Oh I might be mad, I must be mad, you’ll definitely think I’m bad, but I’m going to do it. I have to do it – I’m taking on the Hunger Games and only one of us can emerge the victor..
Fans are a scary breed this day and the very last thing I want is a mob beating my blog down, but for some reason this one has gotten under my skin. Perhaps because no one will stop going on about it. So while I duly await my punishment..
Its not the first film to get under my skin in this way. You might remember my rant on Man of Stupid, you were mercifully spared my torment over X-Men: No Class and The Revenge of the Sith, which left me feeling like I needed to write Revenge of the Disappointed Fan….
And they all failed in exactly the same way. Great idea poor execution.
Dystopia is the current hot thing but its always been popular. There are two strands, which represent the two extremes of literature and have previously kept the genre in the margin: the oft derided man against world pure sci-fi, which usually involves a post apocalyptic world, Arnold Schwarzenegger and big explosions: and those that put society and human nature under the microscope – usually involving George Orwell and pigs.
I actually can and have enjoyed both in their own way, but here is where literature and film deviate. Film can offer a spectacle without much substance and still work, especially if we invest in a character (actor) and their personal struggle. The logic of the wider world is rarely that important, simply because we haven’t the time to explore it.
In literature – for me, obviously not the rest of the reading population – the world is the entire point of the dystopia; the mc a conduit to our understanding. Winston, the unlikely hero in Nineteen Eighty Four and his tiny, timid desires, highlight just how absolute the control of the party is, and how the tighter the squeeze the more it forces even the most meek and obedient to eventually struggle.
So what aspect of society is Hunger Games examining? Suzanne Collins states it is a modern day Theseus – the greek hero who slayed the minotaur, the tributes of the districts echoing the word used to describe the seven boys and seven girls who were sacrificed to the beasts appetite.
But Theseus is a founder-myth, an unattributed tale passed from generation to generation, which seeks to celebrate the virtues that explain how we came to be, something which is fundamentally at odds with dystopia, which seeks to examine the flaws that show us how we might be.
The man against world version of dystopia could be comparable, in the sense that it focuses more on the hero and his rebellion than on the world, except Katniss is not a rebel. She plays their game. She enters the arena as a volunteer, allowed by the rules. If she had stepped up and pretended to be her sister, not allowed by the rules, it would have been an act of defiance and shown us that what she wanted trumped the will of the government and she was willing to go against them to achieve it.
This compliance continues throughout – she dresses up and smiles for the camera. There are occasional moments that fans will cite as rebellion – but they add up to the equivalent of sticking your tongue out. Even her final act is one of surrender, lets die together. Not, lets fight side by side no matter what you throw at us – we refuse to kill each other. That never say die attitude is vital to this type of hero focused dystopia.
In the Running Man, Richard tries to speak out via his recorded messages to show what the government is really doing, where does Katniss speak out? Where does she actually actively try to break the system?
So is it trying to expose a rotten part of our society? The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld looks at society’s obsession with looks and current rise in plastic surgery. But I cannot imagine anything that would be more effective in citing rebellion than telling people every year we will make your children kill one another and we will make you watch.
So perhaps entertainment used as a control? The rise in reality tv, no holds bar, live your warts-on-your-bare-bum-life for the whole world to see? Except this again falls down. The Running Man is entertainment – it has volunteers, an apparently more level playing field, a chance that any can survive, a pit your wits against the world and see what you are really made of scenario. Given the computer games many love, I know this is something that appeals deeply. Slaughtering children – pitting 11 year olds against 17 year olds – just doesn’t work. There is also no real sense of manipulation. The tributes are being forced – we know this – the odds are never in anyone’s favour – we know this – only one can ever emerge – everyone knows it all. In the Running Man again, Richard starts off ignorant about the truth and later we see his own words edited.
If Katniss had been forced into a survival contest, if there had been a sense that though few ever survive the rigours of the wilds, there is hope. This would also uphold the notion of reminding the populace of why they need the ‘protection’ of the technologically advanced Capitol. If they were then edited wildly to suggest that they turn on one another, resort to barbarism, if there is an essential disconnect between the true reality and the projected reality..
So why am I attacking the Hunger Games? People enjoy it, and if you do, lucky you, I’m not here to spoil your fun. But dystopian literature isn’t going away. If you have heard otherwise, don’t be fooled. It’s always been popular and with the recent boost and many more movies in the pipeline, that popularity is going to continue.
So this is a plea – great ideas deserve great execution. This is a great area to exploit, but it is an area where the disconnect between writing and thinking is most evident. Plot and characterisation must both be tight. If you do not think this through, if you don’t understand quite basic truths about society and people, you will end up with a bloody mess – a shapeless, violent mess leaking through countless plot holes.
Oh and while we’re at it, fans – chill oot! I get it – passion is a wonderful thing, but so is variety. Let folks grumble, it doesn’t take anything away from your joy. You’re catered for, you have the wonder of something that fulfils your every wish. Let those of us who haven’t found our nirvana seek it out.