I watched Hunger Games a few nights ago. Intriguing because it got me thinking in the way that Avatar got me “thinking.” About racial and ethnic representation, the world of hypermedia and hyper-focus on celebrities, simulacra or vicarious-living, gentrification, the cult of technocracy in which we live, ownership, and the struggle between hope/inspiration and fear.
For at least two weeks, I’d been hearing about my need to see it from someone whom I will refer to as the River woman.
I started noticing the billboards.
I started noticing the Facebook posts about it.
I watched the trailer, thought that it was probably going to a mere reproduction of the racial/ethnic hegemony.
The movie didn’t disappoint in that regard. In these Hollywood and widely known films, it’s practically law of nature/Hollywood productions that it will usually be white protagonists/leading characters. If they exist, people of color will be relegated to playing supporting characters. I spent the first thirty minutes shaking my head at how white everyone in the District 12 crowds were. The River woman told me during the screening that this evoked images of the Holocaust, to which I somewhat sarcastically replied in my head, “the Jewish or the Cambodian one?”
I watched the 30 minutes of the film and thought, “wow, there’s so many damn white people in Hollywood.”
I’d read snippets from Wikipedia about how the author of the Hunger Games books had come up with the story by watching CNN, juxtaposing it with images from reality TV shows. Based on that snippet and what I’d read leading up to my viewing, I’d expected Hunger Games to be more racially and ethnically diffuse, but again the reality is that it’s people who in our society are acknowledged to be “white” representing characters who were supposed to be “mixed” or “racially” and “ethnically” diffuse.
Before I watched it, I’d encountered racial antagonism on the interwebs, but it wasn’t the same concern I had about the amount of white people in the first 30 minutes of the film.
It was anatagonism towards the race of one pivotal character in the story, Rue. There was a Racebending post about a year ago how Rue wouldn’t be whitewashed. That apparently was a victory. On Facebook a few days ago, I came across an article about the racist tweets of movie-goers who actually expected Rue to be white. “White” meaning little, cute Dakota Fanning.
One tweeter remarked “why does Rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie.” As if little white girls were the only people capable of representing ideals of innocence and altruism.
Clearly, representation means a lot to some people, or at least it means a lot when expectations are disrupted. A lot of tweeters imagined and expected a white girl, but suddenly, on twitter, they apparently lost sympathy when they found out that this character was anything other than white.
All this, despite the book actually saying Rue had “dark brown skin” on page 45 of the book.
DARK BROWN SKIN. IN THE BOOK.
Kinda flies against the Twitter trending topic of #sticktothebook #hungergames.
“Dark brown skin” doesn’t sound like Dakota Fanning, unless you change the meaning of “dark brown skin” to mean being “white.” If that were the case, I’d call up my white friends Sangita, River Woman, and Savvy Sav and instantly demand all the privileges that come with being white. Heck, I think we’d embrace white people problems.
Despite this racial/ethnic hegemony in this and countless other movies, I was able to get hooked onto the movie. It titillated my palette thinking of the themes I could extract from the movie.
- A Mega-Show of Hyperreality: To me the movie was like a combination of the Olympics coverage, America’s Next Top Model, American Idol, and Avatar. We get to see the ‘real’ someone, up close and personal. But this up close and personal look may be exaggerated; the show for them might be a ‘performance’ of behavior. We see this when main character Katniss and male lead character Peta hold hands even though they’re not a couple. We see this every time the Master of Ceremonies of the games instantly cracks a smile amidst the introduction of lights, camera, and introductions.
- Celebrating Soldier-Celebrities: There were no armies in the film, but the way the tributes were treated reminded me of how the media, popular discourse treats soldiers, and how real-life soldiers may react. Soldiers may be forced into combat because of circumstance, they are apparently given lots of resources to enjoy.They can enjoy whatever luxuries and technologies they are given, but those are very temporary, and only used during training. In the heat of battle, a lot of these soldier-celebrities will become ruthless but usually as a way to spare their own lives in the face of survival. Surviving is the ultimate and only win, which in the context of the Hunger Games competition becomes a luxury afforded to only one person.
