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Direct Influence of the Media in The Hunger Games

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At the end of the twentieth century, society saw a massive boom in technological advancements. By the start of the twenty-first century, suddenly everyone was connected due to the creation of the World Wide Web. These massive changes brought about a major shift in the way technology is used. Though the advances in technology have brought about an easier way of life, our lives have now adapted to, and become dependent on, technology. Whether it’s smart phones, social media, or computers, it seems that we cannot go through the day without being plugged in to the virtual world. Being connected all the time, be it on Facebook or just watching the news, has caused a new problem never before encountered: technology has begun taking over our daily lives, and, by extension, controlling us in an expected way. As Mary A. Matos writes, “Magazines, newspapers, radios, TVs … and a myriad of other types of media are bombarding us with information at all times … we are all manipulated by media.” The ugly side of technology and media has only recently come into public consciousness as we become aware of the ties that technology has to mental illness and obesity, for example. Thus, the technological advances that changed the world are leading some to view the technological future with a dystopian lens: they envision a world where technology controls humans, instead of the other way around. The unnerving prospect of being ruled by machines seems to fit the definition of dystopia, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” This negative view of the future has been echoed in multiple forms of popular media, with one such example being The Hunger Games (Ross 2012). As one author writes: “When Katniss, the daughter of a dead miner who survives by hunting on the land, is conveyed to the Capitol by high-speed train, it is as if the nineteenth century is brought face to future-shocked face with twenty-first century media culture…”(Fisher). Thus, this movie symbolizes our resistance towards the transition into a media-filled culture, and mirrors these worries of a future ruled by technology.

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The movie introduces Panem, a country divided into 12 poverty-stricken districts, whose totalitarian government forces two tributes from each district to fight to the death once a year, until only one tribute is left standing. The Hunger Games were set up after the districts rebelled against the government many years back. They serve as a reminder, so that the districts remain obedient. The two tributes, one male and one female, are selected by random draw. As the citizens of Panem grow older, more entries are put into the selection pool every year on their behalf. This dystopian view mirrors our own struggles with technological advances: The oppression felt by the people of Panem reflects our anxieties about the takeover of technology and media, which have already begun to run our lives. In fact, it is not just the oppressive government that symbolizes technology: the Hunger Games themselves, essentially a “death game” disguised as reality TV, symbolize how the media is consuming us; we are so involved in social media and other people’s lives that we often forget to live our own.

The idea that there will be a death of humanity in the future, as mentioned in dystopia’s definition, is a common belief in those who view the future with such a lens. As Paul Virilio writes:

…soon, as more or less passive witnesses… we shall see the imminent invasion of our bodies…thanks to the interactive feats of a biotechnological miniaturization that will finish off the job of those flourishing large-scale mass communication tools that already govern our society (50).

Indeed, Virilio is suggesting that we may one day be controlled by our very own inventions. The machines will infect us like parasites, eating away at our humanity until nothing remains. He claims that this invasion would cause “a biotechnical … straitjacket, whereby the psychophysiology of an individual’s behavior would be permanently relayed to instantaneous information capabilities, his/her body wired with electronic pathways that would extend the nervous system” (53). Even our personalities would be automated by machines, the technology, again, stripping us of what makes us human. In the movie, this idea of invasion is most literally represented when Katniss is flying towards the arena to participate in the Games. During the flight, she has a tracker injected into her arm, in order for the cameras to follow her at all times. This act is reminiscent of the trackers most people place in their pets: applied just under the skin, it is a preventative measure to make sure the pet will always be returned to its owner. By placing a tracker in her arm, she is forced to give up any sense of self; she is a possession of the Capitol, and, consequently, the media.

Even before Katniss was shuttled to the arena, the effect of the media’s control was visible in the districts, and there were some traditions present that seemed to parallel real life. Every year, for instance, more entries are submitted into the selection pool in each citizen’s name. This represents the influence of media over time; as we grow older, the ideas instilled in us by the media become more and more ingrained unless we are conscious of the fact. As Matos quotes: “‘we don’t realize either that we are affected or how much we are affected. In the end, that makes us very vulnerable to being shaped by the media.’” Only awareness of the media’s shaping allows us to resist its influence, just as Katniss ultimately does in the movie. However, by adding names every year, the movie represents the worry that we are ultimately becoming embodiments of the media, rather than individuals. Another parallel to real life is the dress code set for the tribute selection day, called the reaping. Although it is an event in which two of the citizens will essentially be chosen to die, everyone dresses in their best attire. This, indeed, mirrors the influence of media today: even if your life is terrible, if you post a few happy-looking pictures on Facebook, everyone will buy into the illusion that you feel great. Although everyone in the district feels the same terror and dread regarding the reaping, they all dress well to convince the Capitol that they feel anything but fear.

