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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May the Odds Be in Your Favor: Star-Crossed Lovers in The Hunger Games and Popular Culture

My 2nd research paper. It's not the best, but it had to be 10 pages. I might go back (after it's turned in) and focus on the Hunger Games. That gave me 6 pages.

May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor: Star-Crossed Lovers in The Hunger Games and Popular Culture


Two tributes, both alike in blood-filled fate,

In corrupted Panem, where we lay our scene,

From twisted games comes new protest,

Where teenaged blood makes teenager's hands unclean.

From forth the faulted Capitol, bred this new rebellion

A pair of star-cross'd “lovers” about to take their life

Whose misfortuned fate, leads to impossible solutions.

Do with their decision, protest the Capitol.

The painful passage of their death-mark'd "love,"

And the fault of the Capitol’s Game.

Which, but their suicide, nought could challenge the Capitol's rules.

Is now the 374 pages' traffic of our novel;

The which if you with open eyes attend,

What here shall miss, our conflict shall strive to mend.



            It’s funny to think that in the early twentieth century some scholars believed that Shakespeare would die out in American culture in future generations. However, within the past two decades there have been many movies released of Shakespeare works and many movies and TV that borrows heavily from Shakespearian works. I never realized this until none day I was searching the term “star crossed lovers” in Google and many presentations popped up citing Suzanne Collin’s 2008 novel, The Hunger Games has references from Romeo and Juliet and a few other Shakespearian works. The sonnet shown above is from a blog I found, but many fan fictions have similar sonnets, showing that teenagers and young adults associate Romeo and Juliet with The Hunger Games (and possibly a new love for Romeo and Juliet?). Some sites believe that The Hunger Games, Twilight, Brokeback Mountain and a few other popular novels and movies have sparked a Shakespearian interest in the United States.

But, the United States isn’t the only country that has renewed interest in Shakespeare.  Iraq has surprisingly took on a production from the Bard—Romeo and Juliet and has received high acclaims and good reviews; Iraq loves Romeo and Juliet. It is evident that Shakespeare spans across religions, socio-economics and interestingly, in a war torn area almost reminiscent of scenes from Julius Caesar, Hamlet and modern adaptations of Romeo and Juliet. I was amazed to see all the movies, books and television shows that have Shakespearian references. It’s interesting because we are living in a time of war where it seems like differences tear people apart. Maybe readers turn to Shakespeare to better understand what is going on and to better understand an adult world filled with so much strife? I believe Shakespeare is used in works like The Hunger Games, in popular music ranging from the late 1970s to early 1980s that included artists such as Blue Oyster Cult, Ratt and Dire Straits as well as the remake of Romeo and Juliet in Iraq because our culture never got rid of Shakespeare. According to the trends I have seen in various articles that will be included in this piece, it seems like people recycle him and he returns in small ways in each decade. Our Shakespeare obsession not only paints a picture of mixed emotions of what is going on in the world— with fear and hence most of the remakes either take on a dystopian feel like The Hunger Games or Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”; or sometimes we get a feel of sappy romance from artists like Dire Straits in a world that seems like there is no love. We can learn from Shakespeare these lessons and we always return to him to teach us what it is like to live in this world.

“I think we’re the oldest people here,” my friend Taylor whispered to me as we waited in the lobby for the theater to open up for The Hunger Games in March 2012. Tweens and teens stood around in their handmade Hunger Games shirt that either read “We love you, Peeta” or “Katniss is our hero” (ironically, two months later I made a “Team Katniss” shirt for my friend and a “Team Peeta” shirt for myself, both on purple shirts and the goal was to wear together to show our allegiances) shouting their excitement for the movie and hopes that it wouldn’t desecrate the book because of director and screenplay writer interpretations.  Even though I had just begun to read the novel (I usually wait until after I’m done the novel, but I wanted to hang out with a friend), once the movie started I was pleasantly surprised with the results and even after I was done the novel, I was still a fan of both the film and story. There was some reason I liked it, maybe it was the dystopian feel, but it later hit me that it had a twist of Romeo and Juliet in it.

