I have a new favorite game: once every few days, I go through my Facebook timeline and see which of my friends are raving about their Mockingjay feelings after seeing the movie. I admit, it’s a pretty boring game unless you add my fun, sexy twist: scroll a little further down their pages and see how many of these “Peeniss” shippers are bitching about the protests happening in Ferguson. If you were ever wondering how to assess the character of your Facebook friends, this contradiction provides a lot of promise. Mockingjay: Part 1 has grossed over $200 million since its release only two weeks ago, yet protesters of police brutality are struggling to stay in the news.
Apparently, the lesson to be gleaned from all these contradictory social media ravings is that rebellions are only acceptable when you can sit back and watch them play out between two fresh-faced starlets. Civil unrest is only as interesting as the primary interwoven love triangle of a young adult story. It’s as if we believe revolution exists solely in the realm of fiction, because art imitating life has certainly not been a major theme in all creative work since, well, forever.
The Hunger Games was bound to have some success due to the “OMG Peeta or Gale,” factor, but the mass appeal comes from a much more honest and disturbing place. The events of the story, while fantastic and extreme, are not unbelievable. A starving working class, people resorting to crime and black market trades to survive, an overpowering media machine that can paint you as a hero or villain as best serves their purpose – It takes only a moment to connect the dots that Panem is the America of a not-so-distant future. Pitting our children against each other in an arena battle may be a bit far fetched, but the world of the Hunger Games is all too real.
While I’m sure there are some who enjoy the literary equivalent of cotton candy fluff (Nicholas Sparks maintains a successful career), the best stories are those with substance and relatability, with just enough disconnect to make it palatable for a wide audience. When something hits too close to home, audiences will avoid it like the plague. Civil unrest due to income inequality is so relatable it’s unnerving, but throw in some murderous children and hyper-stylish citizens of the capitol and the world becomes just fictional enough that we can all take a deep breath and relax. The problem occurs when completly dissociate from the narrative. We want to feel invested without the burden of responsibility. We want to feel Katniss’ struggle while still being able to root for her as a nonthreatening hero. Perhaps that’s the reason an olive skinned, black haired, grey eyed Katniss transformed into a blue eyed white girl for the movies. A woman of color becoming the face of a national uprising may be inching a little too close to the home front for mass appeal, even if we have pushed the story into the future. Let’s be frank, the girl was sneaking through fences to hunt illegally and participate in black market trading on a daily basis in order to sustain her family. Make her a pretty white girl and we’re okay. Portray her as she was written, and all of a sudden we’re forced to recognize a reality that makes us squirm.
What’s the point? If you just want entertainment, there are infinite places to seek it. But pure entertainment does not equal a cultural phenomenon. Cotton candy does not equal a meal, no matter what every five year old in your life may tell you. A good story has to mean something.
So for those of you who love Ms. Everdeen, I ask you to take a closer look at these stories. Ask yourselves what they mean to you. You can find teenage romance anywhere. You can go have all the feels. But think back to Rue’s death in the first book. Did you cry when Rue got speared through the chest? (For the love of god don’t tell me if you didn’t because I honestly can’t handle a heart that cold.) Did you cheer when Katniss gave her a proper funeral, ensuring that her name and face would never be forgotten? I’d bet you cried and cheered and then put the book in the freezer just as Joey Tribiani did with Little Women.
But let’s think about that for a second. It’s not like Rue was the first person to die in the Games. It’s not as if the deaths of the other tributes didn’t deserve such a beautiful send off. It’s not as if there aren’t other deaths occurring throughout Panem. And seriously, did you even stop to think about the grotesque history of tribute-on-tribute violence?! That’s the real issue!
Rue’s death, rather than actually being more important than any others, was meant to function as a symbol of a larger problem. I guess that’s why it hit us all so hard (and again, please just go pinch yourself until you cry if it didn’t because I need to know that your body is capable of producing tears). It was rough. I think we all agree that if we were able, we would’ve reached into the book and raised our three fingers for Rue with everyone else taking a stand in the uprising.
So why not put your hands up now? Instead of throwing all your emotional weight behind fictional characters and a fake revolution, why not throw your arms up in support of the real uprising happening right now? How can you sit back and tell people to calm down when you cried and yelled (and you did, I was at the movies with you) when Rue died and uprisings began all over Panem.
One cannot be a passive participant in a revolution. To sit and enjoy the story of the Hunger Games while condemning the actions of protestors throughout the United States – specifically Ferguson – is itself a statement. What you’re saying is, quite simply, the odds have always been in your favor.
Molly Regan is an improviser and writer in Baltimore. She likes chicken pot pie, Adam Scott’s butt and riot grrl.