YA Fiction and Reality TV

Posted by Wine Stained Lips | Posted on 11:58 AM

I have a confession to make. I enjoy reading YA fiction. Don’t judge…you know you read Harry Potter and Twilight. I don’t always read YA, but when you find a good book, you find a good book, regardless if it came from the teen section. My most recent obsession has been Cassandra Clare, but before her there was Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games. I picked it up by chance one day in the book store (I saw two other adults reading books from the series) and decided to give it a whirl. I was hooked immediately. It reminded me of Orwell’s 1984 with a little of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery thrown in. The three book series, which includes The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, is set is post-apocalyptic North America, now called Panem. It has been divided up into 12 districts. There were originally 13 but after an uprising the thirteenth district was destroyed…or was it? As a result of that rebellion, each year the 12 remaining districts must randomly choose a boy and girl, ages 12 to 18, to represent them in the Hunger Games where they must fight to the death on live television. Pretty heavy stuff for teens if you ask me. The 12 districts are ruled by the Capitol a.k.a. Big Brother and the Hunger Games serve as a reminder to the districts that no one is above the Capitol’s power, not even children. The story revolves around the two District 12 “tributes”, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, who become symbols of the revolution against the Capitol. I don’t want to give away any more because I’m hoping you will read the books, but what I love about this series is that it is almost a satire of our current society. The totalitarian government is an obvious reflection of the fears that we will one day have a similar fate. Unfortunately our government thinks that the more they watch us the safer we are, but at what price? Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Beyond that, one of the things that affected me most in the books is the way the people who live in the Capitol view the Hunger Games. To them it is pure entertainment, not teenagers brutally killing each other. Collins’ modeled the Hunger Games after the Coliseum of Ancient Rome and has discussed how her inspiration for the series came when she was channel-flipping between war coverage and reality TV. We look back now and call the Romans barbaric, but have we really changed that much? Do we not still enjoy seeing people’s pain and suffering? Reality TV has taken over our society. We love the idea of watching “real life” instead of scripted drama. The Hunger Games are the epitome of “good” reality TV.

There’s the Host: Caesar Flickerman is the charismatic host who interviews all the tributes before they go into the arena. He is the Hunger Games version of Ryan Seacrest.

There’s the Judges: The Gamemakers might as well be Judges because they decide how the games go. Plutarch Heavensbee could be considered Panem’s version of Simon Cowell.

Then there’s the Makeover. We love to see someone go from ugly duckling, to beautiful swan. Extreme Makeover, America’s Next Top Model, even The Biggest Loser, every good reality TV show has a makeover episode and each of the Hunger Games competitors is beautified before they go into the arena to be slaughtered.

Of course there must be a Romance: Fake reality-TV romances are a staple. Katniss and Peeta’s fake romance is what makes them so popular with the viewers and helps them survive the games.

And don’t forget about the All-Stars: Catching Fire focuses on the Quarter Quell, a special edition of the Hunger Games, in which former winners come back and compete. Practically every major reality show has had an “All-Stars” edition, from MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge to Survivor All-Stars.

Then there is the idea of the Survival of the Fittest. In competitive reality TV shows, we love to watch how the game plays out. Contestants will lie and betray their fellow castmates just to get ahead and we eat it up. Except for the murder, are the Hunger Games not just like Survivor? Stranded in a remote area, forced to survive, only one will win…

Each year the envelope is pushed a little farther. Shows like Jerry Springer and Jersey Shore get the most attention because of their shock value. What are they going to shock us with next? I’ll admit I indulge in reality TV. We all do. I have watched Jersey Shore, although I liken it to watching a train wreck—you just can’t look away. Reality TV is our new Coliseum. I am constantly amazed at how many people are prepared to be publicly humiliated, harassed and embarrassed on these shows. The Romans’ love for the morbidity of death is what pushed the gladiators to kill innocent Christians in the arena. By choosing to watch this, the people welcomed their own decline by diluting the social values that are needed to maintain a healthy society. Is reality TV not doing the same thing? Is it not destroying the moral values of our culture by changing people’s values through the images they see? Are we doomed to repeat our mistakes? Who is to say that in fifty years we won’t be watching our own version of the Hunger Games?

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