Was Alma Coin Truly Evil?

Are you ready for the continuation of Guest Postapalooza?! We’re back today with another post from the mse, who says that President Coin isn’t just your nickel and dime evildoer!

Bad puns from us aside, enjoy!
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Let the casting rumors begin in 3... 2...

Let the casting rumors begin in 3… 2…

I feel like all these fancasting posts make me way too excited about Mockingjay, and namely about the enigma that President Alma Coin is. When secondary characters are brought to life on the screen in any adaptations, there’s a certain liberty that falls to the actors portraying them. Think Helena Bonham Carter as the vicious Bellatrix Lestrange, bringing the kind of eccentric over-the-top complete and utter madness that only Helena Bonham Carter can bring to that role.

You see, every actor is a different interpretation and therefore a different Alma Coin. Will she be a quiet menace throughout the two Mockingjay movies? Will she display any sort of fatigue or emotional attachment? Will she be intelligent and visibly calculative, or a strong, comforting presence in the lives of the District 13 people? Are we going to see her struggling with some of the more questionable decisions she makes, or will she be completely depleted of empathy towards the innocents she sacrifices?

Beside the casting options, I’m also excited because our screenwriter is Danny ‘Jonathan from Buffy’ Strong, who as we all know, happens to have a few political dramas to his credit about the real Alma Coins of our world… Well, not really, because as far as I know, our politicians don’t usually drop bombs on a bunch of kids, and then pretend that it was the enemy just to win a war. At least I hope so. Also none of his characters were anything like Alma Coin as far as I can tell. But you get my drift. Strong knows how to write politicians and political situations, and if there’s anyone who can humanize this seemingly malicious character while still staying true to canon, it’s him.

GASP! Yes, I actually truly believe that this character was human and not the incarnation of evil itself. Judge me all you want, I will stand by this point until my dying breath, grasping a copy of Mockingjay in my hands, telling my grand-grandchildren the story of how I was exiled from the Hunger Games fandom in my youth.

The thing is, I also believe that Coin was a negative character. She was ruthless, power-hungry, and used anyone and any means necessary to achieve her goals. As far as I’m concerned, Katniss’ decision to put an arrow through her was merited, and was based on a lot more than just plain revenge for her sister. Coin wanted to bring back the Games, the very symbol of the enslavement Panem tried to get free of, promising the same kind of dictatorship Snow enforced.

alma_coin_by_jordanprice-d2zrfea

Disciplined and controlling– that’s my Coin

On another hand though, Coin accomplished some truly remarkable achievements. She and her predecessors built a whole new society to survive, one that may restrict personal freedoms, but as a whole worked efficiently, dividing their limited supplies and evolving quietly.

Yes, they weren’t exactly helpful in the 75 years the other Districts had to deal with the Capitol’s oppression, that’s for sure. They were just fine in their tiny little secluded country, thank you very much, and didn’t care a whole lot about what happened to the rest of the world. But honestly, who would’ve benefited from a nuclear war between the Capitol and 13?

You could say that District 13 needed the other Districts’ full co-operation to win this war. You could say that they tried to minimize their own casualties by relying heavily on the rebel armies. You could say that Alma Coin only wanted the power that helping the Districts would give her. The fact remains. It was under President Coin’s leadership that the Capitol has been overthrown. It seems to me, that even those who’ve seen her methods and understood her plans, let her stay in position until the very end, possibly because they knew that she would indeed succeed.

I guess the point of my rant is that while Coin wasn’t fit to lead Panem, she might still have been a necessary evil in this revolution. Obviously not all of her actions were merited, but she did what she thought was needed to be done – not just to cement her position as the main authority in the country, but to end this war as soon as possible. So maybe, just maybe, there is indeed a complexity to this character that can be explored in many different ways.

