Let me begin by saying I really enjoyed reading The Hunger Games trilogy. I thought the first book was great, and although I thought books 2 and 3 missed the mark, I was enough of a fan to read them and be happy that there was at least some extension of the characters and drama that became permanent fixtures in my imagination after book 1. Furthermore, I’m happy so many other people like the novels and that there is a movie coming out this spring.
That said, I find there is something disturbing about some of the ways fans express their love for the books. For instance, Kristen Bell celebrated her 30th birthday party with a Hunger Games themed party. She told HuffingtonPost:
“I put District numbers up around. I put District 4 for water over the pool. I put District 2 for electronics over the stereo and iPod. I had a blow-up castle bouncy house on the front lawn and I put The Capitol over the bouncy house. And over my front door, I put District 12. All my friends dressed as the characters and I dressed as Katniss. I was head-to-toe in spandex with a fire cape and carried a bow and arrow.”
Am I wrong in thinking that is utterly bizarre? The Hunger Games is dark. The existence of the segregated Districts is oppressive. The way Collins defines each District by what commodities they produce made the novel a damning commentary on global capitalism and neocolonialism. I thought part of the point of the novels was taking a look at how countries like the US are basically like the Capitol in how we exploit other countries by draining them of their resources without regard for the wellbeing of the impoverished people who are forced to produce them simply to survive. With that in mind, Kristen Bell’s birthday party is disturbing in that it celebrates and trivializes social injustice.
It’s a tribute (unintended pun there, sorry) to the novels that fans are so enthralled by the world Collins created that they want to recreate it, injustice and all. And I understand the fan’s perspective: obsessive love for a novel isn’t ever a bad thing, and it shouldn’t be discouraged. But there are boundaries. No matter how much I like the movies, I am not going to have a Schindler’s List birthday party or an American History X themed party. Some things are just too charged, and even though The Hunger Games is pure fantasy, it still touches on real-life issues I’m not comfortable trivializing.
Admittedly, the issue is sticky. The most popular Hunger Games merchandise right now appears to be jewelry with the mockingjay symbol. As a fan of the book, who wouldn’t want to own and show off a replica of the most iconic object in the books? Someone gave me one of the pins and I attached to my purse for a very long time. But the mockingjay symbol isn’t just a pretty design – it’s not like owning a replica of Arwen’s evenstar – it’s 100% politically charged. It’s the symbol of the anti-government anti-capitalist revolution! Wearing it out of blind fandom or pop culture fervor without reflection on what it really means is kind of like wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt from Urban Outfitters. The wearer becomes guilty of draining a politically charged symbol of its potency by turning it into a fun accessory — a luxury. Which is, if you think about it, exactly something some clueless privileged brat from the Capitol would do.
I’m not trying to be a killjoy or a general pain-in-the-ass. I love that there is a YA series that is serious and political enough to make these issues about capitalism and colonialism real. And I love that the novels mean so much to me that the idea of trivializing them makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to discourage fans. I just want to make sure that the way I approach the novels as a fan is more from a disillusioned District 12′s perspective than a pathetically self-centered Effie Trinket point of view.