The Hunger Games, Battle Royale, and Transmedia Fan Regulation
by Al Harahap — University of Arizona
March 29, 2012 – 00:00
A blogger identifies striking similarities between Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and the earlier cult novel/manga/film, Takami Koushun’s Battle Royale. She is not alone. For the past few months, many others have come out with sticks and stones in hand, not only through the blogosphere but also YouTube fanvids, discussion forums, even Amazon.com customers, to either cry “rip-off” or defend Collins. But whether or not plagiarism is taking place is beside the point. The more pressing matter here is how regulation paradigms are shifting in the age of digital transmedia.
The syncretisms of Greek and Roman myths and the three major Abrahamic religions all point to early instances of contestable cross-cultural narratives. Their concurrent perpetuations through oral traditions and written holy texts constitute early transmediation. This practice continued through folklores such as Robin Hood, Sun Go Kong the Monkey King, and others, too many to mention here, until the advent of intellectual property (as part of the greater rise of a capitalist value system), whereby ownership of narrative precedes its pronunciation and publication.
A more recent turn comes in Jenkins’ (2003) identification of transmedia storytelling that not only agrees with, but also maintains a symbiotic relationship with capitalism (through his early example of the various Matrix texts). However, Jenkins’ participatory culture is also a threat to capitalism by potentially breaking down hieararchy and empowering the consumer into the prosumer.
Herein lie some new concerns. Takami’s novel was published in 1999, with all its derivative transmedia texts before Collins’ novel in 2008. But only after 3 years, with recent media hype surrounding the film adaptation, sound the accusations of plagiarism. Clearly, increased exposure of a transmedia narrative can work against it. But the louder voice here is not that of institutional establishment figures such as the authors themselves, publishers, or producers. Rather, it is consumer outcry that overwhelms and perpetuates the economy of intellectual property. Is participatory culture, then, also one in which those who benefit most can now sit back while fans regulate intellectual property? In other words, is capitalism once more attempting a way to recuperate a threat to its existence, now in transmedia, through inevitable fan regulation?