Screens and the Spectacle: What The Hunger Games can teach us about our relationship with media


Let us suppose that we are offered a choice, the red pill or the blue pill. Take the red pill and the sorrow of the world melts away, injustice, war, unpleasantness never reaches you. The evils of the world happen, it is merely that one’s perception of these events is masked by entertainment, advertising, and endless scrolling of status updates. With this pill clickbait is the newest, most popular drug. In this reality, ground-breaking genuine journalism is replaced by lists of “The top ten things you didn’t know about Pete Davidson.” On the other hand, we have the blue pill which, should you choose it, presents one with reality and the ugly side of humanity with no respite. With this pill escapism and sanctuary from the horrors of life is impossible, every Youtube video, every song and television show reveals the barbaric, pathetic nature of reality and the reality of our pathetic, barbaric nature. Thankfully we live in a world where this choice is not absolute, a world where we as individuals get to choose the measure by which we live our life, as clickbait addicts, realists or somewhere in between. With this measure in mind, this essay would pose the question: What can Young adult literature tell us about our relationship and obsession with screens, with the Hyper real in relation to reality? In this essay we will strive to dissect this question and the role Young Adult Literature plays in educating adolescents of the opiate nature of entertainment, as though John Green revealed himself to be the wizard behind the curtain, doling out prophecy with every novel sold.

The main focus of this essay will be Suzanne Collins’ young adult series The Hunger Games, in which the author creates a dystopian representation of America, or at least a fictional version anyway. In this world, North America (or Panam) is controlled by a small ruling class, namely The Capitol, who use an annual televised slaughter event to not only strike fear into the hearts of the oppressed but also to blindside those of the complacent upper-class who could otherwise feel empathy for the children slaughtered on screen. The districts are the oppressed, controlled and intimidated by the Capitol, despite outnumbering them tenfold. Collins perpetrates this concept realistically (despite the series’ futuristic setting) by using technology that has been integrated in western society since the late 1920s, namely Television. From its earliest introduction the television has become an addictive spectacle, capable of manipulating a nation. Point and fact, historian Joe Moran notes that the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2nd 1952 held “around 20.4 million”[1] people enraptured. The likes of this event would become commonplace in western society and particularly American society from this point forwards. The assignation of JFK, LiveAid, 9/11, the inauguration of Barack Obama, the funeral of Michael Jackson all drew record crowds to a television set and undoubtedly these events illustrate the hypnotic and suggestive nature of Television. They illustrate television as an art form but also a drug. The Tube (as it is colloquially referred to) is able to relay hope, love and comfort as well as terror and awe. Collins has the Capitol use the Games to perpetrate the latter while the defector Plutarch and rebel District 13 use the image of the Mockingjay (a fictional species created by the Capitol which grew rampantly beyond their control) to perpetrate the prior. Regardless of intentions the effectiveness of these televised spectacles is undoubtable. This essay would argue that this is due to the voyeuristic nature of television, as David Foster Wallace argues “Television screens afford access only one way…we can relax, unobserved, as we ogle.”[2] By this we understand that the viewer lowers their guard and allows for manipulation and control by those who control the images they see.

Among the murder and gore of the games, the physical, emotional and psychological destruction of the district’s children there is, ever present, the Capitol fanfare, the Capitol seal and the headshots of the Tributes slayed.[3] This is more than a mere recap of the day’s events, it is a threat and it is Tribute to the Capitol system. It is the Capitol saying “Watch how we take your children and spill their blood. Watch the child suffer for the sins of the father.” This portrayal of the Games reflects the argument proposed by scholar Guy Debord in Society of the Spectacle. The Games are merely this; A spectacle. They draw the viewer’s attention and hold it. All that needs to be done then is to reiterate the concepts and beliefs that the Capitol stand for. Debord argues: “The spectacle…is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production…[its] form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals.”[4] Collins proposes and creates a system that relies on the spectacle of the Hunger Games to prolong the existence of a government, and this in turn is arguably an allegory for the televised election process in modern day America.

Where American elections have become a popularity contest based in charisma and showmanship over say policy or anything vaguely significant to the political process, Pannam’s Capitol has been controlled for decades by President Snow “a small, thin man”[5] who is hardly the charismatic bulwark that the American people have progressively favoured in latter years. This poses the question; how does the government of the Capitol stay in control without charisma? It is all well and good understanding a concept but without the ability to perform one is, as Wilde put it, merely a eunuch at a haram; seeing the act being done daily but unable to do it themselves. The answer and arguable cornerstone in the Capitol’s control of the people lies in one man, the talk-show host and MC Caesar Flickerman. Wallace in his essay E Unibus Pluram suggests an Ubermensch character, an individual who can not only perform before the “megagaze”[6] of a nation but indeed thrive before them. With this understanding we see Flickerman to be the puppeteer of a nation, the monkey to Snow’s organ grinder. Now, while it is true that Flickerman has not been present for all 75 Games and thus could not have been the key manipulation tool in the early years of the Capitol, we may make an exception, due in part to  Political Theorist William E. Connolly’s argument that (the early games) “attempt to meet the claims of the self and the claims of order in a setting which makes it difficult to do both.”[7] In other words, the Districts in choosing between self-preservation to obey the Capitol and self-sacrifice to escape the system, chose the prior with mere hushed undertones of the latter for their own survival. They exist, like us, in a world where they may choose the measure by which they live their lives and in doing so choose secure autocracy over radical freedom. Debord explains this thusly:

“The Spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than “That which appears is good, that which is good appears.” The attitude which it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance”[8]

The districts accept their role as sacrificial slaughter because it is all that they have known or been shown.

