The Hunger Games' Anti-Consumerism Message is No Match for Cover Girl

The Barbie version of Hunger Games hero Katniss

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second film from the Hunger Games adaptation, hits theaters nationwide this month. Given the series’ aggressive and elaborate marketing campaign, it’s pretty hard to miss. 

So, when I saw the giant banner featuring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen plastered in a Hot Topic storefront, it didn’t surprise me one bit.  The sign lured in shoppers with the promise of a FREE GIFT with $25 purchase so I naturally entered and was immediately greeted by a table piled with merchandise and little signs urging me to get my “gear” ready for the movie’s opening day.  The Hot Topic was filled with Hunger Games t-shirts, Hunger Games tank tops, Hunger Games sweatshirts, Hunger Games blankets, Hunger Games bracelets, Hunger Games pillowcases, Hunger Games trading cards, and shiny Hunger Games earrings.  Most strangely of all, though, was the fact that the actual Hunger Games book, Catching Fire, was nowhere to be found.

Now let’s be clear: overt efforts to turn profits and capitalize on books-turned-films are not a new concept (SEE: Harry Potter empire!). However, the Hunger Games is different from other lucrative book franchises, as its main character is a strong-willed and explicitly anti-authoritarian rebel who is specifically fighting the oppressive policies that go hand-in-hand with consumerism and the exploitation that results from a minority’s luxurious lifestyles. 

For those unaware of the Hunger Games’ back-story, the novel’s protagonist, Katniss, is a teenage girl living in Panem, a dystopian nation whose intense thirst for capitalism and consumption has led them to war and a subsequently highly policed state with severe divides between the rich and poor. In Catching Fire, Katniss becomes known as “the fire that can spark a rebellion” and is looked up to by people throughout the country who hope she will help overthrow the exploitive Capitol. 

Although Katniss isn’t fully comfortable with the role she’s been given, she is also vocal about her disdain for the Capitol and its people who lavish luxury on themselves while the rest of Panem suffers. The whole series ridicules the Capitol-dwellers’ garish costumes, gluttonous foods, and the cruel entertainment they receive from watching the Hunger Games.  So it’s hard not to shake my head at how cheaply made Hunger Games tie-in products have swept onto the shelves of American malls.

Cover Girl has perhaps the most cringe-worthy Hunger Games merchandise. In advance of Catching Fire, Cover Girl released a line of makeup to help women all over get the “look” of any district with the Capitol Beauty Studio collection.

Cover Girl ad features a woman with her face lined with gold.

What would Katniss Everdeen, a girl who had never shaved her legs or underarms upon entering the games, say about a line of Capitol makeup?  Cover Girl wouldn’t want to know. Over-the-top makeup is scoffed at in the book series and, even in the films, characters who go to great lengths to change their bodies are presented as grotesque phonies.

Effie, from the Hunger Games, wearing thick white makeup and purple lipstick

Next Cover Girl campaign: Get Effie Trinket’s hot look for spring!

It seems unlikely that any of the ladies of Panem would be worrying about the amount of glitter on their brows when they’re crying and so hungry that the son of a baker tosses them burnt bread to survive. 

Of course, it’s naive to believe that a movie studio will make a blockbuster film without cashing in on all merchandise opportunities. But doesn’t the Cover Girl campaign strike anyone as crass? What does Suzanne Collins have to say about it the marketing of her anti-consumerist series?

When emailed by Variety, Collins said, “I’m thrilled with the work Tim Palen and his marketing team have done on the film. It’s appropriately disturbing and thought-provoking how the campaign promotes Catching Fire while simultaneously promoting the Capitol’s punitive forms of entertainment. The stunning image of Katniss in her wedding dress that we use to sell tickets is just the kind of thing the Capitol would use to rev up its audience for the Quarter Quell [the name of the games in Catching Fire]. That dualistic approach is very much in keeping with the books.”

So essentially, it’s all just a joke, people. The people behind the marketing campaign of Catching Fire are just pretending to be like the Capitol! They don’t actually want to spend a bunch of money on elaborate and costly operations in hopes of making a shit-ton of money in return!  They’re just really pumped about the anti-capitalistic themes in the novel and want to make an example out of how not to be an example.  Phew.  And if you get tired of trying to read the book or watch the movie, you can always just make up your own tales of rebellion with an Official Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen Barbie doll. 

Related Reading: Capitol Control: The Irony of Hunger Games Movie Mania; Masculinity in the Hunger Games.

by Emilly Prado
View profile »

Emilly Prado is a writer, educator, and interim director of Youth Programs at Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon. When not writing or teaching, Emilly moonlights as DJ Mami Miami with Noche Libre, the Latinx DJ collective she cofounded in 2017. Learn more at or @emillygprado on Twitter and Instagram.

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

15 Comments Have Been Posted

I guess it would be easier to

I guess it would be easier to be outraged if The Hunger Games (both the book and the film) was actually a radical work of literature whose goal was to make people rise up and fight against systems of oppression. Sadly, it is not: It is the type of writing explicitly designed to look like it questions the status quo while at the same time benefitting from it.

