Hunger Games: Popularizing Dystopia and the Accidental Heroine

larawan ng bidang babae sa pelikulang Hunger Games

Hmmn, isn’t hunting for your food a kinky idea in these times of processed foods?/ telegraph.co.uk

 

I recently saw one of my nieces reading the book, Hunger Games. That was the third time I saw her read – the first was Harry Potter and the second was, you guessed right, Twilight. On the other hand, I know several people, a bit older than my niece, who are now reading 1984 or Brave New World. Hunger Games,  the movie, set them into reading trips. The said film talks about dystopia or a system gone wrong, also the subject matter of the two novels mentioned.

Dystopia, as a concept, is oftentimes huge and deep. Unless one is an avid reader of science fictions, the concept of a flawed system isn’t always that easy to understand or to digest. For young people, especially. I suppose that to think in terms of systems, particularly social systems, one has to do a lot of abstract thinking – accepting premises, ingesting milieus and familiarizing oneself with the literary nuances and details. I guess the average young adult does not usually bother with such. Certainly, there are far more interesting things to deal with.

The fact that Hunger Games did just that to many young people deserves praise. While one can argue that much of their resolve to read may have something to do with the hype or the desire to conform to peers, still, I give due points to works that are able to bring difficult concepts into the mainstream. To engage the youth to venture further, to learn a little more about the film’s subject, even as it seems to be” hardcore” stuff. Other popular films only set them off to buy souvenir shirts or memorabilia. Hunger Games directed them to read. That isn’t exactly a raw deal.

 

Before we go further, let me mention a bit about Utopia, the opposite of dystopia. It’s about social systems working at their best, if not perfectly. The concept is not really new to us. The idea of the paradise that was lost to Adam and Eve, belongs to that. So was the Republic of Plato. And yes, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, the rendition of the futuristic, perfect society. Still not to be forgotten was Karl Marx’s communist society. These works of literature outline for the reader – the world –  the best that human civilization can achieve with a good measure of social engineering.

And even as we may question the premises of these thinkers or philosophers, their ideological frameworks, it should be noted that not all authors have gone through such effort – to envision and to paint the ideal world in a programmatic way, for the humankind. In Literature, those social models are called metanarratives or an all-embracing sytem of written thoughts. Metanarratives have the effect of mobilizing people – governments, movements and organizations –  making them act upon the philosophies forwarded therein, working towards the achievement of the visions  in the narratives. In short, carefully argued metanarratives often inspire people en masse.

 

On the other hand, dystopia as a narrative, poses a different perspective. It often  questions the prevailing system and the values holding the system intact. It points out the defects of the set-up and endeavors to show the cracks, the weaknesses and what goes on in the inner sanctum of the rule makers of the system. Oftentimes, the style used by the dystopia authors is contrasting the small citizen, the ordinary member, against the all-powerful, seemingly infallible, authorities. Curiously, one common feature of dystopia creations is the remoteness of the central government – the decision-makers – in relation to its territory and people.

Another latent feature of dystopia, as typified in Hunger Games, is the counterposing of modernity and backwardness. Dystopias call the attention of the reader or the viewer, as to the level of civilization humankind has so far attained. In the movie, this is accomplished by showing the main characters living in a pre-industrial mode, thriving and barely surviving through hunting and gathering, with their leisure hours spent strolling and looking over the verdant prairie. Contrast this with the cosmopolitan, sanitized center where foods are abundant, technology is state-of- the-art and leisure could be had in an instant and at its most stylish.

