The Hunger Games and the Disruption of Reality TV
by Melody Hoffmann — University of Minnesota
March 30, 2012 – 00:00
Editor’s note: This post assumes knowledge of all the books in the series. It does not mention the film.
In her theory of our society’s “turn within,” Susan Douglas (2006) argues that reality TV illustrates how our society is encouraged to focus on individual Americans, seen through confined and controlled spaces. Today corporate media promotes and reinforces this turn within, and Douglas reminds us that despite this domination, it has not been completely uncontested. Katniss Everdeen’s story told in The Hunger Games [THG] trilogy is a strong symbol of both the control and resistance of reality TV and the culture it spawns.
Suzanne Collins imagines the legacy of reality TV hundreds of years from its inception. Collins creates literary connections between our current relationship with reality TV and THG; for example: the constant surveillance of the participants, the requirement of all of Panem to watch, the fabricated love story between Katniss and Peeta, and the manipulation of the Games’ environment.
But beyond Collins’ astute signals of our reality TV culture manifesting itself in THG, what is fascinating to me, and important for readers/viewers to catch, is the ways that Katniss “jams” the reality TV culture with the Games. We see this in Katniss’s hesitancy to fake-love Peeta, an absence of finding empowerment in artificial feminine sexuality, and her Games triumph developing with little assistance from men. And the most direct jams of the system remain her decorating of Rue’s dead body, the televised suicide threat with Peeta at the end of the Games, and her destruction of the force field in the Quarter Quell.
Viewing the historic 1984 Apple commercial allows for quite an accurate imagery of THG narrative. Rows of submissive people watch a large talking head on a screen. A woman running with a mallet emerges down the middle aisle hurling the mallet at the screen, interrupting and destroying the mediated messages of the ruling class. The image of the shattering screen reminds me of Katniss’s success in destroying the force field in the Quarter Quell.
THG trilogy opens up a self-reflexive dialogue on how reality TV participants are impacted by the demands of the producers and the fabricated enthusasim built into this genre’s marketing. Collins strongly suggests what could happen if we continue down this trajectory of our obsessive surveillance and puppeteering in reality TV.