Monday, May 26, 2014

Small Reference Pools

Two months ago, I went to see Divergent with my family. My dad and brother have both read the books but my mom went in blind. As we walked out, chucking our popcorn in the trash along the way,
All my mom had to say on the subject: "I liked it better when it was called Hunger Games".
Divergent and Hunger Games actually have very little in common-if you know the territory. I've been reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver in school. It's a novel about a white family living in Africa. My friend Bryce said he couldn't take it seriously because "It's just like Tarzan". I'd never thought of Tarzan at all until he brought it up, and after he did...I still never thought of Tarzan. Because they have nothing else in common. He also said he imagined all the female characters as Jane. Blonde Jane, five year old Jane, middle aged Jane, handicapped Jane, and plain Jane. After all, no other white women have lived in Africa.
Poor, lonely Jane
Awhile back, my mom got a Broadway pandora station. As she blasted You Can't Stop the Beat in our kitchen, my brother muttered, "Isn't it the exact same thing as Grease?"
I'd seen both of the plays exactly once, but I didn't think they had so much in common. I texted Esme, my Broadway fanatic friend, for her opinion. I got a very lengthy reply. We decided there are some similarities. Both are about high schools, have female protagonists, are set in the mid twentieth century, and deal with conformity. Oh, and they're both named after hair products. But that's where the similarities end.

Grease takes place in 1950's Los Angeles. Hairspray takes place in 1960's Baltimore. Grease is about social cliques. Hairspray is about racism between blacks and whites.  In Grease, the girl ditches her identity to be with the boy she likes. In Hairspray, the girl persuades the boy she likes to join the anti-discrimination movement.

Last night, my uncle called Divergent a "teen angst movie". Even though the movie mostly consists of gunfights, fistfights, knife fights, ziplining, bird attacks, near drowning incidents, and jumping off buildings, one passionate kiss was enough to push it into angst territory. And, of course, it is a teen movie because the characters are in their teens. Not the actors, just the characters. As we all know, teenagers are not capable of real emotion, even when portrayed by adults. Never mind that angst comes from the same etymological roots as anxiety and anguish-words than mean serious suffering-angst is something superficial. Angst is a waste of screen time.
He also compared it to Hunger Games.
"That just goes to show you don't know anything about YA dystopias," I told him.
He shrugged. "I don't pretend to."
"Then why on earth did you say they had something in common?"
Lopping two movies or books or plays into the same category just because they share a genre or theme doesn't make you intelligent.
There is more to teenage life than iPhones, skateboards, and lip gloss. We have a culture. Not every teenager likes Divergent. Many of us would rather read The Poisonwood Bible or sing along to Hairspray. And if you haven't read-yes, read, not seen-more than two, you can't pretend you know you're talking about. It will just make you look stupid.

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