When I was a kid my role models tended to be imaginary. Not, ‘I am talking to people in my head’ imaginary (though I did have an imaginary friend called Lucy who was AMAZING) but ‘made up by other people’ imaginary. I had my head in a book most of the time, so as a pre-teen kid I wanted to grow up and be Trixie Belden (think Nancy Drew but more rural), Alex from the Tessa Duder books or, yes, I will admit it, one of the Sweet Valley twins (the smart sensible one obviously, rather than the one I shared a name with). I didn’t look to celebrities to determine how to make life choices, though I will admit that as I got a wee bit older I did look to Whitney and Kylie for fashion advice, which wasn’t always advisable. My point though, was that literature, as well as real life, is where I found women who inspired me. It wasn’t in the pages of fashion magazines or in music videos. And, as I watched the second Hunger Games movie for the second time this week (yep, have seen it twice already, it is THAT good) I was reminded how important these kinds of role models are, especially today.
I have blogged before here about the lack of positive representation of women in Hollywood. But Katniss Everdeen is such a brilliant counterpoint to the Mileys, the Kardashians and the multitude of other Disney stars that young girls seem obsessed with these days. Katniss, for those who don’t already know, is pretty kick ass. But she isn’t kick ass in a ‘I am wearing bodyhugging lycra in an attempt to keep the boys happy’ Lara Croft kind of way (though, she is wearing a tight leotard thing for most of this film – though that is more out of necessity than anything else, and the boys are too). She is kick ass in a ‘I am in a tight spot here so, to save my family and the people I care about I am going to use my smarts and my skills to do what I can to win’. And it is an inspiring story. And an inspiring character. She isn’t an insipid girl who mopes around choosing between boyfriends – despite there being a love triangle. She also isn’t so gung-ho as to make her un-relatable – her rebellion isn’t chosen, she would run if she could, but is forced. And that is something I think teenage girls can relate to. Few of them get to choose their destiny – but it is what you do with the choices you do get to make that is the real test of character.
I would argue too that Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays Katniss with such an intensity and commitment that you want to just give her another Oscar, is a similarly impressive role model. She isn’t preening around on the Hollywood circuit being all ‘look at me’. She seems one of the more down to earth actresses of her generation which, given the lime light in which she now lives is no mean feat. She commented in a recent interview that previously she had been a little bit too laid back about the whole press thing, and has learnt now to be a bit more professional and keep herself to herself more. The very fact that she was smart enough to look at her experiences so far and learn from them is testament to the fact that this is no Barbie doll actress we are dealing with. She has publically stated that she would rather stay home and watch TV than go out and party, and her relationship with X Men co-star Nicholas Hoult has been conducted outside of the spotlight. She has also chosen a diverse range of films to work on, not opting to just go for the big pay packets (though the $10M she apparently got for Catching Fire probably means she doesn’t have to worry too much about that).
So, I would suggest that Katniss and her human incarnation are the very antithesis of the celebrity obsessed world which Suzanne Collins has been turning her attentions to in the Hunger Games novels. Sure, Lawrence is a celebrity, and sure the Hunger Games franchise will skyrocket the careers of a few of its victors for sure, but it does what so few big films these days bother to do. It sets out to teach the audience something while also entertaining them. The recent speight of Marvel films, for all of their entertainment value, don’t have a lot to say about the state of the world today. Whereas the Hunger Games, and especially this latest instalment, has insights galore – ones that teenagers can pick up and ponder. I am so grateful to Suzanne Collins, and to Lawrence, for providing us with such a great role model. And if my nieces start wearing Kaniss plaits and learning archery I will be fully behind it 🙂