Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Hunger Games...the future of reality tv?

My husband gave me an e-reader for Christmas and ever since I have been reading pretty much non stop. Practically every day in a moment of boredom I have been searching between Sony e-bookstore, Google, and Borders for new things to read. This is how I came across The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I have always been a fan of satirical novels. Some of my favorite classics are The Great Gatsby  by F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby, 1984 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell Animal Farm, and Brave New World  by Aldous Huxley Brave New World. What actually caused me to purchase the book was after reading an excerpt of the first chapter on Google and being reminded of 1984. And as with 1984, many aspects of The Hunger Games  can be seen in society today, even though it is set during some unknown time in the future.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

Book info

Hardcover, 374 pages
Published: October 31st 2008 by Scholastic Press
ISBN: 0439023483 
ISBN13: 9780439023481
url: http://www.scholastic.com/thehungergames/
Literary awards: Georgia Peach Book Award (2009), Buxtehuder Bulle (2009), School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2008), Cybils Award for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2008), Amelia Bloomer List (2009)
An ALA Notable Children's Book for Older Readers (2009), West Australian Young Readers' Book Award (WAYRBA) for Older Readers (2010), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award Nominee (2011), Red House Children's Book Award for Older Readers & Overall (2010), New York Times Notable Children's Book (2008), Publishers Weekly's Best Books of The Year, South Carolina Book Award for Junior and Young Adult Book Awards (2011), Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award (2010), Teen Buckeye Book Award (2009), Rhode Island Teen Book Award (2010), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award (2010), ALA Teens' Top Ten (2009), Milwaukee County Teen Book Award Nominee (2010), Sakura Medal for Middle School Book (2010), Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award (2009), Florida Teens Read (2009), Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (2010), Iowa High School Book Award (2011), Horn Book Fanfare (2008), ALA's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2009), Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award (2010), The Inky Awards for Silver Inky (2009), Abraham Lincoln Award (2011) 


Here's the background of the story. At some point in the future, much of the land we call North America was destroyed by a series of events (i.e. floods, storms, fire). What remains is a country called Panem which consists of the Capitol surrounded by 13 districts. At first things are fine until there is an uprising in the districts against the Capitol, which is then after called "the Dark Days". In the end, 12 of the districts are defeated and District 13 is obliterated. A Treaty of Treason is formed by the Capitol providing laws for the remaining 12 districts in order to "keep the peace" (leaving most districts in poverty, starving, and with no rights or freedom) and as a yearly reminder of "the Dark Days" (not to mention the hold the Capitol has over the districts), they have the Hunger Games. The basic rules of the Hunger Games are such: every year two kids between the ages of 12 and 18, one boy and one girl, are chosen from each district in a public drawing (called "the Reaping") to participate in "the Games" with a total number of 24 "tributes". Participation in the Games and attendance at the Reaping are mandatory punishable by death and the only way a "tribute" can get out of participating in "the Games" after his or her name is drawn is if someone else in the district volunteers to take their place (which rarely happens). After all of the tributes are selected, they are then taken to an outdoor arena in a undisclosed location in the Capitol where they are to fight each other to the death. The last tribute standing is the winner and is rewarded with wealth, a new home in the wealthier area of their district, their district is given a supply of food once a month, and they never have to compete in "the Games" again.  "The Games" are a national event that is televised throughout the country and the people have no choice but to watch them (the citizens of the Capitol are the only ones who actually enjoy them). There are a few other aspects to it, but this is the basic premise. 

At the time in which The Hunger Games takes place, our narrator, Katniss Everdeen, is 16 years old citizen of Samen in District 12 and is about to attend her fourth "Reaping". When her 12 year old sister, Primrose (bka Prim), is selected for "the Games", Katniss volunteers to take her place. The male tribute is Peeta Mellark, a 16 year old son of a baker who goes to school with Katniss and to whom Katniss owes an unspoken debt. I will stop here with the overview because I don't wish to give too much away. 

My Review

I really liked this book. It had me hooked within the first few pages. Suzanne lets you know from the beginning that Katniss isn't you're average teenager, that Panem is far from the world as we know it, and this is not going to be a light and airy story. The world in which Katniss resides is a harsh one. Where most girls her age are worrying about social engagements, clothes, and boys, Katniss' thoughts are way beyond that.  From the time her father is killed in a mine explosion, Katniss is left to take care of her mother and her sister. She had to learn to hunt for food and trade in the black market. This alone puts life into perspective. Imagine if you lived in a world where you have no guarantee that you will get a meal each day. Where hunger is a daily occurrence. It makes some of our everyday worries seem superficial in comparison. 

In contrast, you have the citizens of the capitol that are heavily made up and surgically perfected and don't know the meaning of the word hunger. Their lives consists of beautifying themselves and the Hunger Games each year. And you may think that Katiniss and other citizen's of the outer districts would look up to and envy these people. But it's the opposite--they look down on them. Their appearance seem to be almost alien-like and the way they speak is something to be mocked. At one point, Katniss refers to the members of her prep team as her "pets". These people haven't a care in the world and are oblivious to the harsh realities of life that Katniss and the other tributes have to face daily. There is a possibility that Suzanne may have created this contrast as a means to shine a light on the superficiality of the rich, Hollywood, and possibly America as a culture. 

In looking at "the Games" in itself, I couldn't help but think about reality TV, because that's honestly what "the Games" are; reality TV in it's most inhumane and brutal form. The tributes are brought to the Capitol to be "cleaned" and dressed up in costumes to be paraded around for the Capitol to cheer and gawk at. Meanwhile they all know that it is most likely the last time 23 of them will be seen alive for they will be throw into a arena to kill each other while they watch on. Could this possibly become the future of reality TV? Could our need for entertainment come to mean more than human dignity and human life?  I think it's a possibility that we could be heading in that direction. For example, Fear Factor. The contestants are asked to perform dangerous stunts, eat disgusting things, and put in dangerous situations in the hopes of winning a prize at the end while we viewers are entertained by it. Sure they're in a controlled situation and compete by choice, but they are put in danger and at times humiliated for entertainment value much like "the Games". Another example are shows like the Bachelor. These women are brought to compete for the love of these men and the more drama, fighting and humiliation the better. Much like playing the right angle in "the Games" can get the tributes food or supplies. And it's basically degrading. The women are usually young and beautiful and could probably get any man they want. Yet they choose to compete for these men. Its the same with "the Games" except that it's not by choice. These children are young, with families, and have more life ahead of them (albeit not a bright and prosperous one) and they're taken away from their families most likely never to be seen alive again to fight to the death. So thus far we seem to draw the line at killing one another because it constitutes murder and murder is wrong (plus there is fear of legal repercussions). Humiliation, drama, danger, and injury for the sake of entertainment is fine, just as long as no one dies. But I think that if we found some amusement or entertainment value in killing one another (which theoretically we have, but only in the made up stunt reality of movies, dramas, and documentaries), a reality TV show similar to "the Games" could easily become a reality.

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