No more love stories

In The Hunger Games, one of the main plotlines is, to put it in the simplest way possible, a love triangle. I remember being on Twitter prior to the release of the last book, and people couldn’t stop posting about whether they were Team Peeta or Team Gale as they waited for the author’s reveal. And now, now that we’re only a few months away from the release of the movie based on the first book, people discuss the three leads’ looks as much (if not more) than they do their acting abilities.

But I don’t think Suzanne Collins intended her books to be love stories. Katniss is far too concerned with other things to want to deal with choosing a boyfriend. I get a strong sense from her that she could live easily without either male (if “easy” is a word that can accurately be applied to the life of the Mockingjay), and that’s why it cuts Katniss so much when, in the third book, Gale says that she’ll pick the man she can’t live without. As if it’s about need. As if this type of romantic love is just as essential to survival as eating, breathing.

I’m beginning to get to that age where many people say it’s time to be thinking about starting a family, settling down. What people mean when they say this is that it’s time I found a man. Five or so years ago, I would have agreed. Back then I was stuck on that ever-pervasive idea that a woman’s worth is measured by the man or men who have interest in her. But like Katniss, I know better—or at least I do now. So many stories focus on love as the main plot (or at least one of the main plots). This is especially true when stories are aimed at girls or women. In many ways, I fall victim to this easy story myself, though I’m much more interested in the stories where relationships fall apart, where people just miss each other, where people are together but oh-so-wrong for each other.

Young girls—and even older women—need stories that speak of other things. Even in a trilogy like The Hunger Games, where the love story takes a back seat to much more engaging and important questions (of survival, of human nature, of our capacity for evil and destruction, of picking ourselves back up again and again, etc.,) however, the question of romantic love is too often the one we find ourselves focusing on. (Point: I was on a blog the other day where Hunger Games fans were asked what one question they would ask Katniss if given the chance, and a huge number asked questions about one or both of the boys in the story. In her own first-person narrative, her own character and her own story have come secondary to that of her potential loves.)

A few days ago, I happened to run into an old acquaintance who was in town for the holidays and who had brought his significant other with him. I remember those days of splitting the holidays, of one meal here, a long drive, then more holiday cheer, food, and gifts. I always felt bad that I had to work to be gracious, because while I really enjoyed spending time with my then-boyfriend’s family, I hurt for the time I missed with my own. There’s love for you, but of a different sort.

There’s not much point to that story, I suppose, except to note how pervasive the idea of “the other half” has become in our culture. I don’t like the idea (implied or otherwise) that I need someone else to make me the best I can be, that by myself I am only a part of something that could be much larger. That sharing a bathroom sink and a dresser means love means ultimate achievement means the thing that should be striven for.

In the end, Katniss does get married, but it’s not a love story. She makes a choice, but she doesn’t make it out of some fluttery feeling in her stomach. It’s about hard work, and shared experience, and companionship. It’s when she’s ready, and there’s no sense that she would be lessened in any way had she never been ready. The story, in the end, is about her, and not about her+Peeta or her+Gale. It’s about her strength, fear, survival, experience, growth. It’s about her humanity, and, whether fiction of not, that should be enough for anyone.

Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day!

If you know me at all, you probably know that I loathe Valentine’s Day, but not for the (horribly) stereotypical reasons of loneliness, jealousy, and cynicism (though I admit, I’m a cynic). In fact, it ranks second on my list of dumbest holidays ever, coming in behind Sweetest Day and right in front of New Years Eve. It’s a Hallmark holiday, hands down. It shouldn’t be about showing your significant other that you care—that should be evident the other 364 days of the year.

I’ve been anti-Valentine’s Day for a long time, and it’s often met by disbelief from the men (boys) I’ve dated. For instance, when I told my first real boyfriend that I didn’t want anything for Valentine’s Day, he stared at me for a full five seconds before asking if that was girl talk for “Buy me something or you die,” but I digress.

30 Rock did a just lovely introduction on Thursday between Tina Fey and a young girl selling Valentine’s Day cookies, so like Tina Fey, I will now be celebrating Anna Howard Shaw Day. And I’m going to celebrate it by doing homework and, if I get enough done, spending some time with my Xbox.

