“The Hunger Games” As Spectacle

Hungergames1_Photo credit- Murray Close
Discussion Questions for Gary Ross’s “The Hunger Games”

Find various definitions of “dystopia” and identify their characteristics. Discuss these in relation to the depiction of a future world in “The Hunger Games”. What would a future world tell us about the present?

Make a comparison between District 12 and the Capitol with regard to the sets and costumes. What would such a comparison reveal about the social structure of the Panem civilization? Why do you think the districts are named with numbers?

Make a list of names of people from District 12 and the Capitol. Do you see a pattern in the choice of names? What would such a choice reveal about the Panem civilization?

The names used in the film (Panem, Katniss, Peeta, Primrose, Rue, Effie, Octavia, Cinna, Seneca, Flavius…) might have symbolic connotations. How would they contribute to our understanding of the film?

Comment on the significance of the film’s title.

Comment on the connotations of the word “tribute” in the film.

What do you think about the narrative voice in the film?  How would it affect the audience’s involvement with the film/the story?

Identify some of the strategies/formula employed in making “The Hunger Games” (the pageant) a spectacle. To what extent do you think these strategies are used in today’s television shows? Provide some examples for the discussion.

The French Marxist theorist and filmmaker Guy Debord’s classic theoretical book “The Society of the Spectacle” (1967) has had an important impact on theories of society and culture. Below is an extract from G. Marcus’s “Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century” explaining Debord’s concept of spectacle. Study the extract closely and discuss it in relation to how The Hunger Games can be taken as a critique of the modern world:

The spectacle,” Debord said, was “capital accumulated until it becomes an image.” A never-ending accumulation of spectacles -advertisements, entertainments, traffic, skyscrapers, political campaigns, department stores, sports events, newscasts, art tours, foreign wars, space launchings— made a modern world, a world in which all communication flowed in one direction, from the powerful to the powerless. One could not respond or talk back, or intervene, but one did not want to. In the spectacle, passivity was simultaneously the means and the end of a great hidden project, a project of social control. On the terms of its particular form of hegemony the spectacle naturally produced not actors but spectators: modern men and women, citizens of the most advanced societies on earth, who were thrilled to watch whatever it was they were given to watch. (p. 99)

Here’s another quote from Guy Debord’s “The Society of the Spectacle”. Discuss it in relation to the film and mass entertainment in the modern world:

“To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessary. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.”

How do you think audiences are represented in “The Hunger Games”? Comment on the possible reasons for these representations.

Comment on the following lines from the film: “Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.” President Snow / “If no one watches, then they don’t have a game” Gale

According to Ziauddin Sardar (2000), “voyeurism, in all its forms, has reduced us all to objects” (New Statesman, November 2000, p. 279). Discuss Sardar’s view in relation to “The Hunger Games” and mass entertainment in the modern world.

Read Salman Rushdie’s “Reality TV: A Dearth of Talent and the Death of Morality” and comment on his use of “engineered realism” by linking it to “The Hunger Games”. Find other parallelisms between Rushdie’s arguments and the themes explored in the film.

According to the American film critic Roger Ebert (1998) “television, with insatiable hunger for material, has made celebrities into content.” (Chicago Sun-Times). Discuss Ebert’s view in relation to “The Hunger Games” and modern television programs.

In the following extract from “Welcome to Desert of the Real” (2002), Slovene philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek comments on the media coverage of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. What exactly does he say? To what extent would you agree with his views? Can you discuss the extract in relation to “The Hunger Games” and also other media events in your own context:

For the great majority of the public, the WTC explosions were events on the TV screen, and when we watched the oft-repeated shots of frightened people running towards the camera ahead of the giant cloud of dust from the collapsing tower, was not the framing of the shot itself reminiscent of spectacular shots in catastrophe movies … we can perceive the collapse of the of the WTC towers as the climatic conclusion of twentieth century art’s passion for the real—the “terrorists” themselves did not do it primarily to provoke real material damage, but for the spectacular effect of it.” (p. 11)

Identify some possible thematic links between “The Hunger Games” and “The Truman Show” and discuss them.

Photo credit: Murray Close

© Ali Nihat Eken, Istanbul, February 5 2013

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