Last word on The Hunger Games

Finally. I’ve been promising this post for three weeks now, and sitting on it for even longer.

I read The Hunger Games in late March, and watched the corresponding movie a few days later. I’d been aware of the series for years, but what finally got me to read it was dread of a spoiler (a la Fight Club and Citizen Kane).

Now, this isn’t a review, but I will begin by sharing one brief opinion to help establish the facts of this post.

I thought The Hunger Games was enjoyable – if not exactly high literature – but when I walked out of the theater, I was struck by the sense that the series’ success had less to do with Suzanne Collins’ skill in crafting a story than her ability to establish a gripping premise. Or, as I put it at the time:

Get it? Because a lot of people get executed lol

Little did I know that even these words of faint praise may have given Collins too much credit.

Soon after, I was poking around pointlessly on the internet (sorry, ‘pointlessly’ was probably redundant) when I came across The Week‘s Bad Opinion Generator. I gave it a few spins, and it spat back some amusing – if not altogether remarkable – results. To give you an idea, here’s a random sample:

In any event, I was merrily clicking my way through the bad opinion generator when I came across one credited to Charlie Chaplin. But after the success of The Hunger Games – to say nothing of the past decade of television (Survivor debuted in 2010) – I’m not sure I can say his opinion was altogether misguided:

No, Charlie Chaplin did not mean ‘flesh and blood’ in the sense that those items permeate The Hunger Games. But the fact that my brain associated ‘the stage’ with ‘flesh and blood’ – in the most literal sense – was not entirely without reason.

Yes, The Hunger Games is a work of fiction. But more specifically, it is a work of science fiction: we find it compelling precisely because we recognize elements of our own reality in the book’s dystopian future. The details – Katniss, District 12, tracker jackers – belong to Suzanne Collins, but the premise simply follows from the realities of modern bloodsport, an element of human nature given voice in both the literal and figurative meanings of ‘flesh and blood’.

Yes, the Hunger Games (note the lack of italics) are like American Idol on steroids, but they are not so far beyond what we would consider reality television today. Millions of Americans tune into the NFL every Sunday, even as the evidence grows that what we are really watching is a bloodbath in slow-motion (or super slow-motion when the broadcast goes to replay).

If the Hunger Games were on tonight, there’s a decent chance you would be watching.

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