As much as The Hunger Games is a young adult dystopian novel, it has strong themes of political commentary. This is an American novel, and the world has dissolved into areas that America once occupied, into 12 Districts kept separate from each other by the party in power, the government, the ruling body, the ones with the riches, wealth and power, The Capitol. The story is modelled so that we can parallel the Capitol after today’s America. The districts, however are not part of the America we know today. Instead, they are the developing countries that are exploited by countries like America, for their industry and exports (Dystopia Today). This is part of what makes this dystopian piece so relatable, so successful, because there are definite areas of connection that can be bridged into today’s society. We can see what Collins is saying, where she is going, where she hopes we go as well.
The irony comes when the audience is set up to hate the Capitol, to wish for its collapse. Following the political commentary, The Capitol is as Western Culture is, and the audience rallies for the rebellion against it. It goes to consider that we are more interested in the entertainment that can come from this kind of commentary rather than the reality that we currently live in. The Hunger Games illustrates an extreme culture where teens are slaughtered and people starve, and a superpower pulls the strings. How different is that than the world we live in today except that the greed and influence of the developed world (the world we live in) is at the centre of it all this time.
The media we connect with in the dystopian genre illustrates our fears for us. With the entertaining element, it’s harder, or easier, depending on your perspective to separate what is real and should be taken seriously from what is pure fiction and elaboration.
With the scare of the calendar crisis of 2012, we saw the popularity of Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow; When diseases are flooding the news channels, we see the rising of World War Z, I Am Legend, The Walking Dead, and when we have a societal social disconnect and values of human life and worth seem to drop, financial ruin and economic downturn, the loss of a living wage, we see the popularity of The Hunger Games and Divergent. It lends weight to the meaning and need for literature and digital means of delivering narratives. Under the entertainment is a message for humanity, a comment on concern and a warning about considering the thoughts we have and the direction we find ourselves headed.
The Capitol owns the media, and dictates the required watching to the Districts. Thus, they own the knowledge by choosing the video splices, the sound bites and the visual representations being sent for consumption by the Districts. As John Mayer sings, “when they own the information, they can bend it all they want.” It is important to remember that nothing, except the death of the children, in the games is real. The footage is edited to show the story the Capitol wishes to show (the narrative that best instills fear and horror and compliance), the weather is created and controlled by technology used by the Gamemakers, the battleground, likewise, the rules can change at anytime with genetically manipulated insects and beasts sent in by those in power (Brown and Chalkley). The Games are a tool used to create fear, to insist upon compliance and most importantly, President Snow depends on The Games to serve as a distraction. Instead of focussing on the economic inequality, the horrific conditions and the allowance of power thrust upon them in their ruin, The Districts remember that they were wrong to fight and they will forever pay with the slaughter of their beloved children. It is a commentary that “This kind of masking exists in most developed countries which have access to powerful technologies” (Muller).
The Districts willingly sacrifice for the missteps they have been convinced of taking in the past (Gutierrez). This is commonly understood and accepted in the powerless in today’s societies. It is not normal for new generations to succeed far beyond those who came before them. Long-stood ideologies are so difficult to break because they are so long and so tightly woven into the framework of what cultures are built upon. The Districts struggle because they work with the limited resources they have, the are oppressed by the selected information pumped to them by those with the power over them. It makes sense that things are as they are and continue to be because that is how we are accustomed to social constructions to work around us, albeit not necessarily to the extremes of being randomly chosen to die and expected to smile for the camera as it happens.
Gale tells Katniss that they just want a good show. He knows the value of entertainment and the horrific reality that the entertainment value has blurred the reality of the slaughter of children and that the people of the Capitol, as they are separated and elevated from the Districts watch for the show and the spectacle as the Districts watch because they must, watch with loss, watch with remembrance that they must never try to change what is for the horror in store would be unbearable.
Although the narrative explicitly shows the culture that embraces it all that is distasteful about themselves, it also shows the way to redemption.
Gale offers a different perspective. The Games are not only entertainment for the Capitol, they are punishment and reproduction of fear and heart brake and abuse and domination over the Districts. He offers a different perspective, certainly one that the audience could consider to combat injustices in the world today. What if we don’t watch? What if we don’t consume? What if there is no one to produce the spectacle for? The argument then becomes when we understand the wrongdoings, what are we going to do about it? Katniss has the cynical viewpoint that they won’t stop watching and the cycle will continue. They won’t stop watching because they are wrapped up in the routine of the ideology and the countdown to the reaping and the grieving of the loss. Instead of seeing it as a deserved punishment that comes without the right to retaliate, there is power in coming together and insisting on an end to the slaughter. President Snow knows this, that is why the Districts are kept separate, that is why hope is to be contained. That is why fear is a common tactic in current political agendas. And that is why change can be do hard to see, debilitating to fight for and feel so incredible risky.
It’s peculiar to see how The Hunger Games has evolved into a media event, just like the media events that are cast in such a negative light in the text. The visual narrative has the attention of the nation, and will arguably continue to do so until after the final movie is released onto DVD or for streaming on Apple TV.
It is important to consider some of the factors that helped to create the frenzy that catapulted this narrative into popular culture. The relativity of a bleak look at the world was rational, as the book was released as bailouts were being contemplated, stocks were crashing, people were losing their jobs and upward mobility seemed to be halting everywhere. The book shows a possible result. This is how the districts live. As Katniss says (6) “District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety.” It wasn’t hard to see aspects of the message this book characterizes as depressive happenings, hopeless images and negative attention was filling up the news screens. What the book offers, however, is the consideration that “media [is] depicted as cutting us off from the deepest parts of human existence itself” (Gutierrez). We struggle with this in the world today. The power of the internet, the power of the political structures the control the media and ‘news’. It is not difficult to see how media coverage has changed over the past decade. It is not difficult to understand when ‘reality tv’ and the huge wave popularity that buoys these programs is a real element of entertainment or reality or maybe something else.
Going back to what Gale said, we must understand what is real and what is not real. And, if it is real, we must understand whether we should be watching, whether we should be supporting that which we are watching, and if we shouldn’t, if something doesn’t feel right, we must stop. We must rebel. We must change the power structure from within, as there may not be a ‘they’, instead, there is an ‘us’ and we can stop watching.
We must question what the camera and director narratives are shaping for us. We must remember that we are not in control of what we are shown, and there is a loss of power in that. When we are also led through material by a ‘host’ or another ‘watcher’ (remember Caesar Flickerman), they have the power to direct our attention, to appeal to our emotions and to make important decisions for us. We must be aware. We like Caesar, he presents himself to be like us, he acts like he cares, he asks the questions we want him to ask (at least that’s what he makes us think). It’s all part of the package that we are given and is all meant to keep us watching (Gutierrez).
Brown, Adam and Tony Chalkley. “Beautiful, Unethical, Dangerous: Screening Surveillance and Maintaining Insecurities”. Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. Link
Dystopia Today. Blog: The Listening
Gutierrez, Peter. Death by Media: The Hunger Games and Teen Authenticity. March 20, 2012
Muller, Vivienne. “Virtually Real: Suzanne Collins’s the Hunger Games Trilogy. Link