'The Hunger Games': How reality TV explains the YA sensation
Image Credit: CBS/Landov; FoxThe Hunger Games is an incisive satire of reality television shows. It’s easy to compare Suzanne Collins’ series to earlier “totalitarian government/media bloodsport” stories like The Running Man and Battle Royale. But there’s a key difference. In those earlier most-dangerous-game stories, the bloodsports were essentially ghoulish game shows (the film version of Running Man made this explicit by casting Family Feud host Richard Dawson the villain.) But The Hunger Games was written in a very different media context. Collins has discussed how the initial spur for the series came when she was channel-flipping between war coverage and reality TV. Just consider how effectively Collins weaves so many reality TV tropes into her story:
The Makeover: One of the great running subplots on American Idol is the steady Hollywood-ization of the contestants over the course of a season. Remember when Clay Aiken had glasses? Or when Adam Lambert didn’t wear guyliner? Practically the first third of Games focuses on a similar makeover process, including a full-body wax.
The Dress: What’s a makeover without some new clothes? One of Katniss’ closest allies is Cinna, her Alexander-McQueen-esque stylist. In stark contrast to the flighty prep team, Cinna is a semi-heroic figure in Games. Cinna almost seems like a contestant on a fascist version of Project Runway, using Katniss’ outfits as a vehicle to express potentially dangerous ideas.
The Showmance: “Showmance,” in its most cynical definition, refers a fake reality-TV romance created to aid the two contestants’ gameplay. That’s a pretty apt summation of Katniss’ forced flirtation with Peeta in Hunger Games. (Sure, Peeta thinks the romance is real, but as everyone who’s ever watched The Bachelor can attest, a good showmance always needs a sap.) SPOILER ALERT IN QUESTION FORM: Since Peeta and Katniss win/survive two separate Games, are they basically Panem’s version Boston Rob and Amber?
The All-Star Edition: Catching Fire focuses on the Quarter Quell, a special edition of the Hunger Games, in which former winners come back and compete. Practically every major reality show has had an “All-Stars” edition, but the Quarter Quell most resembles MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge, the mash-up franchise in which old enemies and ex-lovers engage in sub-Wipeout feats of strength.
The Host: Caesar Flickerman is the ageless TV host who interviews all the tributes before they go into the arena. Crazy suits, perma-tan, smile etched in his face: He’s basically Ryan Seacrest in forty years. (Heck, he’s Ryan Seacrest tomorrow.)
Readers, did you spot other reality show tropes in The Hunger Games? Are the Gamemakers like the Judges? Does that make Plutarch Heavensbee Panem’s version of Simon Cowell?