- Simulacra and Body Domination: These were “hunger games” for a reason. What was a ‘game’ or yet another ‘visual attraction’ for the billions of spectators was a fight for life by those who were selected as ‘tributes.’ Viewers of the Hunger games can experience everything real, except the physical bodily pain that the tributes inevitably encounter. One poignant scene that was particularly memorable was when Woody Harrelson’s character, a one-time winner/survivor of the Hunger Games sees young viewers/fans imitating Hunger games tributes/competitors thrusting make-believe swords at each other. Harrelson looks at them in exasperation, as if to say, “you foolish kids, it’s not just a game.”The ‘tributes’ were mere “chess pieces.” Chess pieces to be moved, ultimately symbols used to be sacrificed or kill another chess piece.However, if a tribute happened to be successful, people would want to be like them. This is analagous to how lots of sports fans discuss many sports stars today: disposable garbage, nothing to be paid attention to, but if proven to be successful, the ‘chess piece’ becomes an object that people actually would want to become.
- Ownership of Self: One poignant quote came from Peta, the male lead character opposite Katniss Eberdeen. Something to the effect of and that I will paraphrase here as “I don’t want to die as someone else, someone they have made me to to be. When I die, I want to die as me.” This reminds me of Charles Barkley’s “I am not a role model” commercials from the 1990s.While I don’t think people necessarily want Charles Barkley to raise their kids or put the duty of raising kids in the hands of some celebrity, I think Barkley’s sentiment was based on saying something quite simple, “I am me, I play basketball professionally, and I’m not trying to be good or bad,” which echoes the Eminem “I Am Whatever You Say I Am.”Not to disappoint the Marxists buy using the language of capitalism, but people just want to own themselves, instead of paying rent to another [corporate] president.
- Gentrification: We get the sense that the people at the games and watching them in the Hunger Games city are very detached from the District people who are crowded around a screen. Everything in the city is clean and nice. People in the Hunger Games city are fashioned in carefully-cropped clothes full of colors, cake-faced in make-up, and politely laughing it the fuck up. Meanwhile, people in the districts are in their cities “natural”, despondent, covered in soot, and working. Perhaps a cliche juxtaposition and imagery, but emblematic, and a direct shout at how the Olympics and other big events tends to sweep away its social ‘problems’ namely displaying homeless people again, again, and again, etc, way past forever.
- Technocratic Hypercapitalist Fascist Republic: A world where haves are haves based on their over-reliance on technology and convenience and have the structurally violent mechanisms in place to reinforce the hegemonies. Technology is both a symbol of power, and a piece of hyper-functionality used by those who can afford it in very narrow ways. They have all kinds of technology in place to make sure the ‘tributes’ perform optimally from awesome training facilities to trainers, they have all kinds of technology in place to manipulate outcomes, but there is no technology available to help the people in the districts: they can only use whatever they have or has been left behind, unhoarded, outside of the Hunger Games city.
- Reproduction of Macro-Structural Power Structures within the Micro-structure: Only one winner in the Hunger Games actual competition. Only one category of winner in people’s lives in the Hunger Games movie. I’m thinking about the scene where the main alliance of districts led by the main douchebagger in the competition has hoarded all the survival gear and is protecting it with all the security they have. The hoarding of all the supplies replicates the worlds containing this Hunger Games competition and the resources: the haves in the Hunger Games and Hunger Games city enjoying every luxury available, the have-nots surviving on leftovers and whatever is in ‘nature.’
- Fear keeps people in place, hope moves people out of it. The death of Rue is symbolic of the crushing of that hope, and ensuing violence following that witnessing is a reaction. It was more than a game for those who’d rooted for her. Hat tip to a conversation with the River woman for this insight.