The Hunger Games movie provoked some interesting philosophical questions concerning morality, popular culture, gender, personal identity, politics, and authority. While I don’t have time to go into all the themes that interested me in the movie, the one that grabbed me most was the critique of entertainment as a political strategy of propaganda and public pacification. The Hunger Games was established with a political agenda to terrorize citizens from ever trying to rebel against the government; however, despite its dehumanizing content, the way it's presented--as a form of popular entertainment--validates its existence because it's celebrated and enjoyed by the masses. This mass Schadenfreude, or pleasure derived from the suffering of others, grotesquely justifies the game’s existence. 

The Hunger Games takes place in a future dystopia called Panem, where the government keeps the downtrodden populace intimidated and the pampered elite entertained with an annual televised battle to the death among teenagers selected from the outlying industrial districts. A Google search reveals that the name of this fictional nation of Panem was derived from the Latin phrase panem et circenses, meaning “bread and circuses”, which is invoked to describe how the populace can be controlled if they are fed and entertained.

Residents of the highly stylized, hyper-commercial, decadent and aesthetic-obssessed Capitol are pacified into blindly accepting the crimes committed by the government because they are too absorbed with entertainment and the instant gratification of pleasures and desires (ie, opulent food and material luxury) to consider the morality behind the games. As Gale exclaims in one of the most-quoted clips of the film: “All they want is a good show.”

The way the tributes are glamourized, objectified, and used as commercial and propaganda tools also distracts from the ethics of the game. One can draw parallels to our society, where people accept all manner of cultural propaganda in the name of entertainment and “public relations”. Just think of how commercialized and degrading reality TV shows are today, with shows like Extreme Makeover or Temptation Island which capitalizes on the suffering and insecurities of other people. Seeing women tear each other apart over men, money, and fame? It's almost as bad as watching kids butcher each other, and yet, people can't look away.

Edward Bernays presents a powerful argument in the book Propaganda (1928), in which he speculates how the U.S. government uses public relations for political and corporate interests by manipulating the public subconscious into feeling as though they’re doing what’s best for them (ie, I shop, therefore I am), when in actuality it only serves the interests of the social elite. In the beginning of the film, Gale questions whether or not the game would exist if everyone would just stop watching. But Katniss' response: "That's never going to happen."

I haven’t yet read the books, but according to my sister, the movie didn’t quite do it justice, so I look forward to reading more into the world. What do you think about entertainment’s place in society? How effective is media literacy education in challenging cultural propaganda? Will people ever "stop watching"? Leave your comments below.

 

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