The Hunger Games proved to be a marketing whale when it emerged in the late 2000s and redefined dystopian fantasy for younger generations. Appealing to the sense of global cataclysm and seemingly ridiculous, unreachable power structures that parodied foreseeable possibilities, teenagers latched onto the strong and determined Katniss as a fictional revolutionary like no other before her. Suzanne Collins managed to intersect themes of classic Orwellian sci-fi, myths and empires and alluring YA novel tropes into a series that captured the hearts, minds and wallets of Gen Y and Z kids, especially huge flocks of teen girls that fell in sync with the characters, world and Katniss’s love life.
Today: the world is a wasteland of human rights. So much progress has been made, pushed back, pushed for, caught in that whirlwind of back-and-forth, until the media tells us that one thing or another happened so women can’t access this, and the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t have funding for that and we have to rally even harder. Now, Collins is working on some kind of prequel book for the series which came out before it all seemed this bad.
It isn’t hard to agree with the Hunger Games’ central messages: momentous apathy stemming from corporate media monopolies who have shaped violence between the less powerful as entertainment to keep themselves in power, is bad. In any case, we live in that world today. But when have we not? It’s only so prevalent now because the marginalized and their allies are amassing and fighting back in undeniable ways that have garnered attention, and in turn, the conservative bloc is amassing to decentralize and delegitimize their arguments, and it’s just all so loud now.Katniss’s world is, too. It’s hysterically loud and dangerous. And that is the dual side of the book’s main theme: radical action for the good of the people, is good.
The entire thing is a contradiction. The book launched a series that roped in almost $3 billion in box office money. Internally, it is a story about a young woman living in and deconstructing a world that endangers her and feeds off power structures. Externally, the franchise is a money-making machine. It feeds corporate media in its very existence. In turn, it becomes an empty cathartic experience that people can watch and go, “Yeah, I agree,” and ally themselves with revolution without revolutionizing. Not to say that it hasn’t inspired anyone to fight. Heck, I would say that fiction, especially pop culture phenomena, drive the way people think in minute ways we might not realize. As the biggest success in its own self-defining genre, it has definitely pushed the boundaries of expectation for what a movie can and should do. It provided the world, especially the young, with a female protagonist so well-defined she’s spawned multiple parodies, lookalikes and knockoffs—yeah, I’m looking at you, Divergent. But it also became saturated, just like the rich citizens of the Capitol in its own fiction.
So now, a prequel, in this day and age. Collins has a lot to top with this behemoth. It is essential modern mythology, which has pushed genre and defined a generation. How will it do it today’s political hellscape? It has to do something new with the themes but carry on its old glory. A story about children’s violence could prove all too real. It could be denied by audiences as co-opting revolution for capitalist gain. It could be revered for its support of marginalized communities rising up to protest hierarchy. Or, it could be all these things at once, just like its predecessors. It could have the ferocity of 1984 and the following of Twilight once again. It could very well be a flop, but that is unlikely with the history of the series.
Then, the question isn’t whether or not this thing will do well. It will do fine. But will it carry the same thematically revolutionary weight as its predecessor in content, and can it carry that weight, in its existence, in our dystopian-esque world? It is a book about revolution and the power of self-determination, but the reality of its success is terrifyingly capitalist. So I think the question is, in this world of turmoil and needing new fictions to fuel our hearts: what will we do with it this time?
Image by Eliza Ross