Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Monday, March 31, 2014

The deal with Divergent and it's impact upon girl power

For some time now, Hollywood has been trying it's hardest to capture the next big thing in teen fantasy series and much to their surprise(and many of the critics as well) Divergent appears to have hit the mark.

Based on the trilogy of YA novels by Veronica Roth, the story chronicles the struggles of a futuristic set Chicago where people are divided up into "factions" that use one main feature as their driving motivation towards life such as intelligence(Erudite),kindness(Amity) or bravery(Dauntless).

The heroine of Divergent is Beatrice "Tris" Prior,who was born into the selfless section(Abnegation) but upon her sixteenth birthday is allowed to chose which group she will join. That decision is left up to her yet a mandated test is given to see where her true inclinations lie. Beatrice's test results are deemed "inconclusive", meaning that she has the ability to fit into more than one faction and therefore dangerously "divergent":

Warned to hide what she truly is,Tris decides to join Dauntless which divides her from her family but is more of the path she needs to take than she knows.

During the brutal initiation trials, Tris discovers that she is not the only one of her kind as well as a plot from one faction to overthrow the existing government. Forced to reveal her hidden strengths, Tris must use all of her skills to save not only her current and former faction but all of their society from the enemy within.

While I haven't seen the movie, I did spend this past weekend reading the first novel in the series(totally great for a rainy day washout like the one we just had in my neck of the woods) and noticed something about this plot that explains to me why Divergent is such a cinematic success and more than just the little sister to The Hunger Games.

The last part of that statement is not meant in a bad way; both stories have plenty in common in a positive manner than just their genre. Each one has a leading lady who is encouraged by the repressive society they live in not to be themselves and to put on a show in order to tow the line.

Yet, it is by being who they really are inside that Katniss and Tris become the powerful force of change and even at times,manage to play the game forced upon them to their own advantage.

 I also watched the second HG movie,Catching Fire, this weekend( a big girl power pop culture fest for me!) and this theme hits home as Katniss is out and out told to play the love struck happy camper that the Capitol wants her to be or hell will be the least price she has to pay:

Of course,that veiled promise is a lie and Katniss winds up being a rebel leader,like it or not. I haven't read the third book of the HG series but do wonder if she also resents being manipulated by the resistance as well.

Anyhow, what is it about these themes that have caught fire with young women(and some of their elders) in these books and films? Well, in a lot of ways, this is a direct metaphor for how women are taught to behave both in public and private life.

 Girls are told as they grow up not to "too aggressive" and/or "too passive", that there is an either or dynamic to their dress,demeanor and interests that define them for all time as strong or weak. Both feminists and misogynists can be guilty of shoving young women into their mold of what the ideal female should or shouldn't be.

 Something that is pointed out by one of the characters in the novel Divergent is that being only one thing is not possible or healthy for anyone, let alone an entire society. Letting young women discover for themselves what path they want to take in life without fear of rejection or scorn is a scary notion to some but it's one that is now gaining traction.

You can even see this in the animated Disney film Frozen(which has become the biggest animated feature of all time in terms of box office results) where the outsider Elsa is not made into the villain but is a frustrated heroine who learns to break free and embrace her own special power. You can hear the bonds of repression shatter in the lyrics of her theme song "Let It Go"- "Be the good girl you've always had to be/Conceal/don't feel/don't let them know"-well now they know,indeed:

This doesn't mean that a girl can't fall in love or be best friends with a man(despite what certain people might think), it just means that she can take of herself and not wait for some Prince Charming type to rescue her from her problems. That's an important notion to get across without being preachy and with both animated films like Brave and Frozen and live action movies based on stories such as The Hunger Games and Divergent, a whole new generation is getting a positive and powerful message.

It may be easy for naysayers to dismiss this as over analyzing "kid's stuff" but hey, those kids are growing up into adults and many of the influences on where they go in life will come from pop culture. To paraphrase Whitman, the powerful play goes on and when this upcoming generation of girls and young women are called upon to contribute their verse, their part of the melody may be more potent than you think, thanks to these tales of amazing ladies who persevere under pressure:


Thaddeus said...

Great post! I have avoided the YA novels and their movies - a lot tend to be cloying, simplistic, or flimsy. The last one I read was in 2007, The Golden Compass and its two sequels.

However, I do strongly approve of the message of self-determination for females. Girls do get doubles standards, and they should have at least as much freedom to grow and develop as boys tend to receive.

And yet I don't know that Hollywood is into espousing these ideas so much. Perhaps individual creators do - so many of of these are by women - but I think Hollywood wants to lock up the female demographic, and maybe they realize that these messages will earn more $ than others.

The movies still ignore 40 yo ladies, prefer girls in their 20s, and love skinny white women.

The same way that gay guys and gals are still not quite so "just regular folk" and the same way that lots of ensemble casts aren't multiethnic, society will likely have to change a lot before the average Hollywood product does.

lady t said...

Thanks,Thaddeus-I do agree that Hollywood is slow on the uptake in regards to what certain groups truly want and need until the money starts rolling in.

The bigger changes do need to come from society itself but when pop culture begins to reflect on those changes,it is a big help.