The good news: We’ve got a guest post today!
But there’s some important notes about this post: The subject is heavy and possibly triggering for some people. The opinions are those of the writer and they ain’t rainbows and kittens.
With that said… Take it away, Satsuma!
NOTE: The following contains, toward the end, spoilers (though vague) for Game of Thrones Season 4, and another vague spoiler for (the original) Dr. Who.
First of all, let me apologize for not exactly bringing the funny in this post, because I just couldn’t figure out a way to do it.
Most of you likely know of, or perhaps even seen, the infamous video featuring the talented Mr. Rice, formerly an employee of the Baltimore Ravens, punching his then-fiancee (now wife) so hard she was knocked unconscious. Now, I have always been fascinated by the many parallels between Panem and the real world, but I must admit I didn’t notice any here, until I read the timely post by JJ regarding Josh Hutcherson revealing that Peeta is shown saving Katniss after she’s set on fire by the parachute bombs, and her comment that: “It may also help buy back some goodwill from the purely movie-going audience for all the times he *gulp* tries to hurt her in hijacked rage.”
And then I realized, that there IS a parallel between the Ray Rice video and Mockingjay. A pivotal MJ scene also features a video of a celebrated male contestant in a game known for violence, attacking his fiancee. Not only that, this incident is important in MJ not really because Peeta attacks Katniss, which he has before this point, but because, when he actually watches his actions on video, Peeta is shocked and horrified at himself, to the point of suicidality. The idea that SEEING something makes a unique impact on people, certainly seems to be the case in how quickly public outrage mounted after the Rice video was released, forcing powerful entities such as the NFL to make an about-face, and how even Rice’s defenders, who claimed earlier that “no one really knows what happened in that elevator”, were forced to as well.
Not that video footage is required for shock and outrage, of course; just see what happened in Ferguson, MO. And just because people see images of violence or its effects, doesn’t mean they’ll reject it; many of Adrian Peterson’s defenders admit to seeing the graphic pictures of the injuries he inflicted on his son, but still state that what he did was acceptable discipline. And certainly, what seems to be damning video can be edited or taken out of context, as the torturers do with the Katniss videos they show Peeta; Ray Rice is now claiming as much, as he appeals his indefinite suspension.
But in general, it does seem images have an impact on people that the written word just doesn’t have. And now we get to JJ’s point about movie-only fans, and the idea that perhaps adding more positive Peeta-Katniss interaction in MJ might counter-balance the impact of seeing Peeta physically attack Katniss. I suspect that even for book readers who know what happened, actually SEEING him try to strangle her, as opposed to the brief, fade-to-black one-liner we get in the book, will have a quite different kind of impact. In general, the only fandom players I have really seen hate on Peeta, are anti-Everlakers who’d prefer Katniss wind up with Gale, Haymitch, Finnick, etc. Indeed, it’s KATNISS who seems to get most of the vitriol for her reactions to hijacked Peeta. But will this change when we actually SEE what he does?
Now, even before Ricegate raised the general awareness of intimate partner violence, I have thought that the MJ film runs a risk of coming across as condoning or excusing violence in relationships. Now, certainly, as far as we know, nobody gave Ray Rice toxic hallucinogens, BUT it’s certainly plausible he may have had alcohol in his system, or even that the hits he’s received on the field have affected his brain. Yet, the conventional wisdom about what he did now seems to be, “There is never ANY excuse for a man to hit the woman he claims to love”. So, what will the casual movie fan, think about Peeta’s actions? And what will they think of Katniss? Note that the public hasn’t exactly been THAT supportive of Mrs. Rice, either; many people have sighed at yet another example of a woman standing by a man who doesn’t deserve it, or even cynically suggested that she finds the occasional KO a reasonable price for the fame and fortune she can access through her husband.
