The upcoming and highly anticipated Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes could not come at a more poignant time in the world. Social media has opened up doors for more free conversation and safe open thought than ever before in history.
As The Hunger Games enjoyed a brief run on Netflix in March, during which they dominated the top ten films on the platform; longtime fans re-ignited interest in the books and movies, going into deep dives on the complex and thoughtful world-building of Suzanne Collins. These thought-provoking analyses have served to highlight more than just the layers of a fictional world, but how that world serves as a mirror for our own reality.
Despondency with capitalistic systems, frustration toward the worldwide cost of living crisis, and growing dissent toward hyper-consumerism is creating important conversations among activists around the world. Ideas that may have once been shut down as conspiracy theorist nonsense or nonconformist extremism are rapidly gaining traction amid open conversation on platforms such as TikTok, through which growing numbers of anti-capitalists and human rights advocates are able to organize with previously unimaginable visibility.
Whereas activists of the past could be shut down before their messages could spread to the masses, ideas can now wrap around the globe many times over in a matter of a few hours. To be openly anti-capitalist in the United States just a few decades ago would have been to raise an instant red flag not only to authorities but your community.
While social ostracization was expected, in extreme cases, it could have led to your arrest or at least an investigation. The internet, however, cannot be as easily censored as multi-level media outlets, and the numbers show that this has served to turn some significant political tides. This article by Business Insider India dives a bit deeper into some examples of anti-capitalist content on TikTok, but a lot of the content on the platform goes even further than these videos into scrutinizing every aspect of what we’ve accepted as a normal life.
In the face of companies marketing mass amounts of products to consumers so as to homogenize various facets of their existence into a brandable lifestyle aesthetic (almost always stylized with the suffix “core” —- cottagecore, angelcore, fairycore, royalcore, etc.), some TikTok users responded with “corecore”.
It sounds silly at first, and admittedly, many trends and formats on TikTok don’t translate well to anyone not already well-versed with the app’s lingo, language structure, and subcultures. The so-called “corecore” is not to be too hastily dismissed, however, as its content has been successful in inspiring disillusionment towards the state of constantly having someone trying to sell you something everywhere you go. As these videos point out, seemingly autonomous choices still often result in someone having sold you something— whether it’s a product, a lifestyle, or an idea.
For every rigid and calorie-restricting fitness content creator there’s a body-positive and moderate one out there; for every account curating their feed to fit an old money aesthetic there’s another giving you minimalist vibes, or maximalist luxury, or free-spirited Bohemian, or modern and sleek. Corecore videos, with their rapid-fire imagery and often brooding music, serve to capture in a visual context this information overload wherein consumers are constantly being pulled in one direction or another, into this fad or that— and how it’s all too easy to get sucked into.
These sorts of images highlighting society’s ceaseless vapid propaganda intercut with jarring images of major world events such as protests, military conflicts, worker exploitation, and the often ignored abject poverty all around the world further highlight how lost many of us are in commercial distractions. This new awareness makes many young viewers see more of a reflection of their reality in the fiction of the Hunger Games movies. As the upcoming prequel will elaborate upon, the games evolved from straightforward sadism into a pageant of excess and frivolity married with casual violence.
The horrors of children being forced to fight to the death on television are made into high-octane entertainment for Capitol citizens when it presents itself with style, flare, anticipation, and most of all, opportunities for audience engagement. When the Hunger Games trilogy first came to the big screen, such desensitization may have seemed far-fetched, but it never really was.
In fact, we already overlook the deaths of children for the sake of our own pleasure every day when we choose to consume unethical goods that were produced using child labor in underdeveloped regions. The child whose life is being stolen from them working at a sweatshop for H&M is as abstract to the consumer who just bought a cute pair of jeans as the lives of district children are to the citizens of the Capitol.
Parallels With History
The Hunger Games is an absolute masterclass in drawing historical parallels into a work of fiction. Suzanne Collins wove hidden meanings into the names of many of the characters, assuring that every bit of biting social commentary made in the series is fully intentional. Collins draws upon the mistreatment of the poor in ancient Rome, even with the name of the fictional country of Panem.
Panem is Latin for “bread and circuses”, a term credited to the Roman poet Juvenal, that refers to the superficial appeasements that a tyrannical government will offer its citizens to distract from political blunders and systemic failures. The idea of bread and circuses is as relevant today as it was in Juvenal’s time, with our own form of bread circuses arguably being binge-able reality television, celebrity gossip, and rapidly cycling commercial trends.
There is already an unsettling parallel between the children of Panem fighting to the death with the reward of feeding their community if they win, and the unsettling genre of influencer videos in which money is offered to the poor only after making them play foolish games that highlight their financial desperation (for example, Mr. Beast).
One of the biggest parallels between the world of The Hunger Games and current world events, however, is the environmental cautionary tale woven into the story. The formation of Panem as a country is described as resulting from an environmental crisis that led to the decline and eventual downfall of powerful societies.
As rising sea levels carved away the American coasts to leave what Collins imagines as the borders of Panem, tyranny filled the power vacuum left by what was presumably a climate apocalypse. With scientists estimating that we have about a decade or less to work together to prevent a climate catastrophe, fans are experiencing a renewed interest in The Hunger Games as a foreboding glimpse into the sort of dystopia we could find ourselves in not too far in the future.
What Dystopia Would Really Look Like
This all being said, would a dystopian near-future really look anything like the horrors of Panem? If it seems far-fetched, it may be on account of the extreme lack of social mobility— except that already exists within our society. With the cost of living higher than ever and inflation rising while paychecks seem to not quite keep up, social mobility is already becoming steadily more difficult. If forced labor seems unlikely to make a comeback, it’s important to note that it never actually went away.
While American slavery was abolished in 1863, there are roughly 50 million slaves worldwide, according to the Anti-Slavery International and Global estimates of Modern Slavery. This slavery is more hidden than the overtly marketed dehumanization of forced laborers we read about in history books, but it is just as present and sinister as ever. In fact, there is even something to be said about American slavery and if it was ever truly abolished, or just re-imagined into the modern-day penal system. With almost any other aspect of Panem’s society that seems far removed from where we are today, there are such current parallels.
Notably, the most obvious one would be the murder of children on television for sport. Sure, that sort of graphic violence hardly seems like something we will soon be collectively cheering for, but are we not already primed on some level to be able to digest the concept? Our entertainment is often gratuitously violent, and constant news of mass shootings, massacres, and catastrophes has made the concept of innocent deaths less shocking with each headline.
When the massacre of twenty children in their classroom can be used as fodder for the gun control debate and allowed to fade from the conversation amid constant continued gun violence, we are no longer a society that is at all far removed from harming children for the sake of private interests. The reality is that the downfall of Western society won’t necessarily develop as something reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic survival film. Apocalypse can simply mean the end of the world as we know it, and that doesn’t have to be through cut-and-dry destruction that gives way to a rebirth that creates distinct eras.
History shows us that tyranny is often a product of slowly introducing certain conditions so that people never come to the jarring conclusion that things aren’t as they should be. Often, the people are aware are the least fortunate among us while the privileged (and thus the ones with the power to make a change) passively accept the way things are — much like the citizens of outlying districts stirring rebellion while career districts staunchly support the capital, despite both regions’ children being victims of the games.
The slow and creeping nature of how tyranny can take over our lives is what makes films like The Hunger Games and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes so incredibly important. These sorts of films can hold up a mirror to our own society and invite us to examine what we tolerate before it’s too late. The resurgent interest in the trilogy and upcoming prequel is a timely reflection of a world that is slowly learning to ask questions and see things for what they really are for the sake of us all.
This story originally appeared on Movieweb