Bread and Circuses

Oookay. This is going to take a minute.
So, you know The Hunger Games, right. Big, popular book/movie franchise? Of course you do. We all do. All right. Good start. It’s going to seem like this rant is all about The Hunger Games, but it’s also kinda not. You’ll see.
So here’s the deal. When those books were coming out and everybody was reading them, I flatly declined to read them. Two reasons.
1. I’m extraordinarily picky about YA. Not trying to be snooty. YA can be awesome and insightful and it can be…terrible, shallow and boring. Sifting to find the good stuff gets difficult.
And reason number 2: I am not a big fan of 1st person present tense. This is far and away my least favorite narrative choice and YA is filled to the rafters with 1st person present tense and I have only ever liked one of them: The Scorpio Races.
Anyhow, a while later, after giving the Hunger Games books the side-eye and moving on (I did read a few discussions on the material presented in the books, and appreciated some of the themes explored, but it was not enough to induce me to read) a movie came out called Winter’s Bone. It is one of those movies that is actually horribly depressing, but somehow also redemptive even when it’s kind of hopeless? You know the kind.
Well I loved it and was very impressed by what’s-her-name in the main role (yes I know her name now, everybody does). I don’t normally get into fangirling over actors and actresses, but I thought this chick was pretty impressive in this low-key, dark, sad role. When I heard that this actress was going to play Katniss in the Hunger Games movies, I thought “well, now I’m going to have to read those books because of my book-before-movie rule, and that actress is going to KILL that role. I’ll read them for that.”
So I read Hunger Games. Forgive me, O-devoted-fans-that-might-accidentally-happen-upon-this-post, but though I read it very speedily, it elicited a mere shrug from me. Once again, 1st-person-present-tense irks me to the high heavens, and I didn’t really find Katniss herself all that compelling to walk with. That’s not to say I didn’t like some of the important things the book was saying about the moral and material decadence of society, the faux half-life compassion in our culture*, and the astounding ways in which we can trick ourselves into forgetting about the reality of suffering by entertaining ourselves with it, or with something else. That’s some important stuff.
I had followed my rule, and I watched the movie. I enjoyed it, but it’s not going down in my all-time favorites or anything. Then Movie!Catching Fire came out, and I tried to force myself to read the book first, but once again, the narrative style had me betroubled and I said forget it (something I rarely do.) I watched the movie and I liked it.
I did not even attempt to read Mockingjay, because I now knew that the narrative style and I just didn’t get along. Suzanne Collins has CLEARLY written a compelling story that connects with a lot of people, so I’m not knocking her, but I knew I that it was just going to irritate me. But I committed book heresy and watched the movie anyway. (I have yet to watch the second due to baby-related restrictions on…my whole life).
The first Mockingjay movie punched me in the gut. I was near tears. I wrote a blog post about it (elsewhere). My husband and I discussed the depictions of desperate sacrifice by people who had no hope of surviving, but who gave in hopes that others would survive.
Okay, I really liked that movie. So what, right?
Well, this morning I read this article. It’s worth the read, though you can skip the first three paragraphs of box office earnings gobbledygook if you like, to get to the crux of it. Summary? Mockingjay 1 and 2, while still being quite successful, earned considerably less than the first two movies. Why is that, the author of the article asks?
Because the last two movies (the last book) don’t have the bread and circuses everyone came to expect. No fancy flaming gowns, no reality tv commentary, no tricked-out arena arsenals, no carefully contained/entertaining blood sports, and considerably less romantic drama. I’m not saying it is a perfect story, or a perfect movie, or that they get everything about war and revolution right. But I’m saying that it’s no longer covered in sparkles and glamour shots, and there’s some chewing material that can last you, if you’ll engage it.
So not as many people attended the arena this time.
The irony is gobsmacking. Of course this is not the first time someone pointed this out. The Hunger Games Capitol-style makeup line was a low-point in the self-awareness of the marketing campaign, at the very least, though I think (hope) most people realized that was pretty messed up. The Onion did a faux review where the reviewer did nothing but discuss the hotness levels of Peeta and Gale. It would seem that most people are aware that the depiction of the Capitol was an indictment on our own entertainment-obsessed behaviors and that the love triangle was beside the point.
But for all that, the box office numbers seem to tell the truer story. This is just my two cents, so there’s no need for anyone to put it in their pocket if they disagree (I LOVE disagreement. A good, logical debate will always win my heart), but I thought the third movie had the most meat and salt in it, and I guess that makes it the least easy to chew and swallow.
This should come as no surprise in a day and age where real world events are reduced to memes and hashtags, or else played 24 hours to feed either curiosity or anger, but eventually to the point of desensitization. But surprise me it did.
*Excellent article about the online half-life of grief.
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