- "Trust Me"Volatile Markets in Twilight and The Hunger Games
It is a particular sort of triumph that bankers have made the word "speculation" synonymous with "adventure" when, indeed, it means only that one may gain a great deal or one may lose a great deal.—Douglas McGrath after Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (2002)
When Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games was published in 2008, it was critically praised as the "antidote" to Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga, with Collins's Katniss Everdeen heralded as the active feminist agent to counter Meyer's passive Bella Swan. Meyer's series drew to a close as Collins's began, both in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis. Both series are compellingly connected to speculative finance. The Hunger Games caught the imagination of youth punished and excluded by a crash they did not cause, while facing uncertainty about the future; economist Noreena Hertz has dubbed today's youth "Generation K" after Katniss (Hertz 2016). Meanwhile, critiques of Twilight's Edward Cullen as "compensated psychopath" (Merskin 2011, 157) [End Page 205] echo postcrash rhetoric on the role played by the finance sector's "monstrous" hypermasculinity (Shaw 2015, 90). Indeed, when E. L. James rewrote Twilight as Fifty Shades of Gray, her original working title was "Master of the Universe" (Domet 2013, 115), a phrase inseparable from depictions of the (male) speculator.
Drawing on the Keynesian notion of radical uncertainty, which has enjoyed a renaissance since the crisis, this article suggests that uncertainty is at least as significant a problem as scarcity in Katniss's and Bella's worlds. Questions of risk and trust come to the fore as the protagonist decides who to believe, what actions to take with limited information,1 and how to hedge against a bad decision. Emotional labor is presented as a form of high-risk speculation, particularly for young women with caring responsibilities in precarious financial circumstances. Moreover, Katniss and Bella function both as economic agents and as the objects of speculation by others.
The objective of this article is to explore the figure of the female speculator. Bella and Katniss were selected for comparison as the most visible young women in blockbuster young adult (YA) speculative fiction framing the 2008 financial crash. We argue that in comparing these seemingly different female protagonists, we can explore ways in which the female speculator labors in nonmonetary markets. Using a method that combines economic and genre theory, we hope to demonstrate the potential for a broader definition of speculation that includes valuing unseen and nonmonetary forms of labor typically associated with women.
As speculative fiction, both series draw our attention not only to the ways in which they differ from contemporary society and everyday experience but also to the quotidian interactions that make up their symbolic economic systems. These encompass direct interactions with the monetary economy, such as nonrealist yet convincing market manipulation (supernatural stock trading in Twilight and illegal poaching in The Hunger Games), the inequities and obligations invoked by the gift economy, and the more nuanced economies of romantic speculation, as seen in the infamous love triangles of both series. This article will thus explore the ways in which speculative fictions reproduce and challenge the conditions of speculative finance. [End Page 206]
Throughout this article, we read Bella as a precrash heroine and Katniss as a postcrash heroine, arguing that the differences in representation of such themes as choice, speculation, value, risk, and trust between the series reflect a wider cultural shift in economic attitudes. The sociohistorical shift from pre- to postcrash rhetoric reflects and informs genre differences between each series. The rise of YA dystopia is in many ways itself a response to the changing sociohistorical context. It is important to acknowledge that the grotesque excess displayed by residents of the Capitol in The Hunger Games is also depicted—albeit in a more celebratory manner—in precrash popular culture.
Before 2008, a veneer of prosperity, a surface sparkle to rival that of Meyer's vampires, is promoted through representations of conspicuous consumption in such television shows as My Super Sweet...