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I was 19 when I finally watched the four “The Hunger Games” films properly. I’d actually seen the last two when they came out in theaters, in 2014 and 2015, because my middle school friends had dragged me with them. On both occasions, I rolled my eyes the whole time, determined not to like even a shred of the movies playing in front of me. Afterward, I made sure to complain as much as I could. I picked holes in the plot. I criticized the premise as ridiculous. And I implied, many times, that liking the franchise made you stupid and immature.
Five years later, stuck at home at the height of the pandemic, I came across the films again. I was about a year into college at this point, and although I’d never so much as touched the books, I saw the movies on my Netflix home screen and thought they might be a good way to kill a couple of boring nights.
As I sat down to watch the tetralogy in its entirety, I couldn’t help but get deeply immersed. The action and fight sequences were gripping, and I thought the acting was phenomenal (maybe except in the case of Liam Hemsworth). Instead of being woven under seven layers of obscure metaphor, the social commentary was simple, clear, and accessible. The films were also, crucially, entertaining — something that I feel is always valuable. (After all, art cannot be successful, or “good,” if no one is consuming it in the first place.)
But more than that, the central politics of the series drew me in. The moments of conflict between the populace and the government reminded me of real, brutal struggles of revolution and independence that had actually occurred throughout human history – struggles that I’d learned about in my college classes. I found myself genuinely moved as I watched the protagonists battle insurmountable cruelty again and again.
And I realized, with a mixture of embarrassment, surprise, and regret, that “The Hunger Games” film series is actually quite good.
In some ways, this article is a confession. It’s also an attempt to atone for more than five years of hating on perfectly good films without even taking the time to approach them with an open mind.
Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t blame myself entirely for the way I acted when I was 14. Because amid a whole lot of middle school insecurity (which made me want to criticize anything that was popular), I also remember feeling like I had to mock “The Hunger Games”; after all, the whole world was doing it. It was a Young Adult franchise, and anyone “cultured” was supposed to hate YA. And even worse, it was popular YA for girls – something that society told me was unacceptable.
No one likes to be reminded of who they were as a teenager, or worse, as a pre-teen. We all had questionable taste in everything, whether it was fashion, music, books, or film. (I personally had a phase where I was obsessed with wearing a loose tie over a white blouse after I saw Clara do it one time on Doctor Who. My mother firmly vetoed the outfit until the phase wore off.) The point is, of course, that the things we enjoy at a young age are often embarrassing.
But young girls – and specifically what they like – consistently get the worst, and most enduring, social condemnation. And it wasn’t until I was older, and much more learned in feminism and social theory, that I was able to realize I had been both a victim and perpetrator of this condemnation.
Hating what teenage girls love is not a new thing by any means. But I remember it being particularly bad when I was a teenage girl myself. “The Hunger Games” is just one example of that time — allow me to direct your mind back to the height of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” or the release of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” Predictably, I was a staunch critic of both of those things. Not because I actually had problems with them from an artistic standpoint, but because I knew that anything liked by other teenage girls must be awful.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m trying to actively relearn all of that. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s certainly been eye-opening.
I’ve been coming back to not just “The Hunger Games,” but to all the other stuff that I was too afraid to embrace as a teenage girl. And I’ve been discovering that I missed out on a lot of good experiences — one might even say good art.
So I guess, in the end, this piece is not about atonement at all. It’s about anger and grief. And also celebration. Because I’m sick of pretending I don’t love “The Hunger Games”; I’m tired of actively hiding what brings me happiness.
Giving myself permission to be honest in my enjoyment of things was not only one of the most liberating choices I ever made, but also one of the most mature ones. And as I proceed with my last year of college, I’m determined to revisit a whole host of other missed experiences.
Reclaiming my teenage years has never felt better.
Lina H. R. Cho ’23 is a Comparative Literature concentrator in Dunster House. Her column “Bad Art” appears on alternate Mondays.
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