Harriet Walker: The Hunger Games isn't just for teens

That these books are ring-fenced in the Young Adult genre is baffling

Share

Dystopian gore-fest The Hunger Games became America's fastest-selling non-sequel film on its release at the weekend. I'm not being facetious when I say I'm relieved that teenagers have ditched the vampires and wizards in favour of something a little more realistic. The premise – a futuristic totalitarian state asserts its strength by recruiting 24 children every year to fight to the death on telly – may seem far-fetched, melodramatic, even overly bloodthirsty, but it parallels the modern adolescent existence in a way that makes old farts like me only too glad to have narrowly escaped growing up in the internet age.

Constant surveillance; an emphasis on preternatural physical perfection; the need to be strong and stupid, but cunning; the ability to make people like you enough to vote for your survival... It sounds like a day in any high school, as well as an X Factor audition. And that is precisely the point.

That these books have been ring-fenced within the Young Adult genre is baffling: they may not be "high literature" but are relevant to anyone who has ever watched reality TV. And they make you think – coming of age in a society that devotes more time to The Only Way Is Essex than it does to tragedy must have done something to those impressionable little grey cells.

Conservatives would have you believe that the popularity of The Hunger Games and the abstinence-preaching Twilight franchise is because teenagers hark back to a more innocent time when life was all apple pies and square dances. US presidential contender Rick Santorum has even adopted a post-diluvian riff in his latest campaign video.

The real reason the books sell is because they deal with outsiders who buck convention. Teenagers want to break the rules, and that's not necessarily a criminal inclination any more. The Hunger Games highlights the angst, cynicism and grit of what being a teenager is really like. And it points to the fact that adolescent solipsism, bullying and a universal lack of empathy have also become signatures among grown-ups now, too.

How can we expect children to mature when we haven't really either? Instead, our culture teaches them to judge by appearance, to scorn, to triumph without talent. Dystopias don't lament the progress of liberalism, they lambast the rise of the superficial, fake and narrow-minded mediocrity that has come alongside it. Our children are not brutalised by reality TV, but our values have been. In an age where nothing is permanent or valued, one wins out only by hardening one's heart.

So. far from a shocking indictment of gruesome adolescent tastes, The Hunger Games points to a much broader and more positive sensibility. The books have now sold more than 30 million copies worldwide; the film has made £140m since Friday. Even Simon Cowell can't beat numbers like that.

h.walker@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there