The books have sold some 10 million copies globally — and the author, Suzanne Collins, is the “best-selling Kindle author of all time.” They are a shrewd combination of standard YA fare — another love triangle between a girl and two boys … really? — and pop-culture riffs. You have the extreme version of reality shows likeAmerican IdolandSurvivor. You have the young girl who reluctantly grows into a ferocious killer, which started with Buffy and Nikita (if you have to ask…) and now seems to be found in almost every other movie.
The books also had some fortunate timing for the author in terms of catching the zeitgeist, since perhaps the core theme is the 99% (the 12 districts) vs. the 1% (Capitol), the poor and underfed vs. the rich and overfed.
I’ve written before about how our culture seems obssessed with the end of the world right now, with what we’d do and who we’d be if everything just caved in. The Hunger Games, the Walking Dead, The Road, the Change series, too many movies to count my favorite of which is this one for its quiet, normal brutality and dread:
Some of this current obssession is the same wish-fulfillment that’s been around since we started telling tales of the hunt around the camptire: Sure, I’m a loser here and now, but when you need somebody to terraform Mars you bitches will be lining up to blow me. Right now my archery skills don’t mean shit, but wait till I’m making you scrub my floors for some of the venison. My knowledge of feudal economic structure surely means someday I’ll have an army of vassals doing my bidding, not to mention court concubines.
But some of our present concern about having a plan for the world ending has to do with the fact that the world is, in fact, ending. The economy kids are graduating high school into is one in which fewer and fewer opportunities exist. It’s one in which the contributions of young people and especially young women are constantly denigrated: Their generation is spoiled, entitled, lazy, even as they fight for scraps with a determination that should bring us to awe. They are connected to the misery of the world like nobody ever has been before, and the mystery is not how many of them have gone mad from it but how few. And like all kids ever, they have to prove to the world that they are worthy individuals, who are themselves and not their possessions or their parents or their hometowns or their diplomas.
They can drive through their hometowns and see the burned out factories, the boarded up storefronts. They can sit at the dinner table and listen to their angry, embittered parents talk about how the old neighborhood used to be before all those new peopel ruined it. They can chuck a rock and hit a place that looks just like a science fiction film, just like a song about hopelessness, just like a District beaten into submission for daring to defy the ruling class.
It’s no wonder a story about a girl who stands up and says fuck you to all of that sings loudly in their ears. I’m two decades away from teenagehood and it plays at top volume for me.