*note: this rant is not intended to bash or judge anyone for promoting/buying/desperately wanting to buy Hunger Games merchandise. I am most definitely one of those people. These are just my thoughts on the merch, in relation to the series, and my own (very conflicted) personal reaction to them.
Last night I was messing around online when I saw this tweet pop up on Twitter:
I was curious. I thought it might be another cool, super-exclusive trailer, or more pictures, so I hung around for a bit. Exactly twenty minutes later, I saw this:
And naturally, my first instinct was "OMG MERCHANDISE! CLICKCLICKCLICK". The link ultimately directs you to this site, a Hollywood Video subdomain focused exclusively on promoting officially licensed Hunger Games movie merchandise. That page was where I started to get unsettled. Specifically, at this:
That's right, kids, Hunger Games action figures! You, too, can re-enact the glory of the Hunger Games battles, with ten amazing points of articulation! Peeta even comes with a spear! To spear other children with!
It gave me pause, but I pushed past the discomfort and poked around, because stuff! Hunger Games stuff! And I love The Hunger Games...
There was so much to behold - Panem-inspired jewelry, which makes frequent use of the mockingjay symbol. Mockingjay earrings! Mockingjay charm bracelets! Mockingjay belt buckles! Mockingjay necklaces! And, of course, mockingjay pins - who doesn't want one of those? I sure as Hell do.
Then there was the thrilling accessories section - branded backpacks, lanyards, umbrellas, pins, wallets, earbuds. I glared resentfully at the earbuds I recently purchased, which definitely do not feature mockingjays. Dammit.
The replica merchandise was pretty impressive, as well. There were dufflebags branded with District Two, Five, Eleven, and Twelve's numbers, "with enough room to store all you need to defeat the capitol"! Alternatively, you are now able to run around in a replica of Katniss' arena jacket, or work out in a replica of the District Twelve training center shirt, and pretend that you, too, are just another Tribute preparing to sacrifice your life in order to perpetuate a totalitarian society!
It's orange, just like Katniss'! Remember how Katniss' backpack was orange, so people in the arena would be better able to see her in the woods so that they could kill her? Awesome!
I clicked around for a while, but after a few pages, the skeeve factor took over, and I left - but not before bookmarking it. After all, mockingjay pin. But I spent a large portion of the night wondering: does all this merch totally undermine the whole premise of the Hunger Games trilogy? Am I a bad person if I really, really, really want a gyroscopic mockingjay necklace?
Because when I clicked on to that site and saw the picture of those three pose-able action figures, I didn't feel like a Hunger Games fan. I felt like the Capitol.
A running theme throughout the Hunger Games books is the sense of unreality with which the people who live in the Capitol approach the Games themselves. They don't see it as a life-or-death struggle, they don't see the Tributes as real people, as children forced to combat each other for others' amusement - they see the Games as entertainment, pure and simple. The Hunger Games is the reality show to end all reality shows, the ultimate water cooler topic. I can't help remembering how, in Catching Fire, it became the height of fashion to sport a replica of Katniss' mockingjay pin - as cuff links and necklaces and earrings - not in support of her or her cause, but because it was popular. To them, what had happened in the previous year's Games was not a heinous tragedy, but a glorious spectacle, to be talked about and incorporated into popular culture without the slightest bit of thought given to what it actually represented.
Obviously I'm not the author, but I'm pretty sure that when Suzanne Collins wrote the series, her primary goal was not to encourage us to perpetuate that attitude.
Now, I know, I know - the Hunger Games is not real. This isn't Panem. We aren't reveling in the deaths of actual people. We aren't enabling the continuation of a government that keeps its people in line by demanding the lives of twenty-three children a year by buying a Hunger Games keychain. But, in another sense, we are the Capitol. I mean, we weren't the only ones to feel that way while reading the book, right?
We are the Capitol, in all its excess and glitz and unreality, with its citizens who are pacified and distracted and brain-washed by the media, so absorbed in their own lives and dramas that the overwhelming majority doesn't give two shits about what goes on outside in the outside world, as long as it doesn't affect them. I mean...that's us. That's the way we must look to people from other countries, and even within our own. To people for whom survival is a daily, life-threatening struggle.
I can't help but feel like much of the point of the Hunger Games was that we were supposed to realize that - to see ourselves from another perspective. To wake up to the reality of the world outside our borders. It's part of why I loved the series so much. It challenged my way of thinking, forced me to think about someone else, some place else, where life was different. To realize that, for some people, The Hunger Games isn't all fiction.
So when I saw the action figures, the t-shirts proudly proclaiming District X Tribute, the board game that allows you to "follow in the footsteps of [your] favorite tributes" (ah, you mean to an UNTIMELY DEATH?), the bedding, the flip-flops, lightbulbs, for Chrissakes, it deeply disturbed me. It feels completely and utterly contrary to the theme of the books that I love so much, like we're trivializing - and indeed, selling - a serious issue. But most of all, it feels like we're in danger of completely missing the point, here. That, as a fandom, we're getting so caught up in the hype, the glamor of a big-budget movie, of proclaiming our love for our favorite books, that we've totally forgotten what they're actually about.
Making the movie studio money!
It's hard to believe that the glorification of the idea of living in Panem, of spending fifty bucks on a bag, or twenty bucks on a t-shirt, so that we can pretend to be a
Yet, despite all this, I still haven't decided if I am a bad person for wanting a mockingjay pin. Well, no that's a lie. I pretty much feel like a bad persona already. What I haven't decided is if I'm willing to feel like a dirty hypocrite in order to have one.
Is it worth your soul?
How are you guys coping?