Digging in the Dirt: The Corrosive Effect of The Hunger Games

When it comes to the genre of film, the 1980’s stands out for two types of movies: the John Hughes portfolio that includes such teen classics as “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Say Anything,” and the adventure genre that included the beginnings of the Indiana Jones franchise, the end of the first (and better) round of “Star Wars,” as well as the gamer classic “WarGames.” In most of these movies, the characters went through experiences that their audiences were either going through at the time, or could identify with. In the movies that featured teens as the heroes, many of the adults were either villains (hello, Mr. Rooney) or absent (see Lloyd Dobler’s parents); however, there were enough with understanding to bring matters to a good ending (even Dr. Stephen Falken).

The desperate, dystopian movies that portrayed a futuristic world without hope in the 1980’s did have their own following: “Logan’s Run,” “The Running Man,” and “Blade Runner” all showed how, in the future, authority would force the individual to escape to avoid forced assimilation (notice the key word in all three titles). However, these movies did not hit the main stream: Harrison Ford would not enter iconic status as a film hero for his portrayal of Decker, and while Richard Dawson was never more entertaining than he was while running his real-life fatality/reality show, he is much more well known for kissing every woman who came on “Family Feud.” Check him out here in “The Running Man,” and then below in “the Feud.”

When these types of movies came out, the people who lined up to see them were disaffected high school seniors, college students and those types who found flaws in the way the world worked. These movies confirmed their beliefs in corrupt government, bad endings, and a secret agenda against those who, in “The Fisher King,” Jack Lucas would call “the bungled and the botched” — those not quite suitable to fit into the mainstream of success, into the pictures in catalogs.

So, if you heard that a movie coming out featured a girl who chose to enter a grisly contest in which only one of the twenty entrants would survive; that this contest was actually an enforced ritual put in place by the government to hold its populace in fear; that her mentor would be a washed-up alcoholic; that the government would be led by a brutal, if fearful, dictator, then you would expect to see this in a midnight showing at an arthouse.

But this isn’t the 1980’s anymore. Now, dystopian film about horrible governments and brutal murder and hopeless situations are what we show our tweens. Anthony Michael Hall being fascinated by a girl’s briefs is no longer a groundbreaking image, because kids have seen jokes about underwear on “Family Guy” since they were in kindergarten, and iCarly and all of those ABC “Family” shows have made our tweens aware of so much that “Sixteen Candles” would only elicit a yawn.

And so we need more shock value. Dystopia is only too happy to oblige — after all, who would really believe that a government would use the death of its own citizens as a device of entertainment and the maintenance of order? Who would have thought that people would watch fellow humans fight each other to the death?

Here’s the problem with using shock value as your primary method of entertaining — it wears off. And you have to follow up with something even more intense. The effect is also cumulative, though: the more dystopia you watch, the more you’re willing to believe that the events you’re watching could actually happen — and that those events would be OK. Your willingness to resist evil that is real wears away.

Don’t believe me? The telescreens in 1984 aren’t all that different from the knowledge that Google and Facebook gather about you every time you log on, if you think about it. We stop trusting those who lead us, but rather than insist that our leaders be worthy of that trust, we shrug, go out to eat, and buy a movie ticket. After all, our ability to be distracted from involvement by “bread and circuses” dates back to ancient Rome.

Meanwhile, during that day on our planet, 26,000 children died of starvation. What was that, you say? More butter on your popcorn?

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