Friday, May 11, 2012

Hungry for Games: What The Hunger Games Reveals about Our Lust for Entertainment

Last week I saw The Hunger Games and I was quite unimpressed (my 5-point critique is at the end of this post). Nevertheless, I can see why the film has generated so much buzz and support.  Suzanne Collins' brainchild is a brilliant concept that makes for a wildly entertaining story. It's no wonder that adolescents and adults are devouring these books and spending millions at the box office. This saga even has it's own Wiki.

But one week after seeing the movie I find myself a bit unsettled by something that this movie suggests about my own culture.  While The Hunger Games depicts a dictatorial government (the "Capitol") as the narrative's antagonist, the entire plot could not exist without the underlying assistance of a populace that revels entertainment. It is this hidden leitmotif in The Hunger Games that has me feeling quite disturbed about my own culture.

Like many dystopian movies, the obvious enemy in the Games is the government, those evil [white] men with all the power. The film makes it painfully obvious that "Big Brother" is behind all of this terror and I assume that most audiences - myself included - walk away thinking that Katniss' final foe is the Capitol. Fair enough.

But what about the fans? What about all those wealthy citizens who care more about being entertained than the well being of others? There is plenty in the film that suggests that they are truly responsible for the hunger games. They are the ones who create an ethos of entertainment that has a life of its own. Here's a few examples:

  • When the "tributes" arrive to the Capitol they are greeted by the cheers of eager fans.
  • Katniss is told that her best way to survive is to get sponsors: wealthy fans who contribute money to the best and most entertaining "tributes."
  • The 24 "tributes" are made over and outfitted to fabricate dramatic characters for a more entertaining show. 
  • The Hunger Games TV show host spins information and charms the audiences to maximize amusement.
  • There is a scene in which the president of the Capitol states that he could easily kill off 24 people every year, but the Hunger Games are more manipulative.
  • In the end, Katniss' own freedom is still controlled by the entertainment industry/sponsors; she must continue to play a character for the fans. 

What makes the Games not only possible but culturally functional? It is not the dictatorship, it is the populace that lusts after entertainment no matter the cost. Indeed, The Hunger Games is disturbing on many levels.

Which is why I became so unsettled lately. You see, a few days after seeing the film I saw on the news that Floyd Mayweather Jr. had just won the Middleweight boxing title. In front of a star-studded audience, including Justin Beaver (sp?) and Mariah Carey, he beat Miguel Cotto, earning $32 million. Now that the fight's over Mayweather is scheduled to begin his 90-day jail sentence for attacking his ex-girlfriend in front of her two children. No big deal. After all, he is a great boxer.

Then I began thinking about the Flyers vs. Penguins hockey play-offs and how disturbed I was by the fighting (the hyperlink is to an article titled "Violence Sells"). I don't like fighting in hockey to begin with, but when I saw young boys alongside adult role models banging their hands on the glass while grown men acted like utter savages on ice, I had reached my limit.

Then I began thinking about the TV shows that entertain us by exploiting insecure people... (The Swan  [a plastic surgery competition], The Anna Nicole Smith Show, Jersey Shore).

Then I began thinking about all the talk shows that entertain us by mocking traumatic situations in other people's lives... (Jerry Springer, Maury, and others)

Then I began thinking about the way the PORN industry entertains us while killing women physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.

Then I began thinking about the video games that entertain us by allowing players to kill Arab terrorists.

Then I began thinking about the music videos that entertain us while dehumanizing women.

Then I stopped.

And I thought: You know, The Hunger Games isn't all that different from my own culture. Sure, we don't have anything like the murderous Hunger Games, but our entertainment isn't exactly life-giving either. In the end, what's the difference?


1) Jennifer Lawrence is GREAT. 
2) The rest of the actors are not. 
3) The camera work is annoying at best; nauseating at worst (no, seriously, it shakes around even when people are just talking. why? I don't know.) 
4) The narrative can be told in literally 4 minutes. The rest is like what happens when a 9th-grader turns a paragraph into a 10-page paper. The film is 2 HOURS & 22 MINUTES.
5) I basically felt like this would be a GREAT book to read - very exciting and fun - but it was not adapted to screen very well IMHO.

1 comment:

  1. I'm guessing by #5 in your critique that you haven't read the books yourself. I would highly recommend doing so. Although I hesitate to say I "enjoyed them", they were enthralling reads and much of what you discuss here is found in greater measure (both explicitly and implicitly). I myself found the books to be quite weighty in content, and thought-provoking about human nature, our present society/culture, power and control, trauma, sacrificial love, etc.

    In my opinion, perhaps one of the most ironic aspects to the Hunger Games movie is how Hollywood/the movie industry (in many ways a real-life parallel to the Capitol and its populace), reaps millions of dollars in profits by marketing a movie which can be seen as indicting itself. I'm just not really sure what to do with that...