The Hunger Games offers a cautionary tale of media control
The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Hardcover: $17.99, 384 pages
The Hunger Games, a New York Times bestseller written by Suzanne Collins, has drawn hearty reviews from fans and critics alike for
its brilliant plot paired with a steady dose of suspense for both the reader and movie-goer.
The first book of the trilogy, whose movie adaptation has been No. 1 at the box office for four weeks, follows Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl living in District 12 of Panem. Panem is a post-apocalyptic country, which now occupies where North America once was. The country is made up of 13 districts and the Capitol, a well-developed metropolis that holds absolute power over the rest of the districts. Prior to where the book begins the narrative, District 13 started an uprising against the Capitol and the Capitol retaliated by leveling the district. District 13 is used as an example to the rest of the districts of what happens when the districts exercise any type of individual thought. As a reminder of this “atrocity” the Capitol hosts the Hunger Games, an event consisting of one boy and one girl between the ages of 13 and 18 from each of the districts to battle to the death in a televised arena. The games do not end until there is only one left alive.
A closer look into the axis of the story shows a clear example of governmental media manipulation. The Capitol televises the entire event, along with the pre-game interviews and ceremonies. Those people in the districts not directly participating in the Games are corralled by Capitol officials to gather in their respective district’s town square and watch; no one is excused from this viewing unless they are literally on their death bed.
The Capitol’s control of the media allows for much dissemination of propaganda, of which everyone — with the exception of Capitol citizen’s, ironically — is aware. This is something that both Katniss and Peeta, Katniss’s fellow tribute from District 12, are aware of and address in different ways throughout the novel. Before the games begin, Katniss and Peeta share a private moment in which Peeta shares his concerns.
“I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.”
This fear of control is put into action near the end of the book when, after being told that two tributes could win this year if they came from the same district, and both Katniss and Peeta manage to outlast the others, they are told that the change is rescinded and only one tribute can come out alive. Refusing to continue to consent to the capitol and aid its propaganda campaign, they decide to both swallow poisonous berries. However, before they can do so, announcers cut in and announce that both have won.
It is portrayed throughout the book that deviating from the Capitol’s agenda is not tolerated — do what they want, and a person can expect to be portrayed through the media as a hero, or at the very least, not badly. At the same time, if one counters the Capitol’s agenda, the Capitol will use the media to influence that person’s entire life in a negative way.
The way Katniss and Peeta managed to use the media for their own uses (they knew it would be detrimental to the capitol not to have a winner with all the districts watching), effectively took some power back from the Capitol, a move that propels the rest of the books.
Although Panem illustrates an exaggerated government-controlled media model, it can be used as a catalyst for the reader to compare the book’s control-crazed media to that of current American society.
In light of recent media, one can argue strong similarities. Public figures must rely on the media for their reputations. Most people only know of most public figures — politicians, celebrities, etc. — through the media. Most people don’t know that public figure personally. Public figures walk a careful line, or risk being accused of racism, sexism, infidelity or worse. To be the media’s darling, is to practically ensure success.
The Hunger Games is a gripping tale that will keep readers turning page after page, anxious for what is to come. But it also carries a message of media control that can be translated into the non-fiction of today. Through The Hunger Games, Collins offers an alarming portrait of how civilization could be with a corrupt and unethical press that willingly submits to government control.