What struck me about The Hunger Games is that the rules change in Katniss Everdeen’s battle to survive against others like her, including others she likes, might even love. Katniss is the pomo girl.
I used to amuse myself, when the ideas of postmodernism were new, at least to me, by thinking, between one thing and another—opening the refrigerator, rummaging in the cupboard—about basketball gone pomo. It had to do with rapid, lurching, close to chaotic rule changes. Rules were unstable, volatile, targets for recall and revision. Rule change ruled.
Coaches—the pomo equivalents of Phil Jackson, for example, said to be on excellent terms with his Nietzsche—did well with this. The Phil Jacksons of the pomo era had read their Lyotard, their Madame Lyotard, and their Brian Eno, too. They had a grasp of the varied streams of postmodernism.
They understood basketball had turned into meta-basketball. The accent was on flexibility, mutability. The point was to figure out what the game was as it abruptly continued to stop being what it had just been. The point was not merely to play—just to “play” was obsolete—but to play in such a way that doing so asked questions about what the game was. Where it ended. Where the un-game began.
Teams were given notice that changes would shortly be announced. This generated alertness and anxiety, the fuels of the meta-game. Announcements could be made in the middle of a game, before a game, or in the off season.
You might, for example, be delivering a mighty dunk, a Chocolate Thunder (check out Daryyl Dawkins), backboard splintering classic, only to hear, in mid-leap, that for the duration dunking just subtracted points from your side.
You had an exquisite passing team. Too bad new rules suddenly limited each team to one pass per possession. Imagine how that might work out if the 24-second clock were transformed into a 10-minute clock.
You had tough defense, big guys ready to foul to prevent easy baskets. Too bad rules now declared that if fouled in the act of shooting, you got ten foul shots. Forget going for the stuff. Let the guy lay it in.
There was no ordained limit to how weird the rules could get or how often they might change. They might change every half, every quarter, every damn rebound. You had to be quick, had to flex. Were you or were you not prepared for meta-b-ball?
What brings this to mind is that I saw The Hunger Games today.
Katniss Everdeen has been called a contemporary heroine, “one of the most radical female characters to appear in American movies.”
But what’s “radical” and “contemporary” about her is entirely that she’s postmodern, “postmodern” being a word we’re supposed to forget, a term that takes the fun out of things.
But what struck me about Hunger Games is that the rules change in Katniss Everdeen’s battle to survive against others like her, including others she likes, might even love. Romantic love—she feels and viewers get caught up in it—is only another set of rules, ruling only for a time.
And at the end, when the game is over and it’s time for post-game life—a return to an altered version of pre-game life—Katniss is ahead of the game. Does she love this guy she’s risked dying to save and who has done the same for her?
Maybe not, she tells him as they return to District 12. New rules are on their way.
The moral of this is that postmodernism has been so well-digested we hardly notice. It can even drive blockbuster books and movies.
But best not mention it by name.