Violence, Lies, and Videotape– The Parallels Between Panem and Ricegate

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!

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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.

And then there's this in Part 2...

And then there’s this in Part 2…

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.
Satsuma

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8 comments

  1. Very interesting. The scene from MJ that comes to mind as I read this is where Peeta is somewhat better and has a meal with Katniss, Gale, Delly, Finnick and Annie in the D13 cafeteria. He gets very angry that Katniss and Gale are still “dragging it out” and has a few pointed things to say about nights on the train and memories he doesn’t think the capitol could have tampered with. These ARE comments that sound more like a jealous, abusive boyfriend, not the victim of psychological torture. He’s reasonably pissed about the way she handled the ambiguity of their relationship. I actually started to really respect Peeta for standing up for himself in that scene. Until everybody can tell he is exerting all of his control not to choke her again. And then I realized he was just acting like a violent a-hole in that moment.

    Now, the difference is that his personality was changed against his will by chemicals and torture. I’m not an expert, but I think those are things that can heal over time and aren’t permanent changes. Rice, and others, have no such excuse. If he was drunk, he did it voluntarily. And nobody directed his rage at his fiance, that was all his own doing. The studies about whether guys like him can change with treatment and therapy are mixed.

    I think whether or not Peeta comes off as somebody who can be redeemed comes down to if they can explain effectively in the movie how hijacking works (showing it would be horrible, but effective), and if they can show in an epilogue how much of his original personality has returned. For me, I could see Peeta was going to be OK when he began to have hope for the future, so I will be sold if they communicate that in the epilogue. But sure, I’m concerned. Suzanne Collins did an amazing job communicating Peeta’s journey to the dark side, and it won’t be easy to show that in a film.

  2. Very interesting post, Satsuma, I love the depth of it. Also great reply by Laura that I largely agree with: The short answer is that Peeta’s behaviour, unlike most domestic abusers, can be attributed to the fact that he “wasn’t himself”. This will affect people’s views. After all, when you think about it, isn’t this quite a common motif in popular culture? Good people get “hypnotized” in some way to do things they wouldn’t normally do, until it wears off. Hawkeye in the Avengers comes to mind. Angel in “Buffy”. I haven’t read Divergent, but heard it even happened there.
    Of course, it’s not that easy in this case, because Suzanne Collins doesn’t take the easy way out (for which I will love her till the end of time). In this case, we don’t know when it wears off. Exactly when, if ever, does Peeta get well? We don’t know that. Thing is, there are so many layers to the hijacking. It’s so much more than “the Capitol makes Peeta a killer robot to take out Katniss”, You can see it in a psychodynamic perspective. You can see it as a metaphor for a romantic relationship. Like, to me, it was sometimes reminicient of a bad breakup. Especially things like the cafeteria scene Laura mentions. Katniss has treated Peeta unfairly, something he would never have confronted her with, had the hijacking not removed his defenses. Peeta and Katniss have to learn not to idolize each other, and love each other despite their negative sides.
    How in the world is a blockbuster format going to do justice to these nuances?? I don’t know. Other things that do make me a little worried are:
    -The visuals, like you say, Satsuma. It will be a different thing to see it.
    – The way Peeta and Everlark have been portrayed until now. In the first movie, Peeta’s character was misrepresented to the point where many people still see him as a “wuss” and “weak”. How will the hijacking affect their views? Also, the development of Peeta and Katniss’s strong pre-hijacking bond/friendship, which of course affects them later, wasn’t really shown. It got reduced to part of a “love triangle”. In general, this will make Katniss’ reactions harder to understand.

  3. Thanks for the feedback! I agree that there are nuances in the Peeta situation that make it very different than Ray Rice’s, but I don’t think the situation is as simple as, say the Imperius curse in Harry Potter, where the victims are certainly not to blame – and yet, we also know some people used that as a handy excuse. And some of Peeta’s comments later on do, as Laura said, have somewhat of an “abusive boyfriend” vibe.

    I agree with Louise that there are many other pop culture examples of people attacking their loved ones under the influence of some malignant force. Even kids’ shows have featured it, such as Ninjago; the Overlord, the archvillian, manages to turn most of the heroes “evil” at some point with his powers, and it’s made obvious the victims haven’t actually chosen that.

    But in many of those cases, the person attacks allies and friends, not lovers, spouses, and children. Angel doesn’t just target Buffy when he loses his soul and reverts to his evil “Angelus” persona, he’s evil to well, everyone,

    Another interesting pop culture example of a TV show’s approach to this topic, is when the Hercules TV show with Kevin Sorbo showed the goddess Hera killing his wife and kids. But in the original myth, Hera didn’t kill directly, she used her powers to drive Hercules mad, and HE was the one who actually killed them, that’s the whole reason Hercules takes on 12 labors, as atonement. Apparently, the show-runners didn’t think they could show their hero killing his family, and that was when awareness of DV was much less, and the same people found no problem with turning Xena, introduced as an evil warlord (warlady?) who’d killed hundreds, maybe thousands, into a hero later.

