Pleasure & Decay: A Hunger for Decadence

December 2, 2017 § 3 Comments

The Hunger Games film series is a post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction directed by Gary Ross and based on the trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. The film begins with the “reaping” ceremony for the selection of one boy and girl between 12 and 18 years of age from each of the twelve districts who will train and later fight to their death in the 74th annual Hunger Games, leaving only one survivor who will become the victor. These annual Hunger Games take place in an outdoor arena in The Capitol of Panem, a city overflowing with wealth and luxury, while the rest of the world lives in extreme poverty oftentimes unable even to find sustainable sources of food. The event is televised for the entertainment of the citizens of the Capitol who gain pleasure in watching the contestants brutally kill one another in a survival of the fittest so that they may have a chance to live.

The residents of the decadent Capitol are pleasure-driven and the city features all the luxuries that one could want. They pride aesthetic values and therefore alter and adorn their bodies in extravagant ways. Undergoing surgical augmentation, they reshape their bodies, colorfully dye their hair and epidermis, imprint themselves with striking designs, and have jewels implanted into their skin. They also don distinctive clothing which often takes on an altered vintage appearance with richly embellished, puffy-sleeved dresses, and brightly-colored suits.

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Although the inhabitants of the twelve districts seem to be impoverished and severely lacking in food and supplies, the citizens of the Capitol feast on delicate bread and pastries, meats, and fine wines. Gluttonous to the extreme, they even drink a liquid which makes them vomit so that they can consume more food.

Citizens in the dystopian Capitol city of Panem featured in Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy (2008-2010) bear and uncanny resemblance to the protagonist in (and even the author of) a work of nineteenth-century Victorian fiction. Perhaps, the “new hedonism that was to re-create life” as Lord Henry of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray predicts found its way into Panem. Like Capitol residents, Dorian Gray, seeks a “new spirituality, of which a fine instinct for beauty [is] to be the dominant characteristic.” Dressed in extravagance with an eye for decadence and a degeneration into monstrosity, Dorian seems as though he would feel quite at home in the Capitol.

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Oscar Wilde (1882)

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Ben Barnes as Dorian Gray (2009 Film)

With an air of dandyism, in excessive dress, embellished with jewelry, even-so-far as to don “a dress covered in five hundred and sixty pearls” at a costume party, Dorian also hosts dinner parties that feature “exquisite taste shown in the decoration of the table, with its subtle symphonic arrangements of exotic flowers, and embroidered cloths, and antique plates of gold and silver” and “the most celebrated musicians of the day to charm his guests.” To Dorian’s guests, “he seem[s] to belong to those whom Dante describes as having sought to ‘make themselves perfect by the worship of beauty.’”

Just as the “beautiful” people of the Capitol witness and even cheer for the deaths of the participants in the Hunger Games, the monstrosity hidden under the surface of Dorian’s beauty is revealed when he commits murder.

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Illustration by Colominas

With a society who increasingly seeks pleasure and luxury at the expense of the impoverished, The Hunger Games and The Picture of Dorian Gray novels and films are not necessarily a case of art imitating life as Oscar Wilde might say. As Suzanne Collins reveals in an interview, her inspiration for the trilogy derived from “lying in bed…channel surfing between reality TV programs and actual war coverage” when “the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way.” As the wealthy feast on $25,000 tacos “wrapped in tortillas containing gold flakes” and wash it down with bottles of $150,000 white gold and platinum tequila at the Grand Velas Los Cabos and the top five percent of elite seek pleasure in activities such as adventuring the ocean in a 4.5 billion dollar Yacht “plated with 100,000 kg of platinum” with “statues made of a T-Rex’s bone” while “Almost half the world […] live on less than $2.50 a day,” starving with inadequate food, water, and medicine, it is not difficult to see how our world is dissolving into decadence. With the election of a president who, within the time span of a year in office, has spent more than $84,554,589 in American tax-payer funds just to play golf, I am afraid to see where the state of this nation alone is headed.

–MRC

 

 

Sources:

Campbell-Schmitt, Adam. “Behold The $25,000 Taco.” Food & Wine, 2 Mar. 2017.

Germain, Sophie. “Trump Golf Count.” Trump Golf Count, trumpgolfcount.com.

Margolis, Rick. “A Killer Story: An Interview with Suzanne Collins, Author of ‘The Hunger Games’ Under Cover.” School Library Journal, 1 Sept. 2008.

Mukherjee, Tatsam. “17 Most Expensive Things On This Planet.” ScoopWhoop, 15 June 2015.

Shah, Anup. “Poverty Facts and Stats.” Global Issues, 7 Jan. 2013.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. e-artnow, 1890.

 

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§ 3 Responses to Pleasure & Decay: A Hunger for Decadence

  • Thank you, Marcie. I love this connection between the decadence of Dorian Gray and over-stylized overlords of District One! I have always been struck by how much the twelve districts in the Hunger Games feel like a reified version of Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-systems theory, with his tripartite structure of core countries, semi-periphery countries, and periphery countries. I’ve not read the novels, but it seems like in the twelve-district structure, those districts closest to the center are wealthier, and the outer districts, which produce the clothing, food, and raw minerals, are the poorest regions. Your connection to Dorian Gray is perhaps interesting in that Wilde was writing during the era of New Imperialism, the intensified period of colonization that solidified the global division of labor on which Wallerstein builds his model. It is interesting that, as District One sits at the center to collect the products of all of Panem’s districts of labor, Dorian Gray sits in the metropole of the British empire and collects objects from around the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Marianne Zumberge says:

    Thanks for the food for thought, MRC! The Hunger Games books and films are such fascinating cultural relics of our generation. When I was first reading the books as an undergrad, I was taken by the idea that Panem, the city, stood as a symbol for the Roman ideal of “panem et circenses,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “bread and circuses: sustenance and entertainment provided by government to appease public discontent.” Funny how both Wilde and Collins look back to the classical era as anchors in the narrative of societal excess.
    I’m also tickled by the meta nature of the reality of this film series. Lionsgate spent a combined $493 million to produce these four films (according to data from boxofficemojo.com). These films endeavor to criticize opulence, and yet they are major tools of spending and earning. A narrative meant to critique “panem et circenses” turns out to be “circenses” itself! Wild. Wilde! Thanks again, MRC.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Great connection here, MRC! In addition to the opulence on display in the Hunger Games movies/books and in Dorian Gray, I also think it’s interesting that both sets of texts seem really invested in decay, too. The outer districts are falling apart, for example, and the original 13-district system has crumbled into 12 at the time of the series’ beginning. Plus, President Snow is an ultra-creepy figure of personal bodily decay, since he is famous for having eliminated his rivals one by one by sharing poisoned champagne with them, and he still bears the forever-bloody mouth and stench of decay that his hasty antidotes couldn’t prevent. He covers this with his penchant for roses (growing and wearing them), but it’s an open secret. Could be interesting to compare this with Dorian, although I won’t say anymore and spoil it for others. 🙂

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