I recently found myself in front of the Hunger Games. It had been decided by the young ones in my life that I had to attend. So there I was, entirely expecting another Narnia/Harry Potter/ Shiny-teen mash-up full of the requisite teen angst, longing stares and unrequited romance.
Thankfully it ended up being none of these things and I found myself enjoying it. It probably helped that I hadn’t read the books, not because they hadn’t been sitting in my plain sight for more than a year, also not due to the fact that they hadn’t been lovingly gushed about by each person in my life under 20. No, I hadn’t read it because I had reached teen reading burnout a while ago. Also I figured, rightly in this case that if I was being told the plot of it on an almost daily basis at home it would soon be a movie.
Now, the movie itself wasn’t a great work of art. But it was special, I think in two ways.
1.It was watchable. So much of the PG-13 packaged movies are insipid and clearly designed to either make pre-teens buy stuff or want to sign up for something. Example: A marked rise in female soccer players after Bend It Like Beckham and Increased Karate class sizes after both incarnations of Karate Kid. Although sadly this sales technique did not work out as well for Akeela and the Bee.
2.This movie and the success of the book seemed to be a part of a continuum of movies, television shows and books marketed directly at young people which contain revolutionary tones.
It was the second thing that interested me. (Although I’m sure plenty of kids are going to want to take archery now.)
The Hunger Games series is meant to be a tale of heroic personages overcoming corrupt governments that use their conquered people for both sustenance and entertainment. It has been described as part Running Man and part Lord of the Flies, and while I’d question the Lord of the Flies bit, it gives you a good enough idea.
Some reviewers and fans have referred to the emergence of Katniss as the morally righteous and still kick-ass; take no prisoners heroine as the crowning achievement in a new Feminist model for storytelling.
In fact, Lynn Parramore penned an article published at Alternet which took it further stating that finally women are getting more power both in film and real life and we are ready to accept women as our saviors in this time of economic turmoil. Especially, as “Men just aren’t getting the job done.”
To me this message seems at odds with how we are actually treating women as a culture. Surely nobody has missed the recent headlines detailing women’s rights to birth control and other health needs? Did Parramore somehow miss every one of Santorum’s speeches? Did she also miss the last decade of Rush Limbaugh? Or how about any of the Christian churches on our soil, actively teaching women should be at home birthing babies?
Herein lies the problem for me; why, at this time, when our government clearly wants to curtail thoughts of subversion, are we seeing more of it in film?
Take for example the wildly popular Starz series, Spartacus. Yes it is popular for the sex and nakedness that pleases heteros and gays and everyone in-between as well as for the generous violence, but hidden underneath all that is the story. The story of a slave rebellion led by a very angry but very moral and righteous leader which occurs not because slavery exists, but because of poor treatment.
That’s not all, HBO has also been successful with their noble and moral heroes on Game of Thrones; the entirety of the cast takes up arms to fight for their brand of justice this year.
Last year also saw X-Men back on the screen, a notoriously riotous crew, who showed just exactly how the outcast mutants began giving the finger to our government. This year our crime fighters are all about vigilantes with Batman coming back as an unwanted addition to Gotham and Wolverine spinning through to piss everyone off.
These are not the heroes that teach us of Truth, Justice and the American Way, like the first round of Super Hero movies targetting youth after 9/11.
What all these shows have in common is they are aimed at a younger audience and they convey an attitude of subversion. Is this an accident? Do we really want our youth to act out against authority?
I think it’s more complicated than that. I think the goal is to make people believe they are experiencing rebellious acts without actually committing them.
Studies of brain patterns of athletes show that when they have down-time due to injury, watching their sport makes them believe in their mind they are still actively practicing. Now, their bodies obviously will not be getting a work out, but their heads are still in the game, they are still learning the tactics and mechanics.
Now take that idea and apply it to a bunch of young adults sitting in a movie theatre or at home in front of a movie, or even playing a video game. While they are taking images into their minds they get adrenaline rushes, raised heart rates and emotional stimulation. Their minds believe they are participating in what they are viewing.
This explains why so many young people who go on shooting sprees are so incredibly bad at it. They think they know how to be militant tacticians from playing video games. In actuality, given the time of most shooting sprees, if someone had actually been trained, we would see a lot more death at any given school, etc.
I believe this is no accident. In order to maintain control of people who would traditionally be the most fed up and most likely to act out on their ideals of injustice it seems like a good idea to satiate that desire with a false belief that they have experienced some of it. It’s filling an emotional need and tricking the brain without having to manage a revolution of young people.
Because of this, I see things that help audiences’ brains experience a story getting more high tech. 3D is already well on the way and I suspect that other impactful technology that has been tried on audiences in the past like smell, electricity and movement will be revived.
But, maybe I’m wrong; maybe it’s just an accident that Total Recall is being re-made to be more consumer friendly to young people.
In any case I was brightened to see as I walked out of the theatre, groupings of youth from 13 to 25-ish standing about and comparing notes. Was this realistic? Could I, you, we have done any of that? What would you do?
It made me feel a little more hopeful that it seemed that while they loved the story, they were in some ways doing a reality check. Not all of them, but some.
Maybe the human race won’t be satiated into oblivion.