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Hunger Games: Catching Fire — Cosmetics and Self-Sacrifice

In Books, Movies and Television, False Dichotomies - the lines between on November 29, 2013 at 5:58 am

Catching FireLoved it!

OK, now the thing that really set me off.

Before I was a kid, the film was preceded by newsreels — meaningful because it was informative with a little propaganda thrown in for good measure.

When I was a kid, the movie was preceded by a cartoon–meaningless, but entertaining.

Now, the film is preceded by commercials–demeaningful.  They are demeaning.  They reduce audiences of people to mere consumers.

One of the commercials that preceded the latest adventure of Katniss Everdeen as she, once again, squares off against the evils of them Capital, was for a new line of makeup for Cover Girl.

And the name of this new, somewhat outlandish line?

The CAPITAL Line!

The trilogy written by Suzanne Collins is in the genre of dystopian fiction. That is, it presents a horrible world against which the protagonist must contend. The whole point of this genre, and therefore this particular movie, is to be a warning. By exaggerating and projecting into the future an aspect or aspects of our present day culture, this movie makes us more aware of our vice, or (at least) our folly.

The Capital is frivolous and exploitive. One scene in particular, brings this home. Our heroes are forced to attend a Capital party where there are so many good things to eat, Peeta laments he cannot try them all. He is immediately offered a beverage that will empty his stomach of its contents so that he may start all over again. The irony of this is not lost on Katniss who comments that many in the districts starve while they provide all the resources for those in the Capital to maintain their lifestyle of excess. Oh, and as an external symbol of the Capital’s excess –meaningless adornment.

Enter Cover Girl’s Capital Line of cosmetics.

If the audience were capable of absorbing the core meaning of this film, Cover Girl would right now be attempting to recover from one of the greatest advertising dabacles in history.  Young women would be rushing home from the theatre to post pictures to Facebook of them destroying all their Cover Girl products, or shooting kabob skewers at magazine-ad targets with bows made of pencils and rubber-bands.

But alas, Cover Girl didn’t make a mistake.

They know that we are capable of believing one thing, and doing another.

. . . crossing the line between knowing and doing

We can root for Katniss and everything she stands for, while in our theatre seats, but when we walk into the air, we become, once again, the citizens of the Capital, blind to our frivolous and exploitive lifestyle.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Cover Girl, particularly. I’m sure they no longer test their products on baby seals, but that they succeed in selling a product line based on the antagonist shows a disconnect.

Imagine an Anglo-Saxon buying a compact car called the Grendel, or the medieval peasants wearing Turk Brand jeans, or the British public ordering up a pint of Prussian Ale–in 1916. It wouldn’t be possible.

Why can Cover Girl get away with it today?

Because we are different than our predecessors.  For them truth and action were inseparable.

For us, there is a gap between knowing and doing.

Not so, in the movie.  The main virtue celebrated in the film was doing what one knew.  Katniss, and the rest of the good guys, knew the Capital was wrong in their exploitation of others and that things needed to change, so they did something about it, even in the face of great pressure to do otherwise.  They each embodied the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice.  As a matter of fact, this is the primary error of President Snow–he assumes that once in the arena, Katniss she will betray her professed altruistic values and become the killing machine he knows her to be.  He is right that if she does this, the revolution will be over.  All of the revolutionaries are banking on her constancy–and she lives up to these expectations.  It is not only Katniss that embodies the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice; for Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, Mags, Fennick, and Prim there is no gap between knowing and doing.

I loved this movie, because it was true, but does it really do any good if we don’t act on that truth?

And do we really live in an age when art no longer has any effect?

The Hunger Games: Whose Side Are You On?

In Books, Movies and Television, Christ and Culture on March 30, 2012 at 5:29 am

I saw The Hunger Games on opening day.  Those who waited in the line with me fell into two categories: enthusiastic youth (mostly girls) and the parent who drove the car.  Although the drivers were not overtly enthusiastic, I know they were.  Like me, they did not they did not drop the kids off at the theatre and head to Starbucks, as usual–they too wanted to see if the movie was as good as the book.  They were not disappointed.

I liked the book.   It had an engaging plot and interesting characters.  I’m a little embarrassed to say that I read it rather quickly, and my final assessment of the novel was that it read like an entertaining movie.  It took the theatre experience for me to realize it has some pretty poignant themes as well.

The Games themselves are essentially Reality TV.  They are Survivor where the losers don’t just get voted off the island; they get butchered at the Cornucopia.  They are Top Chef, where the main ingredient might be the tribute from District 4.  They are Fashion Star where Cinna gets offers from all three buyers.  There’s even a brief nod to Extreme Makeover where the tomboy from District 12 is waxed and buffed, and this turns into the reveal in What Not to Wear when the Capital audience cheers at the transformation.  North American audiences are obsessed with Reality TV—there are literally hundreds of these shows.  In The Hunger Games, we get a picture of what it is like to take Reality TV too far.  But, when we turn to shows like Big Brother for entertainment, we must ask ourselves, “Haven’t we gone too far already?” If we will watch Toddlers & Tiaras, how far are we from watching twenty-four children kill each other in an arena with a camera in every knothole?

The film also interrogates the appropriateness of violence as a form of entertainment.  It wasn’t that long ago that boxing was the most violent sport on TV and nobody I knew actually watched it.  There were, of course, hockey fights and the choreographed violence of professional wrestling, but these are not nearly as violent as the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) which have a very large following today.  Is The Hunger Games a violent movie?  Yes it is.  But this isn’t the most important questions.  What does the movie say about violence?  Clearly, it doesn’t just censure the fights to the death; it is very critical of turning violence into a spectacle. 

A third theme has to do with the injustice in a system where a minority of the citizens live a life of frivolous indulgence and consume the materials produced by the sweat and blood of the poor.  The Games themselves are a simple reenactment of what is occurring systemically in the world of the movie—the vitality of the residents of the outlying districts is consumed for the entertainment of the privileged.  As ludicrous as we find the painted pets and sculptured facial hair in the Capital’s citizenry, how ridiculous is our indulgence in our pets and coifs to the world’s poor.  Let me put it this way; the money I spent on seeing The Hunger Games, would pay to feed a hungry child in East Africa for a year.

It is my fear that the multitude of young people viewing this film will experience Katniss Everdeen’s victory in this year’s Hunger Games as mere spectators.  Sadly, this would more closely associate them with the citizens of the Capital.  But, according President Snow, hope is more powerful than fear. Maybe I can hope that the young viewers will, rather, identify with the Girl on Fire.  Perhaps this film will help them to reflect a little of what this story might be suggesting about who we are and who we might be.