Are We Getting Close to The Hunger Games?

I despise reality TV.

No, seriously--Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of NJ, Keeping up with the Kardashians, the one where that vile woman hooks millionaires up with bimbos--they make me crazy.  I know, I know, I shouldn't take them so seriously but they key off this knee jerk anger in me.

Why?

Well for one, see above. That's a picture of the aftermath when Jersey Shore Cast member Nicole Polizzi (Snooki) was punched in the face by some agro meathead at a bar while filming the show. Reality TV is a form that revels in this kind of ugliness.  When the inevitable violence breaks out there's some pro forma handwringing (generally done over a video loop of said violence) and then it's back to business. I've never considered myself to be of delicate sensibilities, but I just can't take it.

The other reason is the manipulation involved. It's not exactly breaking news that reality TV isn't real. That reality TV is a misnomer isn't what bothers me though, what bothers me is how the form takes real three dimensional human beings gives them nicknames and reduces them to a stock series of (usually ugly) personality traits and contrived story arcs. Not only does this dehumanize the participants but it asks us to look at other people as objects that exist for our amusement.

Young girl punched in the face at a bar? That's not Nicole Polizzi, 22 year old from New York. That's just Snooki. That's entertainment. Doesn't that dehumanize us too?

As Beth discussed yesterday, one of Suzanne Collins' inspirations for The Hunger Games was classical myths. Well the other one was, you guessed it, reality TV. Collins said she was watching TV late one night, flipping past a barrage of reality TV shows that got mixed in with news of the Iraq war and Katniss and The Hunger Games was born from that combination.

I think one way to look at the series is as a very biting comment on this kind of "reality" spectacle. Sure, maybe we don't watch young people kill each other, but we do watch humiliation and violence (again, see above) and horrendous misogyny. Sometimes we pause for a moment of uplift, but then it's right back in the gutter.

Maybe what we see in the Hunger Games is an escalation of all the programs that show us hordes of  the most abhorrent people imaginable--the vain, the intolerant, the deluded, the rageaholics--trapped in shore houses and McMansions clawing at each other on their way to....what?

A little bit of money? Fame? The validation that comes from being seen?

I mean, geez, at least Katniss was fighting for her life!

In what way do you guys see Collins using Katniss and the struggles of her fellow tributes to comment on reality TV? How does the fact that all these people are on a reality TV show effect the plot of the story? Also what does this sort of reality game say about the government that sponsors it and the people who watch it?

(PS: Ok maybe not all reality TV is awful.  I have to admit that I'm a big Project Runway and Top Chef fan. At least nobody is getting punched out on those.)

11 comments:

Najela said...

I do remember a few years ago that they had some show on CBS about a bunch of kids having to take care of themselves in the wildness. It was a little bit scary to watch these sweet little kids have to fend for themselves.

Also that new show, the Colony (which I haven't had the time to watch.) I feel like these are getting close to the Hunger Games.

I guess the biggest question is would any one watch something like the Hunger Games because if it was a reality TV show, people might tune in like they do for things like Jersey Shore and ugh, Teen Mom (really hate this show)... which is kind of scary...

Caroline Starr Rose said...

What I've found so fascinating about the series is the commentary on our own society and our obsession with violence as entertainment. Makes me wish I was still teaching about ancient Rome. The parallels are really amazing.

Matthew Rush said...

Reality TV (most of it) is like a horrible train wreck. I never choose to watch it, but when it happens to be on (usually my GF's pick) I cannot tear my gaze away. I hate it for that.

I have not read the Suzanne Collins books (I know, I know), so I can't comment on them, but I certainly intend to read them soon, so don't yell at me!

Theresa Milstein said...

Project Runway and Top Chef are two of my favorite shows. There are ones I'm less proud of watching, but I'm happy to know I haven't stooped so low as to watch some of the more vile ones.

I thought a lot about reality TV when I read The Hunger Games. I also thought about the fights to the death in Rome. And public viewings of hangings in the US. People are drawn to such horrible public displays of violence and degradation.

Angie Smibert said...

One reviewer called Hunger Games Gladiator meets Project Runway. Collins was/is a writer for kids shows (Clarissa, Shelby Woo, etc.) I read she based some the Capitol characters on people she worked with in TV.

The fact that the Games are televised plays heavily into how they're run. Ditto for train-wreck tv like Real Housewives or the Hills. The producers manipulate events and match up personalities (and edit) all in the name of "good TV." You know that couple that crashed a function at the White House? They're on the Real Housewives of DC.

JoLynne Lyon said...

I'm so with you! These shows are so contrived--a theme which Collins plays with as Katniss' public persona departs farther and farther from her real one. She has to pretend she's engaged and that she likes a deplorable country president, all to stay alive and keep the fans happy.

Krispy said...

I love the commentary on our society and reality TV that's in the Hunger Games. It's interesting to see the mix of real and contrived involved in the Games, and what that says about the weirdly "real but not" nature of Reality TV. It's also scary to think about how dehumanizing the process is: the people of the Capitol view the Games only as entertainment, and in the same vein, it's easy to forget that the people in Reality TV are in fact people and not just the characters we become accustomed to seeing them as.

But yeah, not a fan of most reality TV shows. The skill/contest based ones don't bother me as much because then it's not just mindless meltdowns and following people around while they go about their daily lives.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Hi everybody! Just wanted to pop into to say thanks for the comments and that I'm a good ways into Mockingjay (since I have a Kindle I have no idea what page) now and am happy to say that Collin's really keeps up the whole reality TV angle in this one. At least where I'm at now, it's in a very different way than in the games but still super interesting. I like where it's going alot! Is everybody reading it? Any general thoughts?

Jeff Hirsch said...

Hi everybody! Just wanted to pop into to say thanks for the comments and that I'm a good ways into Mockingjay (since I have a Kindle I have no idea what page) now and am happy to say that Collin's really keeps up the whole reality TV angle in this one. At least where I'm at now, it's in a very different way than in the games but still super interesting. I like where it's going alot! Is everybody reading it? Any general thoughts?

Elana Johnson said...

Dude, I was about to go all reality TV crazy on you. It was the first thing that attracted me to The Hunger Games. I adore reality TV. Now, to defend myself, not things like Jersey Shore and whatnot.

More like Survivor and Next Foodnetwork Star. That's what I watch. It's great.

thespectacleblog said...

One question that arises after reading this post: if a person signs up to be on a reality show knowing that reality shows tend to show contestants in the worst light possible, is it fair for us to watch them be humiliated? If they were unsuspecting, that would be one thing. But they've signed on to be our clowns, haven't they?

Okay, so I'm playing devil's advocate here. I think it can be detrimental to watch reality TV because the sense of superiority it lends us is a bit poisonous. But I do love to watch some reality TV shows!

That's what I find intriguing about The Hunger Games--you know that it's wrong to watch kids fight to the death and yet do you put down the book? No way. What makes the reader of these books any different from the viewer of reality TV?

--Parker P