Whence we revel in the objects of our revulsion…
I’ve not read any of the Hunger Games books, though (or maybe because) I do like science fictional dystopias in general, but I have now seen the first two movies, and I’m troubled by something–though maybe I just don’t get it. It’s clear the Hunger Games is meant to be a social critique of some kind; the author says she was inspired by
channel surfing between reality TV programs and actual war coverage. On one channel, there’s a group of young people competing for I don’t even know; and on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting in an actual war. I was really tired, and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way. That’s the moment when Katniss’s story came to me.
So, she wants to make some kind of point about violence, and war, and our reality-tv-slash game show culture, and if I were to guess, I’d say she thought they were all bad things, or at least too much of them had saturated our media, most specifically the media made for younger people. So why revel in the violence to such a degree? She relies entirely on the things she critiques–violence, narcissistic culture, even economic disparity–to engage her readers. Again, not such a crime in and of itself; satire should, I think, revel in the objects it satirizes, but the satire here is so hamfisted I can’t even be sure I know what she is critiquing. Reveling in violence as a means to critique violence is not what bothers me, as long as it bites and has a clear message, whereas the Hunger Games seems like a very long commercial for acne medicine and archery supplies. I guess I’m not the target audience, and perhaps some real revolutionary thought will be born in the hearts and minds of the tweens I watched watch the most recent film. I hope so, but the first task such hearts and minds will have to attend to is realizing how they’ve been duped into complacency by things like the Hunger Games, which encourage viewers to feel: excited, by the drama and violence and explosions and whatever; indignant, that violence and celebrity culture is bread and circusing us to a most uncivil end; safe, because there are heroic women with pert noses who will come rescue us when things get dire, even though they don’t really want to, and she feels just as bad about all the starving people as we do. I have to swipe a quote from a much more thoughtful and better written article on Flavorwire (by Tom Hawking), since it helps clarify what I’m ranting about:
As Guy Debord wrote in The Society of the Spectacle, “The spectacle is the ruling order’s nonstop discourse about itself, its never-ending monologue of self-praise, its self-portrait at the stage of totalitarian domination of all aspects of life.”
And, in the USA, that monologue of self-praise includes stories of rebellion against totalitarianism–in the service of the same totalitarianism it pretends to threaten. Of course, reading and quoting Guy DeBord is part of that monologue as well…
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