The Hunger Games and Fan Culture
Since its arrival on bookshelves all over the US, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games has become a phenomenon among young people everywhere – seriously, I can hardly keep count of the amount of mockingjay tattoos I’ve seen on girls on campus – let alone the internet. Ironically, The Hunger Games symbolizes the worst kind of fans in our culture. Before I get into details, here’s a quick synopsis for anyone who happens to live under a rock and has no idea what this thing’s about.
The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian North America, now named Panem, which is made up of twelve districts. Governed by fear and famine, the Hunger Games is held each year – representatives from each district are chosen to fight to the death on live TV in order to win food and honor. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a girl from the poor mining community of District 12 who is cast into a world of multicolored decadence, forced herself alluring to millions of strangers who are literally betting on her life.
After reading some fans’ racist tweets about the casting choices, I wasn’t sure how to approach this film. If this is indeed how “die-hard fans” are reacting, then what does this say about the story itself? Apparently back in March upon seeing the casting choices some fans of the book were upset with the choice of African American actress, Amandla Stenberg, being cast as Rue, a Tribute from District 11 and ally to Katniss. In the book when Katniss meets Rue she is described as having “dark brown skin and eyes,” a description which apparently flew over peoples’ heads, being that they were upset enough to make the following tweets:
why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie
cinna and rue werent supposed to be black / why did the producer make all of the good characters black smh
EWW rue is black?? I’m not watching
Why does a person’s skin color make a difference? Everyone has different personal expectations for character appearance when reading a book. I could understand if they made a drastic change that would affect that character’s personality or the story, but to be upset that a person who’s described as having “dark skin” is being portrayed by a black person is inexcusable. Luckily, the remaining fanbase does not share these opinions.
The concept of fan culture and controversy is carried whole-heartedly through the film. In the beginning of the film, Katniss meets her drunken mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), who has won the Hunger Games once already. Haymitch knows the tricks to survival, but rather than telling Katniss and fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) secret combat or survival skills, he only tells them to “make people like you.” These Tributes are pampered and put on display – eventually they are each individually interviewed by the master of ceremonies, Caesar (Stanley Tucci). Caesar treats these kids as if they’re celebrities – but I guess one ought to pander to them, seeing how the majority of them will be brutally slaughtered soon enough. Part of his pre-Hunger Games ritual is interviewing the Tributes and asking questions about their personal lives and their talents. When Peeta reveals to Caesar that he has a crush on Katniss, at first she is livid, thinking that he made her look “weak.” Haymitch on the other hand thinks this is perfect for the two. People enjoy a good love story, and what does it matter that Katniss is faking it? It’s just a TV show and there’s nothing better than a pair of star-crossed lovers to heighten the tension. In short, sponsors would want the lovers to stay together by any means necessary.
The Hunger Games brings out the worst in people, both in and out of the film. Parents are watching children being slaughtered, and we as spectators are doing the same. Everyone at the end of the film was rooting for the death of Cato, reinforcing the Capitol’s oppressive groupthink mentality. Granted this was a kill or be killed scenario, but why should audiences feel more strongly about one Tribute than another? A majority of the Tributes’ names were never announced to begin with, so the audience never has a moment to care about these people who are essentially slaughtered for the government’s amusement. This concept of this poor mentality also reflects the aforementioned ignorance of the fans, and one can appreciate the sardonic irony of the racist fans sporting a mockingjay which a revolutionary symbol for the oppressed.
There’s also something to be said here about Hunger Games and reality TV. With reality TV, things that would normally be seen as disgusting or barbaric have simply become entertainment, not unlike public executions of yore. Why do people watch “Toddlers in Tiaras,” “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or “Jersey Shore”? These are examples of humanity at their lowest – so, why are they celebrated? Why do these people deserve our attention? How many people watched “The Bachelor” thinking it was a real love story? Collins’ story is essentially a parody of modern pop culture. We will gradually become so desensitized to the atrocities of the world – I’m sorry, of people – that when the times get tough we won’t bat an eyelash at broadcasting real-life gladiators. The Capitol used spectacle to confirm their political control, so what would stop our government from doing the same?