If you spend any time on the internet, you have probably been recently confronted with some form of Hunger Games content. Whether on TikTok, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram, various social media sites have been experiencing what creators and critics have dubbed ‘The Hunger Games Renaissance’. Purely by coincidence, this past semester I took a course which required me to read the original Hunger Games trilogy. Like many people on the internet, I reignited my love of the series, finding it to be just as relevant now as when the first book was released nearly fifteen years ago. Not only does it speak to our current cultural moment, but it is also, simply, a well written story, one which validates our collective need to resist the systems that oppress us and which encourages love and hope in spite of it all.
Spoiler-Free Synopsis & Book Review
In the literary world of Suzanne Collins’ series, The Hunger Games, we meet our characters decades after a massive conflict which has transformed the North America we now know into the dystopia known as ‘Panem’. In Panem, the totalitarian government situated in the ‘Capitol’ continuously holds ‘The Hunger Games’, which are gladiatorial death matches forced upon children from the twelve outlying ‘Districts’. One girl and one boy from each District is chosen as a ‘tribute’, leading to a total of twenty-four tributes each year. These ‘Games’ provide the Capitol with an opportunity to flaunt and enforce their power over these subjugated Districts. Politically, Panem’s Capitol monopolizes access to resources, such as food, and power is concentrated amongst a small group. Each District is tasked with providing a specific industry to the Capitol, for example, District 11’s focus is agriculture and District 12’s is coal mining. While those in the Districts do dangerous work and produce abundant resources for the Capitol, they are not allowed to freely use anything they produce, as these products are under complete Capitol control. For decades, this structure remains in place without much pushback, as the Capitol, through a complex system of state violence and propaganda, does everything it can to prevent rebellion and to crush the hope and will of the Districts’ citizens. That is, until our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, in an act of self-sacrifice, takes her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, setting off a chain of events which leads to increased civil unrest.
From a purely technical standpoint, I believe Suzanne Collins to be a superb writer. The pacing of the first novel, especially, is quick, gripping, and suspenseful, receiving high praise from popular authors such as Stephen King and John Green. Though Katniss is the main focus, with the novels being written entirely from her perspective, each character is authentic and given depth. No interaction or event is contrived; instead, they act to educate the readers even further about the characters and the complex world they live in. Perhaps the novels’ greatest strength is in this worldbuilding. Personally, solid worldbuilding is one of the most important factors I look for as a reader. I enjoy learning about the intricacies of the social and political workings of fictional worlds: the occupations, the laws, the lifestyles, anything that adds to the readers’ ability to immerse themselves within the stories. Collins’ is particularly skilled at this, imagining a post-war North America which is fantastical, yet grounded, and which continues to draw in readers fifteen years later.
More Than Nostalgia
Warning: This is no longer a spoiler-free zone. Read at your own risk!
Some fans and journalists were quick to point out that the recent Hunger Games resurgence was scarcely a natural process. The fourth book in the series, a prequel entitled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, has a movie adaptation which is set to hit theatres in November.
As a marketing scheme, the original Hunger Games film trilogy was released on Netflix in the US for a brief period of time. The intended result was twofold: reignite Hunger Games fandom and ensure a greater exposure for the new film trailer, which dropped a couple weeks ago. Though this context is important to recognize, I don’t think that this seemingly artificial hype production undermines the impact that these stories have or the analysis that is being done by fans old and new as they are (re-)discovering them. For there to be this much excitement and engagement with the series more than a decade after its release, and long after the YA dystopian boom has peaked and faded away, speaks volumes to the writing quality and to how well the themes have aged.
Nostalgia is also not enough to explain this recent boom. Young audiences have unprecedented access to media of all varieties. Television research shows that technological changes have vastly altered the ways that media is consumed, creating a generation of young media consumers who are “very choosy about quality programming”. Nostalgia without quality or substance is not enough to keep young audiences, the same audiences that are dominating this Hunger Games renaissance, engaged in the ways that they are. This renaissance depends upon the new forms of analysis and fandom that are arising due to modern feelings of uncertainty, global socio-political precarity, and the mechanisms of the internet.
