Adaption for Consumption

Venue: PopMatters.com

At first glance, The Hunger Games and Twilight have few things in common. They both are wildly popular YA literary works. They both follow the coming-of-age of young women. Yet one is a violent dystopic anti-war story, while the other is a magical tale of vampire, werewolf, and human romance. However, there is something to be said about the popularity of the film adaptions of both series. The Twilight saga has grossed over $2 billion worldwide between five films, while the first (out of four) Hunger Games movie made $700 million by itself (IMDB.com). What do these novels have in common that have led to such success in the movie industry? A fascinating point of similarity between the two is the relationship between human appetite and consumption. In The Hunger Games, the District characters are hungry for food. The Capitol characters are hungry for entertainment. Likewise, in Twilight, Edward is hungry for Bella’s blood; Bella has a sexual appetite for Edward. Meta-textually, desire and hunger for the sake of consumption drive these books-turned-Hollywood blockbusters.

The most recent trends in the YA fiction world expose audiences to strange lands, unfamiliar life forms, and outlandish topics. At the same time that audiences misidentify with these characters and their world, they are drawn in by the spectacle, the “unbearably real” nature of these fantasies (Cifton, “The War Outside Our Door”). The conflict between these two paradoxical ideas has drawn in readers and viewers of all ages, genders, and races, for the sole purpose of digesting these believably unbelievable forms of entertainment. In Michael Shudson’s critique, “The New Validation of Popular Culture” interprets the idea behind the creation of film franchises like The Hunger Games. According to Shudson, in modern times, people have come to accept the notion of art as being solely for production itself; in the case of YA adaption film franchises, the production leads to money. Lots of it. However, Shudson does not discourage the acceptance of this new artist formula, but rather looks at it as a way of further understanding popular culture and the attitudes attributed to it. When examining the Twilight phenomenon, critical analysis of the connection between Edward and Bella contribute to the idea of the consumer culture.

At its most basic level, the relationship between the two main characters in Twilight boils down to a romance between star-crossed lovers. Not surprisingly (for a story following teenagers), much of the attraction is based on infatuation and the physical. As a normal young woman, Bella expresses sexual desire for Edward, who in turn embodies a predacious desire for Bella. In the scene in the meadow, Edward explains the rationale behind Bella’s enchantment: “Everything about me invites you in – my voice, my face, even my smell” (264). As a vampire, Edward has these qualities to draw his next meal to him. “I’m the world’s best predator”, he claims (263). This idea of containing certain qualities, like beauty, to attract an audience, is not lost on the creators of the film. By casting hunky men with six-pack abs and glittering white teeth, movie producers assured the ensnaring of a particular audience that would lead them to their goal: turning a profit.

The beautiful vampires and werewolves of Twilight succeed in drawing in hordes of swooning teen girls. But the caricatures of the Capitol citizens in The Hunger Games have the opposite purpose of estranging the audience. From the opening scene of the film when Seneca Crane sits on a stage, describing the horrific Hunger Games as a tool of good, spectators immediately get the idea: “Capitol equals bad guys”. Everything about these characters, from their costumes, to their makeup, to their mannerisms, tries to distance them from the audience. Instead, a reaction of both repulsion and compulsion is common. The Capitol people are less like people and more like exotic creatures, but this does not have an alienating effect; as a culture, we have become anesthetized to bizarre costumes in entertainment. In a review of The Hunger Games movie, Jacob Cifton comments on the lack of audience reaction to these attention-grabbing caricatures: “not a single person in the theatre once laughed at them, at their ridiculous fashion and willful ignorance, the orange lipstick and half-shaven electric blue hair”. No one laughs because those Capitol citizens, starved for entertainment and blind to their own vulgarity, are an extension of us, the audience. In our non-fictional world, people really do dress bizarrely (like Lady Gaga) or distort their bodies to cartoon proportions (like every celebrity blown-up from plastic surgery). Yet because our popular culture – the audience – seeks a thrill and an experience, we are blind to the message behind these adaptions.

The popularity of the Twilight and Hunger Games movies speaks to the nature of today’s society. There is a serious disconnect between the artist’s intention in the details and the audience’s attention to the detail. In different ways, both The Hunger Games and Twilight critique unabated societal consumerism. By the nature of film, the movie adaptions of these novels turn the books into consumable objects. Targeted by the Hollywood market, the audience becomes the model of the ultimate consumer. In the world outside of these works, the audience hungers for the next chapter in these stories, going as far as arriving at bookstores at midnight to get the next installment in the series, or camping out for days outside of LA Live to get a glance at their beloved characters before a film premiere. These irrational behaviors leads writers like Suzanne Collins to comment on the unhealthy appetite of modern society. Between books, movies, and insatiable audiences, this is an addictive system feeding a hunger that cannot be appeased. Looking at pop culture’s “normal” reaction to these literary adaptions, is it any surprise that many of the popular YA literary works examine “dystopian” societies with “addiction” problems?

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