Last spring, CoverGirl announced a makeup line called the Capitol Collection, a marketing tie-in with the "Hunger Games" film franchise, based on the novels by Suzanne Collins.
The makeup is supposed to draw its users closer to the world of Panem, where Katniss Everdeen (
Lionsgate, the studio responsible for the films, is promoting
The site is a visually stunning, in-character spectacle, with contributors pretending to work for, and live in, the Capitol. Using quotes, products and photographs from real-world fashion designers further blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. This is perhaps the most creative and brilliant marketing campaign I've ever seen. It is also one of the most disturbing.
During the making of the first "Hunger Games" film, director Gary Ross (who did not direct the second film) explained his shooting philosophy. "If you shoot it like a slick glossy Hollywood movie … you lose the feeling of reality and urgency that you need all the way through — you're turning into the Capitol, you're not examining the Capitol anymore."
Has Lionsgate become the Capitol? Its marketing strategy is turning an anti-classist epic into a platform for the novels' villains.
At its core,
If the books are supposed to function as a cautionary tale against the real class divide in the U.S., we need not look far for evidence. The future of Panem is upon us: More than 20 million Americans can't find full-time jobs, 22% of children live in poverty and middle-class wages have been largely stagnant since 1974. Meanwhile, corporate profits are at an all-time high.
If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist, the same can be said of systemic economic inequality. The pull of the American dream is still so strong that many believe the only reasonable explanation for poverty is that it's poor people's fault. We don't blame the system — and in Panem, you don't blame the Capitol.
Thus, the rhetoric of austerity does not touch the 1% who own 40% of our economy. Instead, the rest of us fight over which crucial (for us) but hardly costly program to cut:
To its credit, Lionsgate and "Hunger Games" do have anti-poverty partners —
But even though Lionsgate has dropped the ball, a coalition of fan activists is taking up the cause. Since 2005, the Harry Potter Alliance has mobilized the fans of many popular books, movies and TV shows to advocate for important causes that relate to the stories they love. We've sent five cargo planes to Haiti, built libraries across the world and funded the protection of thousands of civilians in Darfur and Burma. We've supported marriage equality and the Dream Act.
Now with our Imagine Better Network, we are mobilizing fans of Superman on immigration reform (after all, Superman came to America without papers),
We can't produce our own multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, but we can hack Lionsgate's. Wherever the studio and its promotional partners post an advertisement for the movie, you'll see our members posting pictures of themselves doing the three-finger salute — the Districts' symbol for solidarity in the face of the Capitol. Instead of letting the studio's campaign silence or distort the film's message, activists will draw attention to the reality of economic inequality in America and to organizations that are working to end it.
In the first week, thousands participated.
Perhaps Lionsgate will embrace the simple but radical message of its blockbuster films: No one should have to go hungry in a nation of plenty. After all, fantasy is not an escape from our world but an invitation to go deeper into it.
And we will keep going deeper until the odds are in everyone's favor.