The first time I saw an ad in the subway for the movie Mockingjay, my first thought was, “oooh… should I put that date in my calendar?”
It’s an unusual thought for me about a movie opening. I don’t make it to the movie theater that often, but I LOVED the Hunger Games books. The movies based on the first two books in the series, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, are the only movies I’ve seen on opening day since An Inconvenient Truth in 2006.
Like many great pieces of fiction, The Hunger Games story is compelling because it’s well written enough that as the reader, I want to insert myself into the story. Then the logical questions of great fiction follow close behind: if the conflicts in this fictional world represent something real about the world we live in, which side of these conflicts am I on in my own life?
Oooh, am I like the hero, Katniss, reluctantly becoming a leader in the resistance to the Capitol because I’m a great warrior and the people I love are being hurt? Am I her mentor, Haymitch, scarred from my experience of being a victorious tribute yet willing to not just survive but to help ensure that others can ascend? Am I the stylist Cinna, cleverly finding a way to resist the cultural domination of the Capitol at great personal risk? Who am I most like in this story of resisting injustice?
Hmmnn… I want to be like Katniss, but I’m more worried I’m just another resident of the Capitol.
Why? Like many Americans, my daily life includes comforts that are not equally distributed among most people — for starters, I have on-demand access to drinkable water. Thanks to the way food production is subsidized and manipulated, I can buy the food that I want or need from the store without much regard to the season or the distance required to get that food to my plate (as long as it’s on sale). I have access to meat, grains, and alcohol in many forms. I have constant access to electricity. When I want an electronic device (or clothes, or whatever), I can go to the store and buy it, or have it mailed to me within a day. All these things come to me as long as I pay my bills, and don’t ask too many questions about where all this stuff comes from.
Residents of the Capitol, who we see throughout the series, but especially in the final book of the series, live in denial about the social and economic extremes that must be maintained for their comfort-driven way of life to exist. They rely on the twelve districts to produce everything for them, and it’s clear that for the district residents (as in, everyone who does not live in the Capitol) their lives revolve around producing things for the voracious appetites of Capitol residents.
In one of the more telling facets of the books, we see that residents of the Capitol are starkly incurious about the residents of the districts: they learn enough about the districts to make the Hunger Games more dramatic to them, and not much else.
For residents of the Capitol, if their way of life exacts a high cost from other people, they don’t want to know. They would rather just eat and watch the games. Sound familiar?
Every day I see advertisements for the upcoming Mockinjay film: subway ads, web-based ads, magazine covers and more. The millions of dollars spent on visually arresting ads and clever promotions for the movie will generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the movie studio that created what will probably be a great film.
And the irony of it is that the advertising is designed to get me to pay top dollar to see this movie by telling me over and over that I’m just like Katniss Everdeen. But the reality is that if the advertising works to get me to the film — and I expect that it will — it’s because I’m just another resident of the Capitol.