The Hunger Games is located in Panem, which is North America after a catastrophic civil war that Mark Fisher describes in Precarious Dystopias: The Hunger Games, In Time, and Never Let Me Go that Panem is a world that “as with all dystopias that connect, is a distorting mirror of our own” (Fisher 27). According to the Ethics and Literature blog, Panem was chosen by Suzanne Collins because it was “derived the name of her fictitious country Panem from the Latin phrase, “Panem et Circenses” or “bread and circus.” According to Mockingjay, the final book of The Hunger Games trilogy, the country’s name Panem refers to the Latin phrase because in exchange for an endless supply of food and entertainment, the people of Panem surrender their political freedoms to The Capitol. To the people of Panem, the Hunger Games are the greatest form of entertainment, and the gruesome and bloody deaths of those who have no choice but to compete are disregarded as necessary punishment” (Ethics and Literature 1).  Ethics and Literature further claim that Katniss is similar to Brutus in Julius Caesar because they are both “sacrificers, but not butchers”. The premise of the Hunger Games begins to unfold when Katniss enters The Hunger Games as a tribute to be sacrificed, but she begins to inspire revolt in the oppressed districts” (Ethics and Literature 1). There is also a revolt after Rue, a tribute from District 11, is killed which the blog points is closely linked to the revolt led by Brutus and Cassius against Caesar. Interestingly, both Peeta and Katniss seek sympathy from viewers watching the Hunger Games, which the Ethics and Literature blog writes is reminiscent of Brutus attempting to gain favor amongst the Romans and “Peeta, Brutus, and Mark Antony all make the same ploy to subvert the public by gaining sympathy for their own cause” (Ethics and Literature 1).

The names that Suzanne Collins chose for the other characters are also interesting, especially since a few of them are borrowed from Shakespeare’s works. Cinna, Katniss’s hairstylist and responsible for presenting her to the people of Panem after she volunteers to be a tribute in the 74th Hunger Games. Despite being officially employed by the Capitol, Cinna engages in subtle forms of defiance, which according to Encyclopedia Britannica’s blog is a nod towards Lucius Cornelius Cinna. Cinna in Julius Caesar is conspirator against Caesar. It is he who suggests to Cassius that Brutus join their conspiracy. Also assists Cassius' manipulation of Brutus by placing Cassius' letters responsible for manipulating Brutus where Brutus is sure to find and read them (Absolute Shakespeare 1). It’s to no surprise that the game master is Seneca Crane, who Encyclopedia Britannica believes perhaps resembles Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), who, as a judicial officer of ancient Rome, might have been “responsible for the production of the public games” (Encyclopedia Britannica Blog 1). The talk show host, Caesar Flickerman pays homage to Julius Caesar because he is very well-known and revered. Brutus does appear in the Hunger Games as a former tribute that was feared for his strength.

However, one blog I found believes Collins is borrowing from Titus Andronicus, an earlier piece of Shakespeare because a “Close study reveals that the young Shakespeare was grappling with the universal theme of revenge head-on, and was laying out a carefully constructed sequence of falling dominoes, which illustrated what happens in any human society when people begin to take the law into their own hands. What happens is that mercy goes by the boards entirely, and humans, tragically, choose instead to perpetuate a cycle of violence, until everyone is dead” (Sharp Elves Society 1). Fisher further claims that it is certain that “The Hunger Games is irreducibly political in a way that Harry Potter and the Twilight films could never be” because that film relies on a brutality that is “affective rather than explicit; the amount of gore is actually quite low, and it is the prospect of pubescents murdering each other, which shocks” (Fisher 27).  Suzanne Collins, like Shakespeare did in Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus, suggests that the public cannot be trusted because they are easily swayed by convincing words of power-mongering pedagogues.

Romance does play a role in The Hunger Games and this romance nods to Romeo and Juliet. Katniss tells readers that she and Peeta must be

The star-crossed lovers…Peeta must have been playing that angle all along. Why else would the Gamemakers have made this unprecedented change in the rules? For two tributes to have a shot at winning, our "romance" must be so popular with the audience that condemning it would jeopardize the success of the Games. No thanks to me. All I've done is managed not to kill Peeta. But whatever he's done in the arena, he must have the audience convinced it was to keep me alive.

(Collins 247)


Mark Fisher further claims that this “star-crossed lovers” charade is an act for the television audience because it’s worthwhile to get sponsors to send you things you need to survive during the hunger games. When the Gamemakers pick up on the romance, they change the rules and announce there will be two winners, only if the two survivors are from the same district. Only after the other tributes are killed, the rules change resulting back to one winner (Fisher 28). Just like in Romeo and Juliet, they attempt to commit suicide by poison berries. Fisher theorizes that by choosing to commit suicide they “checkmate the Capitol. In choosing to die, they not only deny the Capitol the captured life of a victor, they also deny it their deaths,” thus the process of converting fatalism into insurrection and Katniss sees she has to confront the Capitol (Fisher 30).

