thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

GLG Responds to the Hunger Games: Without Hunger, It’s Only Games

In dystopian literature, Food, Hunger Games on March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Like many of you out there, the GLG folks could not wait to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. And this last weekend, we did! Given our serious fandom of The Hunger Games more generally, and Katniss specifically, we thought we would do a little HG response fun. So we asked the GLG folks to pick a particular topic from the film and respond to it. This week, read on for thoughts on HG and violence, terrifying technology, Hunger Games fashion, and much more! And, if you have a topic you want to discuss, post away in the comments or send us a question at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

Guest Contributor Jeni R.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for survival stories. Starting with homesteading in Little House on the Prairie and the lost-in-the-wilderness Hatchet, I’ve been intrigued by the way they force us to reexamine the tools of power and privilege in our own lives. Perhaps that background is why I loved reading The Hunger Games series so much, and it also might be one of the reasons why the movie adaptation left me so disappointed. In the books, the problem of hunger is a primary concern. It determines relationships: Katniss and Gale become friends while hunting to feed their families; Katniss differentiates herself from Peeta who grew up with “the smell of baked bread”; Katniss dismisses Prim’s cat Buttercup as “another mouth to feed.” What the characters eat is described in sensory, specific detail: eating an egg-sized portion of lamb stew with prunes sent by parachute; learning to dip bread in mugs of hot chocolate on the train; sharing strawberries, goat cheese, and bakery bread in the woods; admiring Greasy Sae’s latest soup concoction. Katniss’s “hollow days” in the Seam are an asset in the arena, and a stark contrast to the on-demand decadence of food in the Capitol. Food metaphors pervade even seemingly unrelated aspects of the story, such as the arena’s “cornucopia” of weapons, naming conventions (“katniss” root and “Panem” itself), and the description of sexual desire as a kind of hunger. At various times throughout the books, food is power, currency, privilege, barter, control, temptation, celebration, art, and connection.

In the movie, however, hunger largely disappeared, and with it the stakes for the characters and the interesting textual detail of the story. The food that is pictured in the film is secondary, more set dressing than subject. We get a glimpse of fantastical, futuristic pastries and meals on the way to the Capitol, but the food (or how remarkably different it is from District 12) is never discussed. In the arena, there is a quick shot of Katniss roasting a squirrel on a spit and sharing meat with Rue, but there is no mention of rationing supplies or even being hungry. Katniss feeds Peeta a spoonful or two of the broth and they push aside the still-full bowl dismissively. It’s not clear why blowing up the supplies that the Careers have stockpiled is even important. In this context, the stakes of the games are entirely lost, and it feels like the movie simply depicts class difference and the troubling exertion of authoritarian power. The book does this, of course, but it also does much more. Lastly, the focus on food and hunger in the books allows us to see these issues—and other important ones—through a much more accessible lens (“class,” “violence,” and “systems of power” are abstract ideas; food and hunger are not) that shines a brighter light on the ways our culture is closer to Panem than we might think.

Jeni R. is a teacher and PhD candidate at the University of Oregon, as well as a co-founder of No One Way Arts. She writes about food and poetry at http://breadbutterpoetry.wordpress.com/.

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  1. […] to thank our other amazing contributors Narinda Heng, Taylor D., Jennifer Lynn Jones, Austin H., Jeni R, Sarah H., and Gina L. for allowing us to post their thoughts on everything from rock climbing to […]

  2. […] has already been written on GLG about The Hunger Games movie. (For example: here, here, here, here, and here. Also, here.) But re-watching The Hunger Games, I began thinking about how the […]

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