Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in the Hunger Games. Photo by Murray Close.
It is no ripoff. Let’s leave room to express my usual feelings of irritation whenever anything is dismissed as derivative. I consider “derivative” the argument of someone who want to seem smart, and defends their lack of knowledge by assuming an attitude of dismissive superiority. As anyone who writes, blogs, paints or makes babies knows, ALL things are derivative. LIFE is derivative, including its mutations. If you require DNA to exist, you are derivative. There are things that don’t require DNA to exist that are also derivative – funny how you burn any earth originated matter at all, you get carbon. So the demand that something be “totally original” is as childish as it is unattainable.
My second take, after I’ve vented my annoyance with the “Derivatives,” is that the book is actually influenced whether directly or not by several other classic dystopian novels and movies. (I have no idea what books Suzanne Collins read, let alone what really stuck to her subconscious.) Among them are the following:
- Brave New World
- Lord of the Flies
- the Most Dangerous Game (the novella is much, MUCH better than the movies)
- the Contenders (aka Series 7)
- the Condemned
- Running Man (conscious derivative of the Contenders)
- perhaps some Battle Royale, given the whole “taken somewhere remote to kill each other” thing, but I’d say Battle Royale stole its creative genes from the Most Dangerous Game.
Yes, it’s a futuristic dystopian novel about a barbaric practice. The movie is actually very true to that setting and theme – with a refocus to the politics behind the game. While the novel is wholly from Katniss’s point of view, the movie brings in the political villains behind the system so you can see more of what they’re watching for and understand without the usual exposition how Katniss herself is such a danger to the delicate balance of power. Her impact and power is delivered beautifully in the scene with the riot in District 11, a scene not shared until the second book, and then set off by Katniss herself before she fully comprehends how much influence she has.
You don’t need to look too closely to see that the real horror of the book is the underlying system that oppressing the majority of the world creates: each district, with its children sent to kill or be killed, supports some aspect of the Capitol’s extravagant lifestyle. The talk of music chips, coal, feathers – little luxuries that come from all over the world –are all wrested from a starving people to overfeed and overindulge a single, central district. It’s not as obvious in the movie; you’re not thinking about “where do these people GET these stacks of food and Marie-Antoinette worthy hairstyles?” At least, you don’t think about it unless you read the series before watching the movie.
Ceasar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) Photo by Murray Close.
As was said in the now-defunct sitcom Outsourced, “The opulence is almost off-putting.”
The Capitol in all of its fiction remains a direct mirror of the United States, some parts of Canada, the UK, and most of western Europe. It’s not a jump – it’s a reality. This is WHAT WE ARE DOING TO THE REST OF THE WORLD with the degree of our consumption. It’s not the food we’re eating – we can make that ourselves – it’s absolutely every other resource that we can burn, churn, and throw away, and we are not conscious that we also burn, churn and throw human beings as we do.
While some of this thoughtlessness is much more subtle and hairy in reality and in the fictional novel – corruption on home fronts makes tough situations living hells as people betray their own for the sake of feeling they’ve won – the world itself is rife with problems borne of feeding our demand for goods and luxury services.
I can’t and won’t apologize for being born into that luxury. I won the genetic lottery by being born as a US citizen, and I have always known a roof over my head, food on my table and clothes on my back; I’ve often had to work to keep those things, but I haven’t had to fight a government system for the basic necessities of life. There are people of my country, however, who have and who do. There are people in my city who do have to struggle with this and for this daily. It’s becoming more and more clear as I age and as studies into the way poverty,
obesity, and wealth go on that personal choice and the ol’ bootsraps are not the sources of power and possibility people think they are, and while addiction and misfortune have their share in how these people live, it’s also because someone on my level or above benefits in some way from keeping them down. While the Hunger Games happens in a remote future, the imagined reality comes right up to the roots of this very real one I live in.
It got glossed over in the movie, but not in the book: the fashion world in the Capitol was both problem and solution in the society that freely demanded children kill each other for their entertainment.
It’s very much like that in the fashion world now. It is both a BIG problem and a powerful solution. Fashion as an art can be used as Cinna did, in the novel, as acts of protection and subversion that go straight to the subconscious. But often it really is frippery, acts of thoughtlessness about where each piece of that work comes from, how it’s made, who suffers to make it, and then gets worn for a very short time.
Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson.) Photo by Murray Close.
The ethical considerations of the fashion world nag me, even as I write this blog for it. This is why I find the Hunger Games, both versions told via movie and book, so haunting. I believe fashion and clothing choices are a social message that I can’t ignore, especially as “blame the fat!” for all our problems in fact keeps anyone from solving them. There are serious, serious problems in the fashion industry RIGHT NOW and the Hunger Games directly or indirectly highlights them for those who really think about it. Keep in mind that ALL mass produced clothing has an element of hand production. Machines don’t just churn out pants and jeans. Someone has to cut them, stitch them and hem them by hand.
The following exposition refer to “real world” issues, not the Hunger Games.
Wit this in mind, those social problems borne of the fashion industry that directly or indirectly appear in the Hunger Games include:
- Child labor/slavery – children are often forced to sew garments.
- Sweatshop labor/slavery – most of the women taken slave and forced to work in factories are working in clothing factories on US soil
- Eating disorders – there are several direct links between models dying because of demands they get thinner and thinner (seeing the model as a “hanger”), men and women becoming anorexic as a result of these social influences going back to the idea you can never be “too rich or too thin,” and compulsive overeating to deal with constant stress of living up to someone else’s perceptions and opinions of what you should be. (Please understand that there are nuances to these disorders: a clinically obese person can have the actual disease of anorexia, not all overweight people have an eating disorder, and there are people that are quite thin who are compulsive overeaters – some but not all become bulimic.)
- Environmental impact – farming impacts the price of textiles used to make our clothes, someone has to weave or compose the plants, animals and other materials used to make fabric, someone has to dye them, design patterns for them, make them into something that a company will buy in bulk; this is about the Earth’s resources being used, the material being transported, and the often less than fair trade involved in getting the material to the places where it is cut and made into clothing.
- The general culture of self-absorption that Katniss recognizes after she survives the game exists in the real world to. As the games played before them, people responded: “I just had my eyebrows died,” or “My hair was blue then.”
This is why I’ve been genuinely horrified to see so many blogs bring up the Hunger Games with a focus on the style and costuming. I realize that it’s a huge movie – it’s already broken records – and no blogger can ignore that. I agree it’s a movie that needs to be seen, as long as when you see it you recognize that you ARE the viewer in the Capitol, contributing to the horror of the barbaric practice by simply going to witness it. (This was pointed out by my friend Crystal; Crystal, I’m swiping it as you elucidated it so well.) There’s also a very good chance that bloggers who knew about the movie had not read the books, and did not recognize the irony? pain? of what they were doing when they focused on the amazingly detailed nail job for Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks.)
So why am I covering it here? Because I think this is a socially important movie. I’m not going to say everyone should see it – it’s violent, painful, definitely triggering to someone’s past trauma nightmares. The book is much the same way, especially when the trilogy comes to Katniss’s weird conversion of helplessness and ultimate power at the same time.
I guess I just want to point out to my other fashion bloggers that if you’re going to blog about the Hunger Games further, take the time to be EXTRA conscious about it, please. Seeing anything that just focuses on a manicure, or what Jennifer Lawrence is wearing to promote the movie is more painful to observe than you might know.