The Hunger Games and the Disruption of Reality TV

Curator's Note

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.


Thanks Melody. The use of the Apple ad is particularly appropriate, I think. Apple and the ad itself may have transformed the digital media industries, but the ad's appropriation of 1984 is so complicated. This idea seems to be a big part of the ongoing conversation this week--commercial appropriations (or adaptations) of these fictional narratives so often undermine any subversive themes they may try to communicate. It's hard to take Apple seriously as some resistive force today given its dominance in the mobile digital technology market. And I'm afraid that given the success of the HG movie, the sequels are going to be the means of pushing even more merchandise, rather than communicating the radical social critique in the books.

Interesting notes, Melody.  I haven't read beyond the first book, so I'm assuming, from the editors' notes and your analyses, that the media themes become even more pronounced in following installments.

We've known for a while now that successful reality TV relies on tried-and-true narrative themes--choosing a true love (The Bachelor/ette), alliances and rivalries (Survivor), and so on.  But from your notes of "Collins' astute signals of our reality TV culture manifesting itself in THG," what we may actually be witnessing is reality TV tropes (fake-love, contest, etc.) making for successful popular cinematic narrative in a way that is much more reflexive than previous fantasy/sci-fi films.  Time will tell whether this will become a turn into an ongoing trend in future speculative narratives, if not, other genres.



The analysis of Katniss's jamming of surveillance and this classic Apple/1984 spot is quite compelling. The moment that Katniss shatters the forcefield and breaks the authoritarian cage is definitely mirrored in the sledge hammer through the screen image! And who can forget the way this ad was remixed in the first viral video during the run up to the 2008 elections with Hilary Clinton's face transposed on the screen?

This is a very interesting post. Having only seen the film and now this "1984" clip, I feel very strongly that the allusions to various reality TV shows and historical events were laid on pretty thick in THG.  The film could almost directly compare to this clip. The film has a "1984" feel to it, conformity, a work camp situation. The people are kept under constant survailance and various angles of heightened reality become the focus. It's like if various points of history (WWII, USSR) were mashed together with "Survivor" or "The Bachelorette." I felt incredibly uncomfortable during THG especially the racially charged scenes between "District 11" and "District 12." I have heard that in the book it wasn't as "black and white" but the movie basically made "District 11" out to be the L.A. riots South Central in 1992.  I hope that reality TV will start to die out and that it won't come to what we see Katniss do in THG

 I have recently been thinking about this topic and how televisoin has shifted for the worse in the sense of relaity TV. As many others, I find myself sucked into many reality shows that for some reason, as baffling as they are, can be quite addicitve. The thing that makes me want to veer away from them is the fact that so many of them are scripted and staged. The producers fool you into thinkng that these people and their lives and friendships are actually real, when they are as fake as any other show - except other shows work to have greater meaning and important messages. I have thought about how THG is a commentary on the objection of such falsity and control in TV and how Katniss is willing to stay true to herself and doesn't get caught up in all the lime light - but I can't help but wonder if there is anyone in the television industry that would object and try to change this new way of making TV. Although relaity shows are cheaper in production costs, one needs to reevaluate the importance of a show. If reality TV continues, it needs to be non-scripted and non-controlled.

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