            It’s interesting to see in the movie that they don’t include the scene of Peeta’s parents meeting Katniss like in the book. In the book, we see a desperate Katniss scourge for food for her family after her father’s death. In District 12, Peeta’s family was a little bit richer than Katniss’s family since they were bakers compared to miners. This scene is reminiscent of the Capulet/Montague feud because Peeta is smacked after her gives her the discarded bread. Katniss will never forget that and Peeta confesses that he liked her even before that and that’s why he did it. In Robert Shaughnessy’s Romeo and Juliet: the Rock and Roll Years, social change is important in these films. He believes that the West Side Story take on Romeo and Juliet was so popular in the 1950s because the plot of a star-crossed Polish descent guy of the East Side falling in love with a Puerto Rican girl from the West Side demonstrates that the success comes from “anxieties of post-war bourgeois America. As an ‘American tragedy’ which concentrates less on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story presents a liberal plea for ethnic tolerance” at the time of the Cold War (Shaughnessy 177). We have something similar going on with the Hunger Games. Shaughnessy further argues that Romeo and Juliet was so popular because of a teenage audience. That is why West Side Story was so popular in the 1960s and I believe that is why The Hunger Games is popular among teenagers today. Shaughnessy argues that “ascribing Romeo and Juliet as teenagers (or to align Romeo and Juliet to teenagers) is an anachronistic maneuver which obscures the fact that ‘teenager’ is a modern terms.” However, by doing that the definition of ‘teenager’ smooth out the critical, theatrical or colloquial discourse and contradictions (Shaughnessy 175).  Maybe that’s why Shakespeare’s work, especially Romeo and Juliet seem timeless, regardless of the socio-economics, religion, and culture of the reader.

            In April 2012, The International Herald Tribune published an article about a theater group in Iraq putting on their take on Romeo and Juliet. The article, titled ‘Romeo and Juliet’ recast as sectarian tragedy that unfolds in modern times, opens  that it is a suicide bomb that takes the lives of Romeo and Juliet, and the Montagues and Capulets are divided not only by family, but religious sects. Even the dialog is referencing Blackwater, Iranians and the U.S. reconstruction effort—the story sounds almost like The Hunger Games and as the news reporter writes that art returns to Baghdad after the dictator degraded the arts. Their rendition of Romeo and Juliet has been there life for nine years and as one interviewee states, “It was about our reality, the killing that happened between the Sunnis and Shias” (Arango 1). Of course, this warfare is still a reality in Baghdad, as explosions were heard the day after the first showing. Monadhil Daood, the Iraqi actor and playwright who is directing this play, said  of his play that his “message is that love is better than conflict between the families” (Arango 2). Even an American general, toting a machine gun, makes a cameo after the Queen Mab speech was considered too risqué for a conservative audience, and an Iraqi folk story about a beetle finding a husband makes it into a play. That’s an interesting take and shows that those ideals are important in Iraqi culture. However, he Sunni that plays Juliet said the limits placed on Romeo and Juliet are still felt, especially when she fell in love with a poor man. She did marry him, but she could relate.

            The last point of this paper I’m going to explore is music and its relationship to Romeo and Juliet. Country music is a big offender of using Shakespearian references in their songs, but some rock music does too. I remember when I was in high school and studying Shakespeare, I liked to listen to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Stephen M. Buhler argues that “Don’t Fear the Reaper” casts Juliet into a secondary role because listeners hear ironic echoes in lines “Like Romeo and Juliet” after being told they are “together in eternity” that points to sensibilities of a figure mourning her beloved. Buhler further asserts that this woman follows “Juliet’s example, when it seems clear that “she couldn’t go on.” Instead of allowing her to do so, the band summons up a variant on the “Demon Lover” motif and has her Romeo appear at the window to her away into Death’s realm” (Buhler 257). In another favorite song of mine, Ratt’s 1984 “Round and Round,” Buhler argues something similar happens.

Lookin' at you, lookin' at me
The way you move, you know it's easy to see
The neon light's on me tonight
I've got a way, we're gonna prove it tonight
Like Romeo to Juliet
Time and time, I'm gonna make you mine
I've had enough, we've had enough
It's all the same, she said

I knew right from the beginning
That you would end up winnin'
I knew right from the start
You'd put an arrow through my heart

                                (Ratt: Round and Round)

In “Round and Round,” the protagonist declares that he’s going to prove himself, placing all the initiative on Romeo and Juliet is never summoned. The last song I’m exploring is Dire Straits’s 1980 song “Romeo and Juliet.”

