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FTN Saturdays! Starving for Equality– the Themes and Message of The Hunger Games

April 14th, 2012 by Max O. Miller 3 Comments

Since our graduation from Hogwarts, nerds everywhere have been probing for the next big fixation. In the unending search to discover our placeholder, perhaps our thirst is already quenched by the games. Of course, I’m not talking about the button-mashing screen. I’m talking about the page. While Game of Thrones may be well-known for ruling over television kingdoms, if you’re anything like me, the Hunger Games struck theaters like lightening out of a clear sky. Yet with every rejuvenating storm, you unavoidably have some fallout.

The Suzanne Collins created series has become saturated in scandals ranging across the entire spectrum of controversy. Due to hip bandwagon popularity, some spitefully noted the conceptual similarities the plot shares with the obscure Battle Royale. Even I couldn’t help but note the similarities, but is this really anything new? Remember when Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress meshed with Flash Gordon and dashes of WWII Arial combat was released?  Everyone loved basic mythology combined with Beowulf and horses. No one threw elitist hipster fits when Star Wars and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers established their inspirational foundation. The wide-ranging notion of Romanesque battle arenas has been done time and time again, but after being exposed to this world I can fully confirm that the details put some new life-force into this general written in stone concept.

The tragically adorable Rue, one of the young tributes made to compete in the games, has sparked the most offensive of backlash. Certain members of the book fan base were irritated at what they felt was the miscasting of the actress Amandla Stenberg – several racists. Some disgusting comments have reached internet infamy, even the ears of the actress herself. Apparently ignited because of her skin color, some book readers claimed casting an African American was not an accurate physical portrayal of the character featured in the books, ignorantly missing the fact that Rue indeed actually was described by Collins as dark skinned. Yet the underlying message seems to be gapingly missed, that being…does her skin color even remotely matter to begin with?

The film audience is an estimated 61% female, yet that’s far from the only demographic it’s speaking to. The Hunger Games certainly should be celebrated for the role model superlative it achieves for present-day young adult females, but gender is largely arbitrary to the plot. This is a principal point; the sexes are rightly portrayed as equals. This attribute feels unfortunately novel to the action genre in particular. In fact, not since Ellen Ripley (Alien franchise) has there been any truly sincere female action star that wasn’t perversely sexualized in some way. I kept waiting for the scene where we conveniently stumble upon the half-naked Jennifer Lawrence bathing in the river. It fortunately (and quite refreshingly) never came. Yet for as invigorating as it is to not have another objectified female lead, I think all the above factors have spawned excitement (or outrage) that unintentionally overshadowed the point.

The Hunger Games blatantly revels in social commentary, but this is often dismissed to be the reality television craze. While it’s indeed true that the storyline was strongly influenced by current entertainment trends, that much is obvious, there’s far more relevant subjects being addressed. The government may not be reaping children and making them fend in sport for their morbid amusement, but Collins presents strong political metaphor. The most poignant theme is hopeless sociological complacency. Does it really take gladiatorial extremes to shake us out of apathy and recognize that we indeed are living in an economic system that’s all too comfortable with taking innocent lives?

Contemporary Americans are often characterized by foreigners as glutinous, violent, and egotistic tycoons, yet when we look to the faces in our political fields, regardless of party, is it really that hard to see these generalizations? In a world where the middle class is slowly going the way of the dinosaur, many struggle to afford the bare essentials of survival in a system that dictates needs in very disproportionate ways. This is echoed in the flamboyant fashion of the wealthy, styled in colorful neon cyberpunk meets gaudy Victorian pompadours and powdered wigs, contrasted by the bland and farm-like attire of the hard working districts. The sometimes outlandishly and extravagant attire of the rich helps to place emphasis upon luxury versus necessity, paralleling the narrowing wealth gap in America.

The Hunger Games is a rally call against the tainted bureaucratic regime, fundamentally calling our attention to the grim possible dystopian futures of civilization, the consequence of being content with the way things are headed. Next time you’re at an all you can eat buffet, think of the capitalist society you live in compared to the poverty struck peoples of the globe that this affects, viciously resulting in their continuing cycle of deficiency.  They may amend the rules in their favor and horde the commodities, provoke us with fear tactics and Orwellian watchdogs to retain their power, but if we maintain the innate yearning to hope, this will inspire the masses. Collins sends the inspirational message that we can dethrone totalitarian corruption and greed through uniting under human bonds, ignoring  trivial segregation. Make no mistake; this isn’t a race or gender war. This is a class war…and it’s staggeringly becoming less and less fictional.


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The macabre Max Odysseus Miller is a savant of popular culture and lifelong consumer of nerd Kool-Aid. As the self-titled Simon Cowell of science-fiction and fantasy, he may be infamously critical (and suffer from severe Twilight Tourette's), but does enjoy long walks through the comic shop and candlelit cult horror movies. When the outside world grows grim, he retires to his dimly-lit Batcave of remedial memorabilia and retro gaming to make another failed attempt at genetically reviving the velociraptor. Taking his vows at the altar of all things Harrison Ford, he also dedicates sacrifices to his unhealthy obsession with the Joker, his unnatural crush on Harley Quinn, and his bizarre affinity for the second-tier Spider-Man villain, Mysterio. When he’s not daydreaming of living in Middle-Earth, you can most often find him swaddled within copious amounts of literature and sketchbooks or practicing the ancient art of blogging at The Nerd With Nothing Better To Do. Complete with zombie contingency plan, his base of operations resides somewhere just outside of the Romero-beloved Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

  • Katie Scuffle

    another awesome article Max :)

  • Ingrid

    Exceptional food for thought, Max! Your linking of Hunger Games to the now-obvious class war at hand is genius and an obvious parallel that I hadn’t thought of until I’d read your article.

    It’s a shame that some people feel the shallow need to remain critical of every media based on skin tone alone. There is so much more depth to the story beyond black, white and fuchsia.

    Write on, bud!

  • shadow145

    Nice Article. I’ll admit I didn’t see your plot twist coming until it was too late and I was sucked in…

    Always keep in the back of your mind that this is Young Adult fiction (Sidebar: something to be said about today’s literacy when the top selling novels to adults are young adult fiction series…), so you need to ask, is this what Collins intended, or was she just creating an interesting (and admittedly very well-written) story cobbled from ideas bouncing around in her head that she thought would sell, and people see what they want to see?

    I’ve heard from some that the left are relating the Capital to the Business 1% elite, while the right is equating them to the soft elitist liberal class (think professors, media). Same book, different points of view.

    I was honestly reminded of some YA fiction I read in my youth. Particularly a series called USSA (United Secure States of America). I think the concept was that the US had gone totalitarian, and a pair of kids were being hunted by the gov’t and were trying to survive. Honestly, I have no idea why or the specific stories, the library only had a couple novels and I don’t remember much of it. Concept stuck though.

    Me? I just like a good story. But the movie by nature is going to be presented in the point of view from the director. One of the reasons I really wanted to read it before seeing it, I like to have my vision first, then see how someone else does it.

    To touch on Rue for a sec, I didn’t see her as black, but I don’t have a problem with it either. But an interesting thing to consider is that if she is black, and she if from the district that is forced to work the fields for agriculture, it adds an entirely new slavery connotation that I didn’t see coming. Again, no problem with it, director’s vision and all that, but really gets your mind going. If I didn’t know better the director is taking what in my mind was just a fun book, and making it the commentary on society he sees when he read it.

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got time though, it’s making money still so it’ll be in the theaters for awhile yet.

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