 

On one hand, there is the advanced segment – composed of those who enjoy the fruits of society’s labor and call the shots over the lives of ordinary citizens. On the other extreme, there is the lagging sector – comprised by those who toil and break their backs and yet, have been starkly left behind. Small, obscure lives suddenly brought to the fore by necessary rituals – to enforce society’s traditions. Dystopias often  point out the disparities in the everyday conduct of lives before zooming in to that one moment – when the two far ends would meet and clash – to test the strength of the system and the values that the opposing poles hold dear. And the outcome of that encounter will decide whether the system stays. Or, not… (to be continued) ~~~

 

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34 comments on “Hunger Games: Popularizing Dystopia and the Accidental Heroine

  1. I am very impressed to hear that the classic dystopian novels are making a comeback as a result of HG. I better get down to reading it and making that review I promised…

    • Hello, Mr. Matt Williams,

      Yes, young people are discovering George Orwell and Aldous Huxley over here, courtesy of HG, ahaha. I belong to the batch that spent its teenage years reading Dr. Isaac Asimov, btw… ^^

      I was so amazed when I saw your post discussing so many dystopian works. And you’ve written several dystopias yourself, ahaha. ^^ Glad and honored you dropped by and left a comment. Thanks and best regards, 🙂

  2. I am currently reading this book. While so far I am somewhat unimpressed with the concept and the story, I agree with the idea that it somehow pushes the readers from reading mushy romances into more ‘serious’ stuff. However, I just think animes and some books like Battle Royale have been into this ‘dystopia’ trade for some time now.

    • Hello, John,

      Glad you came back… Hmnn, I haven’t read the book, just saw the movie… It’s true, there are so many dystopia works before HG.

      Yes, I suppose I found nothing new or original in HG’s plot or its storyline. Initially, I thought that the movie borrowed too heavily and from so many sources.

      The only thing that distinguished it from those that came first was its portrayal of the pervasive role of reality shows and the use of digital technology to monitor people, haha. ^^ Kumbaga, that was HG’s value added, it tapped on that yata.

      However, the movie was character-driven and the casting was great. And the sound direction of the film was excellent. So, while I think that it has far too many premises subject to justification and doubts, I still chose to suspend my disbelief, haha, and like any other movie-going person, I chose to enjoy it. It was an engaging movie naman. Of course, natatawa ako pag nakikita ko ang bow and arrow.. ^^

      Yes, it maybe a trend or a trade, recently. Some people say it’s the effect of recession and how people perceive the next years and decades – gloomy. Hmmn, I won’t be surprised if more written works depicting worlds falling apart will become popular or make it to the mainstream…

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and regards sa ‘yow… Cheers! 🙂

  3. juyjuy says:

    Just dropping by ate! Gonna read this later. I’m on my way to Cagayan de Oro. 🙂 🙂

    • Juyjuy!!! Two weeks ko nang hinahanap ang site mo, dear. Asan na you? Couldn’t find my way into your wordpress account and no way I could reach your bloggers dot com, ayon… Restore your WP acct., pls… 😉

      Ahaha, maganda sa CDO, kapatid. If you’ve the time and money, kain ka, kayo ro’n sa resto na nasa may tabing-dagat – ang ganda, as in … Ingat! 🙂

      • juyjuy says:

        ;-( na delete ko yung dating url ko ate. 😦 eto na yung bago, maryhasalittleblog.wordpress.com.

      • hello, juyjuy. ay, sayang… dami na ring laman no’n…:c i tried searching for the new url but couldn’t find it. i came across maryhadalittleblog.com instead… ^^

  4. bagotilyo says:

    interesting 🙂

    now i want to watch the movie.

    • bagotilyo! ahaha, nood ka na ^_^

      i remember na dati, ayaw kong panoorin ang Independence Day ’cause it was too popular. but when I did, natuwa naman ako, ang kulit pala. ang daming effects… 🙂

      saka, malamig pati sa sinehan, hihi… 😉

  5. munchow says:

    I totally agree with your conclusion that if a book like Hunger Games get young people to read, it should get all credits for it. My two sons have never been into reading but the Harry Potter movement – if I may call it that – made them read the books. And I only hope Hunger Games will do the same. As for myself I have neither read the book nor seen the movie, but I guess I’ll have to at some point. As for dystopia versus utopia, you made some very interesting and well founded points. I will just add that today’s prevalent idea of capitalism as the ideal democracy is just another utopia to me in as far as it sure doesn’t fit your definition of a social systems working at their best (if not perfectly).

