The Hunger Games as a dystopian vision of future America and as a social commentary…
The government of Panem is completely totalitarian, and while presenting a positive face on the big screens everywhere, its actions are less than genuine. This portion of my paper will deal with censored and/or controlled media and violent games that reflect the reality television shows of today in terms of elimination, cunning, strategy, and forming alliances between competitors who are destined to ultimately turn on each other. Shows like Survivor and Big Brother are examples of this.
While the reality television shows today are fairly benign and do not show the level of violence depicted in The Hunger Games, the audience reaction is still, strangely, the same. In Panem, the audience grieves the death of their favorite tribute much in the same way the audience of today is disappointed to see their favorite competitor on Survivor get sent off the Island. However, the competitor in Survivor goes home to his/her life, while the tribute in the Hunger Games is dead. The audiences of the Hunger Games are not merely desensitized because the citizens of the Capitol live in pretty homes and with an overflowing cornucopia. What has happened to them is that they have been removed from the ‘reality’ of the games. They don’t feel the pain of the tributes, or know much about where they come from. The tributes may as well be cartoon characters. The games have gone on for so long–75 years–that their reason in the first place is before the time of or out of the memory of the Capitol’s citizens.
They’ve been watching the games annually, and that’s just what they do. Why? “Because it’s what we have always done.” The same may be said of why we celebrate Victoria Day in Canada. We celebrate the birthday of an English queen, dead these 153 years. Now don’t get me wrong…I love the idea of a paid holiday and a long weekend just the same as the next person. But why do we celebrate the birthday of a monarch long dead? To be fair, today we use Victoria Day to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s birthday–which makes more sense–although we don’t change the name of the day, and still rerun documentaries on PBS about the life of Queen Victoria. Actually, many of us don’t care. What we truly want is the day off with pay, a parade, a day in the park, and the fireworks at night. We use the May long weekend as our first camping trip of the summer. We have a barbecue and invite friends. We participate in a May long weekend golf tournament. We don’t care that it’s the Queen’s birthday–nothing against the lovely old Dame–but what we care about is the celebration, the parties, the holiday with pay, the fun times. And that is what the citizens of Panem are all about. They either don’t know or don’t care why there are Hunger Games, they just want the spectacle. It’s a marker for their year–just like Christmas is to many of us. After summer, there is the time before Christmas, and then the time after Christmas when we all go back to our usual workaday lives.
The people in the Capitol are not necessarily evil. They don’t hate kids. They have nothing personally against the Districts. But they are wasteful and spoiled. Like the Roman citizens who used vomitoriums at feasts so that people could eat more, so the citizens of Panem have little drinks to make you ill and vomit so that you can keep on eating at parties. Their reasoning is “How will you get to taste everything if you are full?” In fact, they are largely, disproportionately ignorant of what is going on in the world, and spend their lives in a little bubble. They are a community of children, shielded and controlled by their paternalistic President.
In “Mockingjay”, the third book in the trilogy, and after the war turns in favor of the Districts, there is a suggestion that the Hunger Games continue, but with the tributes taken from among the citizens of the Capitol. To my mind, that suggestion is foolish and cruel, because even if the tributes come from the Capitol, they will still be kids between 12 and 18. To end the Hunger Games completely would be best. Set up memorials. Institute a “Remembrance Day” for the victims of the Hunger Games. Change the laws. However, it still doesn’t seem fair that the Capitol citizens should not be accountable in some way. I wonder what justice would look like, because Suzanne Collins doesn’t offer much in this regard and focuses mostly on Katniss and Peeta as they live in peace and try to recover from the horror of their shared experience. But I am off topic here.
The Hunger Games trilogy is an examination of Western culture’s penchant for hyperreality and violence. I will be adding to my blog as I reread my research on Popular Culture.