Friday, April 13, 2012

Deep Analysis of a Silly Thing

Science fiction is really effective at presenting social and philosophical concepts to the reader in an interesting and easy-to-digest manner, and the recent spate of highly intellectual articles about The Hunger Games is a great example. Matt Yglesias evaluates that fictional world through the lenses of economic theory and political economy. Michael Lewis gets into the mathematical aspects of the lottery system, and considers the contenders' behavior via a game theoretic model. But the most provocative article concerns the social justice dimensions of the book and movie:
"The clear problem with this isn't that girls will want to hold out for a Prince, but that it might foster the illusion their value is so innately high that even without pretty clothes or a sense of agency a Prince will come find them. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are worse: they don't even have to bother to stay alive to get their Prince. 

The Hunger Games has this same feminist problem.  Other than the initial volunteering to replace her younger sister, Katniss never makes any decisions of her own, never acts with consequence-- but her life is constructed to appear that she makes important decisions."
This agency-based critique is interesting, but sort of looses its teeth once you consider the standard it sets up. Think about most action movies, especially those starring your typical white male lead. The only reason those guys survive the whole two hours is because of constantly recurring dumb luck. What is the exciting "just-in-time" moment if not a deus ex machina? Characters in action movies are constantly making vital decisions that run counter to the probability, but always survive. The fact that action heroes succeed due to random luck and not their decisionmaking ability or personal qualities reveals the illusion of their agency also.

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