hunger games

They are who they represent

 

- Greek Aphorism think ancient Greece....Gladiators...Tributes...Hunger Games

– Greek Aphorism
think ancient Greece….Gladiators…Tributes…Hunger Games

It is youthful actors who are the visual and characteristic embodiments of the characters that Suzanne Collins brights to life in the pages of her Hunger Games Trilogy. These actors make the decision to bring the characteristics to the screen, to immortalize the story by way of film, to give a piece of themselves, moments of their lives and take on the lasting effects forever. It is the problem that comes from an inability of those watching, those who have a stake in the narrative, who derive meaning from Collins’ words, who live and breathe and embrace those characters. The relationships that are formed are not real. The people who portray the characters are real, and they give up themselves to become that which is not true, and for some, the results last throughout their entire, lives, some their entire careers.

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Jennifer Lawrence / Katniss Everdeen. As an actor with critical acclaim for Winter’s Bone before being cast in The Hunger Games was entitled to public recognition before filming began. Now, she is Katniss. Even though she has won awards for other roles, in the age group that often rules the box office, she is the girl on fire. Did she realize what would happen before she became her character? She could have watched the same thing happen to Kristen Stewart as she became Bella Swan. Walking down the street, instead of being recognized as who she really is, she can be called by a name of a fictional character. We blur the lines between what is real and what is not. Katniss Everdeen is not a real person. Jennifer Lawrence is. There is hope, in time that she will be seen as the person she is, not the person she played in one of the largest grossing franchise films and novels in history.

1266_6164_1Sht_Peeta_ab01_gryJosh Hutcherson / Peeta Mellark. Although a successful child actor, it wasn’t until landing this role that mass public recognition occurred. And from now, until most likely years following the release and judgement of the final Hunger Games movie, he will hear the name “Peeta” shouted or whispered in his presence. Will he mind embodying the character that plays a part in saving Katniss from others, saves Katniss from herself, keeps her safe for us and for himself? Perhaps not. The role has opened more doors and provided more roles and caused more notice.

hunger-games-poster-rue

Amandla Stenberg / Rue. Besides one other small part in a smaller movie, Stenberg’s first major appearance on film is as Rue, the doomed female tribute who aids Katniss and is sacrificed in song and flowers in the area. Not only does this child appear for mass consumption in this film, she was at the centre of racial backlash because of what she looks like and the decisions of casting directors. She will forever be Rue, at least in this piece. But she is not Rue at all. For Rue is not real, but Stenberg will carry the character and all the weight that comes with her forever.

The depiction of her likeness is also interesting to note. In comparison with the other characters whose likenesses are shown on the movie posters, Rue is thoughtful, her gaze downcast. Others are looking forward, standing ready. Rue is gaining our sympathy before we watch her perish. She is connecting to our sentimentality before the movie begins. She is beautiful and thoughtful and wise – and this is an actor who was hired to characterize her, to portray her, to be our visual representation. And for that, Amandla and Rue will forever be one. But who will we see as more real?

 

This blurring of identities comes at a higher price for the youth of the blockbusters. Woody Harrelson (Haymitch), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket) and Donald Sutherland (President Snow) are less likely to be called by the names of those who they represent on the screen. They are not the characters who the audience is meant to build lasting connections with. They have bodies of work that demonstrate their range. We have seen them before in different roles at different times. This is not their first time at or in the show. There are reasons that big franchises will make the choice to cast unknowns into the roles that will change the trajectory of their careers and forever imprint on their identity. We embrace them as the characters we have imagined and connected with and wish to connect with further. We value them not exactly for who they are, but for who they are to us. Consider the choice of Lenny Kravitz. An rockstar bad-ass. Do we not want to see Cinna as a little bit of that as well? The purveyor of design and fashion and the one task with getting the audience’s attention. Kravitz’s persona lends credit to the fiction he is meant to portray and connects the audience with Cinna without anything more than an mention.

