advisor, the jaded alcoholic Haymitch Abernathy. He is the sole living Victor from District 12 and one of those stereotypical characters obviously trying to drown their past torment and current problems in alcohol. It is suggested that though Haymitch has lived in the Capital since his victory 24 years ago, he drinks to forget his time in District 12 rather than the horrors he saw in the games as he never truly seems bothered by the gore and death that the games present. Haymitch consistently represents the reality that without the full support of the Capital (read: rich people), it is impossible for District 12 (read: poor people) to come close to winning. Haymitch’s first piece of actual advice, instead of just telling them they are going to die, comes when he says, “You really wanna know how to stay alive? You get people to like you” (The Hunger Games). This reinforces the idea that you can’t win unless ‘chosen’ by a member of a higher class with real power, much like in today’s world, many success stories come from people ‘chosen’ by the rich (see Jay Gatsby, chosen by Dan Cody) rather than people who work their way up. This implies that Katniss and Peeta are not Victors in the end, they were merely spared by the rich which seems to be the highest form of achievement for a citizen of District 12. This ends up ringing true as Katniss is saved by the sponsors as after she was burned, Haymitch was shown schmoozing the elite members of the capital to get Katniss some medicine. Her life was saved by the sponsors here as was Peeta’s in a similar situation. Later in the training process, Katniss reinforces this ideal by actually setting herself on fire to get the attention of the sponsors. While this becomes a sort of signature look for Everdeen, it is an entirely desperate attempt at appealing to the rich by any means necessary. When asked about dressing to represent their District, as most do, their stylist Cinna says, “But I don’t want to do that. I’m gonna do something that they’re gonna remember” noting that representing their actual district would be horribly banal and forgettable. The system in which the games are played and presented silently reinforces classism and shows how without being ‘spared’ or ‘chosen’ by the powerful, the lower classes can’t possibly succeed, in today’s world as well.

Image result for hunger games gifs fire

Additionally, the way in which resources are distributed in the Games reinforces class systems. For most of the games, the Career tributes hold the Cornucopia and all the resources that came with it. They took this treasure trove over in the initial bloodbath, fighting off and killing anyone who tried to get their weapons and supplies. The only way in which lower class tributes are shown acquiring resources is theft. Most notably, Katniss receives her trademark bow in a scene depicting Katniss, in a hallucinogenic stupor, stealing the bow off Glimmer’s dead body. To me at least, this was highly reminiscent of a date rape scenario, with Katniss taking advantage of the compromised Glimmer, shown at the 2:30 mark in the clip below. So, the only scene depicting a lower-class tribute getting resources from the rich tributes, also known as redistribution of wealth, is presented as rape.

As they begin to train, the physical and mental disparity between the tributes of each district becomes obvious. The tributes from Districts 1 and 2 are physically superior, predominantly blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and generally cold and calloused in their interactions outside of their own group. Conversely, the tributes from other districts vary much more ethnically but are weaker and much less skilled in this type of warfare outside of a few outliers. The tributes from the first districts utterly dominate the training sessions hinting that dominance and skill may be directly correlated with Aryan characteristics and privilege. Similarly, none of the tributes from the first two districts are directly killed by Katniss or Peeta, but they were rather forced into deaths by nature or others like when Peeta throws Cato off the Cornucopia to the Mutts or when Glimmer was killed by the Tracker Jackers, suggesting that their deaths weren’t truly caused by Katniss and Peeta because it would be wrong for a District 12 tribute to kill a Career tribute. Class distinctions, although seemingly the biggest statement made by this film, are ideologically reinforced throughout.