So many actors, so many interpretations, so many possibilities,

(E)m(e)se

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12 comments

  1. mse, I commend your bravery in wading into very controversial waters! I will be very interested to see how the movies develop Coin as a character, because I think her character development in MJ was, well, mostly non-existent, that she remained more of a concept, the “other side of the Coin” to Snow’s brand of tyranny, than a person I could visualize actually existing with a credible backstory.

    This is quite unlike Gale, who also subscribes to the same kind of utilitarian mindset when it comes to acts of war, BUT I could totally understand where he was coming from. With Coin, we only see the finished product, and we don’t know if she was motivated only by personal ambition all along, or whether she started out with good intentions and let power corrupt her, etc. However, I do tend to lean toward the latter, because we see the Boggs is loyal to her in the beginning, and I think Boggs is a stand-up guy who wouldn’t just blindly follow a leader without question. (And when he *does* start to question Coin, then he *does* defect.)

    Also, even Katniss, who distrusts Coin and D13 in general from the start, does wind up grudgingly giving them credit for sheer survival. I think SC meant for D13 society to be the logical outcome of a people forced to basically exist in “disaster mode”, not for days, weeks, or even years, but decades.

    I also think that while Coin’s decision to revive the Hunger Games is deplorable, one mitigating factor is that, because of D13’s isolation, Coin herself never experienced the Games as a threat to her own well-being, or that of friends and family members. I can somewhat understand how she’d see them as a reasonable compromise between letting the Capitol off the hook completely, and to slaughter all the Capitol citizens. (While I suspect the number of rebels clamoring for such mass slaughter was much less than Coin implies, I am sure they DID exist.)

    Ultimately, while I do think Coin is meant to be a villain, I don’t think she’s meant to be a total black hat, but one wearing a very dark shade of grey. And not just literally.

    1. I guess I was so engulfed by my Coin casting excitement, that I didn’t even realize just how much of a controversial topic this is. Ooops. 🙂

      I also feel like I didn’t put all my Coin arguments in it. I absolutely agree that there were many – maybe even more than you’d think – rebels crying out for Capitol blood after the war. I was recently reminded of the retributive acts that happened during and after WW II in my own country, and that made me think. Most of us lived our whole lives in (relative) peace and probably have no idea just how many Gales and Johannas could be out there after something like this, demanding ‘justice’. Of course giving into these demands could never lead to any good, and that’s something that Katniss herself realizes.

      Another thing is that it’s not just Boggs who you see following Coin. It’s all of D13. When Coin makes the announcement about Katniss’ demands at the beginning of Mockingjay, the people of D13 start grumbling before she adds that last part as a sort of reassurance. In a way Coin was the “people’s president” for them – although I guess you could say the same thing about Snow and the Capitol.

      However we also clearly see Coin’s ambitious side. The way she tries to get rid of Katniss by sending a still unstable Peeta to join her team shows that she doesn’t tolerate anyone who could be any danger to her future position as the President of Panem. And of course there’s the theory that she deliberately let Prim into the field to win Katniss’ support later by killing her in the name of the Capitol. These acts obviously can not be explained by anything but a thirst for power and control all over the country.

      All in all, I’m really excited to see how she’s going to be brought to life, because there’s potentially a lot of ambiguity there to play around. Coin is a negative character, maybe even a villain, but as pretty much everyone in SC’s world, she’s also human.

      1. Hi mse! I didn’t realize that it was still up for debate as a “theory” that Coin “deliberately let Prim into the field to win Katniss’ support later by killing her in the name of the Capitol.” I suppose it’s possible that Prim snuck onto the battlefield of her own accord, but I seriously doubt the highly regimented D13 military would let something like that happen. I don’t know if Coin actually wanted Prim DEAD, but I do think she hoped Prim would at the very least be injured, and distract Katniss from any temptation to scheme against Coin. (Though I will be very interested to see how the movie plays this.)

