Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a young-adult book "phenomenon" that's rivaling That Sparkly Vampires Series for sales, fan adoration, and appeal to the very same demographic --the main difference is, it's actually GOOD.

Like this, only with less taste.  Oh and, everybody dies.

Just The Facts

  1. The setting is an unspecified future in which the United States As We Know It has gone to hell. If you've either read or seen "The Running Man," you have a pretty good idea of how society came apart.
  2. The author got the idea for the series after an evening of switching between lame reality TV and war coverage, and realizing they really aren't all that different.
  3. The Games themselves would, perversely, be a truly awesome video game and we fervently pray that such a game NEVER actually gets made.
  4. At no time anywhere in the narrative is there a magic ring, Invisibility Cloak, sonic screwdriver, or use of The Force to get the heroes out of any desperate predicament --just old-fashioned instinct, intuition, and endurance.

Why Dystopias Really Do Actually Suck

Despite the primary character focus of young teens wrestling with budding relationship issues, there isn't a trace of any emo vampires or werewolves anywhere in the story. It does feature genetically-engineered killer hornets, though --which may just represent the first time in our adult lives that we've experienced recurrent bedwetting nightmares about stuff we've only actually READ about and not seen on a movie screen.

It not only smells your fear, it can also open doors and do higher math.

The Hunger Games are a far-fetched take on reality TV combined with a totalitarian government that rules with absolute authority. (Actually, now that we think on this some more, it's probably not THAT far-fetched.) Life is pretty much all about keeping the government happy and not attracting attention to yourself. We are thrown right into the story by following the day-to-day life of Katniss Everdeen. Katniss lives with her depressed mom and her 12 year-old sister in the poorest part of a mining town. Her typical day is occupied by the matter of getting enough to eat (mostly through poaching) for her family every day --not a whole lot of time left over for MySpace chats with BFFs. Katniss lives in District Twelve, which is what the great state of West Virginia has come to. (Eerily the author did predict that someday Senator Robert Bryd would, indeed, pass away and presumably his beloved state came apart without someone to fight for all that extra pork.)

She's too busy working out ways to put an arrow down your gullet.

NOT Hermione Granger. She's too busy working out ways to put an arrow down your gullet.

For the benefit of every Cracked reader OTHER than the three of you who remember studying Greek mythology in junior high school, there's a strong parallel to the legend of Theseus, where Athens had to send "tributes" in the form of sons and daughters to the island of Crete to be eaten by the Minotaur, in exchange for which the rest of Athens would be graciously allowed to not be squished beneath Crete's bootheel. The society in "Hunger Games" is somewhat similar except for that bit about the Minotaur --instead the "tributes" are expected to kill one another in a tricked-out arena full of booby traps, flamethrowers, and poisoned berries. (This is also the part where the nightmare-inducing killer hornets comes in.)

It should be noted that there WAS at one time a District Thirteen, but it appears that they actually had the nerve to openly rebel against their Cretean masters and folks tend not to talk much about that District these days. Suzanne Collins is vague about whether the government dispatched a squad of ridiculously-armed giant robots, dropped a load of sarin gas, or just sent Samuel L. Jackson screaming at a platoon of Marines to "waste the motherfuckers," but however it was accomplished, there's definitely a post-Tiannenmen Square vibe going on...

"Remember District Thirteen?" "What District Thirteen?" "Exactly."

"Remember District Thirteen?" "What District Thirteen?" "Exactly."

In short order, Katniss's sister is chosen to be one of the two tributes from District Twelve, and Katniss nobly steps in to take her place. Of course, this being show business, the producers decide to add in a new wrinkle to boost their Nielsen scores --the introduction of a love interest for Katniss. Which ends up being Peeta Mellark, the other contestant from District Twelve. Yes, nothing like concocting a little Hollywood Lovin' to keep the viewers' attention focused, and make us sort-of forget that the whole point of this exercise is to freakin' KILL EACH OTHER FOR ENTERTAINMENT.

Good thing we viewers know REAL romance when we see it.

Good thing we viewers know REAL romance when we see it.

