What’s in a pin? Hollywood Revisions and the Ideological Power of The Hunger Games
Any film adaptation of a novel, even a popular and already cinematic novel like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, requires amendments, omissions, and alterations in the shift from page to screen. One major alteration in Gary Ross’ recent film adaptation created a stir with adoring fans even before the film’s opening day. The famous mockingjay pin that becomes part of Katniss Everdeen’s symbolic identity is provided a new backstory and origin. In the novel, Katnisss is given the golden trinket as a gift from the mayor’s daughter, Madge Undersee, just after the “reaping” and before Katniss departs on her journey to the Capitol for the commencement of the seventy-fourth Hunger Games. The gift, which eventually becomes a symbol of rebellion and the namesake for the third novel in the series has a special significance in the novel. We first see it adorning Madge’s dress before the reaping, and, through Katniss’ eyes, we see it as a sign of excess and class division: “Real gold. Beautifully crafted. It could keep a family in bread for months” (12). Whereas the pin, for Madge represents a pretty adornment to ensure that she will look nice if she is called to the Capitol, for the long time starving Katniss, the object is identified with its value in terms of purchase power. The brief incident shows the class divisions within District 12 that separate the merchant class from the class of coal miners and their families.
In the film, Katniss acquires the pin from a dilapidated shop. The pin, no longer gold but only gold in color, is given to her not by a member of a much wealthier Mayor’s Daughter but instead by an elderly shopkeeper who refuses payment for it. This act of kindness in the film shows a District 12 where the members of the district look out for their own and where solidarity seems to be the norm. I’ll leave aside, for the moment, that by rewriting the pin’s origin, the film undercuts the nuanced way in which a sign of class division and difference ultimately becomes a symbol of rebellion to first address the way the re-scripted gift flattens out the mechanisms of power and ideology which stand at the center of Collins’ critique f power.
Rather than as a simple gift from a shopkeeper, the golden pin of the novel speaks to the class tensions present not only between the Capitol and the Districts, but to the tensions within the districts themselves. Madge represents District 12’s ruling class who not only have enough food on their tables, but have a surplus of wealth enough to adorn Madge’s reaping dress with a pin that could feed other starving families were it in their possession. While remaining separate from the ideological forces controlling the games themselves, the pin shows the ways in which wealth and class separates and differentiates people from within the districts. While Madge herself is not exempt from the “reaping,” her class status does, as the novel makes clear, provide her with a distinct advantage over the characters like Katniss and Gale which have entered their names additional times in the reaping for a supplementary supply of food. The pin has a valence tinctured with class difference from the very outset of the novel, and the symbol, like ideology and the character of Katniss itself is complicated further in the narrative.
The pin becomes a conflicted symbol later in the series as Katniss becomes identified with the pin itself. The mockingjay points out the failure of ideological power since it was ultimately an inadvertent product of a manipulating authority, but also represents a method of coercion that backfired on state authority and exceeded its control. The Capitol genetically engineered the jabberjay as an avian spy on its rebelling districts. The state developed the jabber jay to act as a recording device and as a natural spy on the populace in its rebelling districts. The jabberjay repeated the speeches of people it overheard and reported those speeches back to the Capitol. As the novel points out, these spies became ineffectual once people in the districts discovered their purpose and function, using them instead as agents of misinformation. When the Capitol accepted its failures, it left the birds to breed naturally with others, creating the mockingjay, a symbol to mock the coercive strategies of the Capitol. In the film, the symbol itself remains intact, but as a gift from a shopkeeper without the same purchasing power of the gold offered by the novel’s Madge Undersee elides the class tensions readily apparent elsewhere in the novel.
The simplification of ideology’s effects on consciousness in the film comes through a heightening of the separation of a Capitol with a bad consciousness and a genuine authentic consciousness of the opposing underclass. The altered backstory of the pin reduces ideology to something that is generated wholly top-down, from the mind of a President Snow rather than an all encompassing force that creates tensions of authenticity and inauthenticity in its appearance in the minds of the underclass. What Katniss represents in the novel, the revolutionary never quite in control of her rebellion against authority opens up a conflicted space where identity and ideology compose consciousness and direct it even at the moments it seems most under control. In the film, what we are left with is a centralized manipulator of ideology where “we” oppose the false consciousness propagated by a manipulating force of ideology without recognizing the ways in which power and ideology affect and influence behavior even when supposedly set in opposition to it.
One of the most important tensions of the novel concern Katniss’ performance of love for her fellow District 12 tribute Peeta. Because of the Panoptic quality of the state run Hunger Games, Katniss is left never really knowing the “truth” of her own feelings for Peeta. While she steps into and performs the role of star-crossed lover, both she and the reader are left wondering where these performances begin and end. The inauthentic displays lead to, but also result from, a genuine feeling but, as they are subject to state power, a murkiness clouds and obscures those feelings both from character and reader. Even the light provided by the concluding third novel is not enough to dissipate the darkness to see the truth of Katniss’ real feelings for Peeta. Despite all her revolutionary and counterrevolutionary acts, Katniss ends up torn between the competing forces of authenticity and inauthenticity which define her. Rather than simply displacing bad consciousness onto Snow and the Capitol, Katniss too grapples with the ideological forces that shape and are shaped by her. While ideology contains her, it is the moments when ideology most seems in control of her that she, like the mockingjay to which she is symbolically linked, threatens to point out the limits of power. It is this nuanced critique of ideological frce that is lost in the film’s re-scripting of the pin.
The new back story simplifies power by glossing over the class structure that separates the underclass within the Districts and the powerful shaping of the Capitol. What we are left with, in the film, is a way to ignore our own class divisions and tensions by identifying with the “authentic” members of the district against the ridiculous and inauthentic manipulations of power. In this flattened out world, lost too are the inter-psychic manipulations of power that create inter-district class divisions. The audience becomes the homogeneous force against the false consciousness of the Capitol without experiencing the ways in which that power manipulates, affects, manufactures and fractures consciousness. Within this fattened out world, the similarity to our own class conflicts are similarly elided. What becomes obscured in the process is the mechanisms of power and ideology that control and manipulate our psychic lives at a much more fundamental level, both producing and obscuring ourselves.