I am embarrassed to admit a few omissions from yesterday’s post about influences in The Hunger Games. In order to shore up my geek creds, let’s just go ahead and list them here and pretend this never happened, okay?
The SPOILER ALERT from the previous post remains in effect.
- “The Running Man” (movie): The 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie offers a disturbingly-prescient view of today’s reality TV lineup, with the only difference, really, being that no one actively tries to kill anyone on actual reality shows today (that we know of). Arnold, as a convicted (but innocent) criminal, doesn’t have much choice but to participate in “The Running Man,” in which he must escape various celebrity “stalkers,” portrayed by real-life sports celebrities like Jesse Ventura (wrestling is sort of a sport) and Jim Brown. If he wins, he gets all manner of fabulous prizes (or does he???) Much like The Hunger Games, the game takes place in a large arena with various resources scattered about. It has a smarmy host who seems kindly but is actually a monster (Richard Dawson, soon to be channeled by Stanley Tucci). The biggest difference is likely to be in the fact that “The Running Man” is very, very ’80s.
- “The Running Man” (novella): Where the 1987 Arnold movie errs on the side of cheesiness, the 1982 Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) novella is dark. Dark to the point of being downright cynical. The Ben Richards character doesn’t enter the game because someone coerces him, but because he needs money and really has no other options. Instead of a game arena, the game is played out in the real world in a dystopian future U.S., and in addition to “hunters” tracking him, anyone else can bring him in or kill him. He wins money for every hour he stays alive, and if he can survive for 30 days, he wins the grand prize of $1 billion. Much like The Hunger Games, the “Games Network” is ubiquitous in society, and there is even a mention, after televisions become required in all households, of instituting a requirement that they always be on. In a strange foreshadowing of today’s YouTube culture, Richards must make a video recording of himself every day and mail it to the Games Network. This keeps the audience updated on his doings and, of course, allows the powers that be to track him. In a final bit of foreshadowing, easily the most troubling of all, Richards brings the Games Network down, literally, by crashing an airplane into the Games Building. The novella ends with “…and it rained fire twenty blocks away.”
- “The Long Walk:” This is another Stephen King book written as Richard Bachman and first published in 1979. It is set in a dystopian alternate United States controlled by a military dictatorship of some sort. Young men volunteer to participate in the annual “Long Walk.” The prize for the last man standing is, essentially, everything. Winners supposedly receive whatever they want, which must be tempting in what is described as a desperately poor and subjugated society. Losers “buy a ticket,” a term whose meaning is not made clear at first (I’m getting to that). The “Walk” starts at the Maine/Canada border and proceeds south for as long as it takes. Walkers must maintain a pace of four miles per hour, monitored by trained soldiers accompanying them on half-tracks. If their pace drops below that, they receive a warning. If they walk for an hour with no subsequent warning, the warning is removed. They get three warnings, and on the fourth warning they “buy their ticket.” The meaning of this becomes clear several hours into the walk when someone on his third warning gets a Charley horse and drops back. Despite his pleas, his ticket is called, and a soldier approaches him, pulls out his carbine, and shoots the man in the head. This being Stephen King, the carbine fires with sufficient power to eviscerate the man’s skull. Of course, all of this is televised. The remainder of the book is a psychological study of (a) the effect of nonstop walking under penalty of messy death, and (b) the factors that would possibly compel people to volunteer for this event.
- “The Lottery:” A 1948 short story by Shirley Jackson, this may be the most disturbing of all, because it offers no hints at all that it is going somewhere creepy. Early on in the story, it might as well just be a standard small-town America story. Everyone is preparing for a big event, “the lottery,” held every year. The heads of the town’s families draw slips of paper from a box, and the family that draws the slip with the black spot is “chosen.” The members of that family draw slips of paper again, and the person who gets the one with the black spot wins, so to speak. The rest of the town then stones that person to death. It is fair to say that, based on the tone of the rest of the story, the reader does not see this coming.
I’m heading to the “Hunger Games” movie in a few hours. I’ll let you know how it is.