    And note that while Ron almost attacks Harry in a jealous rage in Deathly Hallows, under the influence of (part of) the soul of Tom Riddle/Voldemort, he (1) doesn’t actually hurt Harry, he stops himself at the last moment and (2) never attacks Hermione herself. To me, what Riddle did to Ron, and the effects, seemed like a magical version of what the Capitol does to Peeta, I can see Voldy laughing at the Capitol torturers about how crude their techniques are. However, JKR held back from going as far as SC did, and I think she also had a sense that if she had Ron cross the line into actually going after Hermione, her audience wouldn’t take it well, even though there was an explanation for why Ron “wasn’t himself”.

    I think that might be the real difference that’s at play here, at least for the general audience; and the Peeta-Katniss relationship being toned down in the movies might actually help in MJ, because Peeta never actually was Katniss’s boyfriend. Also, note that the THG movie never actually showed Peeta being upset and angry that Katniss “faked” her feelings for him “for the Games”. CF shows Peeta later apologizing, but the movie-only audience didn’t get the full context of why.

    And since Ross was originally meant to direct the whole series, I’ve always wondered if his cutting that out was part of a strategy to make sure Peeta stayed in the good graces of the movie fandom later. The fact that the movie has added at least one scene that shows Peeta trying to save Katniss, and will likely spend more time on showing them “growing back together”, does make me think Nina and company ARE aware of the risks in dramatizing the hijacking arc.

    Anyway, I’m sure SOME movie-only fans will be unable to accept K/P. Some book fans also were unable to do so. I know of a Katniss/Haymitch shipper who’s stated she supported K/P until MJ. I also am myself disturbed that some fans have accepted that Peeta continued to be violent to Katniss even after being treated by Dr. Aurelius, and seemed to have no problem with shipping them. Their rationale seems to be “Peeta isn’t in control of those actions and Katniss is doing the right thing by standing by him, she should have done it in MJ instead of abandoning him”.

    But I must admit, I myself would NOT support K/P, certainly not support them bringing kids into the marriage, if I thought Peeta was still a threat post-war. Because many RL victims of DV give all sorts of excuses for the behavior, including mental illness, state the abuser is “usually a wonderful man, it’s only the drink/stressful job/PTSD from the war he was in/my provoking him” that drives him to act out. I think some people have the simplistic belief that all perps who commit DV are obviously eeeevil and the women (or men) in such relationships are deluded, insane, etc. to stay with them. RL is more complicated than that.

    1. Good point that the “influenced” persons don’t usually attack their lovers and/or children. I would actually consider Angel/Angelus/Buffy an exception, though. Although Angelus doesn’t go solely after Buffy, she is his main enemy and target. And in the process of
      going after her, he uses details of her relationship with Angel against her. I’d say Joss Whedon was definitely drawing a parallell to “abusive (ex-)boyfriends”. The relevance to real relationships was quite shallow though. I’m a Whedon fan, but here, more than anything, he seemed to send the message “Don’t sleep with your boyfriend, he will turn on you.”
      In the case of hijacking, I’d say the parallell goes much deeper. There is also, like we have both pointed out, the huge difference that there is not always a clear line between Old Peeta and Hijacked Peeta. That could absolutely be a problem.
      Despite this, I do feel confident that Peeta ends up “cured” of his violent side. Still affected emotionally, but not personality-wise. The reasons why I think this:
      1) I don’t think Dr. Aurelius would have released Peeta into D12 at the end without making absolutely sure he was no longer violent. I think this is why Peeta isn’t there at first when Katniss returns. Imagine the risk: In D12 was his former main target, confined to the District, and in a very vulnerable state.
      2) Neither Peeta nor Katniss would have agreed to have childen if there was any chance that Peeta could still prone to violent fits. Katniss was already sceptical, and I think we saw enough of “Old Peeta”‘s kindness and integrity return for us to be sure that he would never risk to hurt his kids.

      I think seeing himself on screen was meant to be a turning point. After that, Peeta is never violent again (I believe). Yes, he still has impulses when the mutts arrive, but with the help of Katniss he overcomes them.

  4. Oh, and I think one major difference between the hijacking and other pop culture examples of characters turning against friends/allies when they’re “not themselves”, is that in most of those other examples, once the “possession” is lifted, the victims recover almost instantly, and go back to their usual selves. Often, they have no memory of what they did when they were “possessed”. So that makes it obvious that they were under some type of mind control and aren’t to blame.

    Well, as Louise says, SC doesn’t take the easy, out, for that’s not the case with Peeta. Even after his wake-up moment when he sees the video evidence, he still struggles with his impulses to harm Katniss, and many fans assume he continued to do so during his post-war “flashbacks”. Especially if SC means for those flashbacks to be based on stereotypical post-VIetnam PTSD/ stereotypical post-LSD flashbacks that cause people to get violent and attack people.

    And while they’re likely in the minority, many fans have stated they can’t support K/P because of this risk, or at least, stated they can’t see the two having kids as any kind of positive development, because they don’t see these kids winding up much healthier than their parents because of the assumed volatile home situation. This situation is pretty rare even for adult pop culture, and while I do commend SC for daring to bring it into a “YA series”, I do think it will be challenge to adapt it for a general audience.