Certainly, there are many incidents of male – on – female violence in the story so far in the context of the Games, but fans seem to have accepted that there is nothing specifically “gendered” about, say, Thresh killing Clove, or Marvel killing Rue; it was fairly obvious that they would have handled a male tribute in the same position, no better or worse. And some fans argue that Peeta’s acted out of perceived self defense, and that this motivation is MUCH different than that of an abuser. But there’s also the take that, as JJ stated, Peeta acted out of “hijacked rage” and vengeance, not just self-defense, which comes a lot closer, uncomfortably closer, to real-life stories of spurned suitors turning violent.
IMHO, many people who commit acts of domestic violence are NOT inhuman monsters who we can safely consign to the “Other” category; Adrian Peterson seemed honestly perplexed as to why anyone would label him an abuser, and he very well might NOT have beat his son to satisfy some twisted sadistic urge; many of his defenders seem to honestly think harsh “discipline” is the only way to prevent their kids, especially in tough neighborhoods, from becoming juvenile delinquents. But then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if, say, Mrs. Mellark reacted the same way to an abuse allegation. “How dare you call me an abuser? I’m just trying to show my sons how to survive in this cold, hard world, and if I have to be a little harsh to make my point, so be it. Would you rather they get a few swats from me, or be whipped in the public square?”
So, just because Peeta is not a monster (even though he actually calls himself one), does that make his actions acceptable? I’m not talking about legal prosecution, certainly he’d likely qualify for an insanity defense. The issue is, will people who actually see visual images of him attempting to strangle Katniss to death, then later attempt to beat her head in with a rifle butt, find these actions forgiveable? Will they find the eventual Peeta-Katniss ending to be acceptable, or send some kind of dangerous message to women that “if the man in your life was mentally ill at the time he attacked you, you should forgive him, marry him, and have his kids”? Or will the casual fan conclude, “See, I told you this was just another Twilight. Why do those silly teenage girls lap up this nonsense that there’s something noble about loving a man who has insidious urges to kill you?”
And here’s another interesting example (beware, GOT S4 spoilers ahead) of fictional scenes that stir up controversy about real life issues.
Remember the tremendous controversy around a scene in GOT S4, that most show-only fans interpreted as an obvious rape? The source scene from the book, which is notably in the POV of the more sexually aggressive partner, is more ambiguous, and GRRM himself denied that he meant to write a rape scene. But one interesting fan debate that took place was this; are the showrunners at fault for misinterpreting canon and writing a rape scene without realizing it? Or, does a close reading of the original book scene, reveal that it was GRRM himself who did so, it only became apparent that he did when we actually got to SEE the scene, not just read about it?
So, I am very curious as to whether the movie WILL manage to redeem Peeta, and the P-K ship, or whether movie-only fans will wind up with a far different take on whether an Everlark ending casts a ray of hope, or just adds to the tragedy of war. I have wondered myself if Peeta and Katniss really were capable of raising well-adjusted children, or if they were doomed to repeat their respective cycles of family dysfunction. And since Peeta’s mental state certainly seems to be based in part on real PTSD sufferers, flashbacks and all, I wonder if the wider fandom wind up debating, whether SC wrote an apologia for acts of domestic violence committed by military veterans and other PTSD sufferers against their families, without realizing it.
Of course, as I have noted before, the idea that Peeta CONTINUED to be violent toward Katniss during flashbacks post-war, despite his treatment, is fanon, not canon. Also, SC never claimed that she was trying to provide her readers with models for healthy romantic relationships. But neither did GRRM, yet that didn’t quite shield him from criticism.
(And now my Who spoiler):
On the other hand, the original Dr. Who program managed to show the Doctor almost strangling a woman while in a temporarily insane state, without apparently detracting from his hero status; and that was when Dr. Who was still considered a safe kiddie show. IMHO, the Doctor post-reboot is NOT really that much darker than his pre-Time-War self, though he apparently received a testosterone infusion during his hiatus. (Okay, I finally managed to bring in some humor).
I suppose only time will tell.