The story central to the Hunger Games trilogy is feisty heroine Katniss Everdeen doing things her own way, sticking two fingers up to the authorities and leading a rebellion against an oppressive regime.
The Hunger Games – the televised fight to the death – themselves are also a satire on our hungry passion for reality television programmes.
For the benefit of anyone unfamiliar with the plot of the Hunger Games series, it is set in a dystopian near-future in a nation called Panem. Panem is ruled by the ostentatiously affluent Capitol, while most of the population of the 12 Districts live in poverty.
Every year, two children (a boy and a girl) are chosen from each District to take part (be ‘tributes’) in a grisly televised contest, the Hunger Games, as a punishment for a previous rebellion. The children fight each other until only one is left alive. Katniss (played in the films by the fabulous Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers for the Games in her younger sister’s place. People in the Capitol look forward to the Games with great relish, choosing who to support (and therefore who to save) and treat the winners as heroes, putting them on pedestals as glorious celebrities.
As heated and as bitchy as our reality television shows get, they do not involve any fights to the death. So, why the comparison?
Hopefully we are now savvy enough to know that there is precious little ‘reality’ in our reality TV. From the X Factor to The Apprentice, TOWIE to Made in Chelsea, Big Brother to I’m a Celebrity and yes, even good old Great British Bake Off, all are choreographed and scripted to varying degrees.
They are edited to make spats appear like countries about to go to war with each other and arguments seem like actual war, all to keep viewers at the edge of their seats, keep social media abuzz with chatter, and plenty of fodder for the gossip weeklies. They are edited to make us feel sympathy or contempt towards certain individuals. Many of them are scripted and choreographed to sure they take a direction as determined by the programme makers.
There is little ‘reality’ about these reality programmes.
So how does this relate to the Hunger Games? As if sending 24 children in to an arena in a televised fight to the death isn’t enough, when the tributes are hiding from each other, biding their time rather than killing each other the Gamesmasters (who orchestrate everything in the games arena behind the scenes) like to liven things up a bit by doing things like making the trees explode.
Just like in our real-life not-really reality TV (now there’s an oxymoron for you) the audience is manipulated to root for, or have sympathy for certain characters: each tribute has to show off their skills, and they have a stylist to make them look their best for the pre-Games television interview in a bid to get ‘sponsors’ – viewers sending them gifts during the Games to help them survive, and win. The tributes are pawns, commodities, not human beings.
While we might not cheer on people in our reality TV shows on to kill each other, many fans of these programmes are not exactly kind to the participants, openly criticising aspects of their personal appearance or behaviour, seemingly forgetting that they are human beings with feelings. Many of the shows offer viewers the chance to vote for who stays and who goes home – to choose who survives, in a different sort of way.
In the Hunger Games the victors are lauded as heroes and taken on tour. While they have their lives, their lives are not their own. Many reality show participants become a heroes of a sort, becoming celebrities with every minutiae of their lives picked over in the gossip magazines.
Thankfully, the Hunger Games is a work of complete fiction. Sending children to fight each other to the death in the name of televised entertainment is unthinkable.
Admittedly, (and as you may be able to tell!) I am not a fan of the reality TV shows I mention above, but I’ve gleaned enough from social media and headlines on the gossip magazines to get the gist of them. I know they are mostly just harmless escapist fun, but I cannot help thinking The Hunger Games holds a mirror up to ourselves, and our own enthusiasm for reality TV and ask us if we realise how manipulated we are – not just by reality TV, but the media in general.