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Why would anyone want to be a part of The Hunger Games?

By Bert Ehrmann
March 16, 2012

The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

Early in 2011 I became hooked on The Hunger Games book trilogy. I'd heard of them sometime before but had written them off as yet another series of teen romance novels in the vein of the Twilight series. But the positive chatter about the books was intense and when a feature film version of The Hunger Games was announced I decided that I needed to at least check the books out and quickly fell in love with them.

In The Hunger Games, it's the future and the planet has just recovered from some great cataclysm in the past. North America has been divided up into 13 different districts, has been renamed Panem and is ruled by a central "Capitol." This Capitol rules the districts with an iron fist and uses the outlying populous as a slave-labor force in the creation of goods that keeps the people of the Capitol in luxury and the citizens of the districts in poverty and near starvation. Think the horrors of Nazi Germany and you'd be getting close to how the Capitol treats the peoples of the districts in The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games book series

Each year, the Capitol forces each district to sent two adolescent "tributes" to The Hunger Games. In these games, each tribute fights every other tribute to the death and the last living tribute gets to live a life of (relative) luxury. Enter Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence in the film). She's one of the District 12 tributes sent to the games in place of her younger sister who must use all of her cunning, guile and manipulation of the media in order to survive the games and make it back home alive.

The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games

While I'm extremely excited about the upcoming movie, I'm utterly mystified as to the direction of the online marketing campaigns promoting the movie. In these campaigns, the Capitol is a real place and The Hunger Games a real event where kids really kill other kids every year. There are real websites where users can read about the fashions of the Capitol ala People Magazine, they can buy real things like Capitol Colours Nail Polish and even become a virtual member of one of the districts with an official ID card via a website.

Oddly enough, this campaign of becoming a part of the universe of The Hunger Games seems to have been quite successful. When I created an account on one of these sites before writing this column, there were more than 100,000 "Likes" for the different districts on Facebook.

The Hunger Games

Part of the police state in The Hunger Games

I have to wonder; did anyone who became a member of these online districts ever read The Hunger Games books? If they had, why would they want to be a part, virtual or not, of this place where a banal evil keeps the elite well fed, dressed in top-notch fashions and where the greatest entertainment event of the year is watching 24 young adults literally murder each other in some truly terrifying ways on live TV?

It's weird to me to log into one of district pages on Facebook and see photos of dozens and dozens smiling teens pictured on their "official" Panem ID cards. I'm hoping that they're just trying to become a member of something they think is cool and aren't really paying attention to all the bloody details of what becoming a member means.

In the past there were other movie franchises where fans could root for the "bad guys" like the Empire in Star Wars or the Decepticons in Transformers. But in those previous films fans could also root for the "good guys" too. But the marketing of The Hunger Games seems so wholly directed at becoming a member of the "bad" that the "good" is nowhere to be seen.

While this all has put a sour taste into my mouth over The Hunger Games marketing, I am still very much looking forward to the upcoming movie. The Hunger Games is due in theaters March 23 and the novels of the same name are available just about everywhere.

The Hunger Games