written by Merry O’Brien
Can those of us who aspire to live simply and thread lightly learn anything from Hollywood these days?
The Hunger Games, a trilogy turned movie franchise, is set in the post-apocalyptic country Panem. The Capitol of the country takes its wealth from the sweat and blood of its 12 enslaved districts that produce goods such as coal, wheat, and electronics while living in dire poverty and never enjoying the fruit of their labors. The Capitol residents, in contrast, live in a bubble of plenty, surrounded by fences to keep out the workers of their world. They are addicted to reality TV, which numbs their senses to the kids who toil to produce their fancy hats and instant access to elaborate meals.
After watching any good action movie, many kids, tweens, teens, and even adults who have viewed the movie go home wanting more and desiring to have some sort of connection with the movie. You can hear the kids talking in the theatre bathroom after the show excitedly about the costumes and fight scenes. Search for “Hunger Games,” and you’ll find tons of articles touting ways to echo what viewers have seen on screen. “Capitol Couture” teaches you to apply thick, white cake makeup, like Effie, a Hunger Games Capitol resident, or the real life upper class did years ago. One how-to article gushes “you’ll earn the nickname Effie!” Eyes sparkle with mica, flimsy synthetic fabrics shine in gaudy Jerseylicious splendor, and spiky heels help us point our best breasts forward.
I search for the ironic tone in these articles and come up empty. Where is the awareness? Do viewers know that, throughout centuries, white makeup was used to convey the message, “I did not work for my food. No sun from the field has touched my face. I have slaves for that.” How many of us are aware that the term “redneck” originally referred to sunburned farmers in the field and union workers in the mines, who wore red bandannas and proudly fought for safety standards and fair pay?
It is no mistake that author Suzanne Collins contrasted powdery faces to coal-smudged ones. This is a tale of America – past, present, and future. We have struggled courageously against slavery to the Company Store, lifted ourselves out of the Great Depression, fought against racist Nazis, expanded the vote to all, moved backwards at times, and struggled forwards again. There is a constant push-pull of progress. The fate of our country lies always in our hands and in the strength of our American values.
Although the message might be lost on some, there is no subtly here. The Hunger Games is not a futuristic “what is to come” tale; it is a portrayal of the worst elements of our current reality. Indeed, we may be grotesque to the children in Africa who mine the raw coltan needed for our iphones or the Chinese youth who work 70 hour weeks in work camps to assemble them.
I don’t expect the movie to generate a trend towards simplicity and self-reliance in every viewer. After all, the consumer engine drives on and is fueled by wealth and influence beyond measure. What I did expect, however, was the typical commercialization and therefore trivialization of the theme. I expected, and strangely did not find, a groundswell of interest in applying olive-toned, woodsy makeup and shopping for Appalachian inspired cotton frocks, like the hand-me-down that Katniss wears at the Reaping. Even on Etsy, the awesome go-to for the cottage industry–and real-world Hob–I found cheap, painted movie logo t-shirts by the hundreds where I expected beautifully curated favorite lists full of coal-miner’s daughter inspired, depression-era clothing and handmade home goods.
If you are a fan of the series like me, let’s use this opportunity to bring awareness to the social implications of the simple living movement and remind ourselves why we strive to tread lightly.
• Take the Interactive Quiz: “How Many Slaves Work for You?” and learn how to reduce your number.
• Read “Why Katniss is a Feminist Character: And It’s Not Because She Wields a Bow and Beats Boys Up,” then join the conversation in the comments.
• Appreciate Katniss’ self-reliant, Appalachian way of life: learn to identify berries, cook dandelion stew, and prepare wild rabbit.