If while reading my plot synopsis you were making connections to current events or your own life, you are far from alone. Fans have been using various internet platforms to connect Panem’s dystopia to modern day inequalities and to a desire for widespread change. TikTok creators such as luckyleftie, who was spotlighted and interviewed in this article, are applying critical analysis to the series in meaningful ways. Class division, the spectacle of violence, and notions of complicity in these structures are all topics that she has touched on, providing powerful and communal ways for fans to interact with the series. Though the nostalgia factor cannot be completely ignored, and neither can the upcoming release of the new film, the recent boom in Hunger Games interest is much more a credit to the fan communities and creators that continue to make it relevant than to the corporations who are capitalizing off of it. Through their analysis, commentary, and artwork, it is these fan communities that are taking control of the narrative and defining how people are interacting with this material, most often for the better, effectively adding new insights to a story which has come to mean so much to so many.
Grappling with Authenticity, Radical Hope & Love Despite It All
Speaking from personal experience, I got so much more out of the series upon revisit, and interacting with the series online has certainly played a role in that.
I am fascinated by the ways that The Hunger Games can help us explore our current online existences and notions of authenticity within these spaces. A key element of the Games is that they are filmed and broadcast across the nation of Panem, and they are used as the greatest form of entertainment for citizens of the upper classes within the Capitol. Characters in the series must make decisions about how they present themselves to these audiences, in interviews and parades, and in the Games themselves. What role will they play within the story that the Capitol is constructing and what actions should they take to ensure that they can receive sponsors in order to survive? Closer to the time of the books’ release, a large analytical focus was placed on the ways in which the story was commenting on the viciousness of modern reality TV. While this still applies, I think it can also be said to explore the constructed images we all create as we live our lives online and under various structures of oppression.
One passage is particularly powerful. Peeta Mellark, a fellow tribute turned potential love interest for Katniss, tells her this the night before the Games start:
“I don’t want them to change me in there…I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games…within that framework, there’s still you, there’s still me”-The Hunger Games (2008) pg. 141-2
Like Peeta, I think many of us wonder how we can present ourselves authentically in a world and an online landscape which demands perfection of us, in which a curated image is preferable to the real deal and in which only certain images are acceptable. It calls into question whether authenticity is even possible in these structures and asks us to consider the images that we have constructed (or been forced to construct) in order to exist on social media. And though we may not be competing in gladiator matches, we still experience oppression in different ways and to different degrees based on our positionalities. Within these frameworks, as Peeta says, we have to grapple with our own privileges, our responsibilities, and how we can maintain our humanity when the systems that define our world attempt to strip it from us.
The Hunger Games asks big questions, and while I may not have the answers, I draw hope and inspiration from the fact that the questions are being asked in the first place. As these two tumblr users highlight, the basis of the series is radical love, hope, and community.
Though it is necessary to recognize the role of the collective in instigating change, individual choices are still important. Because what is the collective if not a constellation of individuals choosing to live for each other? Choosing to be kind and build relationships despite the problems that the world is facing. Choosing to cherish and foster community as a means of finding purpose, building hope, and maintaining our humanity. Choosing to love when the world around you demands division, competition, and domination. These themes are timeless, and are being made more prominent and relevant thanks to the revived popularity of series like The Hunger Games.
This post has only offered a glimpse into the recent Hunger Games renaissance. Topics such as the discrepancies between the books and the movies, the marketing strategies of the distributors past and present, and concerns about the lack of diversity when it comes to YA stories are all relevant, I just lacked the space to discuss them here. Hopefully, the continued interest in dystopian storytelling will provide opportunities for fans to continue analyzing these themes in relation to our current world and social uncertainty. This recent renaissance provides a perfect example of the role that media can play in allowing us to understand ourselves, challenge and remake the world we live in, and build community along the way.
Featured Image Credit: Color Force and Lionsgate Films
Hi! I’m Brynn, and I’m super excited to be writing on the blogs committee this year. I am a third-year Women’s and Gender Studies student with interests in film, feminism, theatre and social justice. Blog writing provides me with the perfect opportunity to combine all of these passions. I hope you will join me on my blog journey!