Somehow in spite of all this Katniss remains true to her badass roots and she and Peeta manage to come out of it as the victors, an all-time first for District Twelve. Then, as tends to happen in these matters, there's a last-minute Rules Change and they're ordered to kill one another. Katniss isn't having any of that and instead prepares for a little live-action seppuku in front of the home audience. The Wise And Beneficent Government graciously allows both Katniss and Peeta to live, but now there's this little matter of defying the will of the almighty state. Katniss returns home a reluctant hero, happy to be out of the public spotlight, but no sooner has the second book in the series gotten underway than the President himself drops in on Katniss --in her home-- to sip some tea and offer some sagely, fatherly advice.

Oh, who are we kidding? There's no way the President is gonna be played by anyone other than Ian McDiarmid.

Oh, who are we kidding? There's no way the President is gonna be played by anyone other than Ian McDiarmid.

Essentially Katniss and Peeta had damned well better continue their charade of being in love if they want to stay alive. Oh, and coincidentally there's been another Rules Change --they've got to go BACK and participate in another round of Hunger Games since it's the 75th Anniversary and all. It eventually transpires that this is a ploy by the Evil President (see above) to silence Katniss once and for all in a socially-acceptable manner, seeing as how the mere mention of her name is starting to trigger open revolts in some of the other districts.

Ordinarily this kind of near-future dystopic storytelling style would only appeal to fans of V For Vendetta or perhaps Red Dawn. But from whence cometh all that love and adoration from the 10-16 year-old female demographic? The answer:

The Love Triangle as a Plot Device

Yes, while Katniss parades her phony (or is it?) love for Peeta, there's another young man from her hometown who's ready to give his heart to her: Gale Hawthorne.

"Oh no," we hear you cry, "not more Team-Edward-versus-Team-Jacob clusterfuckery!" Relax. Since Gale and Peeta are, by all accounts, both actually good people, it's a little trickier. Both would be good for Katniss --there's none of that "boy scout/bad boy" dynamic going on and you're actually rooting for both of 'em.

Although it is hard to completely ignore that whole Han-Solo-versus-Luke-Skywalker thing that so engrossed us in 1981-82...

Although it is hard to completely ignore that whole Han-Solo-versus-Luke-Skywalker thing that so engrossed us in 1981-82...

Besides, Gale would easily stake Edward and roast his sparkly flesh on a spit, and Peeta would have no problem snaring Jacob and baking him into a (tastefully decorated) pie. The books are refreshingly sparse with all that dreamy-eyed stuff --there's no time for fluttery romantic imaginings when there's never any hot water, you're on the brink of starvation and the Gestapo could show up at any moment.

In spite of this omission "The Hunger Games" series has become incredibly popular and spawned legions of fans that actually GET the message: that all-seeing, all-knowing totalitarian governments are just not cool, not even when they provide envelope-pushing reality TV for you. There are "Hunger Games" t-shirts, iPhone apps, and of course tons of the signature "Mockingjay" jewelry that ends up representing the underground resistance.

Well, it IS a little easier to conceal from trigger-happy stormtroopers than a Guy Fawkes mask...

Well, it IS a little easier to conceal from trigger-happy stormtroopers than a Guy Fawkes mask...

This week the third and final book in the series, Mockingjay, hits bookstores in an event normally associated with the next installment of Twilight or Harry Potter (or our personal favorite: Lord of The Rings IV: Aragorn's Revenge, which would appear to be held up in Development Hell). Bookstores across the country are holding Hunger Games parties, complete with prizes and panel discussions and even costume contests.

(Yes, you read that right: costume contests. Based on a near-future dystopia where everyone's poor and miserable and oppressed and the main cast lives in a goddamn mining town.)

We Googled "West Virginia Miner" and came up with this. We're pretty sure we can pull this off --we'll be a shoe-in.

We Googled "West Virginia Miner" and came up with this. We're pretty sure we can pull this off --we'll be a shoe-in.

How will it all end? Will Katniss make her choice? (Or will the author fly in the face of literary convention and allow her to pick both?) Will the rebellion be brutally put down or will it reach all the way to the Capitol? Which beloved characters will be tragically killed off? (Come on, that always happens.) What the hell's up with District Thirteen? And most importantly, will there be any more super-intelligent killer hornet scenes? You know, just so we can get a sense of how often we should being doing laundry...

Oh dear god no PLEASE no ohgodohgodohgod

Oh dear god no PLEASE no ohgodohgodohgod