  6. Hello, sir Munchow. Thanks for swinging by and sharing your thoughts, sir. Am glad somebody agrees with me on that point, ahaha. I just think that older generation would do better not to expect that much reading from young people in the way we/my generation was into reading. They’re into pop culture that makes its way thru the internet and the gadgets, not hardbound books. We can encourage them to read but not impose on them or their learning process. 🙂

    Capitalism as the framework for ideal democracy, hmmn… Capitalism, as far as I know, is another metanarrative. The social model, I think, is Adam Smith’s laissez faire society, operating on the principle of unbridled market competition and individualism among society’s members. In Economics, it’s been found out that it’s just an ideal situation – the market is neither 100% free nor is there always competition. ^^

    Many argue that capitalism is the best framework to realize the democratic political ideals as well as to give vent to cultural flourishing of people. Others debate this point, pointing to elitism and the wide gap among people, in such a setting. Hmmn, the latest I’ve heard on that is that democracy is an ideal – a state to aspire to. It has far too many requisites on the economic, political, educational and cultural fronts, ahaha. ^^

    Is democracy another utopia? Maybe, if we think of it as applicable to people all over the world, across all countries, huh? ^^ But usually, democracy is thought of at country or nation level. Of course, powerful countries have thoughts of marking their kinds of democracy on other people/countries. At the world level, the most being done is synchronization or leveling of basic needs like access to water, reduction of maternal deaths, access to basic education, provision of basic infrastructure, etc.

    Sadly, it’s still a far cry from the ideal of productive, informed and involved (participating) citizenry imbued with a collective (humankind) sense of progress. I think there’s still too much disparity between and among nations today to think of a system – economic or political – that will be applicable across all countries, huh?

    Am afraid this is a very long and winding response, haha. I’ll try to shorten it when I’ve more time, sir. Thanks again and regards to you and your loved ones. 🙂

    • munchow says:

      Don’t think about the length of your comment. I enjoy your insight. Although I just realised that I use the term utopia about capitalism, when I actually meant dystopia. That brings a different colour to the equation, doesn’t it?

      • Hello, sir…

        Ahaha, am afraid it does, ahuh… ^^ At any rate, capitalism has been the subject of lots, lots of dystopian works. If we look at the the works of HG Wells, George Orwell and so many others that came after them, they are mostly about industrial and post-industrial societies crumbling down, haha.^^ They’re mostly about what automation, standardization and uniformity have done or will do to people and their creativity. They seem to be saying that industrially prosperous countries will not make the best citizens. there… ^_^

        Their fears hardly apply to my country, though. Industrialization in the Phils. has barely taken off after it begun in the 60s, for some reason, ahaha. 🙂

  7. Hello, again, sir Munchow…

    Capitalism and Democracy are two separate metanarratives intertwined, I suppose. Democracy was from Plato’s The Republic and capitalism was from Adam Smith’s laissez faire model. So, yes, they’re two Utopias fused together.^^

    Utupias as systems are perfect and workable in so far as they are at conceptual planes, I guess. All system designs are made perfect, to be at least acceptable as models. ^^ In actual terms, no system is working perfectly, I think…

    Utopias as dream lands unrealized (paradise lost, mythical polity, experimental commune and classless, stateless society of the future) were designed to show what we could aspire to – collectively, as humanity – so to speak.

    The fact that our practice, our application of the design, is far from perfect is no fault of the model, I suppose. Utopias are similar to studies in architecture. They lay out the concept, the framework for the building. It is the engineers who will render the idea. That’s what I think, more or less *sweat, sweat* 🙂

    • munchow says:

      Capitalism and Democracy are certainly two separate philosophical ideas. And as you know they have both developed since Smith and Plato. But the defenders of particularly laissez faire see capitalism as the one and only democracy, which for me is a far cry, as it leads to elitism and a wide gap among people – as you point out (or say others point out). Capitalism was the “opposite” of Communism when it existed, but now when it in reality doesn’t have any antitheses to moderate the idea of it being the “only” democracy, it’s become a synonym with democracy in lots of people’s heads. But if you look back into literature is kind of interesting to see where it has all gone. You mentioned Orwell as one who wrote about capitalism as a dystopia. Interestingly enough his 1984 which was originally a critique of communism (as far as I understood it when I read it back then), today could just as easily be used as a description of capitalism. No more dedicated Ministry of Truth than the former Bush administration, I believe. The same can even be said about Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts. It was originally a critique of Nazi Germany, but today could easily be read as a critique of capitalism.

