The Hunger Games is a pretty explicit commentary on reality TV and sensationalized news stories in America. It’s disturbing how much Americans enjoy seeing people’s suffering play out in real time, whether it’s their failing love stories (Married At First Sight, *cringe*), physical challenges (Survivor), or even death (George Floyd’s murder being broadcast repeatedly on the nightly news). Even when it’s horrible, we just can’t look away.
But what really stood out to me as I re-read The Hunger Games this past month was the subtle way in which Suzanne Collins would relate me, the reader, with the viewers at the Capitol. Especially poignant to me was this quote close to the end of the book:
Well, Foxface died almost a day ago, so there’s been plenty of time for the audience to place bets and get bored.
The audience, i.e. the reader, has had a pretty “boring” couple of chapters. Nobody has tried to kill anyone, it’s just been Peeta and Katniss snuggling in a cave trying to not die. Presumably Cato and Thresh are fighting it out off-screen, but YA readers who like a fast plot are probably starting to wonder when something is going to happen to our protagonists.
And that’s the moment that got me thinking. Why is it so appalling to us that the Capitol would enjoy the spectacle of children killing each other, but it’s totally fine for us as readers to enjoy the same thing?
Okay, a couple of obvious reasons, the first being that BOOKS AREN’T REAL. Yeah, I get it. Also, likely reading The Hunger Games makes you feel guilty and kind of icky, and Rue’s death especially is extremely upsetting. You aren’t reading the book BECAUSE you want to see kids killing each other. So I realize that these aren’t the same.
We kind of do read books because we want to see people killing each other.
Whether its Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Red Rising, or even something like Gideon the Ninth, we really enjoy reading violent books. And we enjoy watching violent movies and playing violent video games. Why? Is it something that I should find upsetting to realize about myself? Or is it just part of being human?
I’m inclined to think that our preference towards violence is the natural result of being a predatory species. That somewhere deep in our shared memory, reading something like The Hunger Games reminds us of sitting around the fire and sharing stories of the hunt or the battle with a neighboring clan. And that maybe a healthy outlet for those violent tendencies, like a book, is a good thing and not something to be upset about.
But, at the same time, it’s disturbing to realize that maybe I’m not so different from the people in the Capitol after all. Collins made her point with the first book, she didn’t have to write Catching Fire (and we didn’t have to read it) if that was her only goal. We kept reading because, as horrible as The Hunger Games is, it’s incredibly entertaining.
8 thoughts on “Thoughts from The Hunger Games: Not so Different from the Capitol”
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Thank you. 🙂
I do think there are differences between books (and movies) that really get into graphic descriptions of violence and books that are more about the emotional impact of violence. In many books, you don’t get gory descriptions of what it means to kill someone, and a lot of readers wouldn’t like that, but you get big picture descriptions and emotions about how their death came about, whether it was “meaningful,” who it affects, etc. So then the book is more about philosophical questions surrounding death or the idea of how humans relate to and deal with death, rather than some sort of “excitement” of just watching characters die.
But, sure, there’s an interest/excitement factor to reading about things that don’t happen to us and we wouldn’t want to happen to us. It’s “safe” to experience the death of a character in war and cry over that; we wouldn’t want to have to cry over the death of our friends in real life. And wild plot lines are more interesting than the minutia that often interest us in our daily lives. Like, if my biggest excitement one week is something like buying an air fryer and trying it out, that’s fun in real life but…no one wants to read a book about some lady who buys an air fryer and then just brushes her teeth and goes to bed or whatever!
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Agreed, not all violent books are created equal. I was thinking a lot about the thriller genre when I wrote this post, but also about Sci-Fi/Fantasy which tend to have war-driven plotlines. I was also wondering about myself, why does it bother me that people play Call of Duty but *not* to read “All Quiet on the Western Front”? I don’t necessarily think there’s a good answer to that question, and I ask it without placing value judgements on those who do enjoy such thing, but by recognizing my own biases. Where did those biases come from in the first place?
Interesting post! I’ve to admit that I only watched the Hunger Games movies, but judging from that I think the story is a comment on/critique of sensationalism and the way media has increasingly become more violent. It’s meant to make you uncomfortable by showing you how similar you’re actually to the people in the Capitol. And the moment you realise that is when you start questioning yourself and the society you live in.
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I guess the first time I read the book or saw the movie I didn’t make the connection to how *I* am so similar to the capitol, I wanted to put it on “them”, whoever they are.
I never actually thought about this, very intriguing! I have to say that I do agree with you, and it is uncomfortable to compare ourselves to the Capitol citizens. Sure, I’ve never really agreed with violent video games or movies, but books like Hunger Games and Divergent? I devoured those guys. This actually is pretty disturbing. Great post, though. ❤
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Thanks Gracie! I think it’s important to look at the difficult parts of ourselves, instead of pretending they aren’t there.