The Hunger Games: A Showcase of Young Adult Anxieties

The media interests of those belonging to the young adult demographic have a tendency to appeal with the ethos, pathos, and logos associated with the generation of that age category. We see this within the trending smart phone applications, the binge-worthy Netflix series, and the films that actually get a 15-year-old Fortnite player out of their bedroom and into a movie theatre. In 2012, the world was introduced to the film The Hunger Games, based off the novels written by Suzanne Collins. The first of the four-movie series since its release has become the 20th highest-grossing film franchise of all time [wikipedia].

 The Hunger Games frames violence between children within the competitive and futuristic dystopia of Panem, and leaves the viewer rooting for Katniss Everdeen and with disgust for President Snow. So, what does this franchise have to say about the millennial generation?  And, how did young adults accustomed to a formulaic coming-of-age storyline become invested in a tail that narrates kids killing off… well, kids?

The Hunger Games novels

In order to dissect the Hunger Games as a franchise, a discussion must be had about the novels which serve as the foundation for the films. In the Forbes article, Why Young Adults ‘Hunger’ For The Hunger Games And Other Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian Fiction Debra Donston-Miller breaks down the success of The Hunger Games (novels) into three reasoning categories: What’s Old Is New Again, Breakout Roles, and Rise of The Machines. Donston-Miller quotes Todd Mitchell, a young adult fiction author who says, “Right now, we know on some deeply unconscious (or maybe even conscious) level that we’re screwing things up. We know that all our pollution and over-consumption is driving the planet to ruin” (Forbes). The critical conditions citizens of Panem face can be seen as a legitimate collective fear of what is going to happen to planet Earth as we know it. Donston-Miller goes on to note that in addition to the state our planet is in, socially and politically we are in a period of distress. “Today’s young people have also grown up amid threats of terrorism, ongoing war, and a 24/7 news cycle in which darkness and evil-doers are the stars of the show” (Donston-Miller). Lastly, she outlines how technology is a driving factor to The Hunger Game’s success. Storylines must appeal with their audience by relevance, no matter how distant of a world the plot may be creating. The prevalence of technology seen in The Hunger Games participant’s tracking devices, President Snow’s office, and the entire controlling system of the game draws audiences in. No crazy plot twist is ever seen as implausible because the audience has no set expectations for the fictional world. The Hunger Games largely follows the conventional young adult plot in that the protagonist is challenged, their character develops through that challenge, and they come out on the other side as a stronger and a more developed character. The franchise also, however, capitalizes off the anxieties and realities the plot parallels in real time and real life which provide a larger contextual picture that appeals to a multi-generational demographic.  

The Hunger Games novels are the basis to the $2.970 billion franchise, but the films Suzanne Collins helped to screen-write and produce herself are what exploded the series into a franchise. While the films do follow the traditional young adult coming-of-age story, they also change the style Hollywood normally follows.  Elissa H. Nelson analyzes the success of young adult films in the essay, The New Old Face of a Genre: The Franchise Teen Film as Industry Strategy. She states, “What’s notable is that these tactics are being combined with storytelling elements emblematic of the teen film, leading not to the dwindling significance of the genre, but rather to a new production cycle and another iteration of the form.” She goes on to say, “As hallmarks of the convergent media era, these franchise teen films [Harry Potter, Transformers, Twilight] combine multiple styles and modes of filmmaking, and in the process, expand common perceptions of the genre” (page 125). This style of filmmaking has gone on to inspire other dystopian plots such as Divergent and The Maze Runner and although the success of these films did not reach that of The Hunger Games, they follow a similar structure. The multi-media franchise Collins created represents a strong female protagonist that is challenged with saving herself by killing off her competition. While this may not be representing what youth of this generation are looking to do,  it’s important to look into the structure of the dystopia Panem, and question why exactly this is both appealing and interesting enough to young adults to create a milti-billion dollar franchise. 

Citations:

Contributor, SungardAS. “Why Young Adults ‘Hunger’ For The Hunger Games And Other Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian Fiction.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 20 Nov. 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/sungardas/2014/11/20/why-young-adults-hunger-for-the-hunger-games-and-other-post-apocalyptic-dystopian-fiction/#7e543bf6ef0e.

Nelson, Elissa H. “The New Old Face of a Genre: The Franchise Teen Film as Industry Strategy.” Cinema Journal, vol. 57 no. 1, 2017, p. 125-132. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/cj.2017.0058.

“The Hunger Games.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Oct. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunger_Games.

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