Monday, September 29, 2014

The Hunger Games (soap box and spoiler alert)

       As I began researching for a book list on "The Best New Series" (coming later this week), I was reminded of this article that I wrote about the Hunger Games during the peak of its hype. I know I am posting this late. The hype is over, but I wanted to address why I'll never recommend books like this on my blog. So here it is, the inevitable hunger games rant:

       I read the hunger games and enjoyed it. The idea is intriguing, the characters solid, and the story extremely fast paced and exciting. After finishing, I spent some time sitting on my bed  thinking about it. I presume you have all experienced this same after-novel “Now what?” ritual. What does it all mean? Would I want to read the sequel?
         I tried hard to justify myself. The Hunger Games is certainly entertaining, but I needed a better reason to continue reading the series. I was searching for a warrant to jump on the all-to-crowded band wagon of fans. The fact that the book ends with the capitol reigning strong, the main protagonist in danger, and a potential love story hanging by a thread, is obviously an attempt by the author to leave readers hungry (no pun intended) for more. After finishing this story and considering it for a few minutes, I decided I was done. I needed to move on, no matter what the rest of the universe did. 
      We’ve all studied Ancient Rome; didn’t we feel repulsed when our teachers explained to us the concept of gladiator games? How could humans accept such a morbid pastime? And yet now with the recent hype over this book series, I am beginning to question wether our culture has really advanced much since the days when killing was an acceptable form of amusement. 
        “Oh, well the Hunger games does not justify the evil. The capitol is bad...” 

       Poor people forced to watch children kill each other: sad. The government watches innocent children kill each other for fun: vulgar. You call it vulgar, the author calls it vulgar. And yet who is standing in line to buy the next book and buying a movie ticket to watch a simulation of the very same game we all despise the capitol for enjoying? Do you think you will feel pleasure when a young girl gets a spear thrust right through her? 
       Dystopian novels have been a popular form of entertainment for a long time. However in recent years, we are seeing a new and alarmingly vulgar breed. In the past, dystopias were used as a slippery slope analysis of some element of culture. In other words, they had a moral, a message, or a warning. For example, George Orwell's famed “1984” presents a vivid and awful picture of what our world could become if we passively allow the build up of a totalitarian state in the name of peace and security. It uses a story full of tragedy and torture to send a message of warning.        
       The hunger games presents the same kind of dystopia - although you could say that in a humane sense the obscenities filling The Hunger Games are more evil then even Orwell could have imagined. And yet there is no moral. As I sat on my bed contemplating the meaning or message of the book, I had to give up. There is no message. I hadn't learned anything. This terrible world was created for maximum excitement, maximum adventure, maximum thrill. In other words, it was created solely for the readers pleasure.

       To me, that's bad taste. 
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Emily said...

I believe that I disagree. The Hunger Games is a warning of our own culture. The Capitol is symbolic of today's media. People tuning in to watch their favorite television show, or catching the latest fashion trends, with little regard for those around the world who are suffering.

I think that the meaning behind this book may be skewed because the main character doesn't quite grasp it. For her, the story is simply about saving her family. She doesn't see the bigger picture. But we, as the audience, can. You're right about the gladiators and ancient Rome--the whole book rings with references to it, even the names of the characters. We look upon it as a disgusting time in history. But it happened once, so what is to keep it from happening again? That's what the book is about.

That said, I do think you have a point with the phenomenon that the book has caused. People waiting in line to watch a movie about children killing each other. It's as though what the author is trying to warn us through the series is becoming reality by the series' success. It's a bit of a paradox.

Susanna said...

Hmm. Thanks for your insightful comments! Those are some good points. However, the thought that the capital (which is obviously a kind of totalitarian government) could symbolize the media did not seem that strong to me. I'm just not sure how fighting off an evil government could give us insight in how to avoid the reality T.V. centered media we have today.

However, as I mentioned, I did not finish reading the series (I read the plot on wikipedia instead). Perhaps the central theme becomes more apparent and the author's solution or desired reaction better developed throughout the rest of the series?

If what you are saying is true, that would be a terrible paradox. I'm interested in researching Suzanne Collins thoughts on this topic.

If the author was really opposing this type of media, why did she sell the movie rights? What are her thoughts about the obsession that her book and inspired movie has caused?

Whatever the reason, I still cannot jump onto this dystopian craze. I do agree that perhpas some of my qualms would be appeased if I reread the books with your view. said...

Wow. This was an insightful post. Thanks!

Allie @ Little Birdie Books said...

I still haven't read this LOL. God, I'm awful.

It can be frustrating when books don't have a message (though from what I heard I always thought this book's message was about our willingness to segregate and how quickly society can turn on a certain thing or person etc.). Anyway though, I don't always feel the need to have a message, because sometimes fiction is best just being for fun - escapism and all that

topaz winters said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
topaz winters said...

(Sorry, just posting this again - I don't think it went through properly the first time. Blogger can be weird sometimes!)

I think there is something fundamentally incorrect with your argument - you haven't read the rest of the series. Although I didn't love it, the books certainly refute many of the points you've made in this post - consequences of THG are felt in an extremely loud and pronounced way, and what was once a spectator sport morphs into a full-on rebellion.

You cite 1984, but what about books like Lord of the Flies, another dystopian classic bearing remarkably similar roots to THG? I would argue that books like these are not meant to make the reader feel comfortable - after all, if that's your goal, there's always happier contemporary novels and the like. The very foundation of dystopian books is to tell the world to wake up and make a change - they are, by definition, part of a "worst-case scenario" genre.

"This terrible world was created for maximum excitement, maximum adventure, maximum thrill. In other words, it was created solely for the readers (sic) pleasure." Well, no, actually - that's not quite true. As I mentioned above, you would probably have to read the entire series to grasp the full meaning (I believe so, at least. Forgive me if I'm wrong; I read it quite awhile ago and my memory's a bit iffy).

This is not a story meant to make readers happy. It's a story meant to provoke questions and outrage. There is a reason student protestors in Thailand have used THG as a symbol for their own rebellion. Literature, like life, never promised us justice - but citing THG as a source of the downward spiral of media today is a fundamentally flawed argument.

/end bookish rant

J.L. said...

I just started reading this book!