So, am only reading fiction by women this year. Polished off books 2 and 3 in the Hunger Games trilogy last weekend. If you’ve been living under a rock this last 5 years, here’s the recap. Sometime (hundreds of years?) after a nuclear war, American civilisation is based around a hyper modern Capitol, with 12 (well, 13) districts which feed it. Those districts rebelled and were brutally suppressed. To remind everyone of this, every year, each district sends – from a lottery- a male and a female, aged 12 to 18 to fight to the death (last person standing), which is televised for the entertainment of the Capitol and as a reminder to everyone else who is in charge. In district 12 (the coal mining one), a young woman, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to take the place of her younger sister. Havoc ensues.
As others will have noted, presumably, this sort of ‘fight to the death’ thing is not new. The Romans did it, and we’ve been imagining our own societies doing it for some time now – Series 7: The Contenders, Battle Royale, Turkey Shoot and Punishment Park.
So, Collins’ success is in telling the story very well (it is a page turner, and she makes you care about the supporting cast) and in being refreshingly clear-eyed in the third book about how revolutions work and who tends not to survive them.
I don’ think feminism is the most interesting lens through which to read the books (maybe the films – which I want to see – are different). That said, reading the books alongside Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is probably something all young women could usefully do. Katniss is the Ilsa Lund in Casablanca– the fairly passive woman caught between Two Men Who Love Her.
Her act of rebellion (as opposed to her courage, which is constant) is to threaten to kill herself, and only in the third book does she start killing people (in the first two books there are a series of convenient accidents and plots that leave her blameless.) Then again she is sixteen; she’s allowed not to be the bad ass, the violent redeemer.
You could I suppose take a political economy line – “Coal miners fuck up the Capitol” (Timothy Mitchell, take a bow) but for me the most interesting take is to look at it as an example of and also critique of ‘militainment’ or ‘state violence translated into an object of pleasurable consumption’
Militainment is the title of a book by Roger Stahl–
Militainment, Inc. offers provocative, sometimes disturbing insight into the ways that war is presented and viewed as entertainment―or “militainment”―in contemporary American popular culture. War has been the subject of entertainment for centuries, but Roger Stahl argues that a new interactive mode of militarized entertainment is recruiting its audience as virtual-citizen soldiers. The author examines a wide range of historical and contemporary media examples to demonstrate the ways that war now invites audiences to enter the spectacle as an interactive participant through a variety of channels―from news coverage to online video games to reality television. Simply put, rather than presenting war as something to be watched, the new interactive militainment presents war as something to be played and experienced vicariously. Stahl examines the challenges that this new mode of militarized entertainment poses for democracy, and explores the controversies and resistant practices that it has inspired.
This volume is essential reading for anyone interested in the relationship between war and media, and it sheds surprising light on the connections between virtual battlefields and the international conflicts unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
Meanwhile, Siobahn McEvoy has lots of useful things to say – more about the Harry Potter series than The Hunger Games.
Here’s a quote
James Der Derian argues that ‘technology in the service of virtue has given rise to a global form of virtual violence, virtuous war’.The military-industrial-complex coupled with a complicit global media has produced a ‘military-industrial-media– entertainment-network’ or MIMENET that now can ‘seamlessly . . . merge the production, representation and execution of war’. Part of the military-entertainment-complex, ‘militainment’ comprises a large share of the entertainment market, and is ‘an important pedagogical project of US war practices’, supplementing the militarisation of schools, universities and daily life, perhaps particularly since 9 – 11. Through othering and dehumanisation, making war seem productive, exciting, heroic and glamorous, but mostly through making war pleasurable, ‘militainment’ helps to ‘construct the citizen’s identity in relation to war’, and helps normalise war as a tool of foreign policy. In addition, after 9– 11, as Der Derian writes ‘virtuous war’ is ‘played out by the military-industrial-media-entertainment network as our daily bread and nightly circus’.
Siobhan McEvoy-Levy (2015) Disarming ‘Militainment’: reading peace and resistance, Peacebuilding, 3:2, 200-217,
As McEvoy also points out – life is beginning to imitate art. There is a ‘salute’ in the books where you kiss the middle three fingers of your left hand and hold them aloft, as a sign of rebellion, defiance and solidarity. Well –
David Sim, ‘Thailand: Anti-Coup Protesters Adopt Hunger Games’ Three-Fingered Salute’, International Business Times, June 3, 2014,
David Sim, ‘Hong Kong: Defiant protesters give Hunger Games’ three-fingered salute as police clear camp’, International Business Times,December 11, 2014,
Leave a Reply