The World is Watching The Hunger Games
In one week the world will be watching as the The Hunger Games movie hits the large screen. Some are heralding this film as the most important movie of our time. Why? Because it tackles deep political and ethical issues while still remaining a popular film. In other words, its reach is far wider than any other medium addressing issues like oppression, poverty, and social injustice. Yes, it is a tale of adventure and survival against all odds, but it is the only popular medium in recent years to tackle the tough questions about economic oppression and not be dismissed immediately as socialist. On the contrary, the film is being embraced and is posed to be one of the largest blockbusters ever.
Granted, not everyone is embracing the film for its political message. The stars of the show have graced the covers of numerous magazines, the red-carpet premiere was broadcast live on television, and tumblr and Pinterest sites are flooded with images of fans’ favorite celebrities from the film. I recently picked up a copy of Glamour magazine to see Jennifer Lawrence (who plays Katniss) not only on the cover but in a multiple page spread in a variety of stylish dresses and hair-dos. In short, Jennifer has had done to her what the Capitol does to Katniss – beautify her for the public’s consumption. And just like the Capitol with the Hunger Games Tributes, we are devouring the celebrity hype.
The process of glamourizing a person to appeal to a cultural idea of beauty in The Hunger Games book was an indictment of the shallowness of the Capitol. It was a sign of their frivolity and excess that is juxtaposed against the dire poverty of the surrounding districts. The people in the Capitol threw their money at body modifications and lavish parties while the districts starved. Not much different than us in the United States who have no problem buying cheap clothing and luxury goods produced by oppressed and underpaid workers in the
districts developing countries that surround us.
I appreciate the ironic gesture that the marketers of the film developed. They know that the United States is Panem, but that even as the viewing audiences cheer on the poor girl from District 12, they will consume her as if they were Capitol citizens. So they developed the Capitol Couture website, highlighting the very fashions the book indicts. China Glaze issued a line of Hunger Games inspired nail polish. The actors playing the Tributes are treated just like Tributes as they are done-up and paraded around to premieres and photo shoots. It’s ironic in that the average viewer does not grasp the irony or the message of the story that such circuses distract from the fact that children are sent to be slaughtered in the arena for entertainment. In fact many will watch the film for simply the entertainment of seeing the Hunger Games visually portrayed.
But even as we, like the Capitol, allow ourselves to be distracted by the hype – we are still encountering a story that calls for the undermining of systems that placate the masses with bread and circuses so that they are too distracted to care about justice. Katniss and Peeta strive to not just be pieces in the Capitol’s games. They see through the façade of the Capitol and its shallow ways. They want to hold the Capitol responsible for the ways it oppresses the districts, allows the masses to starve while the few live in luxury, and treats even children as if they were things to be used instead of people deserving of dignity.
The United States may be the Capitol of Panem, and some may be treating The Hunger Games as just another circus, but that message of subversive living is being heard even if just subconsciously. This is an important film because of that. Katniss Everdeen is more than just another beautiful celebrity – she is a voice calling for us to put an end to injustice and oppression. And the world is watching.
To read more on the connections between Panem and the United States today, check out my book The Hunger Games and the Gospel: Bread, Circuses, and the Kingdom of God.