We Are the Capitol: Thoughts on the Hunger Games Theme Park
A couple of weeks ago, Lionsgate announced that they would be opening several Hunger Games theme parks — one in Atlanta, one in Macau, China and one in Dubai. According to the Guardian:
Guests will be greeted by actors dressed as District 12’s downtrodden inhabitants and get the chance to visit locations such as the Hob black market and Peeta Mellark’s bakery. Other rides will include a “lavish” rollercoaster, built to imitate the train in which Katniss and Peeta make the journey to the Capitol and their meeting with almost certain death.
The media discussion on these theme parks is slightly unclear, but it seems like this won’t be a “Hunger Games Land,” so much as part of a larger Lionsgate-themed entertainment park, including other franchises like Twilight. Even so, the decision to make the dystopian world of The Hunger Games into an interactive visitors’ attraction, like Harry Potter World or Cinderella’s castle in Disneyworld, is troubling to say the least, if also rather unsurprising.
But this theme park is simply one more piece in an extended marketing campaign that conveys the book’s dystopian message far more clearly than any book series could do in isolation. The whole point of dystopian fiction is to hold a magnifying glass to the darker parts of our society, and the media reaction to The Hunger Games feels like our society jumping under that magnifying glass, waving its arms and shouting “look at me!” The Hunger Games mirrors the perversions of our own media, and our media responds to the Hunger Games by acting out those perversions even more intensely. At this point, the media around The Hunger Games feels like particularly depressing performance art, with us all playing the role of the Capitol.
This started with the marketing of the first movie, when the media became obsessed with the question of “Team Peeta” vs “Team Gale.” Time may have warped my memory slightly, but I remember every discussion of this exciting upcoming new YA movie focussing on the supposed love triangle and who readers liked best. This was partly due to people underestimating the intelligence of young female readers and assuming that all works that appeal to them must be marketed like Twilight, but the irony was intense. In The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta have to fight for their lives, and viewers in the Capitol only care about them because of their supposed “starcrossed love story.” Will they kiss? Will one be forced to kill the other? Can they both possibly survive? They’re forced to perform this romance in order to win medicine and support, and the people of the Capitol are shown to be callous and selfish individuals who care more for their own entertainment than about the suffering they see on screen.
And then, in the real world, we have a movie about a dystopian society where children are forced to fight to the death for people’s entertainment, and where a young girl volunteers herself for this tournament to save her sister, and the main question, asked over and over again, is “Who is she in love with? Who’s the best guy for this girl?” As though the romance — barely there in the case of Gale and clearly performed in the case of Peeta — is the main thing that viewers will take from the story.
Things went further with Catching Fire, with two particularly memorable marketing campaigns. First, CoverGirl released a tie-in make up range, inspired by the fashions of the Capitol. They literally built a product range around the idea that people, as fans of the series, would want to emulate the look of the ridiculous, selfish, frivolous people of the Capitol, very clearly placing us on their side of the series’ brewing war. Worse, they released twelve looks on their website, one for each district in Panem — the makeup wasn’t just based around the looks of the Capitol, but invoked the parade of Tributes in the series, where children from each district are dressed up in district-themed clothes and makeup and forced to wave to the crowd to win support. By making it a Capitol-themed range but then basing it around the districts and tributes, CoverGirl basically allowed customers to take on the role of Hunger Games fans in the Capitol, recreating those exciting looks seen on teenagers about to go to their deaths.
Then, there was the infamous promotion with Subway, selling Hunger Games-themed sandwiches. If the Capitol had sandwich shops, I’m sure they’d jump on this idea — a sandwich themed around each contestant! In the real world, you could watch a movie about people starving, and then go and enjoy a starvation-themed sandwich to commemorate your love of the series.
And now we may have multiple theme parks. Walk around District 12 and pretend you’re oppressed, just like your favorite characters! Tour the places where they suffered. Take selfies at Gale’s whipping post. Pretend you’re taking part in a Reaping. Does that sound familiar? It should to anyone who’s read the books. All old Hunger Games arenas in the series are preserved, and people from the Capitol can visit them as tourist attractions, watching Games highlights, visiting the places where notable events happened, and even taking part in re-enactments.
The Hunger Games is a dystopia criticizing, among other things, the superficiality of the media and reality TV. What could make that point better than our society seeing the Hunger Games, seeing the exaggerated parody of ourselves in the Capitol, and then mimicking the Capitol’s behavior, including our own oppression-themed theme parks and Hunger Games-esque reality TV? The movie industry is unwittingly satirizing itself, accidentally providing a scathing indictment of its own superficiality.
With Mockingjay Part 2 coming out this week, I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.