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One of The Hunger Games' most interesting aspects is its critical satire of reality TV. Author Suzanne Collins has cited reality TV as part of the inspiration behind the series: "Collins says the idea for the brutal nation of Panem came one evening when she was channel-surfing between a reality show competition and war coverage. "I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way." [1] Although the point may be lost on some of the series' more obtuse readers, in general, it's not one of her more subtle ones. By portraying the hunger games as reality TV in her dystopia, Collins holds up a mirror to modern society and its consumption of reality TV. Here are some of the lessons to take away:
  1. Reality TV has an overall negative impact on its viewers. The citizens of Panem, particularly the Capitol dwellers become hardened to murder, choosing favorites and rooting for their "successes". Nevermind the fact that these participants were innocent children, for the most part unwillingly chosen to take part in the carnage. The Hunger Games make homicide into a game, something for the people to bet on. The parallels between death and "being voted off the island" are undeniable. In fact, recent studies done by researchers at the University of Linz have found that reality TV can negatively affect its viewers -- subjects who read stories that read like a scene from The Jersey Shore did worse on a subsequent general knowledge test than did subjects who read a story in which the character did nothing stupid [2].
  2. Reality TV has an overall negative impact on its participants. This one is even easier to see than the first. The Games take a group of children and turn them into murders, or, victims. Aside from that atrocity, the Games strip their participants of their dignity, of their freedom, and of their ability to discern right from wrong. Past participants have gone mad (like Anne), been forever shackled to life in the limelight (like Finnick), had their loved ones removed (like Johanna), or become addicted to various drugs (like Haymitch and the "morphlings"). It also inflicts an endless stream of nightmares and terrors upon its survivors, as evidenced by Haymitch, Peeta, and Katniss. Moreover, it becomes difficult for survivors to reintegrate with their community; they feel cut off, naturally, after having survived an experience that their loved ones can never truly understand. From a casual glance, it would seem that many of past reality TV participants are not better off for the experience.
  3. Reality TV is dehumanizing. Another important lesson from Collins is that reality TV can make its participants sub-human; homicide is ok in the Games, contestants are treated like roosters in a cock fight. Bet on them, favor the most promising, and don't mourn the casualties. Peeta and the other participants in the 75th Hunger Games overturn this attitude by appealing to their better nature, reminding them of their own humanity.
  4. Reality TV encourages cruelty. It makes for better entertainment. The Gamemakers of Panem realize this as well. Katniss notes on occasion that they would prefer a final showdown between competitors rather than to wipe them out with "disasters". We see this in reality TV as well; we revel in the more outlandish and difficult tasks and taskmasters -- they make for good TV.


---- [1] http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/print/20080609/9915-a-dark-horse-breaks-out.html [2] http://bodyodd.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/06/13/6851542-watching-jersey-shore-might-make-you-dumber-study-suggests

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