Welcome to the Capitol: why the Hunger Games lost its message by becoming a film.

I asked my husband Curtis to write a guest post for me.  I like him, he’s smart (went to an Ivy League school that shall remain nameless but may or may not be in Cambridge, MA and start with an ‘H’) and funny (if you ever get to see his angry chihuahua impression, it will kill you) and just all around great.  He reads a whole lot from all sorts of genres, and since I have not read the book and will not see the film, I commissioned his thoughts on the Hunger Games.

Hunger Games fever is sweeping the nation.  Teens, adults, and everyone in between are lining up in front of theaters to see the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel, which may end up being the biggest box-office smash of 2012.

But before we go any further, I need to come clean – I only read the first book of the trilogy and then Cliffs’ Notes versions of the other two.  Why?  Because I didn’t enjoy reading it.  The Hunger Games was brutal and painful to read, and not only because it’s about teenagers murdering each other while a whole nation watches, rapt.

Collins chose to narrate the story from Katniss’ point of view, and when you write a story from the first-person perspective of an emotionally stunted 15-year-old girl, you get brutal, painful writing, devoid of introspection and character development.  By the end, I found that the only thing keeping me going was, and this I share with the legions of fans out there, a desperate desire to know what happens next.  The narrative does suck you in, even if it isn’t particularly enjoyable.

But now we have a film, something that could potentially make up for a lack of literary interest with visual interest.  But I’m not going to see the movie.  Why?  Sorry, something about watching teenagers kill each other on the big screen with intensely epic music playing in my ears doesn’t get my blood rushing.

Here’s the thing – I get what Suzanne Collins was trying to do in exposing and satirizing the reality TV saturated, war-obsessed culture we are increasingly becoming. I get that she was writing a story about the logical extension of some of the trends she sees around her, like any good satirist does.  I get that the brutal style and intense, driving, stripped-bare plot are all in service of that larger goal.  I get it.

But the reality is this – many, if not most, of the people that are sooooo excited to see this movie aren’t thinking about the effective satire that calls into question our military ambitions and intrusive obsessions with “reality” stars; they’re drawn by a plot that sucks you in and won’t let you go.

In other words, they’re going for entertainment, not political or cultural messages.  And you know what that means?  They’re watching children kill each other on the big screen for the fun of it.  Which, when you think of it, sounds an awful lot like what the Capitol was doing in the book.  How ironic that in the very act of making this story into a movie, Suzanne Collins has undermined the whole point of the books, and moved us one step closer to the dystopia she envisions.  The medium is the message indeed.  Welcome to the Capitol.

7 thoughts on “Welcome to the Capitol: why the Hunger Games lost its message by becoming a film.

  1. I totally agree that it is horribly ironic how masses of affluent Americans are going to movie theaters to watch the very thing we say is so barbaric for the Capitol citizens to enjoy, but at the same time I feel like the books themselves are really good about using satire to point out problems even in today’s society. Personally, I really like her writing style, but maybe as a 15 year old girl, writing that is “devoid of introspection” is attractive to me. 🙂 If you can bear it, I think you should read Catching Fire and Mockingjay, especially Mockingjay, because it moves way beyond the constant, brutal killings, more into the political fight for change. I loved reading those parts, where we can see the oppressed rise up and take on their oppressors. It gives me courage for today to see how when all of the weak unite they can take on the strong. And like you said, the plot is super addictive!

  2. Why do a column on Hunger Games? It clearly doesn’t interest either of you. You couldn’t find anything else to blog about? Or could you not let others find meaning or enjoyment in something you didn’t like?

    Where you found a story of “an emotionally stunted 15-year-old girl,” with “brutal, painful writing, devoid of introspection and character development,” I found a tale about the nobility of self-sacrifice, survival, grace, hope, desperation, helplessness, rebellion, all shrouded in the villainy of an oppressive government that considers itself benevolent while punishing its citizens and keeping them in poverty through dependence and intimidation. All of these things are pertinent today on a global scale … and considerably more interesting than what the Kardashians are wearing or the secret lives of gossip girls of the traveling pants.

    But since it’s told from the perspective of a 16 year old girl it couldn’t possibly be thought provoking or have anything important to say.

    • Thanks, Vicki, for your thoughts. It does indeed interest both of us, especially as a story that has captivated so many people. I’ve been interested in the reaction of the college students I work with in particular, which is why I asked Curtis to write.

      I appreciate your take on the story, and totally agree that its themes are relevant to us in significant ways today.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • Hi Vicki, I actually agree that all those themes are in the book, and that it has something to say to our culture. I mention that briefly in the post, and also point out that the brutal style and emotionally stunted-ness of Katniss are key parts to the story Collins is telling. I still didn’t enjoy reading it, but that isn’t the same as saying that there is no value to be found. Ultimately, this post is oriented more towards the movie than the book, though.

    • I agree with your take on the themes of the book and it is clear to anyone that looks outside mainstream media that the US is heading toward the oppressive dystopia depicted in this trilogy at rapid speed. FEMA already have demarcated the US into 20 or so provinces echoing the 12 districts. Right now the majority of citizens are so snookered by debt that it is just a matter of time before the dollar implodes and everyone is really at the mercy of the government and rationed health care. Government dependence is already here – they just haven’t cut off the food supply yet. What I wonder is if writers like Collins are really providing a critical political commentary or are they really commissioned to write this stuff to desensitize the nation to an oppressive existence and in fact glamorize it? I mean Collins is from the wealthy area of Newtown Connetticutt…

  3. Interesting perspective and some great food for thought, but I am most interested in seeing the “angry chihuahua” impersonation. Can he do a ” happy chihuahua”?

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