Dystopia Now: Anticipating Fire

Thoughts on Catching Fire, its media machine and the world at large.

If you live in NYC and take the subway, you might have noticed lately that every time it stops, no matter where you are on the train, Jennifer Lawrence is aiming an arrow at you. I'm sure the entire North American landscape is similarly blanketed with billboards and bus stop signs. I don't mind, in fact, I'm happy to see her. I usually can't sustain anticipation weeks in advance for a film, but Catching Fire's an exception. I devoured all three Hunger Games books, and though I don't know how a movie could live up to such phenomenal hype, I can't wait. The trailers look stunning. After finding out who's playing the new characters, I had to find out about their incredible costumes. A search led me to Capitol Couture.

If you're not already familiar with it, this elegant website purveys the flamboyant fashion of the fundamentally evil Capitol, which governs all of Panem (ie: North America). This is what it says on their home page at the time of this writing:
"Capitol Couture embraces the cultural abundance of fall, awash in the glory of the Quarter Quell. From the red carpet galas to the enlightening Games, we salute our Victors at every step."

Fantasy is writing reality here, and dictating what people, or at least some people, will look like. What is that scarf Katniss has on? I want it. (If you don't know who Katniss is, you have a lot to catch up on.) I've never experienced such a vague line between real and not-real. A reporter writes about rubbing elbows with Tributes backstage at the Quarter Quell next to an interview with Patti Smith! Never mind how Patti Smith could exist in the Capitol some hundreds of years into the future, a cure for death must have been available for so long it's no longer newsworthy because neither Patti nor her interviewer mention it. At first I didn't know if the designers on the site are real people or if their merchandise is really for sale (of course it is), because many of the contributors to this website are also fictional.

Here's what struck me:
If you're a serious Hunger Games fan, you know that the Capitol is so exploitative that the main characters, along with the rest of Panem, suffer (more on this at Tor.com). While there's no denying that the colorful Capitol look is way more fun than the coal miner of District 12 look, or the look of the electronics factory worker in China...I mean, District 3, how can you go about flaunting this style? If you don't know your Districts, CoverGirl is defining them for you though they seem to have forgotten that the Districts are poor and oppressed and that the revolution is nigh.

One of the coolest things about the Hunger Games is that it has a smart, brave, accomplished heroine who has much bigger concerns than her looks. She doesn't even shave her legs. What would Katniss think of her fans donning outrageously impractical outfits and dying their hair and skin?

Are we already living in Panem?

It was the second time I had that thought in a week. The first was a few days earlier, after reading about the Miami Dolphins football player who brutally bullied his teammate. I might have Catching Fire on the brain, but that sounded a lot like pre-Arena intimidation among Tributes to me. This is just the one incident we know about, there must be many more. They already play a sport that risks serious bodily harm for audience entertainment.

Why am I a little afraid?