        Since you’ve referred to a Game of Thrones character in your essay on Katniss, I think you’ll appreciate a comparison of Coin to two GOT characters in similar positions of political power; Stannis Baratheon and Tywin Lannister. Both are willing to sacrifice a few for the sake of the many, and are complicit in wartime atrocities (both by our standards AND that of their own society). Even though the GOT producers have out-and-out called Stannis a “villain”, it seems fans tend to give cut him more slack than Tywin, because he’s presented as concerned for the “greater good” of Westeros as a whole, while Tywin seems to care only about the well-being of his House, the rest of the country be damned. Will the movies present Coin as more of a Stannis, or more of a Tywin? I think either way, Coin definitely has room to be fleshed out as a believable character.

        Also speaking of GOT: I wish I could believe, like TTB says, that people who support genocide are a tiny minority of the population, and that Coin was mentioning a handful of extremists to make herself look good by comparison. But the reactions to a certain shocking event in GOT Season 3 really make me question that, because MANY fans have called for the slaughter of everyone associated with the House that was guilty of it, including the women and children. If people can react that way to something that happens to FICTIONAL characters who never actually existed, then I can totally see them reacting that way to real life atrocities that actually took the lives of people they knew, even loved.

      2. Satsuma: It’s not uncommon for a lot of people to call out for genocide or murder or torture in anger – but I don’t think that saying the words is the same as seriously campaigning for it to happen or being ready to try to make it happen. The number of people who will do the latter is hundreds or thousands of times smaller than the number of former. Enraged people tend to call out for retribution, but it’s mostly just venting. (For instance, whenever there’s a media coverage of a heinous sex crime, child abuse, child murder etc., many people will angrily state what gruesome things they think should be done to the perpetrator. Recently, there was talk in an pet-loving Facebook group I’m a member of about a dog asylum where dogs were being starved and tortured and killed, and a lot of enraged people were making some really gruesome posts about what should happen to the people running that asylum. But nobody takes it seriously or thinks that people who are venting like that are really going to try to put it in action.) To use my previous example, when I say “mostly homophobic country”, it means that the “silent majority” has a more or less unfavorable opinion about LBGT people and will frown and say homophobic things – some may even condone the beating up of gays while others would draw a line there, even though they don’t want to see a Pride Parade, some just don’t care – but only the extremist minority (which is, however, very loud) will go out and beat people up. When authorities choose to highlight the violent extremist minorities are those whose opinions are of utmost importance, they’re being hypocrites.

        I don’t believe that authorities could gt “pressured” by the “will of the people” to commit genocide or mass murder. As a rule, it happens when the people in power want to commit genocide and employ their military, para-military and propaganda apparatus to make it happen. In this particular case, I don’t think Coin’s position was that weak that she had to be afraid that these “voices calling out for slaughter of the Capitol population” would force it to happen or force her to step down as President in order to make it happen. And if the Hunger Games were a way to placate them, why didn’t she come up with the idea publicly and present it to those people calling out for slaughter in order to placate them, if that’s what she needed to do? Why the secrecy, why hide behind the popularity of the Victors? Why assume that this decision, made in what must have been a highly irregular manner even in Panem (secret meeting, people who don’t hold any public office, some of them heavily traumatized and in treatment in mental ward), would be upheld, if her position was really that weak if she made it seem?

    2. The answer to the question in the title depends on one’s definition of the word “evil”. Do I think she was 100% evil, devoid of any redeeming qualities, or did nothing positive? No, of course not. But there’s a line that makes the difference between morally ambiguous and evil, and she definitely crossed it, by doing several things I definitely consider evil.

      Regarding Coin’s motives, I can’t say for sure since we don’t see things from her POV in the books, but my guess is that she probably has a mix of motivations: she really likes power, but at the same time she thinks she’s the best qualified to make decisions for the “greater good”, and she believes she needs the power and authority to do that. She also probably has very strict ideas about what a society should look like.

      However, I don’t buy her argument that she was looking for a compromise “between letting the Capitol off the hook completely, and to slaughter all the Capitol citizens”, at all. Her behavior and arguments seem, to me, like an insincere demagogy I find very recognizable; it’s the typical demagogy of populist authoritarian politicians.

