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Alternate Perspectives: Hunger Games

Controversial Content
Added: Thursday, April 5th 2012 at 6:50pm by InsidePassage
Related Tags: horror movies

Topic of the Hour: Comparing Books, Movies and Internet Phenomena

   If you've read any of my posts, you'll know that I tend to take things from a different tack, a sort of sideways perspective, sometimes simply my personal view of mainstream politics, culture, or any other of a thousand random things. That's what you're getting here. Writing this post originally started off as an expansion of a comment in an abbreviated discussion with another Blogsterite. Another relevant subject cropped up, and I've been figuring out how to make them work together, as they have enough parallels to make me not want to bother with a second post on the same subject. Shaky outcome, resulting in a somewhat longer post here.

  First, let me note that I have not seen the HG (Hunger Games) movie. I do a lot of reading, be it internet, news or books, and came across a blurb about an upcoming movie with a strange and familiar premise, yet marketed as young adult fiction rather than an expected adult theme. Intrigued, I decided to get a copy of the book that inspired the movie (another shill for public libraries). Because libraries are awesome (shill, shill), I was able to get all three books in the series (HG, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) and read them in fairly short order. They are young adult fiction and fairly easy reading, with a far more adult set of themes than one might expect from the rather brutal nature of the books. Rather than the light romance theme that probably played up in the movie, there's a great deal of exploration of various themese including war and rebellion, the nature of tyranny, the gross inanity of extreme materialism, and a number of other lesser themes thatareplayed out.

  A bit about the author, Suzanne Collins, because I discovered some fascinating (and relevant) bits about her when looking her up. It seems that she started off not as an author, but as a writer of children's television shows, putting her degree in Telecommunications to good use. The results are Nickolodeon programs like Wow! Wow! Wubzy and Little Bear. I have nephews who have watched this programming, and it's directed at very young audiences, the kind of stuff that you might see on Noggin, if you have small children. From television, she progressed to writing children's books more along the lines of juvenile fiction, borrowing lightly from Greek mythology in her character naming schemes. I'm not sure what her fascination with the Greeks is, as it has some bearing on her writing of HG, but I can't blame her - I enjoyed mythology growing up, and it introduced me to the literature of many cultures outside my own, even if that literature isn't on the same level as the worksofShakespeare or Tolstoy.

  Oddly enough, Greek mythology in HG became a matter of dispute. Collins cites a number of inspirations for writing the trilogy - reality TV (Panem is a world where the only thing a TV may be used for is presidential announcements and enforced viewing of the games), the war in Iraq (i.e. child soldiers), and... in dispute... drawing on the mythology of the Theseus's Minotaur. Theseun myth in short form - after a bloody war of retribution for the death of the King's son at the Pan-Athenian (see: Panem) by Crete against Athens that leads to victory, the King demands as condition of peace a Great Year (see: yearly) sacrifice of 14 children, 7 boys, 7 girls. It's a blood sacrifice, as they are meant to be devoured by the blood-thirsty minotaur in the labyrinth (see: arena).

  Collins isn't the most skillfull of authors, and the parallels are rather blatant in parts of the books, but if you take it for what it is, it's fairly decent.

  What's the point of dispute, you might ask?

  The obvious, really. Even if it is glossed over, at heart HG is about children killing children, no matter what lofty Greek parallels it posseses. There's an element of squeam to that, because it's borderline taboo in the USA to portray the death of children in movies as anything other than a huge dramatic plot-moving  event (see: Pay it Forward). The distinction seems meaningless to me, as our movie industry doesn't seem to have a problem with churning out an endless array of slasher flicks where oversexed teenagers die by the hundreds, and slightly more... elevated works that include the violent rape of pre-adolescent girls (Hounddog).

   Despite all that, it presents as exploitation of children to some people. I understand the perspective, even if I don't agree with it. There's a notion that by exposing our country's children to this (recall that this is a young adult movie) we are exposing them to something they haven't already seen, destroying innocent young minds.

  Ummm, yeah. About that...

  A bit of a generational disconnect here, because your kids have probably seen far worse than Hunger Games . There's a movie, cult-favorite actually, older people may be unfamiliar with because it's a largely internet-based phenomenon due to the fact that the movie hasn't been released here in the USA. Ask anyone under ... let's say 35, 40, who spends a lot of time on the internet, and you'll probably learn more about it, but for now I'll simply direct you to Wikipedia for general information, and Youtube for a glossy trailer.

  It's called Battle Royale , and there's a bit of fanboy outrage over the fact that it's very similar to Hunger Games, and came out in Japan about 8 years earlier. Outrage over the fact that Collins won't acknowledge it as her inspiration despite that it's very unlikely that she's ever seen this movie. Conceptually, BR and HG are similar, kids killing kids by order of a tyrannical government, but in practice, not anywhere near close. Why? Because BR is brutal - rather than giving the reader a larger plotline and glossed over deaths, it brings the tyranny home by graphically displaying kids slaughtering each other with guns, knives, bombs, and all sorts of other instruments of death... and further driving the point home by making each of them identifiable as individual characters whose death is highly tragic.

  Yeah, there's an insane cultural divide between Battle Royale and Hunger Games .

  But to the point, one movie is what the other is not, the presentation the death of children in an exploitative manner for the greatest possible impact. That exists in HG, to a lesser degree, but in the same very American 'Pay it Forward' fashion. No blood, guts, or entrails. BR is slasher-extreme, not quite as bad in the movie, but horrific in the graphic novels.

  A lot of rambling, I know, but I'm getting around to a point here, and it has to do with taking a work in its greater context, examining it as a whole, and judging it for what it is, not just pieces of it. Consider also that if your objection is really "about the kids", then you're missing a much larger and much uglier picture. They've probably already seen it, even if you haven't.

~ End ~




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