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.
Sources used in post:
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
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, New York. 2008