      They will claim that they “must” do something or “can’t” allow something to happen because “the people” wants it – which usually refers to some extremist groups that they could very easily keep in check if they just wanted to; curiously, those things always happen be those things they want themselves, and that they think will give them more wide popularity. (Real life example: Gay Pride parade in a mostly homophobic country. The extremist groups threaten violence. The politicians proclaim that they can’t let it happen, effectively banning the parade, and therefore declaring themselves powerless before a group of hooligans – but they’re really doing it because they are pretty homophobic themselves, and, more importantly, because they know they’ll lose votes if they appear to openly support gay rights, but they don’t want to bring the wrath of the European Union and the international organizations if they ban the Parade without an excuse that they’re worried about public safety. If the politicians in power wanted to make it happen, they would have arrested the leaders of the extremist groups immediately. But when they really want to make something happen, they will crack down on everyone, send police, arrest powerful businessman, whatever it takes. It’s extremely hypocritical because they really hold most of the reigns of power in their hands, but will hide behind “extremist threats” and supposed public opinion when it suits them.

      I don’t buy for a moment that Coin had no choice or had to make that “compromise”. Nobody could have forced her to start a slaughter of the Capitol population, and while I’m sure there were such voices, I don’t believe they ever had a chance of being seriously considered. Coin was far more powerful than she let herself seem there. (As seen in the fact that she could come up on her own with a proposal for the Hunger Games, give the right to make the decision to a group of people who have never held any public office, in a closed meeting, and expect such a decision to be upheld as legal and legitimate.) And as we know, the next government under Paylor survived just well without either a slaughter of Capitol citizens or the Hunger Games. I suspect that Coin saw a nice way to get some love on both sides: win the wider population in the Districts by making herself appear just vindictive enough, while being able to hide behind the Victors and their popularity if needed, and maybe even try to present herself as a “moderate” to the Capitol and the less vindictive people in the Districts. She was basically trying to portray herself as a “moderate” person by bringing up the ogre of those who wanted genocide; to use the above example, it’s like the politicians who try to portray themselves as “moderate”, unlike the extremists who want to (at least) beat up all gay people if not kill them, and the “extremists on the other side” who think gay people should have the rights to not hide their sexual orientation and not be discriminated against. Similarly, Coin was pretending to hold a “moderate” position between the extremists who wanted genocide and “the other extremists” who wanted no murder – by suggesting a murder of “just” 23 children.

  2. TTB: Replying here since the site won’t let me reply directly to your last post. Anyway, I agree that the whole “it’s either this or genocide” argument she uses to justify the Games, is a total strawman argument. And while I do suspect the people who really wanted to kill everyone in the Capitol were more than a tiny extremist minority, I agree with you that they were not so numerous as to actually threaten Coin’s power or position.

    I guess the question for me is, why WOULD Coin want the “revenge Games” to happen? It seems you’ve already rejected the “appeasing the public” argument, and I agree that this was more of an excuse than the real reason. Okay, so what was that real reason? It’s easy to say “because she was EVIL!” and leave it there, but I think the point of the OP is to contemplate Coin as a complex character with believable motivations for what she does.

    So why? Because she herself was so bloodthirsty that she wanted to see innocent kids be slaughtered in public? I never got that vibe from her; a ruthless “ends justify the means” mentality, yes, but not a love of sadism for the sake of sadism. (I DO get that vibe from Snow, but not Coin).

    The best I can come up with, is that her purpose here was similar to how Coin likely put Prim in harm’s way in order to break Katniss; she wanted to break the will of the people opposing her by forcing them to see their loved ones harmed, and be powerless to do anything about it. (Pretty much the same reason the Capitol instituted the Games in the first place.)

    Also, note that the kids she proposes be forced into the Games, aren’t random Capitol kids, but the kids of high ranking Capitol politicians; Joanna quickly realizes that Snow has a grand-daughter who’d be “eligible”. So she was continuing her M.O. of neutralizing political opponents by “breaking” them, the way she tried to break Katniss.

