The Hunger Games. Ah! Now that’s a movie! So you think it’s not that great? Well wait until you have to analyze the living soul out of it. Then again, it could maybe suck every trace of fun in it but I seem to enjoy these things much more than I legally should be allowed as a student. Knowledge is power indeed, and I do like things better the more I know about them. The Hunger Games might seem like a pretty simple, young-adultish movie, but when you really start to think about it, it’s can be so much more. OK, so perhaps I’m pushing it now. Perhaps I’m too tired. Perhaps the two hour lecture on Themes and Issues in Contemporary Media got the best of me, especially since it was followed by a film viewing of The Hunger Games. Again. Yes, it’s the second time this year when The Hunger Games is a compulsory viewing/reading for an undergraduate course. First time I saw it because it was trendy and like the sheep that I am, I followed the flock and saw the damned thing. I enjoyed it, I really did. Then I did a Children’s Literature course that required us not only to read the first book but to see the movie. So I did see it again. And I guess I enjoyed it a bit more since I watched it through the perspective of young adult literature. And now, studying something completely different, here I am again…in an university (compulsory) film viewing of the same bloody thing. And I’m not necessarily complaining, although I realize that at this point I come out as rather whiny. I’m just puzzled at the way Hunger Games attracts lecturers to use it as helping material to illustrate concepts. Are the themes in The Hunger Games so flexible one can push them into different directions starting from teaching injustice and class systems to kids, all the way to illustrating Baudrillard’s view of postmodernism? Well, I guess they are. So I thought that for now, I should share the wealth and tell you what I learned from The Hunger Games movie through two very different perspectives at two very different university courses. Enjoy the ride, I sure did!
I read the first book of the trilogy for my Children’s Literature class just before the summer vacation. I was concerned it was going to be something like Twilight and I approached it with loads of misconceptions. However, once I got into it, I realized what the teacher’s idea was behind making us read it. We were talking for weeks about what goes as literature for children (young adults included) and what doesn’t. We agreed that what most people find acceptable as children’s lit, such as Grimm Brothers or H.C. Andersen fairy tales, should at least raise some eyebrows: in Hansel and Gretel there is talk about cannibalism, The Red Shoes involves amputation, and The Red Riding Hood…well that’s something for a different post. So we looked into issues of how themes as morbid and shocking as these made their way in children’s lit. in a time when parents and tutors are trying to shield the little ones from being subjected to anything that might scar them in any way. And so, we got talking about how The Hunger Games does a great job at explaining a class system and the injustice of segregation to teenagers who, let’s be honest, don’t care much because they aren’t really talked to about these things in an interesting way. Another thing was, of course, the ease with which a cruel game as the hunger games only shocks the viewer at the beginning (children killing children for the audience’s sake) but by mid-way is accepted as any other narrative. Why children and not adults? To shock more? To make it more dramatic? Or to allow the movie to infiltrate a genre targeted at young adults. So, even though it is a massive display of violence involving children, it is still OK to be viewed by them because it also teaches important lessons. If that actually works or not, is another discussion for another occasion.
Now for the Themes and Issues course, we have been talking for the past two lectures about Postmodernism. I’m not going to try to explain it for now and instead will just dive directly into how the film viewing helped me and my colleagues understand it better, while in the same time allowing us to see ideas and themes in the movie that are at the very core of postmodernism. Here we looked more into this idea of spectacle- disasters, calamities, horrible acts that are transformed into a spectacle by the media, consumed by the viewers sitting in their comfortable homes. In parallel, there is the most obvious idea of hyperreality- a place where the viewer is detached from reality, just looking at something horrible at TV but lacking any kind of empathy because…well…it’s only TV. We saw a fast increase of reality shows lately popping up everywhere, where viewers like to look at mundane, normal lives. Although this almost voyeuristic attitude comes from a need for seeing and in a way experiencing raw reality, there is also the idea that this reality is not true, but staged. This is shown in The Hunger Games, where every child looks as if they are looking forward to the games, although they are shit scared behind the cameras. Also, the idea that not the strongest will win, but the most popular (the sponsors give them vital gifts) is important as it reflects many values in our own world.
Another postmodernist angle is the exaggeration of fashion, largely inspired from the past. This re-use of culture with a punk touch, in a world where technology has reached a high peak is something many of us are familiar with.
Although set in a fictional setting, The Hunger Games can be read as a critique to our own postmodernist society, where everyone is detached by the disasters that happen all around us, seen only through TV, and even then squeezing the little sympathy from the viewers only if a co-national is involved or someone we know (see the countless news about the 2004 tsunami centering almost always on areas where there was a big concentration of tourists).
As with almost everything, I have my own interpretation. The Hunger Games made me think almost immediately of the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. The main question in the story, as in the book/movie Hunger Games, is how much harm can we do in the name of tradition and rituals? Apparently, looking all around us, quite a lot.