Immediately after this intense training scene ends, the film flashes to the reality show aspect of the games where the tributes are paraded around in ornate dress for the entire nation to admire. The female tributes who were just depicted as hard-edged killing machines in the training exhibition are dolled up in frilly dresses, looking like pageant queens. The tributes also seem to be excited to dress up and show off as they are shown giggling and flirtatiously brushing up against their male counterparts. Sexualizing these absolute athletic phenomena devalues their skill and prowess along with normalizing their subjugation. The two Career females, Clove and Glimmer (Glimmer? You’ve got to be kidding), could easily kill most everyone in the room yet they are still objectified and portrayed as weaker, more feeble people. Further, when Peeta begins his interview with Caesar he tells the nation of this crush he has on a girl. Caesar immediately responds, “I’ll tell you what Peeta. You go out there and you win this thing. And when you get home. She’ll have to go out with you” (The Hunger Games). This comment brings forth raucous applause from the crowd and depicts women as prizes, but as a viewer, you generally agree with what Caesar says. Continuing throughout the film, many work to feed the romance between the District 12 tributes. Haymitch tells Katniss, “It makes you desirable” (The Hunger Games). When told by President Snow to give the masses something to root for, Game maker Seneca Crane suggests ‘Young love’, obviously in Peeta and Katniss. Later in the Games when Katniss finds Peeta by the river, suffering from serious wounds, she makes him a priority and endangers herself for him. She cooks for him and cleans his wound, very stereotypically domestic actions which work to portray the strongest women in the games as a docile housewife. Clearly, many portrayals of women throughout the film promote the internalization of sexist norms.

Image result for hunger games gifs clove knife

Furthermore, right when the games begin the bloodbath starts as the most concentrated killing scene by far in the film. The first two tributes killed on screen are both minorities and they were both killed by the Careers. In this first sequence, the audio is drowned out by a loud, blaring noise that mutes the screams and cries of the victims. This creates a blurry mental picture of the scene and doesn’t allow the viewer to sympathize with the victims, thus emphasizing that these deaths (of minorities) aren’t as painful or meaningful. Later in the film, Rue, one of three black tributes, saves Katniss by helping her escape from a tree by pointing out a Tracker Jacker nest. The two form an alliance and work together until they are walking in the forest and are attacked by another tribute. Rue is hit by a spear while Katniss dodges it and kills the attacker. Rue, one of the few black characters, metaphorically takes a bullet for Katniss, the white heroine. Rue in her last words utters, “You have to win” (The Hunger Games). It relatively obvious that Rue acts as a sacrifice for Katniss’ success as Thresh, the other black tribute from Rue’s district, saves Katniss from sure death and then spares her, saying “Just this time 12, for Rue” (The Hunger Games). This entire sequence depicts both Rue and Thresh as heroes but only in the way that they sacrificed themselves for the advancement of the ‘real’ white heroes. Additionally, when Rue is killed, her father is shown starting a large riot back in her district. The peacekeepers in District 11, the predominantly black district, are shown in full riot gear quelling this uprising using water hoses. This scene is highly reminiscent of the 1960’s civil rights riots in Birmingham, Alabama. This historical reference works to normalize the suppression of racial anger, in the United states and in Panem.

What it boils down to is this. This film’s ideological charge causes you to normalize, internalize and accept the exact same oppressive systems that you thought it was so valiantly speaking out against. This is a frightening thought for many. You don’t want to be duped and you of course would always like to think that your interpretations of culture are relatively insightful and accurate. This also presents a scary reality for our political climate today. If a people pleasing, feel good, seemingly liberal film like this can cause you to accept and even cheer for the subjugation of minorities, strong class divisions and highly sexist stereotypes, what can heavier movies do? What can political films do? Films about war? Films about crime? It’s entirely apparent that it’s not the obvious that presents a danger to us, it’s the discrete. We need not worry about the produced propaganda, you can see through that. We need worry about The Hunger Games. We need worry about the commercials for children. We need worry about the seemingly inane and harmless entertainment we consume loads of daily. The silent is dangerous because you watched The Hunger Games and happily cheered for the ‘star crossed lovers’ thinking that’s the way it’s supposed to be.


Image result for may the odds be ever in your favor quote