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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Irony Of The Hunger Games

I went to Subway on Sunday.  (This is relevant--I promise.)  This particular Subway, and all the others, I suppose, is almost always advertising a movie by putting pictures of it on cups and having life-size cardboard cutouts and such.*  On Sunday, they were advertising the upcoming release of Catching Fire.

I noticed some interesting things written on the cup.  There was something about how you could "win your own victory tour".  And there were "victors every hour".

Am I the only one who sees what is wrong with this?

It's not just Subway, though.  It's all of the Hunger Games themed things out there--the t-shirts and so on.  It's pop culture's obsession with The Hunger Games in general.

Is the irony not obvious yet?   If it isn't, here: millions of people are excited to go see a movie about the horrors of teenagers killing each other in an arena while the rest of society watches.  A blatant message of The Hunger Games is, of course, "it's bad to make teenagers kill each other".  Perhaps a bigger message, though, is "any society who enjoys this is sick".

Where does that leave our society?

The Subway advertisements have it all wrong.  They're completely missing the point.  Nobody should want to be a victor.  Katniss and Peeta were victors, yes.  And yet, Katniss never wanted to win the Hunger Games.  Winning was never her goal.  All Katniss wanted was to survive so that she could continue to support her family.  She never wanted the glory of winning.

Note how Haymitch's advice is not "Win.  Become a victor".  It's "Stay alive."  There's a big difference.

Throughout the series, the people of the Capital are portrayed as misguided, selfish, and even sadistic for their love of the games.  The teenagers who actually wanted to be victors are shown to have twisted worldviews.  And now people in real life want to be victors?  People are calling for a video game where they, too, can be a tribute and try to win the games (if this doesn't already exist).  Doesn't the fandom even call themselves "tributes"?  Again, how can so many people completely miss the point?

I have to wonder what Suzanne Collins (the author of The Hunger Games) thinks about all this hype.  Is there a part of her sitting back and asking, "What have I unleashed?"  Or maybe the series' popularity has just proved her point.

Let's zoom out and look at the current trend of dystopian novels, as a whole.  So many of these books proclaim the evils of totalitarian government and feature characters fighting to regain their own freedoms.  The books often have a strong sense of "This could happen to us--don't let it."  Millions of readers devour this stuff.  The trend just doesn't stop.  And yet, these same people go to their polling places and elect leaders who move us in this direction.  Totalitarian government is bad, right?  Each time the United States government takes control of something--most recently, health care--we inch a little closer to the very type of society these novels caution against.

Can we, I don't know, stop doing this?

People will say, "Oh, our society would never do that.  We'd never turn into people who would make things like the Hunger Games."  Well...why not?  What makes them any different from us?  I'm just going to leave that question there.  Do we not at least partially prove this wrong by having so much enthusiasm for the series, specifically the games themselves?

People like to focus on the love triangle in the series.  The relationship drama between Peeta and Katniss.  They giggle over Finnick's "occupation".  As a whole, though, the series isn't about any of this.  It's about people struggling to repair a corrupt society.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not denouncing the entire series.  Personally, I like it.  I'm not a die-hard fan, but I think it's a powerful story about family, the power of people who put their minds to creating change, and the lines between right and wrong.  My point is not that it's bad to like it.  I'm just saying that we need to retain (or regain) our perspective on it.  We can't lose sight of what it is, and what it isn't.  We can't turn it into a fascination for the games themselves.  As soon as we do that, we're no better than the Capital.  

*When they were advertising Iron Man 3, you could get a kid's meal in a reusable bag with a picture of Iron Man and the quote "Make your move".  I'm half amused and half disappointed that they didn't finish out the quote, because it's an excellent line from The Avengers: "Make your move, Reindeer Games."  Reindeer Games being, of course, Loki.  (Ignoring the fact that if you're young enough to get a kid's meal, you're most likely too young to see Iron Man 3 anyway.)

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  1. Interesting. The fact that people read the series for exciting violence rather than for a commentary on the horrors of said violence is, I think, closely related to why there was so much backlash when Mockingjay came out. The violence wasn't exciting anymore, and people weren't expecting that. They weren't expecting something that realistically portrayed PTSD and war. So they didn't like it, because it wasn't exciting in the same way.
    The same thing happened when the final Animorphs book came out. In case you're not familiar, Animorphs was about a war between six teenagers with the power to turn into animals and an alien race enslaving humans. In the last book, one of the main characters die, and the conflict is solved within the first 50 pages of the book - the rest of it is dedicated to the trauma of the kids after the war. People didn't want to accept that this kind of thing happened as a result of the violence they adored, so they disliked the ending. What I'm saying is, it's not just that people are missing the point, it's that they're actively avoiding it. Most ignorance is willful, after all. And because people refuse to see that, America got into multiple wars in the middle east, and we don't bat an eye anymore at blatant police brutality.

    1. Well said. Another thing about Mockingjay is that there were no games at all, and I think that took some of the "fun" away for many people. Also, people wanted a happy ending, which is understandable--everyone wants a happy ending. And yet, in some cases, it doesn't make sense to have a completely happy ending. If everything had been just perfect at the end of Mockingjay, with everyone happy all the time, it wouldn't feel real at all.

    2. Well, sure. A lot of people read it because they found it exciting, and as a rule, most things that use violence for excitement have happy endings. But a happy ending would be unrealistic as hell for something like The Hunger Games, because it has a fundamentally different goal than, to use the example you gave, the Iron Man movies. I guess Collins didn't make her intentions anviliciously clear until Mockingjay, and a lot of people won't get a message at all unless it's anvilicious.


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