    1. There is no canon evidence that Peeta harmed Katniss after he came back to District 12. He even stated that Dr Aurelius wouldn’t let him come back to the District until he was better. And knowing Peeta, I doubt he would come back voluntarily if he thought he would be a danger to Katniss. He wanted the Star Squad to kill him after he lost control during the war. I don’t see why he would put himself back in that situation if he thought he wasn’t fully in control. And in the epilogue Katniss explicitly stated that after Peeta came back he only needed to hold onto the back of a chair to ground himself. I’m sure he wasn’t 100% cured, just like Katniss (or Johanna or even Haymitch) was never fully cured of PTSD, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Peeta was violent. I doubt SC would try and end the story in a message of hope through the dandelions symbolism if she was implying that KP ended up in an abusive relationship. Only anti-Everlarkers try to insinuate that Peeta was abusive of Katniss after the rebellion when frankly there is no evidence of that being the case. And in terms of home life I don’t see why Katniss and Peeta wouldn’t be able to provide a decent life for their children. No family is perfect but it is clear that KP are the type of people who loves fiercely and would do anything for their children. And frankly it’s a little insulting to imply that people who have been through traumatic events and are suffering from PTSD are unfit parents and don’t deserve to have children. Both my parents suffer from PTSD in varying levels, my mom from an attack against her when she was young and my dad who was in combat and they were both wonderful parents. They had their demons like anyone else in the world but they still provided me and my siblings with a wonderful and supportive family life.

      And speaking of Buffy, Angel did attack and fight Buffy several times during this soulless phase.

      1. Just for the record, I don’t think Peeta was violent to Katniss after the war either; however, unfortunately it’s not just “anti-Everlarkers” who believe “Peeta was abusive of Katniss”. No, let me correct that. Only anti-Everlarkers call it abuse, but MANY pro-Everlarkers DO believe Peeta continued to have violent outbursts. They just don’t see his behavior as abusive. Indeed, many seem to think “Katniss staying by Peeta even though he tries to choke her every couple months shows how true and deep her love for him is now”. Hence my tongue in cheek comparison to Twilight in my original post.

        Anyway, do I think SC meant for K/P to turn abusive? No. However, I do think SOME fans’ interpretation suggests a worrisome tendency for some people to insist that a particular situation of domestic violence is not abusive because “he’s usually such a wonderful guy” or “it wasn’t him, it was…” (insert alcohol, drugs, mental illness, etc). Fans castigating Katniss for her initial responses to hijacked Peeta also seemed to underscore this tendency. “If he’s an evil, abusive monster, you’re stupid to stay. If he’s violent but has reason to be, then you’re abandoning him if you don’t stay.”

        Tumblr is especially ironic because that platform tends to be quite liberal and populated by young women who claim to be “feminist”, yet most people who post there seem to have accepted the fanon that Peeta continued to be violent from time to time. (But then again, this is the same platform filled with Sansa/Sandor shippers…) I’m sure most tumblr-istas would condemn as sexist and bigoted any religious or other authority figure who suggested women had some kind of duty to stay in violent relationships, or were somehow called to martyr themselves. But replace “duty” with “love”, and apparently they see things differently.

        As for Angel, you’re right that Angelus does attack Buffy multiple times, but Angelus came across to me as a totally different person than Angel, and he attacks a whole bunch of others as well, some with a connection to Buffy, but not all. Whereas Peeta, while verbally abusive to a lot of people, doesn’t actually attack anyone except Katniss; he didn’t set out to kill Mitchell, and his response to finding out he indirectly killed him is classic Peeta. So while there are parallels between the two situations, it’s not quite the same to me.

        1. I don’t really know which Everlark shippers you follow on tumblr, but frankly I haven’t seen any Everlark shippers who believe Peeta was physically violent towards Katniss during their marriage. If there are some who believe that and romanticise it, then yes that is definitely wrong and unhealthy and it’s important to dispel those notions. But as I said, I have personally never seen anyone like that in my time in the fandom. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but saying Everlark shippers in general believe that Peeta was abusive towards Katniss after the war and still continue to ship the pair anyway is not a very nice thing to say. 

          I don’t blame Katniss for not sticking around with Peeta in D13. I would have reacted the same way she did. But after the war it is clear that the hijacking was more or less cured and Peeta only suffered from PTSD and nightmares much the same way as Katniss did. If there was ever any canon evidence that Peeta was violent towards Katniss during their relationship, I will be the first person to condemn the pairing. But I think the Mockingjay epilogue made it pretty clear that there isn’t any grounds for those sorts of accusations. In the end, the idea that Peeta was abusive and violent towards Katniss is fanon that is perpetuated by… well I guess posts like this? 

          Angel and Peeta aren’t a very good comparison I agree but IMO it is much better than comparing Peeta to Ray Rice the way you did in your post. The only good pop culture comparison I can think of is Bucky Burnes who was also brainwashed by the enemy to kill his loved one.

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