“George Orwell’s ‘1984’ meets reality TV’s ‘Survivor’,” is how I described “The Hunger Games” after I first read the bestselling trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The propaganda used to control the residents of the fictional Panem sounded to me like doublespeak directly from the mouth of Big Brother.
“The Hunger Games” is set hundreds of years into the future. Economic and climactic upheaval have restructured the world’s political systems and now all of North America is Panem. Each of the 13 districts supply a specialty product to the Capitol, which in turn releases just enough resources back to the districts to keep the residents from starving to death. Each year, to prevent a rebellion from rising as had happened in the past, a brutal tradition is carried out in which teenagers from each district are thrown into an arena and forced to fight to the death. The Capitol’s control is brutal, effective and absolute. If rumors of unrest begin to stir, the Capitol crushes the rebellion before it starts by squeezing the pipeline. Soon the residents are too hungry, or dead, to fight back. All the while propaganda is fed to school children, telling them of the Capitol’s gracious generosity – allowing them to exist when they really should be wiped out because of the terrible rebellion of their great-grandparents.
Of course I wasn’t the only one to see themes of political oppression. Now, as Lionsgate begins to ramp up to the release of the third movie in the series, they are unleashing a creative and chilling advertising campaign. Panem Propaganda features doublespeak that would make Big Brother sit up and take notes.
It started last week with a series of posters at the “official Government of Panem website” featuring laborers from different districts accompanied with flowery prose extolling the virtues of hard work and dedication.
The image of a worker from District 7, Elias Haan, is a good example of the disparity between the Capitol message and the observable truth.
As you tend to the finest forests and provide your fellow brethren with the most beautiful and flawless lumber, remember that the Capitol treasures your dedication to society. It is your duty as a citizen of Panem to protect the system we have worked tirelessly to conceive. Embrace the challenges of strenuous labor, and remember the instrumental role you play in the preservation of our country.
We in the Capitol admire your strength and commend your loyalty. We must all stand as tall as the mighty oaks you fell, and work together to build and preserve a better future.
The picture is of a strong and handsome young man, but not a privileged hero of the text – his scars, tattoos and amputated leg tell of a life full of pain, loss and struggle.
The poster from District 9, the massive farm district that stretches from the Deep South to the Great Plains, features Triti Lancaster, 17, who “after a day in the fields… graciously offers a bundle of wheat to her fellow citizens of Panem.” But she is sewn into a constrictive wooden corset and a closer look reveals protruding collar bones that hint at pervasive malnutrition. The woman on the District 4 poster is praised as a sixth generation pearl diver and daughter of a deep sea fisherman – yet she is wrapped tightly in a dress of netting, as trapped as the model fish she holds in her hands. The most offensive, though, is little Lily Ilsington, the hungry, dirty urchin from District 12.
Each of these is held up as an example of admirable heroism – apparently for surviving in spite of the Capitol’s callous attempts to work them to death.
But we don’t have to worry about doublespeak here. Not in America, the most prosperous nation on earth. Right?
Ask the “noble savages”, who as savages were different enough to be killed off, but noble, so they’d be alright in the end. Oh, that’s right. You can’t. They’ve been “assimilated”, or pushed onto reservations more savage than noble most days.
Ask the the homeless family who are accusingly asked, “if you’re that poor, why do you have cell phones?” Those phones, their only lifelines to work, family and each other as they bounce between shelters and the homes of more fortunate friends and family. Those phones are the only constant as they fill out forms for work and housing. Without these phones, how would they ever get that desperately needed call back?
Ask the politicians. Listen to political season debates and you will soon learn that the opponent’s party is populated entirely by monsters. Truth in advertising would probably sound a lot like, “Elect me, I’m the least monstrous of all.”
That said, here is the most monstrous politician in Panem, President Snow. What do you think of his message?