      • Hello, sir…

        Really glad you dropped by again. Yes, capitalism is an economic framework as democracy is a political shell. Capitalism hopes to bring out the most in man’s productive capacity through division of labor, adoption of systems and organizations and technology. Democracy endeavors to bring in as many people into the political scene, not just as the ruled constituents but making them part of the governance process with a hand in policy formulation, articulation of demands, implementation and feedback, etc.

        The “cooptation” of democracy as the best and only plausible system by the advocates of laissez faire was a development in less than two centuries, I suppose. Democracy as propounded by Plato was a rule by the slave-owning class over the other classes in society. It has certainly been improved on since, but still the outcome has left so much to be desired. Industrialization made mass production and consumption possible and made way for the millionaires, henchmen of capitalist society, so to speak. But the envisioned blossoming of society’s productive forces did not come to fruition but engendered so much starvation, destitution and crimes. And the crises, yes..

        I stand corrected, sir, about Orwell. Yes, 1984 was a critique of Stalin’s government operating on the so-called socialistic principles. In that novel, Orwell showed us that even socialism, the supposed alternative, could go blatantly wrong and develop into a totalitarian system instead of evolving into a classless and stateless framework of governance.

        Curiously, most of these narratives (capitalism, communism) start out with egalitarian principles and end up with gross inequality and concentration of power at the top by the few. And the state, always has a machine that ensures that its own version of the truth is propagated and that people will toe the line, the “people’s” line or the line advocated by those in power.

        The examples you cited above could as well have been anticipated by Orwell in his other work, The Animal Farm. In that brief piece, he showed how ruling could almost always go astray – where the rulers behave like pigs in a trough and the ruled could only stand and stare in abeyance and awe. Oh, well… 😉

  8. sorrygnat says:

    Excellent post! I like dystopias like Atwood’s Handmaid Tales, and of course the classic, also Ira Levine? or Levin, This Perfect Day, but I have been reluctant to read The Hunger Games and saddened to see teens reading it so; should read it before I wonder; does this continue to promote the surviving, one upmanship of the reality TV shows, and kill or be killed. I happen to be a Baha’i and believe in the oneness of humanity, where some day power will be defined as service to others. Poets, seers and prophets have spoken of the future, when the tribes come together. The Lord’s prayer alludes to it. A lot of people are contributing to that reality. If you consider the body, it reflects unity in diversity, and when it fights against different parts, warring cells, etc., it’s called cancer.

  9. Thanks, very much, ms. sorrygnat… I also read Handmaid Tales – made me shiver, haha. I read a couple of Ira Levin’s works though I haven’t come across This Perfect Day (i’ll look for it). I like his work, A Kiss Before Dying (appreciate the movie, too).

    I haven’t read the HG book but from the movie and the bit reviews of the sequel novels, I can tell it doesn’t promote one-upmanship, but goes against it. But am afraid it approaches kill or be killed in a cold manner, as though a given… ^^

    Oh, I’ve been pondering the oneness of humanity concept lately, too. Been jotting down notes and hope I could write a post about it someday. ^^ I haven’t read many works by prophets and seers (the last I read were Kahlil Gibran’s and the American poet who discussed on porcupine?) but it seems am inclined to see things that way, I guess. That unity must be promoted more and more. But it must be based on recognition of those who have suffered or are still suffering. That humanity bleeds like it does today because it has managed to disconnect so many parts of itself. Ahaha, something like that. 😉

    I really appreciate your dropping by and sharing your thoughts… Cheers! 🙂

  10. nadia says:

    I am going on another 6-month hibernation from blogging to read these books. When people email me, I’ll tell them it’s your fault 😀

  11. Now, that’s another lame excuse, Nadia dear. I appreciate it that this discussion has picked your curiosity but my niece ain’t much of a reader – she finished the HG book after three afternoon sittings. As for the rest, one week for each book. The total man-hours would be less than two months, heyyy! 😉

    We’re happier when you’re around, ah? You’re one of the few who could churn LMAO posts almost effortlessly. Nah, don’t make yourself scarce… 🙂

  12. Nice! Can I copy this and sell it to some of my college friends? It should get them through English with A’s.

    • Ahaha! Yes, BBB, you may… But then again, why are your friends still in college? 😉

      • Well, if I said my kid’s college friends it would make me sound creepy, and then they wouldn’t buy drugs from me anymore.

