It’s guest post time! We received a wonderful submission from Luly, who’s discussing why it’s okay to be critical about The Hunger Games and its promotion in the media.
“This is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear.” – The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
I have been a fan of The Hunger Games for years now, like many of you. And, also like many of you, it was not the first book fandom I have been involved in. Nevertheless, my first years in the Hunger Games fandom, before we had the certainty of a movie adaptation, showed me some of the most creative and critical groups I had ever been in; which is not surprising, given that the message in this book series is clear, breathtaking and gives you so much to think about and to question from your own surroundings.
However, I feel like the spark is fading. For the past couple of years, after the huge success of the first movie, I have seen more and more examples of marketing campaigns that underestimate the audience and the books. What worries me the most, though, is the lack of critical views on these things that I see in the same fandom I previously felt so critical. I see individual discomfort on tumblr at times, I see some comments on twitter once in a while, but the severe critical perception I feel the fandom had before the first movie was released (the “they better do this right because we know this series to heart” stance) has been numbed by the sub-par yet initially appealing and distracting material that Lionsgate throws our way.
Panem et circenses.
I am by no means trying to say that this is because “the movies made the books popular” or “the fandom grew”, absolutely not. I am talking about the same fandom that, for some reason, does not sound as critical as it used to be. But I know that there are people who are. Individual fans with individual instances of opinion whose voices used to be heard but who now, for different reasons, don’t feel as much a part of the fandom as they used to. And I asked some of them what they thought, how they felt with Lionsgate’s ways to promote and handle these movies (and books) and what their worries were on that regard. These are some of their ideas.
One of the most interesting posts I saw on tumblr about Lionsgate’s missed opportunities came from stevedrogers’s blog. The post is very interesting and has many great ideas of what Lionsgate could be doing and are not. But one of my main focuses was on this “My suggestion would be a website where you are required to log in (maybe without home address and telephone number, perhaps). At the initial log in screen, you would be requested to select your district. Then, material on the website would be tailored to that district. Articles would be tailored to hide information from you. Announcements would be district specific. This would create discourse, especially on social networking sites, just like this one (I told you I believe in this sort of thing. I really do). It’d encourage screenshots and discussions about the differences and would be an interactive experience. You can’t share your experience on their current website, because it’s all the same.”
I want to stop there for a bit because when I read this great post for the first time (and I recommend you to check it out as well), that paragraph gave me memories of one of my favorite experiences that happened in this fandom: PanemOctober. I don’t think that is a coincidence but it’s the result of fans’ critical thinking asking for what these books deserve for a fan experience. The post goes further than PanemOctober did because from 2011 to today a lot has happened in the world of transmedia storytelling to add to the possibilities, but let’s remember what happened with PO: “We received a letter from Lionsgate legal department in June, two to three months after we initially contacted them, asking us to take down our websites because of a few reasons” said Gamemaster Rowan back when it happened. But soon enough, Capitol PN appeared and it was not only nothing like PO but it was also determined by a very different thing: while PO (and the more modern idea I linked from tumblr) were based on fans propelling the ideas forward and connecting with each other to complement the experience, the way Capitol PN had of selecting representatives was basically a popularity contest. I don’t want to devalue those who were Mayors of their respective Districts because they are great fans who know a lot about the books, I know more than one and I can assure that, but having a campaign of tweeting a hashtag or liking a user isn’t the same as using the creative talent fans have to help the story forward. Competition and conversation are two very different approaches.
Now, another point of view on Lionsgate’s problems on their promotion comes from elphabians “Probably the thing that’s been noted a lot is that our own media focusing so much on the love triangle is completely identical to the way the Capitol, in-verse, focuses on the love triangle. Not focusing on the idea of romantic love as opposed to sibling love, but focusing on a tragic love story that people can sympathize with, instead of acknowledging that all of this is happening, not because some teenagers fell in love, but because those teenagers are stuck in a corrupt, dystopian society that hangs them out for bait once a year and slowly bleeds everyone around them dry” and adds “The Hunger Games is a series that should punch you in the gut. It should be loud and jarring, and difficult to look at, even as the structure and the story forms itself beautifully. Because it is a beautiful story, and a good one too, but its brutal, and we collectively ignore that in favor of shouting about Team Gale or Team Peeta. Because that’s all we’re ever asked about. That’s all they give us”.
This also reminded me to a very interesting discussion we had more than once on the Fireside Chat, where the conversation on “Peeta or Gale” wasn’t really focused on “who is the best for Katniss” but in the fact that they both represent two sides of a political and social situation and how to respond to that. But that is not, as the quote clearly states, what Lionsgate and the movies choose to put forward. Another quote from this I’d like to share is the following “I dislike how it’s handled, and I dislike that we have more posters and cut-outs with Katniss/Peeta/Gale than we have of Katniss and Prim. Because Prim is more important – will always be more important. Hell, Rue is more important than both Peeta and Gale (Rue is more important than every single character in those books, except for maybe Katniss and Prim). The fandom does not focus on this, because the media, the franchise does not focus on this”. This discussion that used to be so important while talking about the books is completely dismissed now and the movies focusing on some aspects more than others doesn’t help create an instance of critical thinking. I completely agree, the way Lionsgate and the movies focus on this is similar to way the Capitol does. And that should make us extremely uncomfortable. Does it, though?
