Dystopian stories are disturbing in proportion to their plausibility. At first, The Hunger Games
doesn’t seem particularly feasible, with an elaborate annual event that requires each of twelve districts in Panem (formerly North America) to offer up a boy and a girl as tributes for a match to the death in which only one will survive. The explanation given for this brutal practice is that it is the Capitol’s (not Capital’s) way of punishing and terrorizing the districts for rebelling seventy-four years ago.
Far-fetched as that may seem, the idea of child sacrifice to propitiate angry gods is hardly a new one, and, horrifyingly, still occurs.
And of course the ancient Romans enjoyed watching gladiatorial combat for entertainment, a reference Suzanne Collins drives home by giving many of the Capitol’s citizens Roman names.
The modern twist here, though, is that the Hunger Games are a national reality TV event for the citizens of Panem. The subjects in the oppressed districts are forced to watch. The lucky citizens in the Capital, exempt from offering their children in sacrifice, enjoy the entertainment, and the bloodier the better. The Hunger Games are sort of Survivor
meets Amazing Race
meets Big Brother
Speaking of Big Brother
, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the first season of the American version of the reality television show. During that season, the contestants were mostly fairly likeable, unwilling to engage in cutthroat antics like their more scheming counterparts on Survivor
. America didn’t help much by repeatedly voting out anyone controversial or ambitious. By the end of the season, viewers were treated to scintillating scenes of the cast amiably putting together a jigsaw puzzle together. While that might speak well for humanity, it was a disaster for ratings. When the show miraculously came back for a second season, it had been completely revamped, with a far more competitive cast and nastier scenarios. Soon contestants were secretly cleaning toilets with each other’s toothbrushes, and ratings soared. The show is now in its 14th season.
Would people really want to watch something as horrible as the Hunger Games? It seems ludicrous, yet round-the-clock Misery Channel coverage of events like Princess Diana’s death and the OJ Simpson trial seemed to initiate an era where we lap up disasters with an almost gleeful enthusiasm. Reality TV followed, with the nastiest, most scheming contestants bringing in the highest ratings. Perhaps it’s best not to think too hard about how such entertainment would be received.