Hunger Games Themes: Properly-Male Protagonists

So, this landed in my inbox this morning:

It's an advertisement from Audible, promising that "If You Enjoyed The Hunger Games Trilogy... We Recommend: The Maze Runner by James Dashner".

Now, I'm going to set aside the suggestion that this recommendation has been automatically generated, because I don't think Audible does that; I've been getting their ads for a long time and they're pretty proud of their by-hand picks because you can't trust important stuff like reading to a computer *sniff*. And I'm also going to put aside the suggestion that they're just trying to sell anything willy-nilly; that part is probably true but I don't care. *sets objections on a shelf over there* What I care about is HOW VERY OFTEN I have seen The Maze Runner recommeded if you liked The Hunger Games.

Now, I've read The Maze Runner. (As well as the second book in the series.) I thought both books were distinctly mediocre. More to the point, I know both books have fuck-all in common with The Hunger Games. Maze Runner has one girl in it; she's very literally a Smurfette in her community. (Scorch Trials adds one extra girl so that there can be a love triangle with a lot of themes about how women are manipulative and will use you for their evil girly agendas if you don't watch yourself.)

Maze Runner isn't about a strong female character facing down an oppressive society. It's not about reproductive freedom. It's not about social coercion in relationships. It's not about society forcing girls to adhere to a harmful standard of beauty if they want to be favored. It's not about winning against the odds over patriarchal systems. It's not about food scarcity and relative privileges. It hasn't even got motherfucking bows and arrows in it.

I would claim, with a straight face, that Hunger Games has more in common with Twilight than it does with The Maze Runner. (And I don't say that to suggest THG has a lot of overlap with Twilight, either. Just that it has, in my opinion, more overlap with it than with Maze Runner.) Also: The Maze Runner is one of the few trilogies I haven't finished because I just didn't care to spend any more of my life on it. As a perfectionist-slash-completionist, that is a very rare distinction for a book to have with me.

And yet, I am constantly seeing The Maze Runner marketed as the next thing to try after Hunger Games. I find that interesting, especially when there is no shortage of YA dystopias with female protagonists to recommend instead. (Many of them are admittedly also mediocre, but that's no different from Maze Runner.) I said on twitter today:

So there's that.

Maybe this really is a case of willy-nilly marketing without a care for pissing off customers by steering them to something they've got no better than random chance at enjoying. Maybe this is a case of gatekeepers deciding that one YA dystopia is the same as another.

But it's also true that recommendations like this elide the very real difference between a book with a female protagonist and a book with a male protagonist. Katniss was wildly successful, I would argue, not in spite of being a female protagonist, but rather because she was a female protagonist. She was successful because girls (and boys) wanted to read about her.

Either the gatekeepers won't acknowledge that, or they refuse to. Which means that they're either marketing The Maze Runner to us without recognizing a glaringly obvious difference (which means they're being as willfully stupid as can be, which is in itself not a neutral act in these cases), or it means that they're marketing it to us out of a backlash mentality: if you kids are so bound and determined to read YA dystopias, at least read one with a properly male protagonist, dammit.

At least that's how it starts to feel to me after awhile. And I'm getting a little tired of the financial successes of things like Twilight and Hunger Games and Frozen being treated like a fluke (at best) or like a troubling trend that needs to be counteracted by a return to properly male protagonists in money-making franchises (at worst).

[Fun stuff to add: K.B. sent me a link to this amusing Maze Runner deconstruction, so enjoy!]


Post a Comment