      • Haha, am laughing my ass off with your response. I can actually visualize a white guy preying on hapless freshmen on campus grounds. Also, am reminded about your post telling your kids what to do, how to react when a naked man is displaying his beefy wares inside the locker, CR or gym, haha. you’re hilarious! 😉

  13. J.A. Vas says:

    hihi, I found out that jaboody reviewed the movie 😉 but I’m not sure whether he liked it or not. he gave it many points, 8 out of 10, yet he’s doing some fun about it… 😉 however, maybe it’s due to his style… http://youtu.be/L6nRGW-1XW4 😀

  14. […] Hunger Games: Popularizing Dystopia and the Accidental Heroine – my first attempt to review a movie in the blog […]

  15. So interesting! And not what I was expecting. I love what you say about the meta-narrative. It’s so unpopular these days – in the generation of political correctness, and post-modern everything, it feels like we’re not allowed to create meta-narratives anymore. But you’re so right about their function – we need those bigger picture, over-arching stories. We need to see ourselves writ large on the future… and to imagine where we need to be.

    As for the movie – I’m glad you pointed out that it does have some benefits for the current generation – getting them to read, think, analyse etc. Because my impression of it was far more negative 🙂

    • hello, Alarna… Thank you and glad to hear you found the write up interesting. 🙂 i guess the fall of metanarratives’ popularity in the academe and in mainstream public opinion had large to do with the end of the Cold War – no more big enemies, no more huge and overarching specters painted as threats to civilization.

      the fall of socialist governments in particular, finished off the so-called ideological wars. suddenly, the “socialist alternative” was demolished. that somehow left the propaganda arena alone to the defenders of the status quo “world order,” American govt plus the G7. oh, hugely political, am afraid… ^^

      i agree with you – metanarratives are important… the big pictures allow the small players to locate themselves in the big, world setting. whereas, without them, people are given the illusion of equality and randomness among players – as though there aren’t big players at all and the playing ground of life is “levelled off.” which isn’t the case, come to think of it. some nations are more equal than the others as some individuals are more equal than the others…

      i guess, i somehow discussed post-modernism in the next installment of the article although i did not use the term post-modern… thanks for appreciating the benefit of HG film as argued in the write up. 🙂 btw, really, you were not impressed by the movie? you thought of it as far more negative, huh… 🙂

      • I think I found the movie… lack lustre. The characters didn’t have enough of a backstory – or any story – to move me. The memory of it is sketchy now… there were a few things. But also, I was horrified that there were young children coming to watch what seemed to be an essentially bloody movie. These are the times, though, I guess….

        Fear of propaganda, huh? I guess there’s a fuzzy line, but I hope we get over that. Thanks for your insightful post and reply 🙂

      • a, lack lustre as a description comes appropriate, come to think of it… it isn’t like Braveheart’s rendition, for example. i think the difficulty lies in accepting the movie’s premise – the post-industrial remnants of Panem’s civilization. i guess if one could suspend disbelief on that score, he’ll do fine and accept the rest of the movie. if one questions that though, it’ll be hard to see through the dynamics and characterization of the movie…

        i didn’t really see much blood and gore on HG. but the premise of killing and being killed as a given looms large throughout the movie – a conditioning, sort of…

        oh, i meant that metanarrative has been largely discredited as an analytic approach. that fragmentation and randomness make for more popular approach to making sense out of the chaos of our lives, ahuh…

        much welcome, Alarna. pleased to have explained and picked brains with you. kind regards… 🙂

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