I recently saw The Hunger Games, a movie based on an exceptionally violent 2008 novel by Suzanne Collins, on DVD. The movie presents a dystopia in which two teenagers are chosen by lot every year from each of twelve formerly rebellious “districts.” The chosen “tributes,” as they are called, must compete in the hunger games, a horrible Darwinian battle to the death in a controlled environment broadcast on television for the whole country to see. Only one participant can survive as victor and the teenagers’ suffering can be intensified, and sometimes mitigated, through advanced computer technology by the managers of the games. Many of the more privileged adults from the “Capitol,” which controls the rest of the country, are ridiculously made up, coiffed, and dressed, and they are beyond decadent, savoring the horror and suffering as pure entertainment and enjoying the spectacle of ordinary kids’ becoming predators and prey. Before the tributes begin to compete, however, they are pampered and polished and paraded and indulged as heroes.
I wondered what kind of demented fury could prompt such a portrayal of life in which insensible, self-absorbed adults sadistically watch the suffering of teenagers, and in which all adolescents spend their teen years in anxiety regarding the yearly lottery. This goes beyond normal teenage alienation. It occurred to me that Collins was tapping into some contemporary adolescent rage against the adult world, that despite all the pampering and indulgence bestowed on young people today, teenagers suspect that the adults are only compensating for their own selfishness, putting their own needs before the needs of their children, pursuing their own dreams and desires in adultery, divorce, etc., and creating an unjust world in which young people feel used and afraid. On the other hand, this kind of entertainment also indulges such attitudes in teenagers.