For those of you choosing to stay home (or stuck at home, as you may see it), I present, for your entertainment, what I’ve been enjoying on this here holiday. First, Pride and Prejudice in Emoticons, which covers both holidays fairly well. You’ve got a somewhat sweet and sappy love story, but you also have the story of a woman who dared do things her own way. (And did I mention the link is hillarious?) And second, courtesy of my dad, I have a column from the Lansing State Journal on the dreaded Valentine’s Day Box in elementary school classrooms, which sort of gets at my point of the whole ridiculousness of this holiday. (Though by the time I was in elementary school, you either gave valentines to everyone or to no one; that changed in middle school though, three years during which I never received a Valentine from a male.)

Taylor Swift’s Love Story

I’ve been wanting to put together some thoughts on this song for quite some time now, ever since I heard it for the first time three or four months ago. I’m inclined to think I like it, though its mixed and problematic messages stop me pretty much every time I hear it. This is not an argument that the song should not exist, that it should not be listened to, or that Swift and her listeners are somehow stupid. It’s an exploration of the messages that could be pulled from the lyrics in the hope that this will inspire thought and discussion about those same issues. The lyrics can be found here and the music video, here.*

First, I want to address the most obviously problematic part of this song: The myth of the love story. This idea that love can be perfect (once two people overcome the obstacles and finally end up together) is not reality, though it is a commonly accepted myth in this world, even claiming an entire genre for itself in romance novels. Now, I’m not arguing that we should do away with everything that presents love in this sort of light–I’m not a fan of censorship–but I do believe we need to be aware of the impracticality of this belief.

Now Swift does not make explicit statements in her song about living happily ever after, but that idea hangs over the entire piece by repeating her title throughout the song. And I do not think that Swift needs to address this type of issue in her song (just as I do not believe a romance novel needs to), but the listener (and Swift herself) needs to be aware of the fantasy of such a reality.

Another problematic aspect of this song is the final verse. The girl in Swift’s song gets “tired of waiting” for her Romeo to “come around.” Her “faith in him” fades as she wonders when he will “come around.” When she does find him, she asks him to “save” her. Here she not only becomes a passive member in her own love story (which is especially odd since it seems a bit of a role reversal) but also an archetypal damsel in distress. She needs to be saved, but from what? The only problem that seems to occur in the song comes from her family’s (actually, father’s, but that’s an entire other issue) dislike of her Romeo. It’s unfortunate, but it hardly seems a dire situation from which she needs to be rescued.

Finally, there are the references to Romeo and Juliet and, once, to The Scarlet Letter. Here I’m going to mainly discuss how I feel these stories have been misinterpreted and/or distorted in order for Swift to tell her story. (Not that, as a writer, you cannot appropriate.) Romeo and Juliet was not a love story but rather a tragedy that developed out of love. They were not able to be together in the end (save through death, but I doubt Swift intends to send a message supportive of teen suicide). This misinterpretation seems to come–and this is something that really bothered one of my old roommates, so the credit all goes to Lauren–from a misunderstanding of the phrase star-crossed lovers. It’s not a pretty thing; it was not written to call up pictures of lovers with stars in their eyes. It means doomed by fate, by the stars. And since Romeo and Juliet is the story of two star-crossed lovers…well, you can fill in the rest.

The Scarlet Letter mishap is more minor, but still interesting to look at. Hester Prynne was marked with the scarlet letter to shame her, as punishment for her crime (assumed adultery, since no one save Hester knows if her husband is alive or dead). Hester cannot have a relationship because she is married whereas Swift’s speaker cannot because her father says so. And I doubt Swift is forbidden because she committed adultery.

*Eventually I want to embed things like videos, but I do want to do some more research on fair use. I’m pretty sure it’s okay, but I do want to check. I also want to find some way to use something like an LJ-cut for lyrics, but I haven’t explored this theme enough to see if something like that is supported. So for now you’ll have to follow my links.