Why We’re Obsessed with “The Hunger Games”

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you’ve probably noticed that The Hunger Games, a story of a dystopian post-apocalyptic world in which teenagers fight to the death, has the world buzzing. But the excitement around the book (and now movie) strikes me as different from the typical fantasy fanfare. The explosion of websites that blur the line between fact and fiction, such as, where you can see the pictures of the twenty-four tributes and read about them as though they were your next-door neighbors, and, a Tumblr that celebrates the wacky fashions of the self-absorbed Capitol inhabitants and interviews the characters (not the actors who play them), and a Facebook page that allows fans to be put into a district (I’m in district four) and be given their own ID with their own Panem citizen number, suggest that the fans (myself included) don’t just want to watch the movie or read the book; we want to be immersed in it. We want the Hunger Games, Panem, the Capitol creatures, Katniss, and the rest of this brutal world to be as real as possible.

But why would we want to feel as though this post-apocalyptic world where kids are forced to kill one another is a reality? Why do we want to dive into a world where democracy is bludgeoned and people are starving and living in fear?

Before I tell you my theories, let’s recap the plot. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world called Panem, where, in place of North America, there are twelve districts occupied by the remaining population. Every year, two tributes from each district, ranging in age from twelve to eighteen have their names placed into a lottery and then pulled out of a hat. The total twenty-four tributes then battle to the death in a man-made arena and whoever is left standing at the end is the winner. This horrific battle is known as the Hunger Games and was created by the official government of Panem, the Capitol, to remind the districts that they are never to revolt for the Capitol will always win.
The Capitol is an evil empire that starves its districts, kills its children, and celebrates its inhabitants’ misery. And every year, they gain power by terrorizing the population and forcing parents to watch their children die.

Katniss, the sixteen-year-old heroine in the story, becomes her family’s provider after her father is killed in a mining accident. When her eight-year-old sister is picked to partake in the Hunger Games, Katniss boldly takes her place. Now Katniss must kill twenty-three other kids, including her high-school crush, Peeta, and a girl who’s only eight years old, the same age as her younger sister.

This all sounds horrible, right? But as a reader, you step into Katniss’s world and for some reason, you don’t want to leave. If anything, it makes you want to keep reading on, but why?

My theory: everyone loves an underdog. Although it’s not entirely as simple as this, it makes sense that we’d be drawn toward a character who, under terrible circumstances and a life full of doubts, wants to beat “the man.” And after one hell of a recession and a world where we’re drowning in uncertainty, I think everyone wants to feel as though they have control over seeing better times sooner rather than later. So when a strong, ambitious heroine steps up to guide them on a remarkable journey, we stand behind her. Why? Because we want to support the effort or even fight the battle firsthand in order to make our world a better place. Or in this case, Panem a better place.

Besides loving an underdog, it’s hard not to love a sixteen-year-old girl who kicks major ass. She isn’t like Bella who faints when her “true love” leaves her in the Twilight series; in fact, Katniss seems to put love on hold for much bigger things like fighting to survive for her family. She has priorities such as staying alive for her sister and helping Panem rid itself of tyranny. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t like a girl with cajones like that.

Regardless of the deeper meaning of exactly why we’re obsessed with such a grief-stricken world, I think it speaks pretty highly of us. In times of trouble, we aren’t ones to turn the cheek and run the other way. We want to fight! Even if we’re fighting for a make-believe cause in a make-believe world, the fact that we want to emerge ourselves in a horrible make-believe place to feel like we’re part of a big and gratifying change is pretty admirable.

If you think these theories are pure psycho-babble from an already obsessed The Hunger Games girl, that’s fair enough. I dare you to find your own meaning and I promise to keep my little mouth shut. But if you do decide to enter the deep, dark mind of The Hunger Games, I will say this: may the odds be ever in your favor.

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