Though District 12 is influenced by the media, the differences between the districts and the Capitol are readily apparent from the moment Katniss is taken away. As Mark Fisher writes, there is a stark contrast between “the metropolis’s almost entirely artificialized world [and] the coal mines and woodlands of District 12.” Thus, District 12, though dependent on the Capitol, has not yet become completely invaded by technology. The effect of the technological takeover on the other citizens, however, becomes more and more apparent as Katniss is forced into the high-tech society. Cato, for instance, is one of the tributes labeled a “career”. This indicates that he came from District 1 or District 2, which receive preferential treatment and extra training for the Games. In a sense, these districts are the upper class, just under the elite that is the Capitol. Cato has thus had more direct exposure to the Capitol’s influences, as his district receives more help than any of the others. At the end of the Games, however, Cato realizes that he was born to kill and bring honor to his district, and nothing else. Thus, by experiencing direct exposure to the technological regime, he is no longer a person with human desires: his only value is to fulfill a specific mission instilled in him by the media. This dehumanization is representative, once again, of Virilio’s view that technology is taking over our humanity.

Katniss, though affected by the Capitol, seems to show a clear distrust of it and its influence on the districts. Indeed, her disdain and resistance towards the Capitol, and, by extension, technology and media, is seen throughout the movie. She outwardly expresses her dislike of her oppressors to her close friends and family, though she admits to her friend Gale that an open rebellion would be a hopeless act. Her resistance leads her to be an outsider in the Capitol and, consequently, she does not know how to interact with the people who live there. During her interview with Capitol member Caesar Flickerman, Katniss is outwardly awkward and uncomfortable. The entire conversation she has with the interviewer seems forced. In contrast, Peeta speaks naturally with the interviewer, since he has accepted his fate and knows he must give in to survive. Katniss’ resistance to technology makes her an outsider in the Capitol’s futuristic society, just as those who resist technology now may feel alienated from their peers if, for example, they do not have a Facebook with which to connect.

Katniss’ resistance to technology is further highlighted by her obvious preference of the woods and hunting, rather than the highly futuristic world of the Capitol. As Mark Fisher writes in his article “Precarious Dystopias: The Hunger Games, in Time, and Never Let Me Go”:

It could be argued that the fantasy of escape into the woods is by no means confined to Katniss; so much contemporary anti-capitalism, motivated by a vision of a return to the organic and the local, to a space outside the purview of Empire, amounts to little more than a version of this same hope.

Katniss’ refusal to give in to the Capitol’s way of living mimics those like Virilio, who believe that machines will soon take over humanity. Rather than accept the new regime, Katniss longs to be surrounded by nature and fresh air, which is in stark contrast to what those in the technological society prefer to do: sit at home and watch the Hunger Games on television. Her wish to return to the woods parallels our worries as machines continue to destroy our planet by burning fossil fuels, thus taking over both human and nature. In a twist of fate, Katniss’ arena is indeed that of a wooded area; however, the natural is continually manipulated by the Capitol, which can create trees and forest fires at the touch of a button. Thus, this arena is representative of what a technological world could look like: a society full of the artificial, where nothing is truly real or human anymore.

With this resistance, Katniss is unintentionally performing acts of rebellion towards media and technology in the Games. These acts are often met with a silent three finger salute from the districts watching, which becomes the symbol of the rebellion and a way to show respect and solidarity among those who live in the districts. They are rebelling by staying quiet, which, in essence, implies that they are not “plugged in” to the media, in constant communication with everyone in our world of global connectivity. They are instead opting out, staying quiet, and resisting the technological future by rebellion. Once the rebellion escalates following the death of a young tribute named Rue, the districts begin to use physical force to combat the Capitol’s influences. This tactic is often not needed in modern times, with the invention of guns and bombs, and yet the districts rely on their own power and emotion (and thus, humanity) in order to combat the technological regime that is oppressing them.

Thus, The Hunger Games envisions a world in the not-so-distant future in which technology oppresses humans. The loss of control over our own inventions is a worrying idea, and this emotion is consequently expressed through Katniss’ experience being thrust into the Capitol’s society. As this movie shows, the direct influence of the media is not always immediately evident. However, as Matos quotes: “‘Always assume that when you are plugged in, the media are persuading you.’” As technology advances, it is fair to say that this tug of war between accepting and resisting technology will be in constant play. Thus, as our society develops, it important to be aware of the media and its influence: it is the only way to resist its complete takeover of humanity.

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