    1. I agree that Coin’s proposal for a new Hunger Games was probably an intimidation technique – which, as you mentioned, was pretty much the same route the Capitol went down for the first time.

      I also want to react to TTB’s precious comment: you can’t possibly compare dog mistreatment or even a vicious crime on the news to the kind of tragedies and horrors that come with this kind of war that these people actually lived through. These kind of retributions unfortunately do happen. I mentioned World War II, and that is a subject I’d encourage people to look up, because this part of history often gets glossed over. And I’m not just talking about the bogus trials, where amidst the whole chaos many innocents were found guilty of Nazi cooperation – there were places where people were rounded up and executed on the spot based on their nationalities after the war was over. Could the government have prevented this to happen? Absolutely. In fact, they were the ones who mostly ordered these acts. Obviously it’s mindless and maybe even incomprehensible for us – I actually had ancestors who were killed in this manner. But it’s not unprecedented. Again, I agree with Satsuma that Coin’s main motivation was probably to plant fear into the people of the Capitol, and she obviously could’ve dealt with the situation and the people’s anger in any number of ways if she really wanted to. But I did want to give some perspective on the whole subject.

      1. I’m not comparing dog mistreatment or reaction to the crimes on the news to people living through war and tragedy – I was pointing out that people will say a lot of extreme things when they are angry and outraged. Even dog mistreatment is enough to provoke some people into saying that someone should be killed slowly and gruesomely or tortured, so what can you expect when there is a lot more cause for rage and desire for revenge?

        I am well aware of retributions that happened after the World War II, but as you pointed out, most of them were government-condoned if not directly ordered. Angry individuals may commit sporadic crimes, but big-scale mass murder and genocide does not happen without the authorities condoning them or ordering them.

    2. I think this is completely the right read on Coin. Ruthless, yes, but probably not sadistic and evil in the same way Snow was.

  3. Mse — very thoughtful and thought-provoking post and comments! I’ve been on a WWII history reading kick and have been struck by how fortunate Americans are to have pretty clear separation of military and civilian powers, with checks and balances that protect us from many of the worst abuses of military dictatorships. Not perfect, mind you, but a heck of a lot better than, say, Nazi Germany, Showa Imperial Japan, or Stalin’s USSR. We also generally don’t worship our leaders, or view them as infallible; we have freedom of religion and the press, rather than state religions or propaganda dominated cultures that are all too effective at manipulating the masses and whipping up the troops.

    Catching Fire and Mockingjay in particular, explore all of these ideas and it’s always been clear to me that Collins is a serious student of history. A lot of terrible things happen in the heat of battle, and innocents die or suffer in the aftermath of any major war during periods of military rule. But eventually the press, the public, and cooler heads in our government get a grip on things.

    I think Collins, the daughter of a military man, meant to provoke just this sort of discussion.

    All things considered (including the likely massive civilian casualties in Japan following a conventional US invasion) were we right to use atomic bombs on Japan? Was FDR right to mislead the American people about his intention to enter WW2? What exactly was the moral distinction between Hitler’s concentration camps and genocidal campaigns against Jews and other ‘undesirables’ and British and American interment camps for Japanese and German nationals?

    And more generally: Is peace at any price a good thing? What are the proper limits on the powers of government, corporations, the military and the wealthy? How do we maintain those limits, while still protecting the rule of law? If most of the people pay absolutely no attention to what their Federal or local governments are doing, but fritter their time away watching reality TV and reading gossip pages (ooops!), are they morally culpable when things go wrong?

    Completely provocative question no. 25: Was Katniss right to assassinate Coin?

  4. omg. I got into an argument about Presidents Colin’s complex character and what Collins could have been trying to highlight about evil done for the greater good. This person went on to attack my character and Collins, for that matter, from the ‘implications” of my comment about this very convoluted and fascinating plot-twist in the novel.

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