Militainment in Popular Culture Trends: Violence and the Hunger Games

Posted: December 3, 2013 in The Hunger Games Op Eds

By Steven Tyler

I was never one to follow teen craze novels or movies. I was very selective about my popular culture obsessions. The Harry Potter series and the later-famed Hunger Games Trilogy have, in my lifetime, immensely surpassed the fad-ness of less intelligible obsessions, such as Silly Putty and Pokémon.

Clearly, I never fell for the book/movie power-couple of our generation. Yet, the power of the literature and the silver screen have gotten people to do pretty crazy things– like dress up in ridiculous garb as tributes and wizards to a public movie theater, or spend an entire afternoon brewing butterbeer for friends. All of a sudden, everyone is “volunteering as tribute.”

Although it may seem like I am attempting to demean the wildly popular novels-turned-movies, I really have no right to. In respect to the coming release of Catching Fire in theaters later this month, the Hunger Games trilogy has snowballed into a spectacle of success. Foreign rights to The Hunger Games have been sold to 38 territories to date[1]. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have become heroes to Lativians and Albanians alike; Panem seems to be an internationally recognized (fictional) entity endeared by readers around the world.

After neglecting the Hunger Games craze for over a year since it dominated the box office, I unintentionally gave in. I viewed the movie, and in short, I was appalled.

Militainment, or militaristic, violent themes as entertainment, is highly prevalent in popular culture today. Violence has entered in every form of entertainment, books carry the themes, movies are bloodier than ever, and videogames have evolved from Pac-man to Grand Theft Auto V. Colloquially referred to as “GTA 5” has gained street cred through its success—8,576,630 units sold on opening weekend[2]. This game is brutally violent—glorifying murder, extortion, prostitution and torture. Although we can all recognize that these are all horrible themes, it remains a best-seller. The ubiquity of violence, proved by the mass willingness to spend upwards of $60 per unit, leads the conscious observer to think that Militainment has desensitized society. So desensitized, in fact, that we gift the Hunger Games, which carries similar themes of violence, oppression, and child soldering to our innocent little cousins on Christmas.

The Hunger Games, as a novel and blockbuster production, is an example of militainment aimed at the young adult demographic. Yet, as a young adult, I believe I was an outlier in my reaction to the Games. The violence deeply bothered me—the systematic oppression against districts, the sadistic selection of the tributes, and moreover the hand to hand fights to the death churned my stomach. Watching kids get mauled by axes seemed farfetched. I found it interesting that we classify the Capitol as sadistic, when we (in the real world) choose to view very realistic depictions of child killings. Sure, the Hunger Games of Panem aren’t real, yet we, like the society of the Capitol, view violence as a worthwhile consumption of time and resources. The reality of the depicted deaths shouldn’t diminish the fact that we find it entertaining.

 

What does this tell us about real violence, real war, and real peace? Have we become a culture of violence-charged individuals? Does this appetite for violence translate to the real world? Politically speaking, US foreign policy has, since the end of World War II, been a violent “proponent of peace.” Invasions of countries across the world (Afghanistan and Iraq) to promote “democracy” seem to be (disappointingly) accepted in the public eye. Drones currently fly over these countries looking for “terrorists”, yet they terrorize innocent people living under their crosshairs. Talk about a scary similarity to the Capitol of Panem—drones are the real life equivalent to the constantly supervising capitol. These pilotless planes may make our consciences easy because our soldiers aren’t literally flying them, but they still drop bombs. Is this a peaceful way of ensuring democracy? It seems like we think it is. When was the last time we heard about a community in Pakistan being devastated by unmanned aircraft?

 

Should we ban every Hunger Games books on the shelves? Should we stop the money-saturated movie industry for making its film renditions? Absolutely not, but I think there are some things we can learn about from the trilogy. We can learn about the ugliness of oppression, we can understand that war is prevalent in our world, and we can realize that violence is detrimental to the construction of peace. If we don’t recognize that violence is a problem, we blind ourselves to the inhumane practices that our own government is implementing.

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