The Hunger Games and exploitation

Everybody already knows that The Hunger Games is, in part, a social commentary on a lot of things: surveillance, reality television, extreme body modification, poverty, governmental power, etc.  The morning after I saw the movie (which is quite good), I tried to think of something new to say about it on my blog.  This came to me while I was blow-drying my hair, an activity which seems to generate many good ideas for me:

The Hunger Games is a commentary on the entertainment industry and how you “break into” it.  The Careers from Districts 1 and 2 are analogous to professional actors: They are, in most cases, born to privilege.  They have trained to be performers their whole lives.  They volunteer because they enjoy doing the kinds of things the Games require them to do.

I haven’t found a good analogy for the people in the middle districts–maybe they’re people who play bit parts in movies and television and don’t really get recognized–but those in the outer districts, 11 and 12, are parallel to those who get dragged into the entertainment industry by exploitative measures.  These tend to be people who either need the little bit of money that temporary notoriety might bring them, or have a personal non-conformity that our society’s Gamemakers judge to be potentially good entertainment.  (In the old days, this latter group would have been in circus freak shows.)  I’m talking about the people who appear in shows as widely ranging in subject matter and in quality as The People’s Court, Hoarders, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, The Biggest Loser, and even the audition weeks of American Idol.  To some extent, also, the casts of recent “redneck” reality shows such as Swamp People and Duck Dynasty are in this category, although they seem to be more self-aware and wry than those on the other shows I mentioned.  I’m not saying that all of these shows are purely exploitative, but I am saying that the reasons many people watch these shows are the same reasons the Capital’s citizens watch The Hunger Games.  The reasons are a complex web including identification, sympathy, curiosity, and the attraction of repulsion.  Cruelty may be part of the web for some people, especially in the Capital, but certainly not everyone.

An example of curiosity about other lifestyles, a curiosity that can become exploitative, is the tradition of dressing the tributes in costumes that stereotypically represent their district’s industry.  The Capital’s citizens can say, “Oh, isn’t that cute (or weird); they’re coal miners!” without really attempting to understand District’s 12’s culture or challenges.  That’s why it’s so important that Cinna gives Peeta and especially Katniss a measure of dignity by designing costumes for them that are truly attractive and represent their district in a subtler way.

I may return to this rather undeveloped post later.  Feel free to chime in.