Lionsgate is apparently mulling a theme park based on the hit novels-turned-blockbuster films The Hunger Games. This is not a good idea, and highlights why some of the Hunger Games marketing techniques should probably make us feel uncomfortable.
In the lead-up to the release of Catching Fire later this month, Etan Vlessing of The Hollywood Reporter reported that Jon Feltheimer, the Lionsgate CEO, said they have been "approached in two different territories about potential theme park opportunities, which gives you a sense of the cultural impact of this franchise" and are "excited about those opportunities and are pursuing them."
So a Hunger Games theme park is a fun idea, right? Let's just think about that for a second. This is a story about a dystopian society that, in order to oppress its people makes kids fight to the death. The land of the story, Panem, is not a fantastical dream destination that way that, say, J.K. Rowling's wizarding world of Harry Potter is. Potter, in fact, has already become a theme park and is expanding to more. A Hunger Games immersive experience is a bit more troubling, though, and already a Florida Hunger Games-themed camp raised eyebrows back in August for engaging kids in activities resembling the to-the-death fights of the books.
The Hunger Games is a dark story that never really lightens up, no matter how wacky the garb of the Capitol denizens gets. That darkness is fine. It is, in fact, author Suzanne Collins's intent. She told the New York Times in 2011: "I write about war. For adolescents." But that means the marketing hoopla surrounding the film tends to have mixed messages. Take, for instance, the Cover Girl Capitol Beauty Studio in which you can learn how to get to the "look" from different districts. Katniss's district, District 12, is known for being an impoverished coal mining region, and is given a sort of punk-y, smokey eye. Read between the lines and you find that this is the rich Capitol's idea of how the districts would be made up, but the distinction isn't necessarily obvious. Poverty? Eh. We've got cool makeup. The Capitol Couture website, a sort of mock fashion website, is a different beast. If you actually read the articles on the site, you see that there is subtle social commentary. A piece about tribute fashion slyly references the Avoxes—servants whose tongues were cut out for rebellion—in the way a callous member of the Capitol society might. Still, without the close-reading, the site might seem to simply celebrate a world which the story actually condemns.
Collins herself, in a rare statement to the media, praised the marketing. "It’s appropriately disturbing and thought-provoking how the campaign promotes Catching Fire while simultaneously promoting the Capitol’s punitive forms of entertainment," she told Variety in an email. "The stunning image of Katniss in her wedding dress that we use to sell tickets is just the kind of thing the Capitol would use to rev up its audience for the Quarter Quell (the name of the games in 'Catching Fire'). That dualistic approach is very much in keeping with the books."
If you read the marketing in Collins' way, it's subtly brilliant, and while Adam B. Vary at BuzzFeed wrote back in August that it's meant for "fans" rather than "newbies," it's a lot to expect everyone to get the deeper message. It is, after all, still marketing, and it's marketing a cruel world as a glamorous one.
We should not want to emulate Panem in any way. We shouldn't want to dress like members of the Capitol and we shouldn't want to visit a theme park that immerses us in this world. It's understandable that Lionsgate would want to do as much as possible to make people go see this movie and continue to milk it for all it's worth with a theme park, but perhaps everyone should consider what they are selling.