Juliet when we made love you used to cry
You said I love you like the stars above and I'll love you till I die
There's a place for us you know the movie song
When you gonna realise it was just that the time was wrong Juliet?
A lovestruck Romeo sings the streets a serenade
Laying everybody low with a lovesong that he made
Finds a convenient streetlight steps out of the shade
Says something like you and me babe how about it?

You and me babe, how about it?

                                        (Dire Straits “Romeo and Juliet)

            Mark Knopfler, guitarist and guiding light for Dire Straits, writes about Juliet’s renewed agency that inspires ambivalence. Apparently Knopfler brings in his best recovering schoolteacher sensibilities to this song that brings together West Side Story, Zeffirelli’s film version, and the original play text. Buhler writes that the song is set up with the familiar scene of “a love struck Romeo singing a streetsuss serenade—accompanied, at first, only by his own acoustic guitar to an unreceptive Juliet.” However, Juliet has been singing the Angel’s 1963 hit “My Boyfriend’s Back” and cautions Romeo that he shouldn’t come around here singing up at people like that (Buhler 256). The rest of the song takes on Romeo’s voice and presents his side of the twentieth century version of his story. Buhler ends with that “Juliet may want to distance herself from all that, to rewrite the story—she has apparently found a different source for the material goods desired in “Just Like Romeo and Juliet” and Springsteen’s reworking of “Point Blank.” She has left the mean, dirty streets of West Side Story and Springsteen’s song to move up in the world. In this, Knopfler suggests she has found security with Paris and wants to minimize her past with Romeo (Buhler 257).

            It appears that music in this time period wanted to rewrite the romance of Romeo and Juliet and make it more sinister. Dire Straits wants Juliet to get what she deserves: Paris and the wealth acquired with him. The only question would be, would death be glorified as in Blue Oyster Cult’s hit? “Don’t Fear The Reaper” came out in 1976, so it might have been the time period of the ending of the war and young women who lost their loved ones in war might have wanted to join them because they couldn’t go on. It would make sense that 1980 “Romeo and Juliet” is different since we are getting into a prominent decade. It’s just interesting how different songs portray the same play and how their interpretations differ.

            As was evident in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, Shakespeare as well as Romeo and Juliet are still alive and kicking. Although, The Hunger Games is dystopian and borrows a lot from Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus, the star-crossed lovers theme is central to the plot and is what makes the movie and novel popular among the tween and teenage audience. It is also awesome to see that Shakespeare has expanded beyond the West and is striking a chord with Iraqi audiences that can relate to what Shakespeare wrote almost 500 years ago. Shaughnessy really hit it when he wrote that as long as there is tension, teenagers and adults alike will always root for the good in life. Maybe that is why Shakespeare still lives on in our lives because he wrote about universal issues that we can all relate to, even in the most darkest situations.











            Works Cited

Arango, Tim. "Baghdad's Star-crossed Lovers." The International Herald Tribune [Baghdad] 30 Apr. 2012: 1-3. Print.

Buhler, Stephen M. "Reviving Juliet, Repackaging Romeo: Transformations of Character in Pop and Post-Pop Music." Shakespeare After Mass Media. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002. 243-64. Print.

Callighan, Cash. "Panem Et Circenses: Contemporary References to Julius Caesar Flickerman." Web log post. Ethics and Literature. Blogger, 14 Mar. 2012. Web. 8 May 2013. .

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.

Cunningham, John M. "What’s in a Name in The Hunger Games." Web log post. What's in a Name? Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 8 May 2013. .

Fisher, Mark. "Precarious Dystopias: The Hunger Games, In Time, and Never Let Me Go." Film Quarterly 65.4 (2012): 27-33. JSTOR. Web. 8 May 2013. .

Perlstein, Arnie. "The Hunger Games’s Veiled Allusion to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus." Web log post. Sharp Elves Society. Blogger, 12 Apr. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2013. .

S, Corrina. "Hunger Games Sonnet (Romeo and Juliet Prologue)." Web log post. Sophomore English. Blogger, 14 Dec. 2012. Web. 11 May 2013. .

Shaughnessy, Robert. "Romeo and Juliet: The Rock and Roll Years." Remaking Shakespeare. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003. 172-89. Print.


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