effie trinket hunger games

Hah, I tricked you with this picture/title! Every time I crush an in-office mutiny, I think, “wow, President Snow, what a guy.”

No, not really. Or, yes, I’m tending to all my poison inflicted mouth sores right now,  but I think the most interesting characters in The Hunger Games aren’t the clear cut villains – like President Snow – or the obvious heroes – like Katniss or Peeta. The most interesting characters are the ones who exhibit a certain amount of moral ambiguity – like Caesar Flickerman, or Cinna or any member of Katniss’s beauty team. Sure, they’re helpful, they’re pleasant, they’re kind – but they’re also very willing to work within a system that keeps killing 12 year olds on television. Frankly, as many of us might be if it were the world we were used to.

There’s probably no better example of that outlook than Effie Trinket (to be played by Elizabeth Banks). High strung, anal retentive and wildly ambitious Effie is essentially the Tracy Flick of dystopian universes. I love her.

Effie’s role in the series is is to oversee the reaping, during which two children from each impoverished district are chosen as tributes to compete in a televised death match. She then to escorts them to the decadent Capitol where the match occurs. She’s also expected to help find sponsors, who will provide them tools to help them win in the area.

Effie is presented, certainly the in the previews, as seemingly monstrously out of touch with what is actually going on here (again, bunches of teenagers dying for sport). Here’s a fun clip where you can see her bubbling away cheerfully to a bunch of terrified kids before picking two of them to compete in that death match.

But for all she’s presented as somewhat bubble-headed, Effie isn’t stupid. And I can never bring myself to forget that Effie’s job must be hard. She has to get kids who know that the odds are not in their favor to a place where they’re most likely going to die horribly. More importantly, she has to get them there alive. The latter seems as difficult as the former. Not only could the kids run away, they could certainly find ways to kill themselves – and when Peeta mentions that he doesn’t want to lose his sense of self in the arena, or Peeta and Katniss notices that there is invisible fencing to keep the from throwing themselves off the roof of their lodgings – it seems like this is a very likely possibility.

That bubbly demeanor, for all it might grate on the tributes, is probably at least somewhat effective in making them not commit suicide. Better that the tributes be squabbling with Effie than that they be somberly considering the horrendous reality of their situation. And when they do have breakdowns, as Katniss does, Effie is surprisingly ready to comfort them. She’s great in a pinch.

And for all Effie is shown as being distanced from the concerns of the masses, she knows what’s necessary to win. Oh, sure, she really only wants the tributes to win because she wants the glory that comes with having a victor (and she wants to advance up to a better district). But she still wants to win, and she knows how to work within the system to make that happen.

In one memorable instance, Katniss and Peeta have a meal on the train with Effie and she mentions how relieved she is that they have good table manners, not like the tributes from last year who ate all their food with their hands. Katniss points out that those kids were probably starving and had never had a decent meal in their lives.

Effie is pretty wildly insensitive. She’s really an asshole. But she’s right. In the stupidly refined world of The Capitol, eating with your hands isn’t going to make the audience like you enough to win you many sponsors. Which is what Effie is supposed to be doing. It may not have been her nicest comment, but she is, like Miranda Priestly, just doing her job.

You see something similar again when Effie sells Katniss and Peeta to sponsors by saying that while the two may come from a small coal mining town, if you put enough pressure on coal you get pearls. It’s factually wrong, and everyone knows this, but it’s still effective for her purposes. She is, ultimately, very effective (even if she can’t turn Katniss into a finishing school trained lady before Katniss’s interview).

Effie is fascinating because she understands propriety perfectly, and she really does know how to work within the system. She’ll be almost heartbroken by an lapse of manners, but, at least at the begining of the series, she’s at a loss when it comes to understanding the bigger picture. She’s one of those  people who really love for others to have good manners, not because good manners are advantageous in making people feel more comfortable, simply because they like rules for behavior to be in place. And what’s great about the Hunger Games – and what I don’t want to spoil -is watching her grow, in small steps, into being a better person. Though frankly, even after her transformation, I hope she gets to keep the clothes. Because, you know, they’re pretty fantastic, too.