Mockingjay Part 1, the latest Hunger Games film is out now. Gabby Hutchinson Crouch explains the franchise’s huge appeal.
I love The Hunger Games. Love the films so far, read all three books in about a week.
With 1984, Ubik and The Chrysalids among my favourite books for decades, it’s not exactly a shock I enjoy this tale of future dystopia, but The Hunger Games is very special to me. Let me tell you why.
Wonderfully portrayed by Jenifer Lawrence in the movies, the books are narrated by Katniss Everdeen, a teenager. She’s not the first woman of her age to feature in a dystopian sci-fi, although, in the past, they’ve mainly been there to have passionate, futuristic sex with middle-aged male protagonists in adventures written, funnily enough, by middle-aged men. Katniss, on the other hand, is a stoic, socially awkward, unglamourous reluctant hero. She’s from the crappiest inhabitable part of Panem (former North America, altered dramatically by climate change and nuclear war). Her archery and physical skills are as developed as they are due to her sheer, bloody-minded will that she and her family must survive as she’s dragged from crisis to crisis. This doesn’t mean that she’s not cool as Hell. Because she is. She’s cool as Hell.
Katniss and Peeta.
The subversion of gender tropes
Katniss is the brooding protagonist, whose main skills are sharp-shooting, hunting and tactical thinking. Peeta, her main love interest, is a baker’s son whose main skills are baking, art and camouflage. He nourishes Katniss physically and emotionally. She, in return, wants to protect him. Crucially, he is portrayed as no less of a man and she as no less of a woman. Elsewhere, Katniss’ fashionista stylist Cinna defies the Capitol and adds fuel to the revolution right under the evil dictator’s nose by creating a fabulous wedding dress that doubles up as a symbol of the resistance. Cinna is a dude.
The second instalment also adds Johanna, a confident, snarky ally – the Han Solo of the group – and beautiful Finnick, a gender-flipped version of both the mysterious femme fatale and whore with a heart of gold tropes. And, since the whole story is told by Katniss, it’s teeming with the female gaze. This is a very good thing. Female gaze for all!
The satire of media, propaganda and celebrity
The home of Panem’s oppressive elite – The Capitol – is portrayed as an unnerving combination of decadent Ancient Rome, fascist Berlin and the more unpleasant aspects of our own culture. The way the people of the Capitol react to the Games magnifies our own glee at cruel reality shows. The Hunger Game contestants become massive celebrities – built up by the crowds who then, cheerfully and quite literally, throw them to the wolves. Both the establishment and the rebellion jump on Katniss’ superstar status to make her a propaganda tool at the expense of her humanity, echoing the way propaganda is centrestage on all sides in 21st century revolution and warfare. But the best thing about all of this is…
The Hunger Games manages to pre-emptively satirise the media’s reaction to The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games is not a romance. Katniss has to deal with a fake romance concocted between herself and Peeta, leapt on by viewers in the Capitol and manipulated into an overblown marketing campaign. Sexy miner Gale is no more of an option to her because they don’t have time, dammit, they have places to go, people to kill, despotic institutions to overthrow.
Katniss and Gale.
And yet, what’s the big thing loads of the media latch on to? The love triangle. Oh, it’s female-written, female-led, aimed at teens so people will just want to talk about the love triangle that is PRESENTED AS A SATIRE OF THE MEDIA’S OBSESSION WITH TEEN ROMANCE. Stars and fans alike are asked if they’re Team Peeta or Team Gale, when most people’s main Hunger Games ‘ship is Katniss/food/freedom. Although, one could argue in the stories Peeta represents food, and Gale freedom. In which case… threesome? Let’s face it, Katniss has earned that treat.
The cherry on top of that irony pie had to be Subway’s tie-in marketing campaign, in which it offered the chance to win your own ‘victory tour’ (hopefully without nice old men being publically executed for being part of a peaceful protest), and using the concept of starving children fighting to the death to sell some new sandwiches. The Capitol would be so very proud.
Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is a comedy writer, mum & nerd. She writes for BBC Radio Comedy and Huffington Post UK, and once saw Dawn French coming out of a toilet.