Social media has been feeling very 2012 lately.
If you’ve recently scrolled through your TikTok FYP, you’ve probably seen the so-called “Hunger Games Renaissance” sweeping the app. Whether it be a perfectly-curated fan edit of Peeta Mellark (a.k.a. Josh Hutcherson) or a green screen analysis of a minor plot point, it’s clear that The Hunger Games has made a triumphant return. And while the franchise’s resurgence in the pop culture zeitgeist may have been unexpected, most Gen Zs – myself included – have welcomed it with open arms.
For the uninitiated, The Hunger Games trilogy was written by Suzanne Collins, with the first instalment published in 2008. The story unfolds in Panem – a dystopian North America comprising 12 districts ruled by a wealthy, corrupt, exploitative Capitol.
Each year, the Capitol organises and hosts the Hunger Games, a televised battle to the death. Formatted like some twisted reality-TV competition show, two tributes from each district are randomly selected to participate in the Games. And when the protagonist’s (Katniss Everdeen) younger sister is chosen, she volunteers in her place, fighting for survival against other tributes, all through a (potentially) fabricated love affair with her District 12 counterpart, Peeta Mellark.
Of course, a lot more goes down. But in the interest of staying spoiler-free, we should keep it at that.
Like every viral moment that borrows from the past, the Hunger Games Renaissance fits in with existing internet norms and trends. Take TikTok, for example. Hashtags like #HungerGames and #HungerGamesRenaissance sit at 7.5 billion and 41 million views, respectively. And while these hashtags are not associated with one type of content, these videos show how users are bringing The Hunger Games into the TikTok era.
We all know how much TikTok users love a healthy debate, even though these discussions often teeter into argument territory (after all the chatter over Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber last month – that much is clear). Nevertheless, TikTok has become the go-to place for commentary-style videos on pop culture.
So, as many of us jump on the commentary bandwagon, some of the app’s most popular Hunger Games-related videos show creators analysing everything from crucial plot points and themes to specific character arcs.
Amassing over 270k followers since the franchise’s revival online, @luckyleftie remains at the forefront of this niche. Since the beginning of March, she has shared over 90 videos on The Hunger Games – covering tributes like Johanna, Haymitch and Mags while delving into the societal structures in the fictional universe. In one video, for example, @luckyleftie explains why the Capitol allows people to volunteer as tribute.
“From a purely entertainment perspective, the volunteering system makes for more engaging storylines, it’s rare, and because it’s rare, the Capitol loves to sensationalise it,” she begins. “Beyond the entertainment, the Hunger Games has always existed as a state-sponsored activity, meaning that all the money [invested] lines the pockets of Capitol officials…”
Meanwhile, other creators have embraced TikTok’s comedic side.
From joking about tributes using Hydroflasks as weapons to filming GRWM-style videos before pretending to volunteer at the reaping, creators like @chrisisainmdom and @kaitwrites have capitalised off this viral moment – seamlessly blending TikTok lore with The Hunger Games universe.
With The Hunger Games prequel – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – set to hit theatres in November 2023, many internet users believe the franchise’s return to the mainstream is all part of some grand PR strategy. Some contend that Lionsgate paid TikTok to promote Hunger Games-related content, while others think that adding the trilogy to Netflix was the main reason for the revival.
But as fans flood social media hypothesising why the franchise is having a moment right now, a broader question remains unanswered – what exactly is it about The Hunger Games that has allowed the series to move beyond its original context? And why does Gen Z still resonate with it all these years later?
First and foremost, Gen Z is feeling nostalgic. The trilogy’s renaissance has come at a time when we are obsessed with pretty much everything from childhood. Whether it be the low-waisted jeans and baby tees reminiscent of the Y2K era or opting for a digital camera on a night out, Gen Z is always seeking a nostalgic reprieve from the chaos that is 2023. And one thing we can’t overstate is the cultural impact that the Hunger Games franchise held as many of us entered teenagehood.
Not only did the trilogy’s first instalment break records on its opening weekend, but it also grossed over $409 million in the United States and $286 million internationally. The subsequent films – Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1, and Mockingjay Part 2 – cemented the original movie’s success, allowing the series to become one of the highest-grossing film franchises ever.
And Hollywood ran with it.
While the Young Adult dystopian genre existed before The Hunger Games, the trilogy certainly reignited its popularity – I think we all remember the onslaught of dystopian novels and films that came to dominate the early 2010s (Divergent and Maze Runner, I am looking at you).
But what set The Hunger Games apart was how it transcended the confines of its fictional universe. The imagery and symbols used in the trilogy inspired real-world political resistance against oppressive regimes, making it a cultural phenomenon that reached far beyond its literary origins.
Some of the people confused about the resurgence of The Hunger Games must not remember the cultural impact. Like the three finger Mockingjay salute became a literal symbol of revolutions around the world and in Thailand people were arrested for using it in silent protest— Leah says PREORDER ELLIE ENGLE! (@byleahjohnson) March 26, 2023
While we try to navigate a world that sometimes seems like it is getting more politically unstable by the day, it’s all feeling very Panem-esque. Having lived through a pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and witnessing ongoing hate crimes against LGBTQIA+ people, we have all watched as the disparity between the haves and the have-nots widens – a struggle at the heart of The Hunger Games fictional universe.
And more recently, the potential ban of TikTok has left us all thinking about how media can shape public opinion and political narratives. As we grapple with questions about data collection and the ethics of surveillance, it’s clear that many of the issues posed in The Hunger Games are more poignant than ever.
When the Hunger Games and TikTok ban are trending at the same time 👀— Sage 🐉 (@SageVouivre) March 24, 2023
All that to say, it’s no wonder that TikTok has entered its Hunger Games era, especially when we consider our generation’s penchant for nostalgia.
Amid increasing hostility and political uncertainty, engaging with content that speaks to tumultuous times helps us better understand and critique the world around us – even if it is in a completely different context. So, while a series like The Hunger Games forces us to confront uncomfortable truths about our society, discussing these harsh realities is made all the easier when we can resonate and reflect on some of our favourite characters growing up.
Who doesn’t find a little bit of comfort in the age-old debate of Team Peeta versus Team Gale?