However, it is notable that while in our reality for every Flickerman, for every Piers Morgan and Killer Keemstar there is a Walter Kronkite and a David Frost, it is an intentional absence in Collins’ world. This essay would argue that this was deliberate on Collins part to not only create a deep mistrust for adolescent readers in the media and isolationism but also to raise in them a curiosity, the refusal to be spoon-fed information, to accept the word of the system as absolute. While some may argue that Collins does indeed provide an alternative to Snow and the Capitol through Plutarch and District 13 this essay would urge a reader to look again at the facts presented. While it has been clear throughout the series that Katniss is not in the least bit charismatic before the lens of a camera, that she is not one of these “absolute geniuses at seeming unwatched”[9] like say her fellow Tribute Peeta Mellark is during his interviews with Flickerman, she has the potential to become one of these “highly trained individuals”[10] that Wallace speaks of. Unlike Flickerman or Peeta, Katniss’ performance prowess comes without an inch of theatrical nature. Her most powerful moments on a screen are as a result of her acts of compassion, a stark genuine reality that is so lacking in Peeta’s interviews. Katniss lives in a world where the Hyper reality of the screen is the norm, where everything is a scripted event and by being so nothing appears to be scripted. Every detail of the Capitol’s broadcasts are scrutinised and censored to perpetrate an positive autocratic aura, a perception of an individual or event distilled through Snow himself. Katniss is a wildcard, her genuine reactions, untampered emotions, how she carries herself while filming Plutarch’s Propos (propaganda segments) is something that Panam has not seen in generations. By performing in a way that is not the social norm, that is genuine in a sea of fakery, she becomes the centre of attention, she becomes the Mockingjay. This is all well and good but her performance, like Peeta’s, like Flickerman’s is distilled, not through Snow but through President Coin of District 13. Collins here seems to suggest that regardless of actions or intentions, be they real or hyper real, the message of one’s performance lies in who the editor is.

Where the Capitol citizens themselves are concerned, they represent a society that is obsessed with images, where image is both the poison and the medicine, mirrored in President Snow’s penchant for drinking poison with his rivals and his perpetually bleeding mouth. The citizens of the Capitol are controlled utterly, not by fear like the districts but by preoccupation and escapism. This is displayed in multiple ways throughout the series, firstly with their addiction to the games, the perversion and dehumanisation of children into icons, images, sex symbols, etc. Secondly, they are blindsided with the management and curation of their own physical image, take for instance Tigris who for the sake of fashion mutilates her body in surgical procedures until she is a “grotesque, semi-feline mask”[11] of her former self. To begin however let us address the prior, the warped perception of the Capitol citizens due to the over-saturation of images in their society.

Entertainment and escapism are concepts, that at their core, present us with alternatives to the brutality of modern politics and the dull realistic nature of life beyond screens. As the Essayist Olivia Laing highlights when remarking on her relationship with Twitter in her thirties: “I wanted to know what was going on. I wanted to be stimulated…I wanted to click and click and click until my synapses exploded, until I was flooded with superfluity. I wanted to hypnotise myself.”[12] These concepts are fundamental to the Capitol Citizens. It doesn’t matter that Katniss is not actually pregnant prior to the 75th Games, all that matters is that it makes for a more exciting narrative, and this is why it is accepted by the Capitol Citizens. They are not gullible, on the contrary outside of their dull confines the Citizens are proven to be shrewd and resourceful, how else would Effie Trinket, the flamboyant escort of District 12, have survived the rebel occupation of the Capitol? The citizens are rather alienated from the system, from the hand that feeds them, by the sheer interactive aspect of the media they consume they become addicted and therefore unquestioning of it. This excess is everywhere in their society, from their opulent wealth to the purging of their stomachs at feasts to consume more.  Every aspect of their lives becomes influenced by their gluttony and obsession with the Hunger Games. Katniss’ Mockingjay pin and braid become fashionable among the Citizens after her victory in the first novel, Tributes are often sexualised and prostituted to wealthy Citizens, even Citizen’s careers are influenced by the Games, aspirations like stylists and escorts deep rooted in them from childhood. Debord notes “In a topsy-turvey world the true is a moment of the false.”[13] In all the false images peddled to the people of the Capitol there is some greater truth to be found. That truth is the Citizens of the Capitol are repelled by the truth. This all stems back to their ability to interact with their media. Like the rise in popularity of VR headsets and the interactive nature of social media, the Citizens of the capitol are able to partake in the Games they so value without becoming victims to them like the child Tributes of the 12 Districts; “Connection…of a risk-free kind, in which the communicator need never be rejected, misunderstood or overwhelmed.”[14]

