When you think of the Hunger Games, you probably think of the horrific, televised spectacle in which teenagers fight to the death. But that’s only half of the book. Before the tributes ever get to the arena, they have to compete in a very different contest. The goal, as Haymitch says, is “to make people like you.”
The tributes are plucked from their families at a young age and brought to the capitol, where they’re dressed in fancy clothes and expected to perform. What does this involve? Smiling for the camera. Lying. Acting. The details of their lives are broadcast to the world.
For the winner of the games, this never stops. The capitol keeps on watching you for as long as you live. Each year you go through it all again; the fancy clothes, the cameras, the lies. In Katniss’ case, even her love life was fabricated for the sake of the show. Her engagement aired nationally, the selection of her wedding dress became a televised fashion show, and she can never stop playing the game.
While the events in Panem are fiction, I can’t help noticing a strong resemblance to our own culture. Of course, we don’t expect our celebrities to fight to the death, not literally at least. But there’s always the competition of who is the prettiest, who is the most talented, who has the hottest boyfriend or the most awards. And not unlike the capitol, we want to know every detail. What are they wearing? Who are they dating? What are they buying their family for Christmas? Nothing is private.
If you pay attention, you may notice a trend of celebrities who enter the limelight at a young age, relatively innocent and excited to make their mark on the world. But as time goes by, you watch them change. They struggle with issues of body image and self-esteem – magnified by the number of people judging every performance, every outfit, and every word. They change the way they dress, what they sing about, who they hang out with. What happened?
The limelight happened, like a giant mousetrap baited with the promise of fortune and fame. What strikes me is the number of songs being produced about this very thing – by the people experiencing it firsthand. “The Lucky One” by Taylor Swift, “Everybody’s Fool” by Evanescence, “Fences” by Paramore, and “Cage On The Ground” by Flyleaf (released days before the lead singer left the band) are just a few examples. Maybe The Hunger Games has more relevance for our culture than we realize.