The Hunger Games, Battle Royale, and Transmedia Fan Regulation

Curator's Note

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 fanvidsdiscussion forums, even 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?




The idea that fans protect IP is a keen observation, one that's playing out in virtually every nook and cranny of the mediascape these days. The hubbub over Mass Effect 3 comes most quickly to mind, where fans are protecting the IP from the producers themselves.

Not that this is new. Fans (sometimes called "critics") have been noting how the film is worse than the book (e.g., Moby Dick), the TV show worse than the film (e.g., M*A*S*H), the video game worse than the TV movie which is worse than the children's book (e.g., Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

But I think Al's on to something a bit different here. It seems to me he's proposing that the contemporary enforcement of IP is not driven by aesthetics so much as by brand loyalty.

I suppose fetishization is fetishization, a kind of matryoshka ideology where it's unclear if the simulation works from the inside out or the outside in.

One final thing this piece makes me think about: the double entendre of "fan policing ." Fans police IP to be sure, as the producers of Doctor Who, Star TrekStar Wars, and Wuthering Heights could amply document. But fans are also policed, especially when it comes to things like fan art. Nintendo, for example, is famous for protecting its trademarks from misuse by admiring if perverse (and sometimes perverted) fans. Perhaps then the inevitable grasp of transmedia capitalism involves (ironically) a dialectical process whereby IP is collaboratively developed, protected, extended--and homogenized.

Thanks for this post!

 Al, I love how you turn around this situation, complicating the discourse of fan empowerment and ownership of texts through an examination of how fans may be complicit in a larger system of legal copyright.  What is at stake for these fans?  Is it, as Ken notes above, brand loyalty, which implies a rather successful indoctrination of fans into the commercial life cycle of a text.  Or is it, perhaps, something deeper?  

Ken's examples above are all on point--I also thought about the hub bub around the director's cut of Blade Runner, where the fans were outraged by a closing off of possible interpretations for the film.  What is the role of the public in creating the meaning of the text?  To what extent are fans policing IP versus affirming their role in the determining what a text comes to mean?  

I can very much hear the voice of Roland Barthes in this type of dialogue related to new media. We are often dealing with multimodal analyses of the same basic work (Hunger Games), thus making it virtually impossible to define one medium (book, movie, video game, etc.) as better or worse than the other media, since the medium choice ends up altering the work itself. The previous relationship between signifier and signified is brought into question due to the multiple paradigmatic codes that come to bear on the sign and redefine, ad infinitum, its meaning, a societal co-creation that never ends and is never limited by authorship or intention of the writer. What is it about the act of creation that makes it unique? Through this lens, new media are not ‘things’, but rather very self-referential activities that bring into focus most importantly their usefulness. Barthes rationalized that the human mind would be rendered intellectually inoperable if we were not in some way filtering all the data entering though our senses. Thus the individual, and not objective reality, determine what is meaningful. Which 'Hunger Games' is meaningful to certain imagined communities? That seems to be most important. This allows us to consider that new media are not intended to copy the world but to make the world around us understandable. The dissection of new media allows us to find in the virtual “certain mobile fragments whose differential situation engenders a certain meaning” (Barthes, The Structuralist Activity, 1980, p. 304). On the other hand, articulation of new media involves a process of associating the individual’s representation of this ‘copy of the world’ with something else, even connecting new media to preexisting and barely emergent media, a process wide open to interpretation of authorship. In many ways this was an introduction to Derrida’s ideas of ‘substitution’ with the increasing ambiguity of words and concepts open to innumerable interpretations. The reason I see Barthes’ paradigm as relevant for a discussion on new media, is because he rejects the idea that the one experiencing the ‘product’ should seek arrivals in favor of departures of meaning. In other words, we would best enjoy our engagement with new media by grasping the coexistence of structure and combinational infinity. - Paolo


 Unfamiliar with some of the terminology Al refers to in his post, I looked up Jenkins and his ideas of transmedia storytelling. It’s always illuminating to encounter a term that describes something you participate in regularly. Who knew that I was participating in transmedia while watching The Flight of the Concords DVD set, Mel’s Vlogs on Itunes, and live songs performed by Bret and Jemaine on Youtube.

The idea of fans being prosumers and consumers who police IP is valuable because by being both the fans are encountering the epistemic possibilities of “collective intelligence” (coined by Pierre Levy) and “additive comprehension” (coined by Neil Young). By engaging in a shared community concerning transmedia, fans are generating new types of knowledge. What’s more fascinating is that I can see this epistemic potential whether the fan is interpreting, adding to, or protecting a narrative. Even the common criticism of the Hunger Games brings together a community who collectively agree upon what makes this story a rip off of Battle Royale.

Also, when engaging with new additive texts, fans are required to revise this knowledge. For example, when more information is revealed about a particular character, the fan naturally shifts his or her understanding of that character. Even when we see a movie made from a book, we sometimes think, “oh that’s not exactly how I pictured the character.” Some postpositivist scholars argue for the necessity to revaluate and revise one’s understanding when presented with new or challenging information.

Considering this brings us back to Al’s concern that fans did not raise a stink about the Hunger Games until its recent movie. This leads me to believe that brand loyalty, while policing IP, is also allowing fans to generate knowledge as the consumer and prosumer.



Transmedia fan regulation—the policing of your experience! Or the policing of an identity? Al, your questions made me {re}consider my loyalty to the Teenaged-Mutant Ninja Turtles, a childhood favorite of mine. Michael Bay wants to erase the ‘Mutant’ out of the story. It’s a bastardization I say!

I am, in the thread of Marxism, inclined to think of transmedia fan regulation as Althusserian interpellation, where ideology addresses me pre-ideologically. It’s as if the TMNT series has said, “Hey, you there,” and I’ve responded. I’ve voluntarily acknowledged the validity of the dominant ideology—intellectual property law, corporatist value systems—without admitting that TMNT is itself a commodified narrative. Silly me, playing the hipster- bourgeois-policeman.

I still care about TMNT, and I’ll still make a fuss about Michael Bay, though I understand that it is interpellation masquerading as boyhood-experience. Do I throw out the TMNT bed sheets that I still keep? Thanks, Al Harahap.

I had a response similar to Jose's (though my angst toward Michael Bay happened earlier with Transformers). We act as free thinking agents protecting cultural property we view as our own; but it is the property of the dominant elite. Our policing actions do not profit us but profit the real owners of the films. Our supposed independent actions only give us some sort of "bragging rights" while maintaining the wealth and power of the dominant corporate interests through IP.

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