The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, a fiction written by Suzanne Collins, has shown both political and social aims. Despite the language of fantasy used throughout the story, the book is based on implications of real life. The plot of the story takes place somewhere far into the future, where destruction and advanced technology has taken over the entire world. In the novel, there is a sense of obsession among The Capitol for physical appearances, reality television, money, and control over the weak and poorer class, the Districts. In the novel, there is an appeal to capitalism and social classes. The hunger games are screened for people’s entertainment. The media’s duty is to keep the audience satisfied by giving them what they ask for. Since everybody in Panem is willing to spend all of their time watching people suffer for survival and die, then this is what the media will give them. Theories about the effect of culture industry from Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s essay, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception can be seen in action throughout the novel. Thus, this paper argues how the media controls the American society by its refusal to allow the spontaneity of the people’s responses on certain political or social affairs.
The media does not allow one to respond against the rules enforced by the government. Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory states how television, magazine, radio, and movies have made people become ignorant and mindless. According to Adorno and Horkheimer, “movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art” (1111). In other words, they are saying that movies and radios are the reason people do not read or analyze anymore. Moreover, leisure time is no longer different than work time. In relation to the novel, people in the districts do not have the time to comprehend what is going on in the games and notice how miserable the tributes are. Adorno and Horkheimer say, “the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows even stronger” (1111). Basically, they are saying that movies have become manipulative and distractive industries. Movies only make us want to own things that seem valuable when used by the actors or actresses in the movies. Radios control social life because it does not give people the time to think about responding, which is why people do not seem to realize the harm of the media on the culture. However, radios give people the illusion that they are in control and that their responses are being heard. As Adorno and Horkheimer say, “no independent thinking must be expected from the audience” (–). They are saying that the media industry occupies the minds of consumers and prevents them from any conception that they can reject. Similarly, the people featured in The Hunger Games are not given the time to use their brains to rebel against the capitalism oppressed on the people by the Capitol.
If a television is on, and a movie is playing, chances are we being manipulated without even noticing it. According to Adorno and Horkheimer, “automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together” (1111). They are saying that every product that takes part in mass culture is merely intended to preserve the status of the Capitol, by holding Capitalism in its place in the American society. Everything going on in the games, has become a televised reality show. Katniss for instance, thinks twice before every move she makes because of the fact that she knows the whole world is watching her. When Katniss escapes the traps set in the games, she says, “I’m glad for the cameras now. I want sponsors to see I can hunt” (164). This comment shows how Katniss has become more accepting of the idea that cameras follow her everywhere and trace her steps. Furthermore, this is one example of how people in Panem accept things the way they are and are not strong enough to revolt against the rules imposed by the Capitol. The games are constantly being watched by every single person in Panem, including kids in schools. As long as it is being aired on television, people will believe anything they see. For example, when Katniss and Peeta kiss, it shows how they are living up to the Capitol’s expectations by giving the audience what they want. Moreover, we can see that Haymitch supports the act of romance between the two, by sending them food to the cave.
As Katniss lays down feeling weak and vulnerable, she tells herself, “My thoughts turn to Prim. For her sake, I try to look as least desperate as I can” (169). She does not want to disappoint her family, especially not Prim, who looks up to her. The games are being televised to fulfill the needs of the people from the Capitol. Katniss wonders to herself, “things have been too quiet today. No deaths, perhaps no fights at all. The audience in the Capitol will be getting bored” (173). In making this comment, the readers can see that Katniss understands the techniques of the Gamemakers. When Katniss’ leg catches fire, she says “what a good laugh the Gamemakers must be having over that one” (177). The Gamemakers must constantly find new ways to give the audience something to laugh about. When in reality, movies and radios control the public, thus not giving the audience the opportunity to stop for a moment and think if what they are watching is actually humorous. The media manages to turn any spontaneity into their own favor. In the scene where Haymitch is drunk and falls of the stage for instance, the media turns this incident into a comic scene to maintain the well put together image of the Capitol and the media itself. Nonetheless, Katniss is the only character in the novel that seems to defy the rules of the media and challenges the Capitol’s supremacy. For example, when Rue dies, Katniss says, “I decorate her body in the flowers. Covering the ugly wound” (237). This is the only scene in the story which seems to be beyond the Capitol’s control. Katniss and Rue were allies against the Capitol’s will, and Katniss cannot help herself from feeling empathy and admiration towards Rue. However, Katniss is aware of what she is doing and says, “they’ll have to show it. Or, even if they choose to turn the cameras elsewhere at this moment, everyone will know I did it” (237). Katniss is basically saying that she knows the Capitol will not like her actions, yet she does it anyway. Small moments like this, help Katniss gain a lot of power.
The media we witness through the games is one of the most important methods that the Capitol uses to regulate the rules imposed on the citizens of Panem. Katniss is considered both a tribute and a victor of the games. Therefore, she understands the impact and importance of the cameras that follow her around all the time. The Capitol knows that the citizens fear war and losing their families, thus they use those things to their own benefit by forcing them to participate in the games. The fact that the games take place year after year, guarantees the Capitol that those fears and insecurities are kept on the surface. This is proved correct when Katniss says, “Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there is nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen” (66). In this statement, the reader can clearly see that Katniss is alert that the Capitol are there to keep everyone reminded that they are helpless and stuck in a hopeless situation. Additionally, she tells Rue, “I wonder if the Gamemakers are blocking out our conversation, because though the information seems harmless, they do not want people in different districts to know one another” (203). In making this statement, Katniss is trying to say how the Capitol fears one thing, which is the unity of the tributes. If tributes get to know each other more and bond, they might start a rebellion to take down the laws of Capitalism and the Capitol.
My discussion of The Hunger Games while under the influence of Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory, is in fact addressing the larger matter of the effects of media and television. The media restricts the knowledge of the people by diminishing the danger of an uprising against the ruling authorities. The novel makes readers question what is fiction and what is not, by giving them the opportunity to relate some of the events shown in story to real life and contemporary society.