The Hunger Games Series: Inspired by Reality, Inspiring Reality
Rachel Anne Lee
Written by American author Suzanne Collins, the Hunger Games book was released in 2008 and instantly became a New York bestseller, staying on the list for well over a 100 weeks. The books have since been translated to 54 different languages and the first Hunger Games movie hit the cinemas in 2012. The Hunger Games trilogy follows the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen’s story, from daring volunteer as tribute in place of her younger sister who was selected for the Games to the embodiment of the Mockingjay - the driving force for the resistance working against the oppressive regime under tyrannical dictator President Coriolanus Snow.
The latest installation of the Hunger Games film series, “The Ballad of the Songbirds & Snakes” (TBOSAS), on the other hand, gives us a behind-the-scenes of the makings of the tyrannical leader we see in the earlier movies. We see the transformation of an (arguably extremely dashing) young Coriolanus Snow, once ostracised by the richer members of the Capitol, into a formidable villain, respected and even feared by all of Panem.
My take on the movie? TBOSAS definitely supported the success of the previous Hunger Games instalments and while the movie deviated slightly from the book itself, I definitely walked away from the cinema satisfied by its epic portrayal and cinematography. The internet was ablaze for all the right reasons; I felt that it was one of the bigger must-watch movies released in the later half of 2023 alongside box office hits like Barbie and Oppenheimer.
Moreover, TBOSAS unveiled to me questions of the Hunger Games origins that weren’t necessarily fulfilled in the franchise’s earlier instalments. Throughout the movie, we realise that the citizens of Panem (the country where the Hunger Games takes place) are fed the narrative that the Games were created to “honour” the sacrifices made during The War and serve as a stark reminder of the fragility of the hard-earned peace Panem holds onto.
However, towards the end of the film, Snow eventually realises that the Games are not merely just games but rather, a representation of reality, where, in an anarchy, it is every man for himself and a victor will eventually emerge victorious. This is perhaps modelled after or inspired by The Hobbesian theory of humanity; Hobbes’ belief that in the state of nature, humans will aim to dominate others and will aim to do so at all costs. In the Games, when individuals are forced to defend themselves in an arena not unlike the state of nature, people become willing to murder and betray one another just to preserve their lives and emerge as the eventual victor of The Hunger Games.
While Snow was not a tribute in the Games, we see that he eventually emerges as the ‘victor’ of sorts in the game of power within Panem, achieving his eventual presidency, even at the expense of murdering countless others. We realise that the Games are also dividing the districts, forcing them to murder each other without having the Capitol getting their hands bloody and preventing them from creating alliances strong enough to overthrow the Capitol itself.
Collins conceived the idea of the Hunger Games series while she was toggling between various channels on her television, from a documentary about the harsh reality of the Iraq War to a survival game show. The dystopian juxtaposition of brutal reality alongside fun, light-hearted entertainment paved the way for the genesis of the Hunger Games books.
Inspired by reality, many people around the world see in the fictional series a kernel of truth; about atrocities citizens face at the hands of their own governments, about oppression and authoritarian rule that is the lived experience of many, and the divide and conquer strategies that, like in the world of the Hunger Games, many regimes use to prevent rebellion. One prominent symbol from the movie that has made an impact in the real world is the three-finger salute.
Within the Hunger Games universe, the three-finger salute is used as a symbol of resistance against Snow’s regime and a sign of allegiance and unity amongst the oppressed. In the real world, Thailand began popularising the usage of the symbol after a military coup in May 2014, where the three-finger salute was popularised in protests against the coup. It has since been used in places ranging from Myanmar to Hong Kong, including by protesters who likely have neither watched (or read) the series. The global adoption of the three-finger salute by protesters is part of the re-invention of protests and resistance in the 21st Century, where another popular form of protest is the creation and dissemination of internet memes that satirise tyrannic leaders, as a jeer to their image and personality. Even as the Hunger Games has been banned in countries like Thailand and China, VPNs and a burning desire to know more beyond their country’s restrictions have pushed many to seek out banned artwork and ideas, and motifs like the three-finger salute have undoubtedly weaselled their way into the hearts of the youths protesting for their freedom. The use of the three-finger salute, a symbol from a popular Hollywood movie, also has a strategic purpose, drawing global attention to their cause.
While watching the movie, the use of the three-finger salute on screen, a single wordless action generating unity and solidarity amongst (fictional) people, struck a chord within me, explaining its resonance among both protestors and the global public witnessing the protests. Rebellion, often a single individual resisting the system at great cost to him or herself, can be lonely. While others may not be able to partake in the rebellion as the costs to themselves and their loved ones might be too high, the salute, an act of unity and solidarity, shows their unwavering support for the person resisting.
The global reach of such a cultural yet fictional symbol highlights the ability of stories and imagery to generate collective action of great magnitudes. Just like Katniss’ defiance against the face of oppression, these young individuals, oppressed in their own countries, have transformed this fictional movement into a real symbol uniting them in their shared struggle for justice and democracy. The sheer universality of certain themes means that individuals in real life can resonate with and find commonality in fictional, made-up characters. Nonetheless, it remains at the foremind that through the fictionality of the Hunger Games, each and every part of its political significance has actualized and transcended from books to movies, and then to reality. While the dystopian nature of Panem makes it seem so detached from us, Panem may not, after all, be as distant as we may have originally thought. Maybe, we all live in a Panem of our own.