The Nazis made a mistake coming to Charlottesville. The roots of antifascism run deep in this region, swelling up out of the hollers and over the hills, awakening to snuff out any Nazi garbage as soon as it appears. Appalachia (yes, I know Charlottesville is technically just outside) is the country’s least understood region, one whose place in the canon of popular culture is long overdue. A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the prequel to the Hunger Games was a step towards righting that wrong.
The original Hunger Games trilogies were good books and good movies: flawed but fun, and deep enough for you to feel like there’s a real message hiding somewhere underneath. The trilogy’s great failing was avoiding the deeper sociopolitical analysis running through the heart of the story, exchanging it instead for a pithier, though more marketable, teen love story. This was a missed opportunity to explore the meaning of resistance, of power, and of oppression. Whatever the trilogy lacked, the prequel more than made up for.
The first part of the film goes way harder than I imagined it could have. It dives into wealth and class consciousness, brings Appalachian culture to the forefront, and cultivates the spirit of rebellion lying in these fertile grounds. It didn’t escape me that the grand capital exterior shots were modeled on Berlin’s Strausberger Platz laying at one end of Karl-Marx-Allee (formerly Stalinallee). And it was a homecoming to see that the kernel of the resistance was music. There’s a reason an appalachian dulcimer sits atop my bookshelf. Mountain music has always been what rallied the people to resist.
The movie hit so many notes so well: a trans actor (Hunter Schafer), an actor with Down Syndrome (Sofia Sanchez), men in skirts, and a true-to-life story of coal miners' rebellions that could have been plucked straight out of a history of the Harlan County War. If I could fix the story, I would have shortened the second part; alas, it’s no Hunger Games movie without the Hunger Games. I don’t know if you’re meant to sympathize with the main character (who becomes the villain in the trilogy), but it doesn’t matter. Rachel Zegler’s Lucy Gray Baird absolutely steals the show. The movie was fantastic and, by all accounts, watered down Susan Collins' anger from the book. I can’t wait to read it.
In this post:
My organizing kick has continued from last week. We moved to a new storage unit a few days back, finally opting for a climate controlled unit. And I had a bunch of stuff in the old unit that was really just trash: an old mattress, old papers and odds-and-ends from exes, and some busted furniture. So I headed out to Lowe’s, bought a few heavy duty steel shelves, and Christine and I did a quick switcheroo. Two trips to the dump, three to Goodwill, a bunch of sorting and organizing, and it feels like progress was made. We cleared out the guest bedroom and its closet, which had become a de facto storage room, and sorted through some seasonal things that made more sense to keep there. Getting the house in order feels really nice.
Part of my motivation for doing this is that I want to keep my options open for moving back next year. In order to get to that point, there’s a lot of work on the house that has to get done and a lot of reducing the accumulated crap gathered over the years. America is so full of stuff, man. There’s just so much crap all around. But we’re taming it.
What I’m reading
I read this great piece on bibliotherapy the other day. My bookwyrm.social profile is just “reading as healing.” I didn’t realize this was an actual thing. I’ve written before about how a big sort of step change in my mental health occurred this year, more or less in sync with my rediscovery of the joy of reading. I’m not sure which way the arrow of causality points, but I do know that I feel better when I read more. I should manage 50 books this year, and that’s only counting when I really started reading again around May. It’s cool to discover that the thing you’ve been doing to manage mental health is actually a known and studied approach. I’m not saying it’s a cure-all. But it is something that helped me tremendously.
What I’m listening to
While decorating the tree this year I threw on Nat King Cole’s Christmas album. It’s a solid record, perhaps not as cozy as Ray Charles', but it’s one worth having on rotation.
What I’m watching
The Hunger Games prequel, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, was way better than I thought it would be, as mentioned above. But beyond the points already covered above, it’s nice to see a prequel that engages with the source material and seeks to build on it rather than just playing fan service for cash. The movie wasn’t perfect. But it corrected what the trilogy failed to address. It’s definitely worthwhile.
Beyond that, I also watched Godzilla -1 with my wife and a friend. It was a fun movie, but I struggled with the PTSD storyline for a while. I’m glad I saw it, and there’s a lot there to engage with, but I just couldn’t let myself get close to the storyline without being re-traumatized.
What I’m learning
I am resolved to wrap up my Lingoda C1.1 German class this year. I’ll plan to take my C1 test later next year, and I’ll give myself the first half of the year to wrap the remaining three modules of the course as preparation. I also want to get into studying Spanish again next year, and I’ve already booked some credits for that.
Art and culture
While heading out to meet friends for drinks, I checked my email and saw a great opportunity: get a numbered and signed print of Ézé Amos’s now-renowned photo of the head of Robert E. Lee being melted down. I jumped on this very limited-time offer and put in a bid right away. I’m happy to pick this up and get it framed this week.
My dent in the universe
I did a silly thing and searched my name in Google Books. And wow I discovered a lot more books with my name in them than I originally thought! What I found hilarious was how there were three or four nearly identical conservative grievance “cancel culture” pieces crying about my tweets. Deal with it, nerds. Anyways, having your name in print is kind of a special thing. I’d hoped I could accomplish that once in my life. But there are a couple dozen titles out there! That’s wild! I’m proud of myself and a bit overwhelmed. They’re not even all about Charlottesville. That’s a nice thing. It feels nice to make an impact on the world. Now I just have to hunt them all down for my collection.