The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Is a Decadent Hunger Games Retread
When the first Hunger Games movie was released in 2012, it had some problems: It was winding and episodic, and its story—of children thrust into murderous games by an authoritarian central government—was founded on ad hoc sci-fi world-building that didn’t entirely stand up to scrutiny. But the film was bolstered by memorable design work, a chilling concept (albeit one that quite obviously echoed the lesser-known Japanese film Battle Royale), and a star-making lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence.
Even more than that, however, it seemed to both capture and foretell a political and cultural moment. The Hunger Games was set in Panem, a far-future version of the United States that had been divided into a dozen districts, organized by tier and class. In District 1, denizens of the Capitol lived in decadent luxury, frolicking in elaborate-to-the-point-of-absurd formalwear and taking great pleasure in the annual games that forced children to murder each other as part of a reality TV competition. In the outer districts, rural residents suffered in poverty under police-state rule as their labors were repurposed to facilitate the luxuries of the Capitol. The futuristic setting channeled anger about political and economic inequality, and the games themselves transmuted the era’s sense that childhood itself had become a brutal winner-take-all gauntlet performed for the benefit of uncaring authority figures.
The movie and its sequels resonated in part because they were smartly crafted, but also because because they captured a prevailing sense that something—perhaps many things—was deeply, fundamentally wrong with society, with politics, with government, with growing up, and that children and teenagers were expected to bear the brunt of th
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