 

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Her intentions were clear

The annual Hunger Games themselves are a power tool used as a reminder of who is in charge and what will happen to citizens who don’t capitulate. —Suzanne Collins

Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games grants rare interviews, but when she does sit down to answer questions, she implores readers, students, those captivated by her story of Katniss and the Capital to understand the lines between what is real and what is not – what is actual violence, war and suffering and what is constructed to emulate such, for our entertainment. In an interview in 2008, Collins stated one of her goals,

…the socio-political overtones of The Hunger Games were very intentionally created to characterize current and past world events, including the use of hunger as a weapon to control populations. Tyrannical governments have also used the techniques of geographical containment of certain populations, as well as the nearly complete elimination of the rights of the individual (Blasingame).

Collins has great concerns for the desensitization of an audience. The disconnect that happens between what is real and what is being blurred for our entertainment. There is a loss of empathy, of humanity, of meaningful connection and compassion.

In an interview with Scholastic, Collins describes The Hunger Games as reality TV. She talks about the thrill the audience has when “watching people being humiliated or brought to tears or suffering physically…when [the audience] see[s] real tragedy playing out on the news, it doesn’t have the impact it should. It all just blurs into one program” (Hudson). The book Collins’ has gained international fame from, the story that has played a role in shaping popular culture is a commentary of the trouble that has come from the desensitization of humanity. It’s interesting to consider why those who have read it and share it, like it. What are they connecting to? Is is Katniss fighting the power? It is the absurdity of the Capital? Are readers simply devouring the story because it has become a spectacle in Holloywood? It is essential that the tools are there for youth especially to be guided to understand the connections between what is now and what is in the pages of this narrative. Certainly, the story that happens in Panem with these characters is fictional. The embracing of the novel, however says something about how we all are living today. Connection and understanding is necessary to propel an inanimate thing into a beacon of representation of a time period in the world.

By relating to Katniss, there is an opportunity for understanding. Although the children playing in The Games are real, are hurting, are dying, are losing their innocence and their lives at the hands of other children focused only on survival, the people in the capital have commodified the entire experience. They pay for those they like to benefit during the games, they cheer for the doomed beings as they are dehumanized through material representation of the districts that actively oppress them. As Collins eludes to in her Scholastic interview,

“It’s not something fabricated, it’s not a game. It’s [their] life” (Hudson).

Although she is most certainly against it, Collins knows her characters, most certainly her heroine must be moulded to play the game. She must become the spectacle that is expected, in order to gain attention, favour, help. And as much as Katniss despises the capital, barely recognizes the humanity of the people, she is caught up as well. In the book (70), “The pounding music, the cheers, the admiration work their way into my blood, and I can’t suppress my excitement. Cinna has given me a great advantage. No one will forget me. Not my look, not my name.”  Even our heroine is losing herself, glossing the reality that this performance is to gain popularity for a crowd preparing to watch her die. A fact that will be real only to her, only to those close to Katniss, not to the crowd who is captivated by the character, the girl on fire that Cinna has created.

Consider reality television. The ‘characters’ that are supposed to be representative of what’s real, what’s applicable, what’s relatable to the lives of the masses. These are real people who have their shame, their heartache, their discomfort amplified for other’s entertainment. Sure, we may feel something for these images on screen for a moment, in the moment, but they are contained in a box that is forgotten when the channel is turned or a new URL is clicked. Are they real? Must we invest in them? DO WE CARE? Or do we appreciate the distraction?

These problems in society must be shifted from within their structures. The value we place on them must be changed, or the capitalist framework will wear on. Power must be shifted from within and without an understanding that something is wrong, and a greater acceptance that the balance is off, it is bound to get worse, more oppression is to be expected, the colonization of those without by those with is bound to continue.

As Collins said: “Even though [Katniss’] is an extreme case, I think all of us have to work to figure out what’s going on. It’s hard to get the truth and then to put it in a larger perspective” (Hudson).

 

It’s important, as we go on, to analyze the impact this narrative, these characters have had and continue to have on popular culture. To understand the elements that have made the story so recognizable, so relatable, so beloved and what that may say about the people who have made it so.

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Sources used in post:
INTERVIEWS:
Blasingame J, Collins S. An Interview with Suzanne Collins. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. May 2009; 52 (8): 726-727.

Hudson, Hannah Trierweiler. Q&A with Hunger Games Author Suzanne Collins. Scholastic. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/qa-hunger-games-author-suzanne-collins

TEXT:
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, New York. 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0-439-02352-8