Think about it like this: If The Hunger Games were anti-status quo it wouldn't have been made into a movie by a big studio. They would never produce something that was a threat to the very system that supports them.

So yeah, it's pretty much to be expected: t-shirts, posters, make-up, cards... it's all part of the same profit-making machine.

status quo

I'm interested in hearing how the book/film supports the status quo. I don't think the fact that it was made into a movie is, alone, really strong enough evidence to support your claim. Let's have som critical analysis.

I think Brenda's comment

I think Brenda's comment (below) is really spot on and a great way to start the discussion/critical analysis. I had the exact same experience re: 1984 at 13 and hoped for something similar. I think the whole young adult lit genre has been turned into an industry that is only concerned with (re) producing the same tropes and ideas that are known to sell, over and over again.

I agree. I think the first

I agree. I think the first book is very good but I was frustrated with it because it didn't go far enough. It was focused on the games and the outcome of that. And for sure, that's exciting and interesting and it gets the young readers going. But the themes that the author tries to weave into it are never really developed. She shows how little she really knows what she's trying to say or cares in the next two books which becomes very convoluted and muddled.

It saddens me because this book series was a great opportunity to get young people talking about themes of social justice, consumerism, authoritarianism, the divide or lack thereof between the personal and the political. But mostly what people talk about with this book is how brave Katniss is, whether she can win the games, and if she'll choose Peeta or the other guy.

When I was13, the exact age these books target, my English teacher had our class read 1984. That book really works on these themes and makes you think about them in a critical way. When Hunger Games came about, I was hoping it was 1984 for a new era, but it's not.

So it doesn't surprise me that people fail to see the irony in trying to look like people from the capitol. It's all just a fun fantasy, not a statement about anything or a challenge in any way.

The books actually are pretty

The books actually are pretty radical, complicated, and bleak--just because those complications were written out of the film doesn't mean they weren't there to begin with. Marketing campaigns like these are a way to neutralize those messages, not proof that they don't exist.

However, that the campaigns

However, that the campaigns and films were made with the express approval of the author suggest that her radical messages were only superficial. Sure, the books are entertaining and gripping and might even cleverly comment on contemporary culture... but they are hardly revolutionary manifestos.

coal miners from the 40's

I did not read the book. I saw the movie on video and wondered why the poor were wearing coalminers clothes from the 40's while the Capitol people looked like they were from the Court of Louis the 14th. I am sure there is a reason.

I disagree. Many radical

I disagree. Many radical books that legitimately question the status quo are exploited by capitalists every day The Motorcycle Diaries, The Anarchist Cookbook, The Communist Manifesto, 1984 etc. Just look at the popularity of the iconic Che photo which is, ironically one of the highest grossing merchandise images in history. Look at the social movements of the 60s, punk, grunge, etc. The fact is, corporations explicitly target and cash in on counter culture in order to nullify the social critique that it represents. It's really sad.

The question is, what do we do about it? Like it or not, we are complicit in a consumerist culture. We all buy products and enable the very system we attempt to critique. Hunger Games may be selling out, but so have you and I. Do we pretend to be ignorant to this fact, or do we find a way to subvert it?

Your theory

I love you theory, with all admiration!! But the Big Cats understood that the general public will be too empty minded and stupid, too caught up in the violence, the love triangle, and the dsytopian world, than actually understanding the message, so this book was no threat. Obviously they won.

I wonder if there's any piece

I wonder if there's any piece of media that you <i>can't</i> guilt people into not loving? Not mad at anyone, but have you ever seen any form of media or art that doesn't have some sinister underlying message? Just getting kind of sick of feeling guilty every time I step away from tumblr.

Really? No need for you to

Really? No need for you to feel guilty about loving something that isn't "100% pure", let's say. You can love art/media despite (as well as because of) its problematic or complex nature. You can still be critical of its problematic aspects and love it at the same time. Not sure what tumblr has to do with that, though.

What are we striving for?

I was also bothered by the Covergirl campaign because I felt like when we were supposed to strive to be the Luxury district? But also, Katniss is such a cool role model for girls because she isn't your typical feminine figure. She is a badass who doesn't care about her appearance. The campaign almost contracts that and its just a little saddening.

The Capital is NOT Capitalist

Where on earth did you get the idea that a free market has anything to do with The Capital's econ system. They're communist all the way, with -- as is usual in these circumstances -- some people being More Equal than others. The free market -- capitalism exists in The Hub, where people working without government control/influence manage to work and feed themselves. I can't believe some people are looking at this story and concluding it endorses MORE government control.

Correction -- the Hob (I've

Correction -- the Hob (I've done the series as audio books.)

Thank you! People have been

Thank you! People have been comparing the "Hunger Games" to Ayn Rand. Can't get any more anti central government than that.

Add new comment