But this is not the only similarity we can point out between how the movies are being promoted and how the Capitol would, and a couple of the opinions I received talk about this. camii23 said “When The Hunger Games came out, I remember that lots of people were horrified with the premise of ‘children killing each other’, but after a while it seemed normal to talk about (…). All in all, the commercialization of the fandom or the Hunger Games universe isn’t so surprising to me, I think it’s the natural course of everything popular and that sells; what worries me is the focus. It could be used to give another message, to give more awareness on the violence of social classes and female empowerment but no, they take the shortcut and use what is more visually attractive, which is the Capitol”.
On that note, poorlifedecisionsemily said “As a fan, it’s fun to have merchandise from your fandom. Much like the fact that I have a Harry Potter wand, I can also have Hunger Games nail polish. The difference, I think, is that Harry Potter is not entirely based on the premise of society trivializing and commercializing death and inequality. (…) While this seems distasteful given the themes of the books, it is really no different than the numerous distasteful and manipulative situations in any other industry. The idealist in me sometimes wishes that they weren’t playing into exactly the type of behavior that the books critique. However, I also think that, in a way, it also brings these themes to the forefront and allows for conversations to begin about this very issue, not only in The Hunger Games franchise, but in our society in general”.
The make-up, the nail polish, the Subway campaign and the use of Capitol Couture as a form of marketing rather than any other perspective possible, makes the approach closer to what the Capitol would do and there’s no “rebellion” campaign they can come up with now (like an app or the poster of Katniss’s back) that can change these past years of using the Capitol as bait and talking more about Effie’s clothing and Katniss’s wedding dress than the underlying message of these books. These campaigns alienate the story, make it more marketable and distant, rather than close to home. Instead of relating the story with our social and political realities (and when I say that I’m talking about the entire world, since I’m not American and neither are many of the people I quoted here), it makes it look farther from us, a distant future, and that’s exactly what it shouldn’t do. What the movies (and the books) are trying to put forward and ignite, the campaigns are extinguishing.
Another element that plays into this is the clear underestimation of the fans who will receive these campaigns and their critical capacity. girasoldelluvia said on the matter “Not only the merchandising and their focus are completely opposite to the message that the books propose, but also their attitude towards the fans doesn’t make me happy. They constantly underestimate fans with a superior attitude and it seems that they want us to be grateful for every breadcrumb of promotion they give as and receive it with open arms. (…) The movies are, for lots of fans, an excuse to keep making edits, creating, relating with other fans from all over the world, share things, opinions, meta, information, and even other books and movies. But Lionsgate underestimates the power that it has and forgets that the movies were made because there are fans that read the books and wanted more”.
Thinking about fans coming together, as that quote stated, I get instantly reminded to the Victory Tour 2013. The project was conceived back in 2012 and was described as “a Hunger Games convention taking place in North Carolina in the summer of 2013, created by fans for fans. This convention will unite fans of all ages, though focusing on those 12 years and older, and will give them something to call their own”. Soon after, though, in November 2012, it was revealed that “we have been dealing with some legal issues involving the convention” and it was changed to include other books but finally, it turned into an online convention. The thing is that, if you google Victory Tour 2013, you’re probably not going to find this exclusively, because Lionsgate came out with its own “Victory Tour 2013”, which was nothing like this convention for fans but the cast (or part of it) appearing in some locations in USA, much like the actual Victory Tour the Capitol did in the books. I couldn’t find the exact quote on what the “legal issues” were, but at the time it reminded me of what happened with PanemOctober: Fans coming up with amazing integrative activities for other fans and Lionsgate turning their back to them to do their own thing. If you ask me, it sounds like yet another missed opportunity.
When it comes to past questions that are not discussed anymore, one that I was reminded of by asking fans their problems with the franchise came from gilbertbythe: “While I liked the THG movies, I admit I had problems with the casting that prevented me from fully enjoying the films” and adds “I interpreted the battle between the districts and the Capitol as a somewhat symbolic act of an uprising between the marginalized groups against the oppressors in our current society. But maybe that’s just me. I just think it’s such a wasted opportunity. Lionsgate could’ve had a POC female lead to give the story much more meaning but then I remember that white washing is prevalent in Hollywood and casting a POC might ‘ruin’ a franchise that has the potential to rival other popular franchises. Of course, profit is much more important than POC representation to them anyway”.
This is an argument that I did hear more than once yet I also recall many people dismissing these arguments as “fans being against Jennifer Lawrence personally”, or “complaining too much” rather than presenting a valid critic to the casting choices that were and still are problematic. It isn’t really about complaining or about Jennifer Lawrence’s acting abilities, it’s about why we forget the things that used to worry us and settle with what is given to us, like a comment I already quoted said, “with open arms”.
Now, what I want for this article to do is to make you, the reader, ask yourself questions. Or, more importantly, remember the questions you once asked yourself while reading these books and that you may have forgotten. I don’t want you to take this and adopt it unquestioningly, I don’t even want you to agree with me or with the people giving their opinion here; I want you to ask, to think and to actively criticize what is being offered to you right now. Not just that there hasn’t been yet a trailer of Mockingjay Part 1, or that it will be less than 2 minutes long, or that the App is not what you expected, but dig deeper. Remember what these books brought to you and apply that; ask yourself, is this the kind of fandom we deserve? Is this the kind of franchise these books should be? All I want is to re-ignite that spark that used to be there back when the first movie was announced: the spark of questions, of criticism, of activity. This is just a glimpse of some of the views that are out there and I wanted to give them a place to be heard. What about you? What do you think?