One of the more disturbing aspects of this system is the prostitution of Tributes, particularly Finnick Odair. Debord notes that “the spectacle accompanies the abundance of commodities”[15] and while the Games provide numerous products for the Capitol to consume, such as the arenas becoming tourist destinations, the most pathetic and tragic of all is the selling of the Victor’s body. This essay would argue that this is a source of contention for the Capitol Citizens, an unintentional peak behind the carefully curated theatrical curtain. While prior to their meeting the Victor they have merely been attracted and obsessed with the image filtered to them by the Capitol and spurred on by the prestige the claiming of the Victor’s body will garner from their perverse peers “Encouraged by how many other people were going frantic with longings of every possible dimension and heft.”[16] In reality they are met with the actual embodiment of their lust and find them wanting or rather find the narrative they have constructed in their minds to be folly, to have been devoid of empathy. Finnick states in the third novel “To make themselves feel better my patrons would make presents of money”[17] This omission of guilt is one of the few times we see the Citizens interact with the genuine, the reality of the world they inhabit and realise, uncomfortably that these children are human too. This is in contrast with the realities of prostitution in our world and the commodification of love in the past twenty years, i.e. Tindr, Grindr, etc. Philosopher Alain Badiou notes that this type of love or rather lust aims to “avoid any immediate challenge, any deep and genuine experience from which love is woven.”[18] Collins however uses this interaction between Finnick and his Patrons as a means to explore the opposite, to delve into the reaction of one who has forever been surrounded by the false and the inaccuracy of images when presented with reality. The Citizens are used to the dehumanisation of these children (even taken so far as to be genetically altered into mutts by the end of the 74th Games) that, to be presented with the flesh and blood child is disorientating for them. Collins uses the Citizens in this aspect to highlight western society’s increasing disenfranchisement with genuine human connection and the commodification of “Zero risk loves.”[19]

 Furthermore, the Citizens of the Capitol and their interactions with the Games on a whole are merely something to be bragged about, a status symbol as it were, like the wood of which a table is made. Take for instance the silver parachutes to be dealt to the Tribute of the sponsor’s choice, it is not that the Sponsor wants the Tribute to survive but rather they thrive on prolonging their entertainment. This presents us with a curious allegory for social media in so much as the interactions Capitol Citizens have with the Games mirrors western society’s ability to interact with television programs, youtubers and twitch streamers through social media.

In conclusion, Collins’ Hunger Games series is a study into the continuing descent of American politics and social consciousness, into the realms of social media and fake news. Young Adult literature for all its clichés and love triangles understands the modern digital landscape into which adolescents are born, one ruled and controlled by images, spectacles and the ventriloquism of power. It is not only a key genre in educating adolescents of these important issues that are so vital and often overlooked but also authors, like Collins, send adolescent audiences away from their work with a clear Nostradamus-esque message:

Tread lightly around screens. No source is absolute. Every image has an agenda.

Now, more than ever, this should be a lesson all for us all.


Badiou, Alain, and Nicolas Truong. In Praise of Love. The New Press, 2009.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Scholastic, 2010.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2014.

Connolly, Willaim E. Politics and Ambiguity. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.
Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black and Red, 1977.

-Laing, Olivia. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Canongate Books, 2017

Moran, Joe. “Why Elizabeth II’s 1953 Coronation is the day that changed television.” Radio Times.Com, Radio Times, 2 June 2013, 6:23am,

Wallace, David Foster. “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, vol. 13, no. 2, 1993, pp. 151–194.,

[1] Moran, Joe. “Why Elizabeth II’s 1953 Coronation is the day that changed television.” Radio Times.Com, Radio Times, 2 June 2013, 6:23am,

[2] Wallace, David Foster. “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, vol. 13, no. 2, 1993, pp. 151–194., pp.152

[3]  Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2014. Pp.155-156

[4] Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black and Red, 1977. No.6

[5] Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2014. Pp. 71

[6] Wallace, David Foster. “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, vol. 13, no. 2, 1993, pp. 151–194., pp.154

[7] Connolly, Willaim E. Politics and Ambiguity. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1987. pp 72

[8] Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black and Red, 1977. No.12

[9] Wallace, David Foster. “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, vol. 13, no. 2, 1993, pp. 151–194., pp.154

[10] ibid

[11]Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Scholastic, 2010. pp.372

[12] Laing, Olivia. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Canongate Books, 2017, pg. 220

[13] Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black and Red, 1977. no. 9

[14] Laing, Olivia. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Canongate Books, 2017, pg. 227-228

[15] Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black and Red, 1977.  no.65

[16] Laing, Olivia. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Canongate Books, 2017, pg. 224

[17] Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Scholastic, 2010. Pp.199

[18]Badiou, Alain, and Nicolas Truong. In Praise of Love. The New Press, 2009. pp.8

[19] ibid

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