A Media Literacy Assignment by Dr. Chrys Egan, Salisbury University
Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games franchise uses a dystopian future “Panem,” a thinly veiled United States, to offer a thought-provoking social commentary on the growing economic disparities among its people. Using techniques of media literacy to analyze and evaluate texts (Aufderheide, 1993), audiences can apply major themes raised in the fictional story to contemporary concerns in the US regarding: inequality, work, food, class, gender, and race. The driving force of The Hunger Games narrative is the extreme unethical imbalance and oppression that occurs with the wealthy, minority citizens of the Capitol ruling the poverty-stricken majority of citizens in the segregated Districts. While The Hunger Games depicts the bleakest possible view of an America ravaged by civil war and depleted resources, it undeniably offers a glimpse of current concerns about inequality and the growing divide among citizens. This analysis helps media users consider real-life issues of inequality, work, food, class, gender, and race. To examine these issues, the lesson has two components: analysis and application. In the Hunger Games analysis, students read or view The Hunger Games to understand the six concepts. Examples of each theme are illustrated, followed by students identifying additional examples from the text. Then students use current findings on these concepts from the US Census data and/or Inequality for All documentary. To apply the six concepts to their lives, students view the selected United States Census Bureau tables and/or watch the documentary Inequality for All. Ultimately, students consider the evidence for economic opportunities, fairness, and justice in their present and future.
This two-pronged media analysis increases media literacy among users to understand what is presented, how to apply it, and why it matters. Fiction often allows for less threatening reflection on reality. While consumers of The Hunger Games may not typically be considered the same consumers of US Census data and documentaries on the economy, this assignment allows audiences to approach the hard data in a softer way. Completing this exercise results in a serious consideration of complex relationships between work opportunities, economic prospects, and social stratification.
For full resources, see Egan – Land of Inopportunity.