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"Hunger Games" Whets An Appetite For Archery

Sarah Parvini |
May 1, 2012 | 3:49 p.m. PDT

Senior News Editor

 Lionsgate Publicity)
Lionsgate Publicity)
Elizabeth Lambert stands at a white shooting line. Her back is straight, strawberry blonde ponytail falling at the nape of her neck. A red armguard protects the teenaged girl from the sting of a misplaced draw of her bowstring. Her small fingers wrap around the middle of her wooden bow. With a deep breath, she pulls the string back and fixes her eyes on the target 10 yards ahead. The young archer exhales and releases her arrow.

It is early Saturday morning, and like the rest of the 80 or so people present, the 14-year-old is here to take a beginner’s archery class with the Pasadena Roving Archers, a non-profit organization that has been teaching archery since 1935.

The sport, which has traditionally been associated with men in tights and pointy-eared elves, has seen a strong uptick in interest because of the hit film and book “The Hunger Games.”

The first novel, which debuted in 2008, features a heroine who uses her bow skills to survive an annual competition where children fight to the death. 

As the story progresses and Katniss Everdeen’s bows and arrows become more elaborate, her skills turn into a symbol of rebellion and revolution—something that has resonated with young girls across the nation. 

“Katniss is so brave and no matter how difficult life gets, she keeps fighting,“ Lambert said, bouncing with enthusiasm. 

It’s not just girls who feel this way. Lambert’s brother, Norman, was inspired by the heroine, too.  As he trekked the archery trails with his sister, Norman relished the opportunity to be a marksman like Katniss. 

“She was really good at archery,” he said. “I want to be like her.”

At 13, he would qualify to be in the fictional Games, along with his sister.

The Pasadena Roving Archers has been on the receiving end of archery’s newfound popularity for more than five weeks. 

Before the film’s release, the range saw around 60 people on a Saturday morning. Between 120-140 people showed up last Saturday, according to the organization’s president, Gary Spiers. 

“We have seen a rapid increase,” Spiers said. 

The Roving Archers had to send around 30 people home last weekend, because they could not accommodate all the first-time archers, Spiers said. 

The organization had to update its website last week to let would-be Katniss Everdeens know about the large crowds. In the past, the group recommended beginners show up at 7:30 a.m. to ensure a spot, but now there is no guarantee.

"By the time we arrive at the range at 7:30 a.m. to prepare for classes there is already a long line of people waiting to register,” the online statement said. “We cannot reliably recommend a time to arrive at the range.” 

Spiers said spikes like this are common when popular films showcase archery. The same thing happened when the blockbuster film “Avatar” came out, and when Orlando Bloom donned a blond wig to the play the sharpshooter Legolas in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. 

“We have seen surges with previous movies that have come out, but not this large,” Spiers said. 

Spiers anticipates the rise in interest to get even bigger. The London summer Olympics feature archery, and Pixar’s new film, “Brave,” stars a princess who relies on her bow skills to overcome a series of tests and end a curse. 

USA Archery, the national archery association, has seen a 161 percent increase in membership on Facebook because of “Hunger Games,” according to Teresa Iaconi, a spokeswoman for the organization. 

Hi-Tech Archery, an indoor archery range and equipment store in Fullerton, Calif., has also benefited from the “Hunger Games” craze. 

The bear busts and deer heads that adorn the store’s walls create an unmistakably primal atmosphere. It is an archer’s haven.

Intricate compound bows with pulleys and stabilizers hang from the ceiling, accompanied by 27-inch carbon arrows that they can shoot at 345 feet per second. 

Serious archery enthusiasts can spend up to $2,200 for a tournament bow with all the embellishments. 

“It doesn’t look good—it’s not sitting right,” a clerk says, as he looks over a bow from behind the counter. “This is a 69-inch bow, try a 65-inch string.”

“I fell in love with this recurve bow,” the customer replies, pulling on his newly strung weapon. 

It has become increasingly busy at the store, the shop’s owner, Joe Kim, said. Sales have gone up by around 30 percent because of “Hunger Games,” at a time that is generally considered an off-season in archery.

“Peak season is around July and August and around Christmas—but we are just as busy now,” Kim said. 

One of the biggest increases in sales has been in beginner’s bows that new archers can get for around $110—for an extra $90 archers can get a full set, which includes items like an armguard, quiver and a shooting glove.

Hi-Tech Archery also hosts shooting lessons, which have become more popular as well.  Kim estimates as much as a 200 percent increase in new students.

A typical weekend lesson draws six to eight people, Kim said but now he sees around 30. Like the Pasadena range, he has started to turn people away. New archers have continued to fill up both the upstairs and downstairs space at the store. There is not enough room to accommodate everyone in the two-story indoor range, he said.

This phenomenon is not unique. Experts say pop culture influences the way we think and feel because we want to be like the celebrities and characters we admire. Movies are a fantasy, and we try to bring our fantasies to life.

“It’s an idealistic sense of what we too might be like,” said Karen Tongson, a professor of English and Gender Studies at USC. “Maybe you can be as cool as that particular character if you do what they do.

In the 1960s, California surf culture was admired because of the way it was portrayed in films like “Beach Party.” Surf fashion became a national trend as a result.

One of the most famous examples of film influencing hobbies is “Saturday Night Fever,” Tongson noted. The movie mainstreamed the disco subculture and made it more accessible to the masses. 

But films can also have a negative influence. In the 1970s, Stanley Kubrick asked Warner Brothers to ban his cult film “A Clockwork Orange” from being shown in England because it was linked to a series of violent crimes.  

In one case, a 16-year-old stabbed a boy wearing the distinct white uniform made famous by the film. In another, a group of boys raped a Dutch girl as they sang “Singin’ in the Rain,” imitating the movie.

More recently, the “Fast and the Furious” films sparked an increase in racing. After the first drag racing movie came out, at least 135 people died in accidents from races, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That is twice as many deaths as the year before.

The newfound appeal in archery is a good thing though, says Laura Kelly, who runs The Archery Outpost in Los Alamitos, Calif. She believes the sport has an air of romance and that it can be an empowering experience.  

Kelly’s store has steadily seen a rise in business, and she attributes part of that to “Hunger Games” as well. Young girls frequently come into her shop looking for bows like the ones Katniss uses, she said. 

Kelly said she’s seen around a 20 percent rise in business within the past few months. She now orders bows she usually wouldn’t—like longbows, and one-piece wooden recurves—and they have been flying off the shelves, she said. Families have been coming in for lessons more often, too.

“We get mothers and daughters and fathers and daughters…and they’re enjoying themselves,” she said. “Parents are not just watching, they’re participating.”

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