Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Which I Consider Engaging with The Hunger Games

I have a slight reactionary streak that protests against paying too much attention to big Pop Culture deals. Often this saves me the unnecessary loss of brain cells (no one was ever hurt by ignoring Jersey Shore), but occasionally I come late to the party everyone else has already discovered, and I feel silly for sitting so long outside with my back to the door. (Ex.: Downton Abbey.)

I've paid scant notice to the phenomenon of The Hunger Games ever since it's been a phenomenon, but now I'm trying to figure out whether I'm on the wrong side of the fence here. Really, I blame Brandon for this, because he posted this video.

At first I didn't pay much attention to it, because, I mean, Taylor Swift! But the next day, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal (my source for What's Happening Now) about "soundtrack compilation albums", those pieces of "inspired-by" marketing designed to trap crazed movie fans who hunger for just one more piece of arcana. The article was about the success of the soundtrack compilation album for The Hunger Games.
One cut from the album, Ms. Swift's "Safe and Sound," went on sale online in late December and has sold 735,000 copies, according to SoundScan... 
Mr. Lipman says that the theme of soundtrack meetings was "What does music from the Appalachian mountains sound like 300 years from now?" 
To that end, director Gary Ross enlisted music producer T Bone Burnett, whose "O Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack was a smash hit in 2000—an unlikely feat for a collection of old-time favorites like "Keep on the Sunny Side" and "In the Jailhouse Now."
Now I had to confront my prejudices, because I like T Bone Burnett's work on "O Brother Where Art Thou?", and I was curious what his concept of futuristic Appalachian music might be. So I had to go back and watch Taylor Swift. And then watch it again, and then hum the song for the rest of the day. And then go to iTunes and listen to clips from the rest of the album. And the long and short of it is, now I'm considering buying an album (which I never do) based on a movie I haven't seen, based on a book I've never read.

We probably will read The Hunger Games, but seeing as the wait list at the Columbus library is almost 1000 deep, it might be a while.


mrsdarwin said...

When I mentioned that I was thinking about buying Safe and Sound on iTunes, my 18-year-old brother said, "You like a Taylor Swift song?" in a tone awkwardly poised between disbelief and distain.

Amber said...

I ignored Dontown Abbey until a couple months ago for just that same reason! I finally decided to give it a go when I realized just about every blogger I read have written positively about it at one point or another. We are 3 episodes into the first season and enjoying it immensely - but we just have so little time where we can watch something without kids and when one of us isn't so tired we will fall asleep 5 minutes in.

And now you have me curious about that album - I enjoyed the O Brother soundtrack too. And as an indicator of how out of touch I am... I don't even know who Taylor Swift is! But yes, even I have heard of the Hunger Games.

JoAnna Wahlund said...

If you have a Kindle, I'll loan you my copies of The Hunger Games (plus the other two books).

Enbrethiliel said...


When I mentioned that I was thinking about buying Safe and Sound on iTunes, my 18-year-old brother said, "You like a Taylor Swift song?" in a tone awkwardly poised between disbelief and distain.

Welcome to my world, Mrs. Darwin.

Brandon said...

My excuse is that I am continuing the Socratic tradition of corrupting the youth.

Although it's hard to imagine Socrates doing it with Taylor Swift.

Darwin said...

Although it's hard to imagine Socrates doing it with Taylor Swift.

According to Alcibiades, Socrates was not much prone to the attractions of the flesh, but then maybe Alcibiades just wasn't to Socrates' taste.

(My only excuse for taking the discussion so quickly to the gutter is that it's a very, very long day in pricing land.)

Brandon said...

That was an image I did not need in my head, I think -- but I can't complain much given that I set it up.

mrsdarwin said...

Thanks for the offer, JoAnna. Alas, we are unenKindled here, though I almost could consider wanting one, and I never thought I'd say that.

Brandon, I saw it coming a mile away, but I wasn't going to be the first one to make the joke.

Darwin said...

Though I hesitate to contradict MrsDarwin in anything, I think we can actually receive Kindle loans via the Kindle app on our iPad.


Yes, I'm sorry. In my current tired/giddy state, I could not resist.

mrsdarwin said...

Socrates and Taylor Swift: a match made in Mount Olympus?

Let's consider the prototype. Wikipedia says of Xanthippe: "She was likely much younger than Socrates, perhaps by as much as forty years."

Of Xanthippe, Socrates is supposed to have said, "I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else" (Symposium). And apparently Taylor Swift writes break-up songs about her former boyfriends, which could argue a less-than-pleasant temperament. QED.

Emily J. said...

I'd be interested in hearing your take, Mrs. D. I gobbled the books up, but have mixed emotions about handing them to my 12 year old (although my older two boys read them). And I'm not sure how some of the positives of the book (self-sacrifice/loyalty/the horror of the games) will translate to the movies, especially to kids who didn't read the books.

Brandon said...


I've had those days, so I fully understand. And given that Xenophon has Socrates at one point comparing teachers to pimps, Socrates himself might have actually approved of the joke.

Bill E. said...

If it's any consolation, Sis, I'm pretty sure The Civil Wars have a lot of street cred.

Julia said...

We read Hunger Games in our mother/daughter book club last year. My then-12yo read it first and said, "NOT for the 9yo!" She was right. But then, she's the one who asked, "Why do all these books for teens have such depressing topics?"

It was an okay book, the kind that's reasonably well-written but you're not necessarily glad you read it because it's dystopian and disturbing. I chose not to read the sequels.

JoAnna Wahlund said...

Darwin is right - you can receive book loans via the Kindle app on your iPad (I don't have an actual Kindle either, I just have the Kindle app on my iPhone). Let me know if you're interested!

ElizabethK said...

It's definitely dystopian, but what I like about it is that it points the finger right at cultural trends like reality t.v. that are worth discussing, and it also has lots of fun Roman stuff in it (and the not so subtle coparison between the decadent end of Roman society and where we are now). In other words, it's a fairy tale of where we are now in our culture, with exaggeration to make things clear. Peeta is an interesting character, clearly a Christian prototype in an atheistic/pagan-inspired world. The movie doesn't do him justice, but it did do a good job of neither glamorizing nor underplaying the violence in the book.

I have to admit, I reall like that song--didn't know there was an album!

Banshee said...

It's a good song and it sounds fine, but "in a couple hundred years Appalachian music will sound just like smooth Celtic and smooth jazz" is not my idea of futurism. :)

Music made by intensely suffering people is primal, both in joyful and sorrowful songs. I don't get that here, nor would I expect that to be radio-ready. I love our local Rwandan choir, but their songs of suffering are not easy listening. (Which is why you don't get a lot of that when they perform, as a little goes a long way for them and you.)

If regional areas were strongly separated into districts and those districts were dirt poor, you would expect strong differentiation of music, and vast acceleration of musical trends. (Like proto-Celtic turning into Welsh within less than a hundred years under the pressure of invasion and intense change.) Rock and roll morphed fairly quickly over the last eighty years because of societal pressure.

And regional music traditions until recently have always been hugely diverse. There's a multi-volume series on Southern US fiddle music where you can hear vast differences from player to player and county to county. Not even basic playing techniques are the same, and that's a single instrument.

So yeah, it was pretty much a ludicrously difficult assignment, and there's no way you're going to have a commercial recording that really gets into that.

Still, there's a lot to say for making a unified soundtrack, and for imagining it as being the work of some single popular group from the area and thus reflecting only their style.